Julio Touza Rodríguez (Ribadavia-Ourense, 1951) studied architecture at the ETSAM, graduating in 1974. The following year he founded the studio that bears his name next to eminent Mexican architect Enrique Nafarrate Mexia. Touza Arquitectos has developed more than 2,500 projects, currently having a multidisciplinary team of more than 50 people. In its beginnings he combined his professional activity with teaching at the ETSAM, until 1986, participating as international speaker and representing the Superior Council of Architects of Spain in the debates on industrialisation of construction, modulation, and prefabrication. At the same time, part of this work resulted in the publication of several books on specialized subjects of prefabrication, urbanism, and architecture criticism. In the mid-eighties, he focused fully on his professional studio, whose works have allowed him to become one of the most prolific architects in the country, receiving numerous commissions and important awards in recent years. He regularly participates in conferences and lectures on architecture, urbanism, and design, also being part of juries in architecture competitions.
"Architecture can be spectacular,
but it should not become a spectacle"
At CORTIZO ARCH we meet Julio Touza at the CPS group headquarters. We are going to converse with him about architecture, not only about the one he has developed throughout his career, but also about what has been done and is being done around us. Beforehand, we asked him to describe the chosen backdrop for the conversation. Why is it so special?
This project has the stamp of its owners, who have freely created a world-class technological building. It was created, above all, to make the various jobs related to the world of telematics, telecommunications, high-tech support for the AVE network, versatile and operational, as well as for the research and development of latest-generation drones. It is a multipurpose industrial-technological building that is wrapped up with an architecture that has a remarkable magic bias. In it, spaces such as the four-height glazed hall stand out, with a CORTIZO curtain wall, a construction solution that is also reproduced in other areas, combined with micro-perforated sheets that complete the most industrial air of the building.
How were your first stages in architecture?
I went to study at the Madrid School of Architecture with great enthusiasm, but with the doubt of whether I would be prepared, whether God would have given me enough talent to be a worthy architect and whether I would be able to demonstrate with determination and labour that architecture could be my life. Effort and sacrifice gave their results; I finished my degree very soon and in 1974, while doing my PhD, I started teaching at ETSAM, a dream I had never thought of. Thus began my professional career, and indeed, architecture has been and is my life.
It was the late 60s, early 70s, a time when ETSAM was opening up to the world...
The Madrid School of Architecture was extremely important. At that time, the great architects of the country were in Madrid and taught there. I was very lucky to have the greats, with whom I learned and enjoyed a lot: Sáenz de Oiza, Javier Carvajal, De la Sota, Cano Lasso, Rafael Aburto… They were world-renowned architects, but then we didn't have a wealthy country that allowed them to make the architecture that they would have developed in a magnificent way today.
Were there precedents for architects in your family?
Not reallly, I was the first. However, although it is far from architecture, I would like to highlight the role of my grandmother and my aunts, the Touza sisters, who were known as the Galician Schindlers. In the 1940s, they helped many Jews fleeing Nazi purges during World War II cross into Portugal. They were not architects, but they did share an ingredient that I consider essential in architecture: feeling. At this point, both stories are twinned.
Besides that feeling you are talking about, what other aspects would you say define your architecture?
Among the architecture that we develop, an important part is for residential use, understood by us as the answer that the architect gives to a human and vital need: the house. In this field, at Touza Arquitectos we work with two unique elements: one is the passion we put into what we do and the other is the social commitment that underlies everything we putt forward; therefore aiming everything that surrounds us in our daily activities towards the good of others, in the sense of "doing well" so that others "live well", through a model of healthy and sustainable family life. That is our social commitment not only in the residential realm, but also in all the areas of architecture we operate in: hotel, technological, industrial, scientific, hospital... and also in all the countries in which we have constructions, since, apart from Spain, we have set foot with projects in places as disparate as Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Vietnam, Morocco, Algeria, the Dominican Republic and in cities of more western culture such as Mexico, Berlin or New York, among many others.
Given the importance of location in architecture, how are projects in such different countries approached?
Firstly, the architect has to be the interpreter of the location, but also of the history and, of course, the idiosyncrasy of the town in which he is working. On one occasion we participated in an international contest invited by businessmen from Vietnam and the country's government to carry out a luxury urban and tourist operation on some islands in Halong Bay. Given this proposal, we first had to "transport" ourselves to this environment, its history and its culture in order to be able to feel the magic of those songs of the sea and the islets that would rise above it. The same occurs when one works in Morocco, for example, with the particularities of its landscape and Islamic culture. What is crucial is that the architect marry, couple and fall in love with the landscape so that the architecture that later emerges from it will accompany it, and not transgress or defile it, causing irremediable wounds. The architect, for that reason, has to be very considerate and submissive to the landscape when facing a new project.
And is the architect doing so? Are you being considerate of its environment and society?
There is a trend that seems to have been overcome, but which has left a deep dent and which has been partly the cause of the dire Spanish and international crisis in the real estate sector. Everyone in our country wanted to have a Guggenheim in their city. Even the smallest town wanted a magnificent sports centre, a magnificent indoor swimming pool; things that cannot be had because they will have to paid for later, paid for and maintained. And it was not just wanting to have them, but having them in an exaggerated and, to a large extent, capricious way. From there came things that we are regretting today. That architecture of the tinsel, of the banal, of the artifice, thankfully, is disappearing, but it has left very serious wounds.
We need to go back to a calmer architecture. Le Corbusier said that the cheapest and most beautiful material is light. And in the same vein, but in other words, Mies van der Rohe also spoke at the time, affirming that emptiness is the material that best adapts to beautiful architecture. Here, instead, we were working with strange things and almost esoteric forms. If you want, architecture can be spectacular, but it should not become a spectacle, because the spectacle belongs in the circus or the theater, not in architecture.
So who do we blame for this whirlwind?
To a greater or lesser extent, we all have to take part of the blame. Some of us raise warning flags, but we have also sinned.
So, were any of these pharaonic constructions proposed to you?
It is very easy to say it after the fact because I could even make it up, but the truth is yes. Specifically, there were two unique projects where I said I was not the best person to do them, which was a way of rejecting them. I thought I was being ordered a cellophane paper that would wrap a wonderful candy, an envelope. I mean, they were asking me for a nice box, not a building. One of those projects was an important railway station that to this day is still not done. The other, a large shopping center. For me, architecture is not that, but commitment, ethics and that social responsibility that leads us architects to realize that you cannot do everything you want, only what must be done.
Let's talk about the architects of the future. What do you think about the training that is being given in architecture schools?
I think that there is a misguided teaching doctrine that goes so far as to say that you cannot hold back your imagination and that the academic years are the moment in which the student must open their imagination to infinity. In my opinion that's an error; Even if they are not held back, the student must be warned about the social responsibility that I claim so much. They must also be told that, whatever they project, however beautiful it may seem to them, it must be built at a reasonable cost for those who will live in it. In other words, we must first cover what is necessary with architecture (make more architecture at less cost), and with imagination and experience, the magic will be added afterwards. I have taught for many years and I still educate students through conferences, talks and courses, but I think that today's training has lowered the level a lot. We must be more demanding and recover that more multidisciplinary, intellectual and capable architect. I'm not saying that the architect has to be a Leonardo da Vinci again, but he should appear so.
And drawing is almost never done...
Sáenz de Oiza, to whom I professed great admiration and with whom I had a great relationship because he was first my teacher and we then shared teaching, he used to say that mental speed lies in being able to go from imagination to paper through the hand and pen, never through a different tool. In my office today we are more than 50 architects and few handle the pencil. They are great architects, but in the architecture school they have not been taught what Oiza defended.
Among the members of the large Touza Arquitectos team, is his son Julio, who has followed in his footsteps and co-directs the studio, does he draw?
Of course! In his early stages, I taught him how to draw and explained to him that first you have to do things with paper and pencil and then use technology on your computer. Julio draws, and he draws well. He is straddling my line, which is the old man in the studio (laughs), and that of the young people, who hardly use the pen. In addition to being an excellent person, he is a magnificent architect who also has that social commitment that I have instilled in him.
Your studio accumulates more than 2,500 executed constructions. Do you remember the first project you signed?
Of course, I will never forget. It is true that I had previously done one in collaboration with other architecture studios while finishing my degree, but the first one I signed has a story behind it that had a long-lasting effect on me. Shortly after finishing my degree, I was visiting my village, Ribadavia, and my father told me that there was a man waiting to commission me. He was a migrant who had returned and had come for me to make his home. I, at that time, an architect in Madrid, sinned arrogantly and told him that I was going to recommend an architect from Ourense that would make him a magnificent house. At these words, the man looked me up and down with skepticism and said to me in a deep Galician ¿E lo' usted só fai casas para os ricos? (You only make houses for the wealthy, then?). That devastated me. It was a great lesson, not only did I accept the commission, but I didn't charge him either.
Are there any projects that you would like to develop that you haven't been able to yet or do you already consider your expectations fulfilled?
I believe that an architect never fulfills his expectations. The day you think you have, you are over. I have to admit that in my studio we have always been excited about both the small and the big. We are able to do everything from simple things like the interior design of the hall of a building or a small restaurant to hospitals or high-rise buildings. But I would love to make, and we are in the progress to make it, a spectacular skyscraper where the people who live there can be happy, a residential skyscraper. Now we are building one in Madrid, next to Madrid Río, which has been very praised and is already in its foundation phase. In addition, we are designing two twins that are going to be the portico of an entrance to a very deteriorated area of the city that I believe will give it life and will undoubtedly become an icon of a somewhat abandoned place that begins to recover and will become a space as special as it is magical. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but if I managed to close those two residential skyscrapers where people can live comfortably and say that it is possible to live well at height, that they are closer to heaven at home, and that they see the horizon better and the air is cleaner; I would be very happy.