Lluís Comerón Graupera (Mataró, 1960) is an architect from the Barcelona School of Architecture (ETSAB), an associate professor at ETSAB itself and co-director at the Vallés School of Architecture (ETSAV). In addition, he has developed numerous projects for both the public and private sectors: school, health, prison, cultural and public space facilities. Currently he combines his activity with the position of president of ITEC (Institute of Construction Technology). He also has a long history related to the Colleges of Architects, having held the presidency of the COAC's Barcelona demarcation between 2006 and 2010. Subsequently, he held the position of dean of the College of Architects of Catalonia, leading its transformation and promoting and supporting the response of members to the new challenges that society poses to architecture and urban planning.
Lluís Comerón has just started his career as the new president of the Superior Council of Colleges of Architects of Spain (CSCA), facing a four-year term in which he will seek to “build a collective, inclusive and diversification project, where all colleagues achieve professional satisfaction",
as stated in his inauguration speech. At CORTIZO ARCH we spoke with the Catalonian architect to find out more details about his proposals for this period.
"Architecture and urban planning are essential tools to adapt to climate change"
After a consolidated career both in the College of Architects of Catalonia and its demarcation of Barcelona, he decided to stand for the Superior Council elections. What prompted you to stand for election?
I've had the opportunity, as counselor of the table of the Plenary of the CSCAE, to know the problems and difficulties of professionals throughout the Spanish territory and I have verified that, to a large extent, the concerns and needs of the architects are the same and related with the unifying roller of a very hard crisis. After almost a decade framed in the effects of the real estate sector collapse, it's time for the architects of Spain, our Schools and the CSCAE to consolidate and visualize the change towards a new era.
We are facing an opportunity that we must tackle and take advantage of with responsibility, preparation and diversification in concert, to be able to offer society a joint project. All this led in each territory by the Colleges of Architects, with the impulse and coordination of the Plenary and the Assembly of the CSCAE, and the involvement and complicity of our group.
In your inaugural speech, you took on a "public commitment to architecture and to society as a whole." In your opinion, is there a reverse commitment? In other words, is society committed to architecture?
Society is committed to the extent that it expects cities, constructions, and the built environment to offer the optimum quality and comfort to carry out human activity, as well as to the extent that the value the intangibles the culture of the built heritage can provide feels home-grown. Citizens know and feel what the environments in which they live and carry out their activities in should be, The institutions are left with the task of channeling and responding to these demands to establish a social agreement in which architects can put their work at the service of those requirements.
The great challenges you intend to tackle in the next four years include promoting a Spanish architecture law. At a autonomous level some communities developed their own, but at a state level none have ever been enacted. What would their approval mean?
In Europe we have several referents of legislation that consider architecture as an activity of general interest and a basis for well-being and social cohesion, equating it to other fields such as the right to health or the right to justice. Curiously, in Spanish legislation there is no line that refers to this activity, architecture, as what allows us to live a little better in our cities. Our request is to recognize architecture as a collective right to enjoy the best possible cities as a matter of general interest. This would suppose a legislative umbrella for different aspects such as the protection of heritage, urban rehabilitation, the development and promotion of architectural and urban quality, etc.
Another of your propositions is to develop residences that impact the well-being of those who inhabit it. If customs and ways of living have changed, is a different way of construction necessary?
It is not a question of constructing in a different way, but of restructuring priorities and timing. Architects are in a constant process of updating knowledge and adapting to new technologies and regulatory changes, we do it through training courses, professional meetings, congresses and workshops, but above all, day by day in our studios and offices, at through a process of continuous research. So it is not a question of technique, which we already have, but of a willingness that would allow us to develop the best homes for different ways of living.
The fight against climate change has been one of your priorities at the head of the CSCAE. You are also familiar with this field from your work at the Institute of Construction Technology, what solutions do you think architecture can provide? What actions are urgent?
Architecture and urban planning are essential tools for adaptation to climate change, they are an inescapable part of the solution. Taking into account that the increase in greenhouse gases in cities has important effects on people's health and involves the loss of comfort and habitability of buildings, with the consequent increase in energy poverty, it is urgent to act. In Spain, with a building stock of 26 million homes, many of them obsolete from an energy point of view, architects' actions in building rehabilitation and urban regeneration will be essential to mitigate its effects. Limiting energy demand and achieving a higher percentage of near zero energy buildings, using eco-efficient materials, and analysing the life cycle of our buildings, designing sustainable cities are realities that the architects manage and that will allow not only to avoid important environmental impacts, but alliviate energy poverty and improve the living conditions in our cities.
I assume that sustainable construction, in order to be a reality, also has to be accompanied by more demanding regulations. Do you expect the new Technical Building Code that the government is working on to include a major overhaul in this regard?
I think so. In the CSCAE we have always collaborated to achieve higher quality in buildings and cities that have an impact, as I have said, on the quality of life and the habitability of all citizens. The next modification of the energy efficiency requirements in buildings follows a path started in 2006 to make them more sustainable and guarantee the minimum features with less consumption of resources. This and other modifications to the Technical Code, which will be operative shortly, should continue to steer in that direction, but also incorporating other issues that are elementary at this time. Among them, the fight against climate change, the incorporation of adaptation and mitigation measures in buildings and in the city that allow us to make cities healthier and more livable not only now, but also in the future, the transformation of production systems from our sector towards templates based on green and circular economy, and the comprehensive urban regeneration of Spanish cities. In these issues I think that architects and their professional organizations can make interesting contributions and, because of that, our willingness is to collaborate as much as possible with the administration.
As for urban planning, where do you think the city model should evolve towards? Are car-free cities compatible with the daily activity of those who inhabit them?
If we think about the history of urban planning, we see that the introduction of the private vehicle as a mass mean of transport in cities is relatively recent. Along with this, city growth processes based on dispersed models and segregated uses have led to cities consuming large numbers of resources and emitting large amounts of pollutants, with significant effects on nature. The good news is that cities are in constant transformation, you just have to propose a direction and objectives for the benefit not only of citizens, but of the planet as a whole. Our obligation is to propose a reflection on the current configuration and operation of our cities to offer solutions. This undoubtedly goes through an urgent change not only in mobility, which must opt for a less polluting model, but also other actions based on comprehensive urban regeneration. We know that cities are responsible for many of the environmental problems we suffer, but they are also a great opportunity to solve them and to incorporate social and economic aspects that ultimately shape the quality of life of people in the present and will guarantee the same conditions for future generations.
Let's talk about more of your programme's proposals. For the 2018-2021 period, it proposes collegiality plans and affiliation to schools, especially aimed at young and recently graduated architects. You will agree that it is a great challenge, taking into account the deep crisis that has affected the sector in recent years...
Yes, schools have also suffered severely from the crisis and have greatly reduced income, mainly due to the decline in our collegiates' activity and the drop in collegiality, which in the first years of the crisis fell between 5% and 10%. All this has led us to radically transform our economic model during those years. The figure is already recovering and most of the schools have exceeded the data before the crisis. Now what we have to do is to regain the trust of architects and improve the services that schools can offer.
I assume that more than once you will have heard "collegiality is purposeless, it's just for the signature" from fellow professionals. What changes do you think would be necessary to reverse that idea?
As I have mentioned, improving the services offered by the Schools and doing it from the real needs of the architects in the exercise of their profession is the main task. To do this, the first thing we must do is meet these needs and articulate an adequate response.
In an interview in this same newsletter, Alberto Campo Baeza assured that "the distribution of work, reasonably and cleanly organized, should be one of the main tasks of the Colleges of Architects and the CSCAE". Therefore giving certain hope for those professionals who do not achieve their job opportunity. What do you think of that proposal?
In part, the schools have already carried out, within what the competition regulations allow us, some tasks in this regard, with job boards, lists of experts and lists of architects by specialties.
Once the crisis is over, what assessment would you make of the profession today? Are there indicators to be optimistic for in the immediate future?
To this day, the profession continues to be severely affected by the crisis. We have improved, yes, but the fall in the volume of work in terms of endorsement, which was of 90%, means that only 10% of what we had before is beginning to recover. The market needs to level off, with all that that entails: lack of hiring, falling prices, lack of yardsticks and references to fees... In short, professional conditions are still very hard due to lack of work, as well as very complex due to an increasingly abundant regulation.
On the other hand, we are optimistic to the extent that we know that our profession is useful to society and that we are part of the solution.
To conclude, from your teaching role, how do you see the new generations of architects?
The situation is especially hard especially for young recently graduated architects who find it very difficult to access the labour market; Furthermore, when they do, they agree to precarious conditions. On the other hand, they are the professionals with the most flexibility and adaptability, very important qualities to respond to the new needs that we have spoken about. There are many work fields, apart from the classic exercise of the profession, related to new technologies, BIM, energy management, sustainability and maintenance of buildings for which architects are not only trained, but also provide added value by knowing the complete process and the globality of the functioning of buildings and cities.