LUIS ALONSO // Alonso & Balaguer

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Luis Alonso (Madrid, 1955) studied at the Higher Technical School of Architecture of Barcelona (ETSAB) graduating in 1978. That same year he founded in Barcelona along with Sergio Balaguer the studio Alonso I Balaguer y Arquitectos Asociados, the city in which they keep their headquarters to this day. They also have offices in Santiago of Chile, New York, Bogotá, Lima and Rio de Janeiro. They have an interdisciplinary team of 60 people dedicated to architecture, urban planning, interior design, and industrial and graphic design. Alonso & Balaguer is committed to the internationalization of Catalan architecture, with more than 700 projects in Spain, Chile, Colombia, United States, Peru, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Poland, Morocco, Algeria, Qatar... Their work, object of numerous national and international awards, is made up of high-rise multipurpose buildings, sports centres, hotels, auditoriums, event centres, wineries, offices, corporate campuses, schools, master plans... Amongst its most emblematic achievements, the Leisure and Shopping Centre in the former bullring of Las Arenas in Barcelona, ​​the Bacatá Tower (the largest skyscraper in Colombia), the Hesperia Tower in Barcelona, ​​the Iberdrola Corporate Campus in Madrid, the Protos winery in the

Ribera del Duero, the residential and hotel complex Isla del Cielo in Diagonal Mar in Barcelona or the Olympic Village for referees and press of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. In Chile they began their career with the Club Balthus Vitacura, in Monsignor Escribá de Balaguer, and recently The Alonso office building in Alonso de Córdova and the Youtopia sports club in Los Trapenses have been completed. There they also have several residential and mixed-use buildings in the construction stage, such as the Prince of Wales Tower with Vespucci and various urban plannning master plans. A large part of these projects are included in the 13 monographs published by the Barcelona studio.

In 2012, Luis Alonso moved to Chile to open and consolidate the Alonso & Balaguer office in the South American country, where they had already worked on significant projects. He meets with CORTIZO ARCH in Santiago to discuss architecture in the two sides of the Atlantic.

"An architect has a great social responsability. For this reason
they ought to deliver more than was initially requested"

It's been five years already since putting together the Chile office, what is your evaluation of this period?

Time has proved us right and after this period we can confirm that our Office has consolidated its presence with multiple projects in all phases. In some of them we have already finished their construction, others are in progress and many of them are in the project phase. Chile is a country with extraordinary possibilities; for its seriousness and for the multiple opportunities of developing subjects not yet implemented. We are developing sports clubs, retirement homes, student residences, multipurpose buildings, next generation planning projects, etc.

Your international broadening was also completed with new offices in Bogotá, Lima, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. What drew you to these markets?

Architecture is a great pass key for the entire construction industry and, in this sense, it is no coincidence that in many of our projects in Latin America we are accompanied by national engineering firms, manufacturing of all kinds, construction companies, etc. It is a pity that what I have been stressing for years has not been understood by the public estates to join oversea traveling and make better use of this great possibility of national economic development.

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South American cities grew at an astonishing rate, even some architects from these countries were very critical of the transformation of their cities, since, according to them, the identification of the inhabitants with their cities' urban environment was very low. What do you make of it? Has that trend changed today?

In the past decades, Latin America followed a growth model overly based on the North American urban model, generating an enormous dependence on the automobile, with vastly horizontal expansions and unifunctional "ghettos" that are based on a very perverse triangle of functions: at one end of the triangle the person lives, in the other he works and in the third he goes shopping and leisuring. This generates very poor social and energy sustainability, with large consumptions of time and energy for citizens on circulating, generally by car. For this reason, many possibilities of contribution arise in the new urban planning, as well as in the transformation of the existing established areas. It is in this area that we can contribute significant added value to, just as we are doing.

In Europe's case, you were also critical of this type of city structured so that its inhabitants live, work and leisure in different areas. How can this trend be reversed to reach the multifunctional cities that you propose?


First of all, I think we have to lose the fear of high-rise constructions. High-rise constructions in certain areas with adequate public transport, that is, compressing cities is a solution that can offer very good results. We cannot continue planning with unlimited growth of urban soil due to "flooding of the area". Height can recover green areas, generally scarce in city centres, in these neighborhoods. This is the case of the Bacatá Tower, a skyscraper in the centre of Bogotá whose construction is winding up, and whose contribution to the regeneration of the neighborhood is very positively viewed by the citizens. Something similar also occurs with the plan we have developed in the old Repsol deposits in Malaga, we devised a high-rise building that will allow us to have a new and necessary urban park of more than 8 hectares in a very dense area of ​​the city.


You are a great promoter and defender of high-rise construction, something that society does not always agrees with, often generating controversy...

I do not propose a high-rise building in the city, but in very specific areas, where public transport has or could have in the short term a good organization. As indicated before, height can provide many benefits to the city and, for that matter, to citizens. It is about freeing up space wherever the city needs it for green areas, therefore filtering the city.


In your books and lectures, you talk a lot about the "promiscuity" of buildings. Is that concept also linked to multifunctionality?
  


Cities and buildings were based on that "functional promiscuity" in times past. I mean, there was an intense combination of uses that made the city very welcoming to the citizen, providing all kinds of activities in a walkable environment. In this sense, in our international conferences, I always put Barcelona as an example. Each block in the Barcelona expansion district is a microcity in itself. There you can find homes, offices, local shops, green areas, kindergartens, retirement homes, libraries, etc. Wherever possible, this is what we encourage and enhance in our projects. At the moment, both the Bacatá Tower, previously mentioned, and the new Prince of Wales Tower in Santiago de Chile are models of intense and profound "functional promiscuity", where we have prompted our clients to incorporate all kinds of uses that could give the ensemble an intensive activity. I always like to point out that, for us, one of the first bases of sustainability is that buildings are in use most hours of the day and most days a year.


Since we are talking about sustainability, is it a reality or a buzzword?

The term sustainability is used too much and too easily now a days, there is a tendency to think of energy and consumption savings as logical and should already be incorporated into the DNA of today's architecture. But, as I indicated before, for us sustainability goes much further, from the very moment of the functional approach and uses of the future building or neighborhood. It should become mandatory to establish as early as the project phase the maintenance cost, not only the construction cost, of any building, public or private, in its first 10 years. We would thus discover large foci of authentic sustainability in the medium and long term. From our professional offices, we do so and endorse it, obtaining great and positive surprises and gratitude from our clients.


In addition to sustainability, what requirements do you believe good architecture must meet?


I think that an architect has an enormous social responsibility and, therefore, he must always try to give more than was initially requested.
In many of our projects we have prompted the Public Administration and private clients to incorporate synergies between the social needs of
the neighborhood where the building is being introduced. Let us think that a private building can incorporate uses of a social nature and thereby
reduce construction and future maintenance costs: offices are compatible with libraries, residential use with commerce, senior centers with
medical centers and residential areas, and so on.

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Your studio accumulates more than 700 executed constructions in many countries with a certain prominence, for example, of sports architecture. Was it something casual or is it linked to your passion for sports?

Since I was very young I have been associated with athletics, just like Sergio, which led us to a fine link with sports buildings; it's not by chance. In fact, I still run marathons, accumulating fourteen on my aching knees already. We have developed 68 sports clubs in different countries and cultures and we have always tried to incorporate new activities, as well as self-criticism of previous achievements.

And as a avowed culé, I suppose you have a thorn in your side from the Nou Palau Blaugrana in whose contest you participated.

Lost contests always produce great frustrations. And especially in the case of the Palau Blaugrana, due to our culé DNA and because we had previously developed the changing rooms and additional rooms for the first team. Even so, we accept that there can always be a solution that is better received by the jury, it is part of contests' "perverse" game.

CORTIZO has also participated in some of your multiple projects. One of them is the Hamelin School, where light and color are protagonists. What would you highlight about this building?

A project for a school is one of the most exciting topics, due to the difficulty involved. And the result of Hamelin, in Montgat, I think has been really successful from the functional and aesthetic point of view. I always say that in order to make good architecture you need not only a good team of architects, but also a good client, as has been the case with this project. The creation of outdoor living spaces and color as a dynamic and light-hearted element were very clear targets that we proposed for ourselves from the beginning.

Another of your recent projects for educational use is the new Iberdrola Campus, in which the uniqueness of its roof stands out. What did you strive for with this proposal?

In the international contest that we presented and won, we had already proposed a large canopy of approximately 15,000 m² and 20-25 meters high, to produce two effects. On the one hand, a shading and protective environment in the space between the 11 buildings. On the other, self-generation of energy for the entire corporate campus. Its visual impact is striking and perfectly meets the self-established conditions.

Lastly, in addition to the great towers of Chile and Colombia that we have already discussed. What other projects are you working on?

We are currently envisaging several multi-functional buildings since it is one of the premises of international investment funds for the coming years. It is not only practical for the city's best performance, as I have previously commented, but also in terms of real estate value. In addition, sports centers continue to generate the vital intellectual excitement of our architecture firm, especially the unstoppable growth of the Duet Fit chain.

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