X-TALK #26 BY JAVIER ARPA

Wed, Dec 21, 2016    7pm

Instant City: Learning From Madrid

X-Talk #26 by Javier Arpa, Research and Education Coordinator at The Why Factory, TU Delft, and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University GSAPP

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In the two decades following its accession to the European Union in 1986, Spain underwent an unprecedented transformation. This growth was largely driven by construction-related activities, which in 2005 represented 20% of Spain’s GDP (1). Between 1995 and 2007 alone about 6 million dwellings were built, housing prices tripled, and mortgage lending multiplied eleven-fold (2).

[…] Today, the Madrid region is littered by a multitude of urban fragments at different stages of completion, including housing areas still under construction, unfinished or abandoned residential developments; incomplete cultural facilities; and underused infrastructures. This constellation of urbanized pieces is conveniently connected by an over-scaled network of freeways and toll highways whose own construction required significant public sector involvement.

But this crisis is neither the first nor the last speculative bubble to burst in history. Yet contemporary urban design rarely takes this instability into account. As a consequence, we have recently witnessed the proliferation of incomplete settlements in the Sunbelt region of the United States, Ireland, Iceland, Angola, the Middle East and China. This phenomenon should be regarded as a fundamental disciplinary challenge facing 21st century urban design.

Javier Arpa is an architecture and design author, curator, researcher and lecturer. Having completed a Master of Science in Architecture at the Delft University of Technology, Javier specialises in the dissemination of architectural and urbanism practice. Javier is the Research and Education Coordinator of The Why Factory, a global think-tank and research institute, run by MVRDV and Delft University of Technology, and led by professor Winy Maas.

He is the curator of the exhibitions Paris Habitat and Paysages Habités, held in 2015 at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal in Paris, and the author of the monograph Paris Habitat: One Hundred Years of City, One Hundred Years of Life.

Javier was Senior Editor for a+t research group, one of Europe’s leading publishers in architecture and urbanism. His expertise in housing is manifested in the publications of a+t’s Density series, which he coauthored. His passion for the city as the essential format capable for promoting the resolution of competing urban uses is reflected in the Hybrids and Civilities series, which he also co-authored. In addition, Javier’s ability to analyze urban landscapes and public spaces from an editorially distinct perspective is visible in the In Common series, The Public Chance volume and the Strategy series, all of which he co-authored.

Javier has taught at Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, ENSA Versailles and ENSA Belleville. In 2013, he co-organized the conference The City That Never Was in cooperation with the Architectural League of New York. This event used the current economic and urban crisis in Spain as a lens through which to consider future global patterns of urbanization and settlement.

He worked for a number of architecture firms in Argentina, The Netherlands, Spain and France, and led several urban planning projects in China. As a consultant, he currently provides independent advice to the different stakeholders involved in the development of a variety of urban design projects in France.

Full Abstract: Instant City: Learning From Madrid

In the two decades following its accession to the European Union in 1986, Spain underwent an unprecedented transformation. This growth was largely driven by construction-related activities, which in 2005 represented 20% of Spain’s GDP (1). Between 1995 and 2007 alone about 6 million dwellings were built, housing prices tripled, and mortgage lending multiplied eleven-fold (2).

In those years, the Spanish territory was subject to a relentless process of urbanization typified by the expansion of existing urban areas and coastal resorts; the proliferation of mobility infrastructures; and the construction of state-of-the-art culture and leisure amenities. This growth model was considered by economists as a “New Spanish Miracle”, and was encouraged by the European Union. In 2007 the EU stated that Spain represented a “reference model for the twelve countries that joined the EU since 2004" (3). At the same time, international architectural critics were hypnotized by this massive building-boom, in particular the iconic public works projects, often financed through European Funds approved in Brussels.

Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy marked the beginning of a deep global economic crisis and triggered the bursting of this real estate bubble, wreaking havoc on the social landscape of Spain. Between 2008 and 2013, the jobless total soared to nearly 6 million, 26% of the working population. At the same time, the youth unemployment rate reached 55% (4). This catastrophic period left Spain with the second highest rate of income inequality in the European Union, and its poverty level as one of the highest on the continent (5).

The credit crunch curbed the construction frenzy, leaving behind a vast territory of incomplete urbanization. This situation, although widespread across Spain, is particularly severe in the Madrid region. Here, of 415.000 new housing units built between 2001 and 2011, 260.000 remain empty (6). Most of these residential projects were built within low-density peripheral developments (in the city of Madrid alone, 180.000 dwellings (7) had been planned for these new, mono-functional neighborhoods), or new towns started from scratch on the plains of Castilla-La Mancha. Indeed, the absence of any comprehensive vision for the metropolitan region allowed each individual municipality to launch programs for the conversion of their peripheries from rural to urban uses. This transformation occurred at such a pace that between 1987 and 2006 the urbanized land increased by 80,6% in the metropolitan area of Madrid, and by 220% and 122% in the nearby urban areas of Guadalajara and Toledo respectively (8).

Today, the Madrid region is littered by a multitude of urban fragments at different stages of completion, including housing areas still under construction, unfinished or abandoned residential developments; incomplete cultural facilities; and underused infrastructures. This constellation of urbanized pieces is conveniently connected by an over-scaled network of freeways and toll highways whose own construction required significant public sector involvement.

But this crisis is neither the first nor the last speculative bubble to burst in history. Yet contemporary urban design rarely takes this instability into account. As a consequence, we have recently witnessed the proliferation of incomplete settlements in the Sunbelt region of the United States, Ireland, Iceland, Angola, the Middle East and China. This phenomenon should be regarded as a fundamental disciplinary challenge facing 21st century urban design.

Sources: (1) Banco de España, 2013 (2) Observatorio Metropolitano de Madrid, 2013 (3) El País, 2007 (4) Instituto Nacional de Estadística, 2013 (5) Eurostat, 2013 (6) Instituto Nacional de Estadística, 2013 (7) Observatorio Metropolitano de Madrid, 2013 (8) Atlas Digital de las Áreas Urbanas, Ministerio de Fomento, Gobierno de España, 2013

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