Accelerating the future: Guallart’s vision of architecture in times of uncertainty

The pandemic is clearly affecting the way we work or live.  Resilience and adaptation are the new motto these days.  This is true for many creative sectors but specially for architecture as it defines and shapes the cities and places of tomorrow.  Technology and sustainability together with design are meant to serve the aspirations and challenges of the so-called ‘new normal’.

Vicente Guallart (1963), an internationally acknowledged Spanish architect, founder of Guallart Architects (1993) and of IAAC (Institute of Advanced Architecture in Catalunya) (2001), accepted our interview during the lockdown. Besides our CICERONE objectives, we wanted to know first-hand how the sector was reacting to the health crisis and what imaginations reign in the vision of Guallart’s city of tomorrow.

According to Guallart, the international emergency has contributed to put into the fore existing challenges such as environmental sustainability.  The crisis has accelerated the future and the debate and solutions that should be considered to tackling the climate emergency and the goal of zero emissions for 2050.

But this is also a moment to reflect and reconsider the way people live: we know that housing prices around the periphery of Barcelona have escalated since the lockdown as many households living in the city centre have experienced the need to look for greener environments and larger spaces. Moving out of Barcelona has become an option given the new possibilities emerging around online work and the trade-off it represents with commuting.  With an architectural perspective, Guallart also insists in understanding now what comes next in urban arenas to build an adequate future challenging, for instance, buildings without terraces or green roofs.

The Spanish economy has been strongly hit by the lockdown and its consequences. Creative and cultural sectors are among those highly affected despite the high doses of reinvention and resilience we have witnessed in the last months. However, within architecture and according to Guallart, COVID-19 has represented an increase in projects and European and worldwide competitions explicitly aiming to tackle the emergency. Rethinking cities is on the eye of urban authorities: the crisis has added to the already existing trends such as more pedestrian areas or sustainable mobility, new temporary challenges to cope with like the use of public spaces in times of social distancing, at least in the short run. For instance, developing temporary furniture for the temporary streets created in the public space.

Surprisingly, the increase in international activities related to architecture has been parallel with the impossibility to travel.

Participating in international calls during the lockdown and the post-confinement time has been possible given the extremely decentralized way they work. Guallart stresses the relevance of the high connectivity with its team and the rest of the world showcasing a Lego-organisation, flexible and adaptable to each particular project.  Guallart architects is composed by a small core group that builds a team of specialists for each project with collaborators distributed all around the world, crossing boundaries in terms of disciplines and perspectives. The work is organised for periods of two to three months, preparing projects for the different international competitions.  Clearly, networking and contacts are essential for the functioning of the sector, now more than ever. Not surprisingly, Guallart has opened a window of opportunity in the lockdown: not travelling has allowed him to reorganise new opportunities and connect more with people globally.

Applying to projects with high impact will remain the sector’s strategy as he clearly comments: ‘The crisis has accelerated the debate and the search for solutions that should be tackling the climate and health emergency; the crisis has accelerated the future.’

Written by Lía Barrese and Montserrat Pareja-Eastaway  (University of Barcelona)

© Photo: Vicente Guallart

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