Barozzi-Veiga, the politics of talent

Last Thursday the Spanish studio Barozzi-Veiga won the 2015 edition of the Mies Van der Rohe prize. Their winning building, the Szczecin Philharmonic in Poland could, if hastily reviewed, deceive us. We might take this crystal building for yet one more self-centered icon, parading again a very fashionable trope, namely the repetition (in a more or less irregular manner) of the pitched roof. I do not see it that way.

Obviously, the Philharmonic doesn't renounce its representative duties. How could it? It´s a 13.000 m2 concert hall, placed on the very site of the old “konzerthaus”, destroyed by the II world war bombs. It wants to become a referent in a today disarticulated context, but it is also a tightly contained volume, reserved even, not at all frivolous. Cladded in just one material, glass, the movement of its roof responds to an interpretation of the dominant urban typology (very tall narrow houses, side by side, melting into a urban whole), present everywhere in the city's skyline. As an urban presence, it achieves a difficult balance between the big volume that the program calls for, and its vertical ("gothic”) articulation.

The plan however is extremely rational. From an ample public foyer bathed in natural light, we enjoy a space that is carved between the skin and the simple volumes of the two main music boxes.  The glass envelope hides a serene space of intensity and restrain.  

But in this post I don’t intent to analyze this building, which is not even my favorite from Barozzi-Veiga. I wanted rather to talk about the nature of their practice.

Elective affinities

We all see ourselves in the mirror of other architects with similar preoccupations, interests, and influences. Through ages and countries we imagine a net, whose pattern is not too evident, that connects us. We thread a spider web across time and space, in which buildings, names, drawings, are caught.

Barozzi-Veiga “fell” on my web practically from the beginning of their practice in Barcelona, back in 2004.  With each new project I enjoy witnessing what (for lack of better words), I will call "the making of an architect", the process of finding a voice of their own.

There was this drawing. An intense, Boullée-like interior view, in black and white, from a competition of a Neanderthal museum in Spain. Naked, fundamental. Too intense, some might say. I kept the image: food for the spirit that we store for the cold days.

And then the great project for the Ribera del Duero wine denomination headquarters. It´s a building that lays half buried inside the raised perimeter of Roa, a small city not far from Madrid. The building reconfigures this towns border creating a beautiful "plaza” that opens to the Castilian plateau. As part of the whole ensemble, a stone tower advances boldly against the horizon.


I read an interview with the architects that brought some order into the intricate spider web mentioned earlier. Here they talk about their beginnings, a narration very familiar, common to the last generations of European architects. The possibilities that the Erasmus program and the Europan competition opened up, the chance of working and studying far from home, international friendships, the first competitions.

Very importantly, in the interview they revealed also how they met while working at the studio of Guillermo Sanchez-Consuegra, in Sevilla, and that Alberto Veiga came from the Pamplona office of Patxi Mangado. Mangado and Vazquez-Consuegra are two masters at the top of their game today, sky-high in my personal Olympus. But what I´m trying to stress is this double character: on the one hand internationalization (and to some degree, de-territorialization), and on the other, the notion of belonging to a local lineage of architects.

With Mangado and Vazquez-Consuegra (or from them), they share some characteristics:

The confidence in a certain autonomy of our discipline, in the belief that context is an ample notion that can coexist with the proposing, transformative power of building. The emphasis on public space, often as the main motor of their projects, that consistently strive to "make the city". They share as well the idea of continuity. Historical continuity (as in the evolution of cities), but also within the intra-history of the profession. They are very interested in construction, in the language of materials, in atmospheres... and very little interested in passing theories about tomorrow´s architecture. And they have an idea that is becoming rare: the wish of permanence. In contrast to temporary, mobile, ephemeral strategies, they want to build to last.

Labors of love

Finally competitions. Open, international competitions. Barozzi-Veiga make competitions as labors of love, and not despair. They throw many months into each of them. They make two every year maybe, intensely absorbed in each drawing, each sentence. It’s about going deeper, to the marrow.

In this context, I can’t help thinking about the latest tendencies here, the "two day competition" and such.  Soon we will reach the “instant competition“. Not to mention the magic disappearance of important public open competitions in Denmark.  This is not due to a stop in building activities related to the crisis, like, for instance, in Spain. Pre-qualifications, "campaigns", abound: the Danish coastline, the farms, social housing, sport halls, climatic urban strategies, everything... it could be wonderful.  These are great opportunities for talent, consistently aborted by an evident will to close the gates for outsiders. A strategy to control and better catapult the careers of the happy few, weightlessly, angelically orbiting the Danish centers of architectural power.

(For an extended take on this “malaise”, read here “Envy and the musical chairs”)

The 2015 Mies van der Rohe prize is the result of an open international competition. And so are the rest of the projects of Barozzi-Veiga that accompany these lines. There is architecture politics, but there is also a deeper undercurrent, the politics of talent.

Let’s hear Barozzi-Veiga´s voice:

“An increasing number of architects refer to our discipline, not from what defines it, but from some of its attributes.  Today an architect must defend, communicate his work from many flanks: energy efficiency, economy, sustainability, etc. This is all very well. But architecture holds a few fundamental values- materiality, space, urban, cultural and natural relationships- which center our priorities. We wish to get to the bones of architecture. To be contemporary means to understand the world that surrounds us, not to be carried away by the trends of the day.”

Barozzi-Veiga. HQ Ribera del Duero Wine.

Originally published on The Danish Architectural Press.