How Spain’s Building Bust Can Inform the Future of Urbanization

"The City That Never Was" is the title of an upcoming symposium, and series of essays, organized by the Architectural League of NY to explore two decades of growth and decline in Spain through the prism of unrealized architectural ambitions.

November 8, 2012, 9:00 AM PST

By Erica Gutiérrez

"The City That Never Was", a series of articles and photographs published in conjunction with an upcoming Architectural League symposium by the same name, offer a critical look at Spain and its unfinished urban landscape.

As Spain struggles to fend off bankruptcy after 5 years of severe economic decline, researchers and symposium co-organizers, Christopher Marcinkoski and Javier Arpa, explore the country's building boom and bust and its implications for "how future formats of urbanization are conceived, financed, planned, and inhabited." Using Spain's accession into the European Union in 1986 as the point of departure, the organizers ask critical questions about what lessons can be drawn from the last 20 years of Spain's urban development. In the first essay in the series, Urbanization After the Bubble, Arpa and Marcinkoski look at "the contributing role that the urbandesign [sic] disciplines – architecture, landscape architecture, city planning and civil engineering, among others – have played in the shaping and production of [the ongoing global economic crisis]."

The authors consider Spain's recent urban development in all its forms, including peripheral expansion, the construction of new bedroom communities, advances in transportation, additions of new leisure amenities, and coastal investments. In doing so, the irony of Spain's downfall from an exemplar of robust urban growth and innovative design, to its dire economic position today is not lost. Extrapolating potential lessons learned, they call this both an opportunity and proof that contemporary urban design "need(s) to radically rethink its current disciplinary and cultural orientation." For Arpa and Marcinkoski, this represents a moving away from a culture of "control" to one of "new strategies of contingency." In following, they argue, new tools and models should be developed that embrace the possibility of unexpected outcomes, interruption, and failure as new potential opportunities.

Other publications in the series includes two slideshows, as well as another article, Delirious Development, where Gregory Wessner, the Architectural League's Special Projects Director, probes deeper, interviewing Arpa and Marcinkonski about their research. The first slideshow, Here is Spain, includes a compilation of photographs and aerial shots, gathered from a variety of sources. It depicts eighteen images of "unfinished, partially completed or abandoned developments". Similarly, A 21st-Century Grand Tour, showcases nine photographs by Ricardo Espinosa, depicting these same ubiquitous phenomenon in the metropolitan area of Madrid.

Monday, October 29, 2012 in The Architectural League NY

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