LUIS FDEZ-GALIANO

Luis-Fernandez

Luis Fernández-Galiano (Calatayud-Zaragoza, 1950) is an architect, Projects professor at the School of Architecture of the Technical University of Madrid, and director of AV/Arquitectura Viva magazines since 1985. Between 1993 and 2006 he was in charge of the weekly architecture page in the El País newspaper. Honorary member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando and the Royal Academy of Doctors, he is a RIBA International Fellow, he has been a Cullinan Professor at Rice University, Franke Fellow at Yale University, guest researcher at the Los Angeles Center Getty and visiting critic at Harvard and Princeton, as well as at the Berlage Institute; and has taught monographic series of conferences at the Menéndez Pelayo University and the March Foundation. He has also directed the international congresses of architecture 'More for less' (2010), 'The common' (2012), 'Necessary architecture' (2014), 'Climate change' (2016) and 'Less architecture, more city' ( 2018). President of the jury in the 9th Venice Architecture Biennale, juror of the Mies van der Rohe Award and of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, he has curated the exhibitions El espacio privado, Extreme Eurasia (in Tokyo and in Madrid), Bucky Fuller & Spaceship Earth and Jean Prouvé: 

Industrial Beauty (these last two with Norman Foster), as well as Spain mon amour (in the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale and in Madrid), and The Architect is Present. Furthermore, he has been on the jury of several international competitions in Europe, America and Asia, including those of the National Library of Mexico, the National Art Museum of China, the National Library of Israel and the Noble Qur’an Oasis in Madinah. Among his books are La Quimera Moderna, Fire and Memory, Spain Builds (with New York’s MoMA in its English version, and presented in its Chinese version with symposiums in Shanghai and Beijing) and Atlas, Architectures of the 21st Century, a series of four volumes.

"Contextualism and respect for the enviroment
distinguish modern architecture a great deal" 

Luis Fernández-Galiano was defined by Rafael Moneo as the "Architect without construction". Not because a prolific career around architecture does not surround him, but because that work is not made up of buildings. It is made up of an extensive collection of articles, reviews, books and conferences that have made him one of the most recognized firms in contemporary Spanish architecture. Why did you decide to focus your career on the most theoretical aspect?

It really was beacuse of a series of biographical vagaries. I finished my degree in '73, a little before the first oil crisis, then came the one of '79, they were very difficult years for architects. In my case, I combined working in a studio that I had with some friends, with classes at the School and a collaboration with the Blume publishing house. In 1980 my first son was born and I had to choose, since it was impossible for me to cover all these roles. The studio was the thing that required the most time, and that's why I opted for teaching and publishing, in order to better reconcile family life with architecture.

Among his many facets is that of editor of Arquitectura Viva magazine, a publication that this year celebrates three decades and has become a benchmark, much like AV Monografías. What led you to foster an architecture magazine at a time of transition? 

When we launched AV Monografías in 1985, I had already been director of Architecture Collections at the Hermann Blume publishing house and had launched the CAU (Construction, Architecture and Urbanism) magazine in Barcelona, which lasted 6 years. That previous editorial experience was what pushed me to bet on a project that is 33 years old today and has an international vocation. The three magazines we make, also including AV Proyectos, are bilingual. Therefore, when the crisis came, we were able to focus them also on countries that had English as a lingua franca.

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Arquitectura Viva and AV Monografías have more than 400 issues in which they have shown the various architectural movements that dominate this era. Postmodernism, deconstruction, minimalism... Which movement do you consider to have been more decisive in the last 30 years?

I would say the most important aspect in these last three decades has been the importance of context. I do not know whether to call it contextualism, but the respect for the environment in which one works, be it an urban environment or a landscape environment, is what has marked recent architecture the most. In the past, it was very common for architecture to aspire to indicate its condition in a somewhat autonomous way; Today's architects, due to the logical pressure of society, want to integrate into the environments were they work and that makes the position of architecture more respectful, humble, and integrated.

All the movements that emerged in this era have been very brief ultimately. Postmodernism arose and exhausted itself, deconstruction too, all of them leaving behind important constructions that have surely changed aesthetic perception, but did not become part of our daily life. This has been achieved, however, by respect for the environment and the architect's desire to integrate into the enviroment.

Where are we now? What trend is protagonist today?

The most significant thing for me is that the social factor has been prioritized. Both the architects who are training in the new schools and the more veteran ones have an awareness of the social role of architecture that, due to the formal exacerbation of the last decades, had been left in the background. After living this hubbub of styles, we have returned to the old beliefs where architecture is a profession of service and the architect works keeping the recipients of his work, that is, the people, institutions or clients who hire them, in mind. The Pritzker to Alejandro Aravena was a sign in that direction, but there are many others. We perceive it in the attitude of the youngest or also in what the press publishes on architecture and in the current insight about the work of architects. They are no longer seen as arbiters of style or aesthetics, but rather as people with a very eclectic background who bring together the knowledge of sociologists, engineers, urban planners and many others to make people's lives better.

At the time, Arquitectura Viva dedicated a double issue to 9/11, considering that what happened went beyond the political sphere. You saw an architectural phenomenon in it, why is that? 

We thought that, in addition to being an event of extraordinary historical and political relevance, it was also something of great architectural importance. After all, that group of young people who hijacked the plane and crashed it into the Twin Towers was led by Mohamed Atta, a Saudi architect who had trained in Cairo and was doing his PhD in Hamburg on traditional Islamic architecture, in contrast with that modern architecture that the hijacked planes shot down. In addition to a desire to destroy an icon of American financial power, there was a desire to manifest it through the collapse of those two towers that for many were the symbol of the triumph of modernity associated with capitalism, also understood as architectural modernity.

Arquitectura Viva and AV Monografías have collected in their pages the work and signature of the most important architects in the world. Who are the ones that have marked you the most?

The truth is that I have had the privilege of meeting and treating practically all the great architects in the world suring the many years I dedicated myself to criticism. Those that have marked me the most are the ones that influenced me during my formative stage: Alejandro de la Sota, Miguel Fisac, Antonio Fernández Alba or Rafael Moneo are just a few examples. Outside of Spain, it is difficult to pick, but I would choose the four architects that I have invited this year to the School to give a lecture and proofread the works of my students: Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, Jacques Herzog and Peter Eisenman. They are only four of the many friends that I have been able to make in the world of architecture throughout all these years.

His roles also include architectural critic. What aspects do you mainly value when analyzing a project? What requirements must good architecture meet from your point of view?

Although thousands of years have already passed, Vitruvius defined the requirements that good architecture should meet better than anyone else, bringing together the firmitas with the utilitas and the venustas, that is, structural strength, utility or functionality and beauty. Twenty centuries later they are still the characteristics that best define architecture.

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When one analyzes the work of others, even if it is done from a constructive point of view, there is a possibility of this analysis not being well received. Have you been reprimanded for any of your reviews?

Yes, although it should also be borne in mind that with more than 2000 articles written it would be very difficult to please everyone. Some architects were bothered by what was published, but I understand that it is also something inherent to my work as a critic. For 14 years I made an architecture page in the newspaper El País and, therefore, it is almost inevitable that in all this time some author did not feel unfairly treated. I also recognize that sometimes one is mistaken or censured with too much acrimony, but I have no choice but to express my opinion frankly.

In his essay 1996-2004 "The age of the spectacle" he analyzed a type of architecture, for many of profligation, in which iconic projects prevailed over the needs of society. Who drove this movement in its time? 

Economic prosperity was the essential element behind it all, the availability of money made it possible to construct those unnecessary buildings. To this we should add the vanity of customers, whether they were institutions or large companies, who wanted to assert their presence on the public scene through an iconic building. Consequently, the desire for notoriety and the ability to materialize it in a period of economic prosperity came together.

Is that period over?

In Europe I would say it is. Today we are more reluctant to applaud this most type of trivial spectacle architecture. It is not dead however; in the Persian Gulf or in China it continues to exist. It has disappeared from our cultural sphere, but it is still very present in other areas where these factors of economic bubble and the wish for symbolic assertion of their regimes, cities or companies come together.

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In many of his conferences he has defended high-risa architecture as a way to create compact cities. Is it the solution for increasingly populated metropolises?

I believe that cities should grow upwards and not sideways. Suburbanization is a very negative phenomenon that was experienced in the last decades, the oil slick way of growing in cities, with villas in the contour that are not part of it, that is why we call them suburban areas. That does not mean that we necessarily have to build skyscrapers. What we need are denser, more compact cities, better able to accommodate the variety of the present-day society. This is already happening. There was a time when a transfer of the population to the neighboring areas of the cities was created, but today they are returning to the cities, living in the center and occupying them in a denser and more compact way. A denser city is more favorable in ecological, energetic and human terms.


There is a lot of talk about the architecture of cities, but we read and listen to very few reflections on small towns and rural areas. Is the architecture of small enclaves being forgotten?

There is a lot of talk today about empty Spain, about a country that is being deserted. However, I think that there are more and more examples of excellent architecture in rural areas. Young architects are deeply involved in landscaping, with the integration of architecture in the natural and vernacular landscape. On the one hand, there is an abandonment of rural areas and progressive desertification, but on the other, there is a commitment by institutions and architects to regenerate and recover small towns. In fact, the architecture awards reward a number of interventions in very small rural areas, although what is ultimately transmitted to public opinion is that Spain is being emptied and only the coast and the large metropolises continue to grow.

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In many cities there are buildings that usually house the headquarters of large companies and that ended up becoming icons due to their envelope's uniqueness. Large glazed façades that connect the building and the city. As enclosure designers we would like to know your opinion on this type of construction solutions for modern architecture and the advances experienced in recent years...

Enclosures are a very important element because they are the face of architecture, what citizens perceive, and it is as important as the structural skeleton and functional viscera. Normally it is the architects themselves who stipulate them, except for large high-rise projects, and it is essential that they do so with the ecological and sustainability awareness that we all share today. I am talking about matters such as the unlimited recyclability of aluminum or the insertion of a thermal break in carpentry to improve its energy efficiency.

As a professor, how do you see the new generations? 

Same as my generation at the time, I believe that they face the future with optimism, without being scared by the difficulties of an unfavorable economic environment: suspended construction work, lack of investments and, therefore, little chance of developing a architect career. However, this profession is so ductile that it allows us to survive doing many other things, making construction compatible with activities such as industrial design, fashion, advertising... Architects have such versatile training that it allows them to adapt very well in periods in which the economic cycle entails a certain drought of projects and proper architectural achievements.

In my students I see that, despite all the difficulties mentioned, the vocational component weighed more on them when joining this career. They plunge into professional life with great enthusiasm and talent for adapting to a very volatile environment thanks to the adaptability and ductility that their training gives them. Nowadays they have a very good command of English, which also allows them to look for opportunities abroad. That professional exodus will be fertile both for them and for the profession, since when they return they will be able to contribute with many of the things learned to our architecture.