Friday, October 19, 2012

Prize Fever Meets Spain's Coastal Law

Abandoned Club Med, Cabo de Creus, from Erase una vez un club
More catching up:
A September story in El País reports the European Landscape Biennial's Prize going to the restoration to an "undeveloped" state of the Cabo de Creus on the Cosat Brava north of Barcelona, former site of a Club Med resort. The restoration was led  by Martí Franch and Ton Ardèvol.

You can't  completely erase development, and a natural environment is a mutable thing. The architects' sensitive handling of such questions seems to have contributed to their recognition.

Following the Ley de Costas or Coastal Law passed in 1988, the Spanish government has been reclaiming prime coastal frontage as public property, and has proceeded in many places to demolish existing constructions on public land, from summer mansions to beachfront snack shacks and entire vacation communities.

Built in 1961, the Club Med was an interesting artifact, as documented in the program Erase una vez un club on RTVE, Spain's public television. But the restoration is a big improvement.

The effect of the Coastal Law has been a bit brutal at times in its effort to fight the brutal over-development of Spain's coasts in the name of nature and the environment. To make matters worse, the current conservative government has put much of it on hold, giving beach house owners a 75-year moratorium.

The right of public over private interest seems basically correct in theory. But what's wrong with having a modest place to get a drink and a sandwich on the beach? And when well-designed, what's so bad about coastal development?  Older communities tend to grown fairly well into a landscape, or we get used to them, so why blow them away together with all the unlicensed recent encroachments? Hopefully, the new moratorium means that the current  government is ready to take on more of these nuances.

But let's go back to the European Landscape Prize. If you go the the Biennial's web site, you find that it is organized by the Catalan College of Architects in Barcelona, the local professional association. And the prize goes to a local project.

So why is it called European?

The Catalans have become accomplished at this kind of clever marketing.

Another grandly-titled award, the Mies van der Rohe Prize for European Architecture, was dreamed up in Barcelona to give Mies' rebuilt Barcelona Pavilion a useful function. Its web page boasts that "Candidates for the Award are put forward by a broad group of independent experts from all over Europe, as well as from the architects' associations that form part of the European Council of Architects and other European national architects' associations". The page also highlights the award's financial backing by the European Union, but the Union logo on the web page comes with this interesting disclaimer:

So is it European or what?

Of course the same chutzpah went into the making of the Nobel Prizes by another small and peripheral country. Not to mention the Pritzker or the Praemium Imperiale in the field of architecture.

But despite their efforts, I haven't seen these Barcelona-based awards getting the international attention they seek. Maybe the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus could teach them something. They could  try calling themselves the Biggest Biennial World Landscape Prize in the Universe. That should bring in the crowds.

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