Spain builds; but not only Spanish architecture. Unlike the mythical ‘Brazil Builds’, that in 1943 presented at the MoMA the tropical and sensual reinterpretation of modernity as an unmistakably Brazilian architecture, ‘On-Site’ places the last projects and works in Spain in the world’s spotlight, giving our country the rare honor of a monographic exhibition, but without demanding for itself any attribute other than excellence. Variety and openness are the two characteristics of the exhibition: variety of languages, without noticing common features that define generational groups or regional schools; and openness, because almost one third of the authors exhibited are foreigners.
The mere enumeration of these is already impressive: Chipperfield, Eisenman, Gehry, Koolhaas, Hadid, Herzog & de Meuron, Ito, Mayer, Mayne, MVRDV, Nouvel, Rogers, Perrault, Sejima & Nishizawa, Siza. Few places in the planet can boast about having a similar concentration of architectural stars, an even more noticeable circumstance if one recalls that other big firms with important projects in Spain are not in the exhibition. But this arrival of international offices arises within the context of a high-quality local production, that can undoubtedly be favorably compared with the imported architectures, and that has a growing presence in the global scene.
Though the list of Spanish studios present at MoMA is too long for commentary, it is worth mentioning that only five – Ábalos & Herreros, Arroyo, Mansilla & Tuñón, Mangado and EMBT – appear both in the group of projects and in that of works, within a list that covers the peninsula and the Balearic and Canary Islands. All the regions – if we consider La Rioja represented by Gehry’s wineries in Elciego – are in New York with at least one project, a geographic equanimity that originates in the countless trips around Spain of the show’s curator, who with this exhibition rounds off thirteen years in charge of the museum’s Department of Architecture and Design.
It is perhaps significant that Terence Riley has decided to say farewell with a necessarily diverse and disperse exhibition, but perhaps the disoriented fragmentation of the times is better expressed through a heteroclite collection of excellent projects. In any case, the curator wished to highlight the historical roots of this spectacular flowering of architectures in Spain promoting a complementary book, carried out by AV/Arquitectura Viva, which illustrates the origins of the current panorama in the decades of democracy, and even in Franco’s years, during which the masters of the last generations – Coderch, Sota, Oíza or Fisac –developed most of their career.
This continuity – together with the polytechnical education, the power of the ‘colegios’ and the survival of trades – was at the base of the works that captivated the world in the eighties. However, these sources of quality are in crisis today, and we cannot rule out that the deterioration experienced by urbanism and landscape may extend to an architecture increasingly dependent on the real-estate boom and the generosity of the public sector. Meanwhile, we can only congratulate ourselves on having architecture as our banner and as our most admired cultural expression; and we cannot but thank the MoMA – 25 years after the return of the Guernica – for this new gesture of friendship.