Currently living in the Swedish city of Umeå, Juan Luis Valderrabano Montañés is the perfect example of a global architecture professional: he studied in Barcelona, at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris La Villette and the Columbia GSAPP to finally come back to Spain to finish his PhD. Of course, he has carried out various professional projects worldwide so it is understandable that, when we knew that he had been invited to give a talk to our students of Architecture, we made a dash for him and asked him a couple of questions!
Hej as the Swedes say! As you can see, a lot of Scandinavian students are currently studying Architecture at our university. Do you think that the Spanish creativity mixes well with the Swedish design, that our Nordic friends feel comfortable studying here?
Absolutely and for several reasons! The main reason is that education in Spanish Schools of Architecture is very comprehensive, from the technical aspects to the artistic design aspects. We offer a very complete education, which broadens the students’ future professional practices: it enables them to establish a dialogue with different social agents, from the client to the marketing people, to the engineers who help architects…so yes, we have a very complete (almost humanist) education I would say. Another aspect is just the lifestyle in a country with three thousand years of history and with a cultural heritage as rich as the Italian or the French ones. And of course our public buildings, public spaces, churches of course, museums, plazas…Just by living in the city or in the urban environment of a big or small town you can learn a lot on how to design a public space, how to design a nice house…
Do you see any relevant differences in the academic approach in both countries?
Yes, it is related to the education as you mention, because the responsibility of Spanish architects includes several legal aspects, so education here is more technical. The role of an architect is maybe more “important” I would say or more engaged at all levels. In fact, the Architecture Association in Spain is very powerful, and through this association there are exhibitions, books publics, magazines…
In Sweden the role of an architect is maybe not as as strong. I think that nowadays the role of the architect is going through a little crisis because engineers have taken over it. There is a lot of work and responsibility but the role itself is a bit compromised in Sweden, while here it remains very defined and very clear, even with the current Spanish financial crisis.
Could you name a couple of Spanish architects who are well known in Scandinavia or are currently working on projects in the region? And the other way around, is there any Swedish Architecture Studio which stands out at the moment and should be kept an eye on?
Rafael Moneo did this building in Stockholm, the Moderna Museet but one of the latest big projects that I like is one by Spanish architect Juan Herreros: the new Edvard Munch Museum in Oslo. He won the competition with a very interesting project, a museum where the main building is a tower. He was also the director of my thesis so I feel very attached to him, that is why he is my personal preference. He is a wonderful architect and this building is surely going to be a great building.
I must say that I am a big fan of Swedish architects from previous generations, specially the works of Sigurd Lewerentz and two other architects that are not very well known here of course but neither in Sweden: Bernt Nyberg and Bengt Edman. I think the legacy of Lewerentz and the continuity of the questions that he was addressing as an architect should be taken over, but to my knowledge nobody is doing such a thing in Sweden now.
Looking at your academic and professional résumé, do you think it is important for an architect to have a global profile nowadays?
Absolutely, I think that it is essential but I also think that the international experience that European students can have by moving within European countries is very important. There are European programs that allow students to study or work in Sweden and then in Spain, and then move to The Netherlands and then who knows; the experience that you can gain is very, very rich, because we have many things in common but also many different ways of doing them. I strongly believe in the potential an international background can offer to university students. It is an asset that all young people from Europe should take advantage of.
Is Spain an attractive country for Nordic students? Can we talk about a Brand Spain and point out some of the elements that can make our country an appealing option for studying abroad?
Yes of course, many! I think that the richness of our cultural heritage is very relevant: in high culture such as museums, buildings, literature but also in popular culture: the Mediterranean way of life! Spain is not only about fiestas or parties, it is just that we know how to enjoy life socializing and sharing our every-day life, our moments of happiness or sadness.
Thinking about Valencia, which has been a European capital for more than 2000 years…well, that has to be an asset, don’t you think?
Tack Juan Luis!