Architecture has always reflected power. For that reason the most outstanding one that rises today in Europe the first thing that raises is who and what is the power. In response, the option of iconic venues – such as the one that Bjarke Engels has set up for the Lego company in Billund, Denmark – coexists with that of social housing – like those that the IBAVI studio has built in Formentera. If the Danish has played on a large scale with the product manufactured by his client to draw his building, the Spaniards have defined their position using exclusively materials from the island. They have assumed that, although this decision may involve a technological regression, its architecture wants to reclaim the memory, create jobs and update the local constructive tradition. Between these two poles, the award granted by the European Union, the Mies van der Rohe, try to define the best continental architecture. Yesterday the 40 finalists met. When the prize is failed, in the spring, it will be inevitable not to read it as a posture.
We live in the most urbanized continent in the world. However, Europe is far from being a region already built for the simple reason that a city never stops rebuilding itself. It is the continuous transformation – and the capacity to assimilate those changes – that defines the cities. Surely that is why among the finalists at Mies van der Rohe the most outstanding interventions are fundamentally restorative, with high civic impact, often pioneering and, mostly, with a social vocation. The arrangements they propose are sometimes energetic, sometimes architectural, often urban, and almost always public. The result can reconvert the architecture into topography -As it happens in the new Lisbon Cruise Terminal that Carrillo da Graça conceived as a public square next to the Tagus. Or it can transform it into an invention -as in the intervention to improve the isolation, clean up the facades and increase the living space of 530 homes in Bordeaux with which Lacaton-Vassal and Durot have given another invaluable lesson in ethics, vocation, priorities and lack of ego in the Grand Parc of the French city.
The progressive pedestrianization of banks and urban centers has resulted in notable public spaces. Some traditional, such as the Skanderbeg square in Tirana (Albania), and other novelties such as the stands of houses that coexist with shops that Brandlhuber and Emde, Burlon, Muck Petzet have designed in Berlin. However, it is clear that this search for space for pedestrians is not exempt from the need to make room for the increasing numbers of visitors from European cities that have accepted tourism – and its consequences – as its main industry.
On the other hand, lSpanish architecture synthesizes all these currents and add own questions. Of the six finalist projects erected in Spain, the most iconic – the outstanding auditorium of Plasencia de Selgascano – is far from being a new work. It has been up for more than a decade, even though it was recently inaugurated. Thus, an international architectural milestone testifies to the lack of foresight of so many Spanish politicians when it comes to making orders and thinking about their maintenance. The rest of the national projects show the search for a less formal materiality and a progressive reduction of finishes that characterizes the work of H Arquitectes, doubly finalists, or the ingenuity of García Germán when converting a raised hydroponics nursery into a "no place" "next to a Madrid motorway in an example of sustainable architecture.
Another national attribute is the number of professionals who have had to emigrate or have left to work. Among the class A of this group, the Faculty of Radio and Television of Katowice, in Poland, of the Barcelona studio BAAS demonstrates how latticework can build an urban fabric. In Tallinn (Estonia) Fuensanta Nieto and Enrique Sobejano wrap the glass facades of the winding Arvo Pärt Music Center with a birch forest and in Ghent, RCR has chosen a metal structure to raise, in contrast to the old city, the library Krook next to the harbor.
Repairing, reinventing or putting itself at the service of what exists, the best European architecture moves away more and more from the will to impact to become an element of urban cohesion. Thus, between so much reparation and reinvention, one would say that the discipline itself wants to become a mortar to unite the increasing plurality of the cities of a continent in crisis.