On the Cutting Edge of Spanish Architecture

By Adam Figman, Editorial Intern
Earlier today I attended “Architecture From Spain,” a look at the state and plans for evolution of Spanish architecture, specifically in the Castilla y León region of Northern Spain. The event took place in Tafel Hall at the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, a large white room filled with natural light that poured in through the street-side windows.
AIA Executive Director Rick Bell kicked the day off with an introduction, during which he outlined the goal of the day’s seminars: to contribute to an understanding of the world via a knowledge of the materials we have and the way people construct things. Bell explained that research done on the computer or design done in a studio is not sufficient to fully comprehend the ways architects build the things they do. 
Bell went on to praise the work that’s been done in the Castilla y León region, and then had a moment of pride when he talked about the sustainability and green-ness of the building we were all sitting in.  Apparently, the New York AIA chapter is one of only a few buildings in the city powered by geothermal wells–two provide the institute’s energy in this case. This set forth the beginning of a trend on green architecture and sustainable development that consistently reappeared all day.
The first speaker was Mr. Juan I. Barroso, the head of the Department of Culture and Tourism of the Castilla y León government.  Barroso provided a plethora of information about the region of Spain for which he works, setting up the context for those who followed him.  Castilla y León, I learned, is spread over 36,600 square miles and contains 2,500,000 inhabitants. This leads to a very low population density, with only 70 people per square mile (the European average is 260).  These people are concentrated mostly in small towns, leaving vast countryside wide open throughout the area.
He also touched on the history of the vicinity. Interestingly, Castilla y León was subject to stints of Roman and Muslim rule in centuries past, the latter of which led to some pretty cool cultural integration.  Twelve Gothic cathedrals can be found in the region, and lots of movable works of art and contemporary architecture can be found, as well.
After Mr. Barroso’s history and cultural lesson, Mr. David Camara, president of Unex – Area Contract, took the stage. Camara’s position puts him charge of hospitality equipment, interior design, and home equipment, and he stressed the forward progress of the habitat industry in retail, which includes manufacturing fabrics, lighting, flooring decoration, and more.
Camara says restaurants are working to assist people with handicaps.  He also laid out all of the details that his work includes, such as “styles” (contemporary, modern, classical), “range” (high and medium-high products), and the ecological materials used (words, glass, ceramics, aluminum).  Quality service is key, says Camara, and he finds it important that the habitat and contract market in Castilla y León specializes itself so it can continue to increase in importance.  He stood behind the notion that the materials manufactured are qualified to meet the American demand, and that they offer a unique value option for architectural interior design projects throughout Europe.
Following Mr. Camara was Mrs. Sonia Para, who taught me everything I learned and then forgot in Introduction to Environmental Studies. Mrs. Para, a fourth generation stone business family member, sped through slides overflowing with science terms and descriptions of the different rock types offered in Northern Spain, which include sandstone, limestone, quartzite, marble and granite. She ended her seminar with a focus on (not surprisingly) sustainability, providing a scientific definition of the term and explaining that both a Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Audit are now requirements for building in Castilla y León.
A pair of Spanish architects wrapped up the day, as they discussed a few projects they were completing. Mr. Miguel A. Alonso led off, and talked about the National Museum of Energy that he was working on in Ponferrada, Spain. The museum will celebrate the mining heritage or the area, while using the area’s natural elements as a thematic park. Solar power and biomass were used as energy sources, and a green covering and a solar skylight will also minimize the need for a powerful heating system. “The building is not trying to be a building with an exhibition inside, but a building that is an exhibition in itself,” he says. Mr. Rufino J. Hernandez concluded the day by talking about some projects he was working on, with pictures to accompany his explanations.

Overall, it was definitely an interesting event, even if the thick Spanish accents made it difficult for me to understand more than a sentence or two at a time. 

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