Learning, living and working in cities
From a very young age, I have loved cities. Despite not being born in one, from the time I have been able to I have been living in cities, and making the most of every opportunity to change them and enjoy new places. To do so, I have both gone abroad on exchange and to work, acquiring experiences that have been valuable both in life and in design.
A divided town
Time to leave
A passionate collection
A neverending scenario
New words, new mindsets
Feeling part of a collective
An extense discipline
Learning to observe
New ways of surfing cities
Awareness of social divide
Aim high and enjoy
Future in our hands
Covering all scales
Omit needless work
The sense that it is worth it
Selling a product
Not everything is design
A tool for progress
Our origins are the base upon we build our career and personality – an unavoidable reference that marks us for the time being
I come from Errenteria, an industrial town in the outskirts of San Sebastian, in the Basque Country. This town has been the heatpoint of Basque conflict throughout many years, and the conflict was engrained into its social fabric.
Therefore, dealing with opposed positions and trying to find an own way has been present in my life since very early.
Since a very young age, I have always liked drawing and modelmaking, and therefore I was doing so quite a lot. I liked doing paper models or drawing cars or bikes, but all of a sudden when I was 10 I devoted a whole summer to drawing islands.
Later on, when I started using the computer, I would design buidlings in a completely creative way, enjoying the freedom of unconsciousness.
I had been passionate about cities since I was a kid, despite not living in one. Therefore, I did not miss my first opportunity to move to a city, and this came when I had to go to college.
Despite having an Architecture school in San Sebastian, I was able to leave to Barcelona to study – a decision made possible by my parents, to whom I will always be grateful for it.
Liking cities is not that easy when you actually do neither live in one nor visit so many of them. However, collecting maps was a solution to it. All friends and family from my parents would bring me maps when they traveled.
I kept collecting those maps in a folder – collecting cities from Hangzhou to Reykjavik. In sum, 148 maps I collected until I was 12. Then Google Maps came.
Barcelona was the first city I moved into, an opportunity to reinvent myself and to completely restart
Metropolis Walking map
Above all, in Barcelona I discovered that metropolises are a neverending scenery to discover. It is a pleasure to just walk on the streets of this city and find surprises in any corner. To keep track of such discovery, since I arrived I started marking the streets I had been to in a map, showing that there is still a lot to be seen.
I remember that I enroled into architecture because it was the crossroads between engineering and art, theory and practice, shapes and numbers, feelings and realities… Indeed, the metaphore I like the most is the location of my home school, ETSAB: between the faculties of Fine Arts, Construction Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Mathemathics, Economy and Law. It is a perfect description of the blend of fields architecture composes.
Language CA, EN, FR, DE
Despite being busy with architecture school, moving to Barcelona was an opportunity to keep doing one of my greatest passions in life. At the beginning this happened with Catalan, which I tried to speak from the very first days.
What fascinated me more is how our way of thinking and acting changes subtly depending on the language we use, so then I kept learning French, and lately German.
Analysis Urban design II
The design component is present in architecture school since the very beginning, but to me the most relevant part of the first years is learning to analyze. Having a clinical eye on reality, both in architecture and in urbanism, helps to be critical on the ongoing works, so as to constantly improve our processes.
An exemplary case of such analytical process is the work done in Urban Design II.
Another great part of moving to Barcelona was living in a student hall, where I felt part of a broader community and I seized every chance to participate and volunteer.
Structure Studio I-II
One of the first revelations when it comes to architectural design came in second year, in Design I and II. A course on designing small and mid-scale buildings, the program relied on structural clarity to create bold proposals. It is here where I learnt that a structured thinking, a basis to work upon, is helpful in all stages of architecture.
A time to receive new inputs and learn techniques unseen elsewhere – and to see that everything is possible
One of the shocking learnings of being in Chicago is acknowledging social division. Chicago is a completely divided city, with a wealthy, safe and predominantly white North Side, and a poor, high on crime and mainly black South Side. Living in the former and studying in the latter made me realize how disinvestment and inequality were leaving the South Side and its inhabitants behind.
Innovation Vitruvius’ wheel
The best part of studying at IIT is feeling the notion that nearly everything can be improved, and that the means to do so are available. Not being so constrained gives greater creative freedom, and opens the opportunity for innovation.
This belief made projects such as Vitruvius’ Wheel possible: a contemporary seating element inspired in Renaissance and using carbon fiber.
It is in Chicago where I started cycling as a daily mode of transportation. It started because, while working at SOM Chicago in 2017, we were asked to work on a bike plan for the city, and this raised an urge to use the bike myself – if I was advocating for it, I believed I should put it in practice.
Therefore, I started commuting by bike every day, and from then on I have kept cycling to move around cities.
Another great benefit of being in the US is getting away from the eurocentric perspective and acknowledge that there is much more out there – both in the US and elsewhere. This is reflected in our relationships, our references and the target of our projects.
A perfect example for it is SpongeCloud, where I teamed with a Korean and a Pakistani to create a project that could be used worldwide, based upon MIT technology.
I was lucky enough to find a place where I was passionately working in Chicago. The experience at SOM was a complete gamechanger for me. I was looking forward to work in the City Design Practice and it was a great experience, where I learnt both technical skills and how to frame and discuss ideas.
Or ‘Complete artwork’, as Wagner called it: that is what we did in Studio at IIT. In our project, Washington fields, we covered all scales from broad urban masterplanning down to construction.
An opportunity to improve skills and enjoy a new, completely different city
It is common belief that Germans are efficient, and even though they not always are, what was most amazing in Berlin was the efficiency with which transit systems are managed, doing a lot with not that many resources.
This also reflects somewhat in their working culture, where ‘Feierabend’ or leaving for the day is the goal, and not just being there for the sake of it.
Clarity Ronda Sostenible
In the projects made weeks before moving to Berlin, and clearly influenced by the experience at SOM, the main goal of my ideas was to make them clearly identifiable products. Trying to avoid some of the fuzziness in detail, the goal is to communicate bold ideas that can be easily recognized. An example of this is the ‘Ronda Sostenible’.
My stay in Berlin has also coincided in time with several prizes. It is satisfying to see that, after mroe than five years of effort, there is some recognition for the completed work.
The first prize was the Arquia Fellowship, a recognition to the 30 best architecture students in Spain and Portugal, and on I was also preparing my application for the Altuning Prize, shown here in the right.
Policy Gipuzkoa ibaiz ibai
Another influence from SOM was that not everything in our discipline is design – and we have a voice on policy. I did put this in practice in ‘Gipuzkoa ibaiz ibai’, a proposal that aimed to rethink the rivers as spaces for leisure and nature.
Change Squaring the circle
By this point, it is pretty obvious that change has been a constant in my life. Nevertheless, my last project at school is a clear example of how change is an enriching process by itself. Even if the final result is the closest thing possible to the original idea, the opportunity to change is still worth it, because it provides with new knowledge at each and every step.
It does so in design and in life.
A next step that has already started