The collapse of the Spanish economy on the back of a burst real estate bubble was as spectacular as it was wide-reaching. An estimated half a million unfinished properties were left languishing and hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were unable to keep up with payments on their mortgages. Unemployment rates skyrocketed, particularly for those under 25 - and still haven't recovered six years later. Conditions such as these require creative solutions, community collaboration and a break from the status quo - which describes the practice of Seville-based architect Santiago Cirugeda to a tee.
Cirugeda’s career dates back to 1996, but he is most known for his work through the practice he founded 11 years ago, Recetas Urbanas. He is particularly known for his ingenious subversion of regulations and Spain‘s Byzantine planning bureaucracy: he’s savvy with the old “know the rules in order to break them” trick. But he is also recognized as a hands-on architect that self-builds his low-cost projects with a ragtag group of collaborators who have varying skill levels and interests in the end result. As Cirugeda explained to Ana Naomi de Sousa for The Guardian: “I get a kick out of the confrontations with technocrats and politicians, but most of all I like building my own projects … in Seville, the crisis affects us all, we are in a desperate situation and there’s a lot of injustice in the way things are being done. What about all these empty houses and unused land? There are lots of situations that interest me — as an architect and as a citizen.”
One of Cirugeda’s early projects involved successfully applying for a skip license. Instead of installing a skip, he built his own to specifications and then built a platform on it and added a seesaw. He refers to it as “a self-built and self-managed urban playground,” and the local kids loved it. Neighbors soon complained, however, but when authorities investigated, they found that Cirugeda had complied with all requirements and there was nothing they could do to force him to remove the installation. Similarly, the recently closed La Carpa project had its tenure secured by project partner Jorge Barroso living on-site for 12 months. Barroso lived without running water and was frequently robbed, but the resulting land concession meant that he and Cirugeda could erect multiple temporary structures to create a thriving community entertainment venue, complete with its own circus troupe.
Cirugeda is a leading figure in a socially responsible and responsive collective movement in Spanish architecture that seeks to find grassroots solutions to the problems being faced by ordinary Spanish citizens in times of extreme austerity. Both the Red Internacional de Colectivos and the Recetas Urbanas websites offer advice on the legal and economic resources available to community groups and individuals wanting to self-build. Cirugeda is similarly pragmatic about his own practice, stating: “People say my architecture is ugly. They say it’s interesting, but it’s ugly — but I say, who doesn’t have an ugly friend? Everyone has an ugly friend! Architecture today is obsessed with beautiful buildings and pretty projects – that’s bullshit! Architecture should be cheap, functional and it should be an excuse to bring people together: and that’s what we’re doing.”
Via The Guardian