Daniel spends his days with his partner in a small apartment of forty square meters in Madrid. “For two people used to living outside the home, it is ideal,” he says. “The burden comes from having to be locked up all day. It is an interior first. The windows open onto two small patios. To read, cook or do any activity, you need to have the lights on.”
Not many kilometers away, in Arroyomolinos —One of the municipalities that has grown the most in the last two decades-, the routine of Rosana, her partner and their three dogs pass between the loft, the two floors, the cellar and the garden of the chalet. “It is much easier. As soon as the sun rises, we can go out to the patio and move,” he explains. “At the weekend we will have a barbecue. We wanted to buy a pin-pon table, but they have been sold out for days at the Decathlon.”
How big are the houses, street by street
Most common dwelling size in each census section according to the 2011 census data
Source: Population and Housing Census 2011
The Spaniards have been locked up at home for more than a week and the president, Pedro Sánchez, announced this Sunday that the confinement is extended by at least 15 more days. Since the Government declared a state of alarm, you can only go out for what is essential (make the purchase, go to the doctor, the bank or to work, exception questioned from the non-fundamental sectors to face the virus) And we are required to spend most hours indoors. It is an anomalous situation throughout the world, but it will vary by country according to the type of their homes.
An example: due to the weather, Spaniards spend more time on the street than citizens of the Nordic countries. So it is natural that our houses are less prepared to spend a lot of time in them.
“The easy answer is: no. Homes are not prepared for this because it is something that, at least in recent generations, we have not experienced,” says Lluis Comerón, president of the Superior Council of the Colleges of Architects of Spain. “In the last decades emphasis has been placed on the quality of the building material, but immaterial quality has not been protected. The environment, public and domestic. A house may be materially good, but it must have sufficient spaces, good lighting and orientation … In other European countries it is regulated and in Spain it is incipient. For years, we have proposed that a law be drawn up on the architecture and quality of the built environment. Fomento said it would start the project this year “.
There is not much data in Spain to assess the quality of the park. The most recent are from the 2011 census, which will be updated next year. They are representative because it has hardly been built since then, but they lack details such as whether a house has a terrace or is an interior. They do tell us the square meters, which we use to create the map above: in it you can see what size of house predominates by census section. Only main dwellings are included, where people live.
“Our housing stock is younger than in other countries,” Comerón continues. “In them, the reconstruction begins after the Second World War. In Spain, the boom is from the 60s. They are buildings that are fifty or sixty years old already. We should be rehabilitating them, but traditionally we have been behind Europe, which rehabilitates around 2% of the annual park “.
The rehabilitation touches aspects such as the facades, the insulation and the installation of elevators and boilers, a fact that if the confinement had been a few months ago we would not stop talking. “Because now it is good”, adds the architect Fernando Caballero, director of the magazine Urban Affairs“But at another time people would have gotten cold, especially where the walls are not insulated. In poor neighborhoods it is an important issue.”
The census heating data, which indicates that 14% of homes do not have and 30% only have “some appliance” to heat, do run the risk of being out of date.
That the bulk of Spanish homes were built in the 60s and 70s influences how many of them are. In general, Spanish architects have prioritized the living room over the bedrooms. “Many foreigners complain, when they come to Spain to buy a house, that the bedrooms are small. We do not make large bedrooms, or large dressing rooms or bathrooms,” explains Inmaculada Stanich, architect and project manager. “We do not have the concept of making life in the bedroom, but in the living room.”
The well-known architect Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza, who before doing works such as Torres Blancas and the Banco de Bilbao tower worked for the Madrid Housing Institute, designed flats with “minimal cells” because said the bedroom was just for sleeping. Most of the meters went to the living room, the social space.
Over time, certain things have changed. Like children’s rooms, who are significantly affected by confinement. “We are no longer limited to the minimum six-square-meter bedroom, which was perhaps good for a generation ago,” Comerón continues. “Now we have children who are 20 centimeters taller and who have a desk in their room, their workplace.”
The Spain of the terraces
If there is a precious commodity these days of confinement it is the terrace, the roof or the balcony. Naiara knows it, that from the roof of her small apartment in Vallecas she sees her neighbors go out on their own, to applaud at eight in the afternoon or simply to be there. “I find it curious that in these areas, which were once outside the city, the houses have a terrace,” he reflects. “In the center people are overwhelmed because there is no light. We are used to living on the street and, mentally, going out on the terrace is like being on it.”
Those who live in a flat from the 60s or 70s probably enjoy one, although in many cases the owners have closed them. In this 1972 documentary, produced by the Ministry of Housing, you can see how almost all the blocks built under Franco included them. “From the 1960s onwards, many terraces were built,” adds Caballero. “But people closed them to gain a room and, given the lack of demand, they stopped doing it.”
Before the terraces there were balconies, present in buildings in the city center. “The facades of the beginning of the century and the 1920s have a vertical window and a small balcony,” continues Stanich. “Floor-to-ceiling windows were made to let in as much light as possible. The little balcony was put up so that people could get out, feel the street and talk to the neighbors. Also, the wooden and brick facade structures did not give the possibility to put horizontal windows. “
The balconies are now the envy of americans and of our European neighbors, says Caballero, who lives and works in Frankfurt. “In old buildings in Germany they are anecdotal because of the weather. But now that people see them when they tour, they are sued. Old buildings like mine are connecting them.”
Why did they stop building large terraces, which in many new developments are only on the top floors? In addition to why they closed, for a matter of price.
“From three square meters, closed on more than two sides, the deeds are computed inside and taxes have to be paid for them. In some constructions, non-computed solutions were sought, such as cantilevered terraces, which cannot be closed,” he says. Stanich. On the other hand, although the cost of building has not changed much since the 1970s, the cost of the floor did. “We accept smaller homes, without a terrace, due to the extra cost involved,” adds the president of the Council of Architects. “That leads us to homes that respond to minimal daily use, but are unable to respond to changes in ways of living.”
Cities with more and less space
The population and housing census measures the number of people per household and crosses it with the square meters of this. Thus, it publishes the rankings of the municipalities with the largest and smallest average area per household member. This data may have been somewhat outdated —There have been variations in the number of people per dwelling in recent years– but, next to the map, it allows us to get an idea of where the alarm state is best.
Florida, in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, is the densest neighborhood in Europe. They are 0.38 square kilometers in which almost 30,000 people live. The vast majority of houses are less than 60 square meters. L’Hospitalet is, along with Ceuta, Melilla and other working-class cities in the Barcelona metropolitan area, one of the places where each person has the least space to cope with the confinement: on average, less than 30 square meters.
At the other extreme are municipalities in the Madrid suburbs and Benissa, Jávea and Teulada, in Alicante, where each person has an average of more than 50 square meters for themselves at home. Without surprise, some —Boadilla del Monte and Pozuelo de Alarcón– They also appear on the list of the richest municipalities in Spain.
Another curious fact is that of dwellings per building. Esperanza lives in Benidorm, in the eighth of a fifteen-story building. He spent several days going up and down all the stairs before finding that you cannot go out to the common areas. “It was to do some exercise, because at home I have no space and it is what I take the worst,” he says. “There is a lot of rooftop here and there are videos of neighbors setting up meetings there, but I have already seen that it is prohibited.”
Benidorm is, against all odds, the second municipality in Spain with the most average homes in each building. Despite being the site with the most skyscrapers in the country, where there will be people confined to the heights –there are more than 455 buildings for the main residence with more than ten floors– the position is taken away by Badia del Vallès. This Catalan town was born in the 1960s as a residential area for Barberá and Cerdanyola del Vallès. Its blocks are typical of Francoist development, with terraces and between 70 and 90 square meters. It is the fact of being an independent municipality since 1994, and not a neighborhood, that rises to the first place on the list.
Floors that are not ready
Secluded and connected, we show and see the houses of our acquaintances more than before. “I find it somewhat unreal to see so many flats with balconies, large and modern, on social networks and in the media,” says Marta, who lives alone in a small apartment that overlooks an interior patio. “I have been living between Getafe and Madrid for eight years, in five different flats and only one was outside. And it did not have a balcony either. Among my friends there are flats with balconies, but also many low ones without light, tiny houses and attics.”
The dark interior floors are among the worst prepared to go days without leaving. “The houses from the beginning of the 19th century went to the bottom of the building as if they were snakes. They have an exterior to the living room; the rest are distributed in small interior courtyards,” says architect Stanich. “What have investors done to make a new home? Divide them. They are not houses designed to be indoors: the patios are very small, they are not corralas. They are usually occupied by students or people who spend a lot of time outside.”
The interior patios are still being built, although the regulations change. “The rules of habitability and sanitation guarantee patios that I would say are worthy for everyday use,” adds Comerón. “But there is a question of a longer look, sustainability and energy saving. For example: a house that can ventilate in both its facades is more efficient. That requires a transformation in the city.”
Although the expansion plans of Madrid and Barcelona were born with the idea of being apples with large and green patios inside, the reality and the price of the land made them somewhat more crowded. In Madrid, for example, there are barely a couple of blocks from the Salamanca district with trees inside. Contemporary developments, such as those of the PAUs, do consist of closed urbanizations with a pool and a garden inside.
“Something very German, unlike the Spanish cities, are the trees in inner courtyards. There are also many small houses with gardens and low-density neighborhoods, which in Spain are of the upper class and in Germany more transversal,” said Caballero. “Here it will be more bearable. There is more contact with nature. In the apartment buildings right now people are pulling their hair out.”
All the consulted architects agree that, if it continues, this situation will somehow change the way of designing homes in the future. “If everyone gets on the telework car, things will be rethought,” continues Caballero. “The houses will probably begin to include a small ‘home office’ space. There is also a kind of consensus in urban planning that the compact city in the center is the one where it is most socialized. But in order to quarantine, the sparse city is more bearable “
“It is necessary to adapt the park to the needs not only of energy, but of functional and quality of life,” concludes Comerón. “Renovation must be deeper than changing facades. The challenge is greater. One of the good things that this may leave us is that we start paying more attention to it.”