Arquitectura Viva
Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Fertile Dissidence. Fernando Ramón, in memoriam

Ignacio Paricio

A figure of Spanish architecture of the second half of the 20th century, Fernando Ramón, has passed away. He was a paradigm of dissidence, a description he applied to himself when, in the 1970s, we took him on board for a regular spot in the magazine CAU and he warned us that his columns would be called Dissidences. His posture had political origins, but he managed to bring it into all fields of the profession. Fernando dissented from almost everything.

When in the 1970s Fernando Ramón debated with Banham, struck up a friendship with Turner, and quarreled with Habraken, he was at the center of Europe’s brewing controversy on housing and comfort technology. In both fields he made significant contributions: he was a great influence on all those of us who saw him as a radical and informed thinker. I would like to sum them up in two terms into which he injected a precise and transcendental meaning: ‘housing’ and ‘requirement.’

Fernando Ramón was convinced of the advantages of ‘housing’ over the usual ‘house.’ He reasoned that ‘house’ was too closely associated with the classic layout of a living room, two or three bedrooms, a kitchen and a bath, while the reality of ‘pads,’ apartments, lofts, comunes, etc., was infinitely richer, and all of it fit within the semantic field of ‘housing.’ He thought that if everyone took the preconceived image of the conventional house as an immediate response to the famous ‘dwelling problema,’ it would in the end be very difficult to change things. In truth, his free, open vision lies at the root of all current evolutions towards the perfectible house, empty dwelling, or fragmented house that have been explored since.

In the world of technique, especially of environmental comfort, Fernando Ramón was without a doubt a powerful and imaginative reference. His book Ropa, sudor y architectura (Clothes, Sweat, and Architecture) preempted all contemporary analyses of comfort and sensuality. His manuals were a pedagogical success for an entire generation, and it is in this field that the term ‘requirement’ embraces a large part of his contributions. Ramón disseminated the concept of ‘required’ standard, meaning that which sets not a specific solution to a given situation, but a clear level of quality to comply with, granting total freedom in the how. A case in point was his project of ordinances for Bilbao, where he came to propose a single code for thermal comfort: fixing consumption in watts per cubic meter of living space. Just that, so all other parameters – such as specifications for insulation panels, thicknesses, thermal bridges, or inertia – became part of the design and thus the responsibility of the architect. This very promising idea, which raised highly stimulating expectations for all of us working on the matter, has deteriorated over the years thanks to the confusing development of a Technical Building Code and the demands of insurance companies, which impose reliable but vulgar solutions, with the result that creativity has been banished from the world of technique.

Fernando Ramón did not have the professional life he deserved. The book he published with his daughter Marcela after winning the National Housing Award (reviewed in Arquitectura Viva 144) is a sequence of ‘episodes,’ as he called them, where problems with reality prevented him from consolidating his immense personal worth. Nevertheless, the evident tension between his natural good-heartedness, his explicit desire to help improve the living conditions of people, and his inborn wariness of any form of imposed order or structure made him an attractive and exemplary figure to many of us, and especially to former students and disciples who never stopped admiring him.
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