Architecture is moving from bling to bareness. The economic devastation left by the crisis and the symbolic decay of emblematic works have favored the rise of a new attitude. In contrast to the dazzling glare of the architectures of social-opulence – from airports and museums to plazas and designer bars –, the younger generations use the alphabet of contention and simplicity. Bound by the inevitable austerity of public and private budgets, but moved also by the ethical determination to build only what is needed, these new architects pursue pertinence in the stripping of the accessory, in the continuity with the existing, and in the renewed attention to environment, climate, and energy. Modest in their dimensions and ambitious in their purpose, the works of this generation mark a path of commitment and rigor.
Though springing simultaneously in several centers of architectural culture in the Peninsula, it is probably in Catalonia where this current has reached a critical mass earlier, with a group of teams that – using different codes and building in different locations – share a pragmatic approach to professional activity, choosing with realism both materials and processes, and expressing their aesthetic intentions with muted sensibility. Aware of the stratified history of their urban or rural contexts, and willing to use the traces of time in constructions or landscapes, these low-profile, high-aiming projects manage to reconcile the deference towards those built before them with the determination to draft with elegance, imagination, and talent the pages attributed to their generation in the book of the territory, the city, or the house.
Having left behind the bursting of the bubble, with a process of economic recovery and building dynamism that political storms and social unrest hopefully will not disrupt, these essential projects should serve as a compass to guide us through a new period, which must not repeat the worst mistakes and excesses of the past expansive cycle. Replacing the ostentatious shine of jewels with the calm glow of the skin, these architectures carry a promise of sustainable bliss, and their frequent use of the most humble ceramic materials brings to mind the sensible use of brick by the generation of 1925 in Madrid, which defended a ‘reasonable’ construction as opposed to the immaculate white of rationalism. The refinement of recent Catalan architecture is indeed reasonable, and worthy too of emulation in its exact transition from the bling of spectacle to the bareness of the discipline.