Shit-Architect / Arquitecto de mierda

 

miralles2

Posting for a 6-month unpaid intern position at the Enric Miralles Foundation, 2013. Source: Arquitectacion blog. According to the source, 247 applicants responded.

 

[Text originally published in / Texto originalmente publicado en BCN MÉS #73. Versión en castellano sigue a continuación]

 

Shit-Architect

In Manhattan, they say that if you were to throw a stone into a crowd, chances are it would strike a lawyer. In Barcelona, ​​the stone would probably hit an architect. There are almost five thousand registered architects in the Catalan capital, but counting non-registered architects such as yours truly, we probably exceed ten thousand. There is actually a book about Barcelona titled The City of Architects, by Llàtzer Moix (1994).

It is true that Barcelona attracts architects like a stable attracts flies. Here you breathe, eat, and shit architecture. There is always an architectural event in this metropolis, which has no less than five schools dedicated to this discipline, along with many foreign schools of architecture running study-abroad programs. In surveys published annually by Barcelona’s tourism agency, “the architecture” is what visitors to this city rate most highly; more than “the culture” or “the people”. Architecture is an entire economic sector in Barcelona.

Yet despite the glamour enjoyed by this profession, there is an ugly truth: working conditions are terrible. Working as a freelance without social benefits, earning less than a living wage, putting in extra hours without pay, and enduring verbal abuse are part of everyday life in many prestigious offices. Working conditions have only deteriorated since the economic crisis, and are barely improving despite the supposed current “economic recovery”. Yet this period of decline coincides precisely with the rise of architecture superstars: there has never been so much worldwide interest as there is today to learn of the latest winner of the Pritzker Prize, the so-called “Nobel of architecture” even though Mr. Nobel was a scientist and Mr. Pritzker the founder of a hotel chain. Go figure.

The truth is, however, that this profession’s prestige and its deplorable working conditions are two sides of the same coin. Fame is precisely what attracts young talent willing to work for peanuts (or even for free). This is why architects seek fame so badly: “good architecture” is highly labour-intensive. The most prestigious offices the world over depend in large part on unpaid interns who are only too happy to be able to state in their CV that they worked for so-and-so. This is how the architectural economy functions.

Of course, it’s also true that many studios cannot pay decent salaries because the competition for commissions is so cut-throat. We bend over backwards trying to impress juries with our ideas in competitions whose only prize is to be awarded the commission. We must be the only profession that gives its work away for free. And it is even more sad to see how fee discounts form an increasingly important factor in public-sector competitions.

In architecture, then, glamour is merely compensation for terrible working conditions. We can act really cool at a cocktail party (as long as we don’t have an impending deadline) and pretend that we are the cat’s meow, the dog’s bullocks, or whatever, but the reality behind our mask is another: we belong to a profession worth shit.

 

Arquitecto de mierda

En Manhattan se dice que si tiras una piedra sobre una muchedumbre, probablemente acabe golpeando a un abogado. Si eso lo hicieses en Barcelona, en cambio, la piedra golpearía con toda probabilidad a un arquitecto: en la comarca del Barcelonés hay casi cinco mil colegiados, pero si contamos los no colegiados como es mi caso, probablemente superamos los diez mil. Incluso hay un libro sobre Barcelona titulado La ciudad de los arquitectos (1994), de Llàtzer Moix.

Es verdad que la Ciudad Condal atrae a este gremio igual que un establo atrae moscas. Aquí se respira, se come, y hasta se caga arquitectura. Siempre hay un happening arquitectónico en esta metrópoli, contamos ni más ni menos que con cinco escuelas dedicadas a esta disciplina, sin enumerar las muchas escuelas de arquitectura de todo el mundo que imparten clases aquí. En las encuestas a visitantes que publica anualmente Barcelona Turisme, lo que más valoran los guiris que visitan nuestra ciudad son los edificios y las construcciones, por encima de la cultura o la gente. La arquitectura es todo un sector económico en Barcelona. 

A pesar del glamur del que disfruta, la verdad es que esta profesión ofrece unas condiciones de trabajo pésimas. Trabajar como falso autónomo, tener un sueldo de mierda, computar largas horas sin pago y aguantar broncas forman parte del día a día en muchos despachos. La situación laboral se ha deteriorado mucho en los últimos años, tanto durante la crisis como durante la supuesta recuperación. Curiosamente, esta época de decadencia coincide con el auge de las superestrellas de la arquitectura: nunca ha habido tanto interés por saber quién es el ganador del Pritzker Prize, el llamado Nobel de la arquitectura a pesar de que el señor Nobel fue un científico y el señor Pritzker el fundador de una cadena hotelera. En fin.

En realidad, el prestigio del que disfruta esta ocupación y las deplorables condiciones laborales y profesionales van de la mano. La fama de un estudio de arquitectura es precisamente lo que le permite atraer talento joven dispuesto a currar por poco sueldo (o incluso gratis). Por eso los arquitectos buscan tanto la fama: se necesita mucha mano de obra para crear “buena arquitectura”. Los despachos más prestigiosos viven en gran parte de becarios que, en cambio, están encantados de poder incluir en sus currículums que han colaborado en tal o cual despacho. Así funciona la economía arquitectónica.

Lo cierto es que la mayoría de los estudios no pueden pagar sueldos dignos porque el mercado les exige regalar su profesionalidad, tanto a promotores privados como a administraciones públicas. Nos matamos a ofrecer ideas en concursos públicos que tienen como único premio la adjudicación del encargo. Debemos ser el único gremio que regala su trabajo a cambio de nada. Y aún es más triste ver cómo últimamente los jurados de concursos públicos valoran, por encima de la calidad arquitectónica, el descenso de los honorarios.

En esta profesión se compensan con glamur las pésimas condiciones en las que se trabaja. Podemos asistir a un coctel (mientras no estemos con una entrega) y aparentar que somos cojonudos, pero la realidad detrás de esa máscara es otra: una profesión con condiciones económicas de mierda.

 

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

Architect, educator and writer. Partner at ArqEstructura. Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Calgary. Blogger at criticalista.com.

3 comments

  1. svetlanaholmes@gmail.com

    Thanks for the post. I would add that its all part of the fake Catalunya culture. I lived in BCN for 5 years and was shocked at how everything is fake. Those beautiful modernist buildings in LEixample? Go inside and you’ll find windowless rooms, just the one bathroom for a huge apartment, no isolation, illegal constructions, the hideous “entresuelo”, corruption is rampant and bureaucracy endless, nobody knows proper english, etc. However, we are talking about, as the Catalans say, “one of the richest countries in the world” (not true by far), the people that invented cannelloni, the birthplace of Columbus, and a very very long etc of fake realities. The same people that claim to be exploited by Spaniards, who incidentally, are inferior to them, that claim they have no dignity and aren´t free. I have not made this up. Leaders have published several books claiming that Catalans genes are Swiss, they are white and they are akin to Denmark while the Spaniards are dark skinned and beasts (google it and you will want to puke at some of the things Catalan leaders believe in). That to me is proof of the lack of education and low cultural level in BCN. If you believe in the superiority of anyone over anyone you are a fool and an ignorant, but in Catalunya you are a hero, a liberator. Thus, ignorant people are taken for a ride. There is still some meritocracy and if you are ignorant well, you get what you deserve. Barcelona was a fun place to party and go to the beach on the cheap. After so many decades of starving under Franco people got a bit confused. The province is bankrupt, its finances in shambles, the economy is owned by Spain and the EU, there are no natural resources, not even enough food, nor water, only pig farms and tourism. It´s time to face reality!

    • Rafael Gomez-Moriana

      Thanks for your comment, but I have to say I don’t agree with you. Firstly, my post is about the conditions under which architects all over the world are working, and not specific to Catalonia. Unfortunately, unpaid internships and low honoraria are common everywhere. Similarly, the “fake Catalunya culture” you critique is also to be found in many places. If there are windowless rooms in many buildings in the Eixample, that’s because the 19th century was rather Dickensian here (as elsewhere), and building codes at that time permitted such rooms. As for what you call the “superiority” complex of some Catalans, I would only say that, once again, such sentiments can unfortunately be found in many other places. It’s important to remember that Catalonia’s current government was not elected by a majority of voters. Catalans are a varied lot, and many are abhorred by current political leadership in Catalonia.

  2. svetlanaholmes@gmail.com

    I do agree with you Rafael. My point is that you can´t isolate architecture from the financial world and in that world BCN doesn´t control much. Who designed all of the fancy buildings? Where did the cash went? Where are the rich Catalans investing? Not in the LEixample buildings. Nothing is retrofitted according to newer needs. You find that in Madrid and elsewhere in Europa but seldom in BCN, people don´t invest. There is a lack of agency. I worked in the real estate business and a few families own several blocks of buildings, no investment, no legal framework to foster investment, no public policy. The result? 35 year old talented architects and lawyers sharing mediocre apartments. So much talk about superiority or whatever culture thing and people do not decide over the lives, but they claim to deserve better. Who is failing? I don´t entirely believe in the American way of thinking that if you are poor you did something wrong, but if I´m not getting what I believe I deserve, and I live in the most developed of societies, maybe I could do something different?

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