Interview: Juan M. Otxotorena

Monday 04 Aug 2014

Juan M. Otxotorena on the challenges of practicing in Spain and why the next generation of architects should aim higher

Pamplona-based OTXOTORENA ARQUITECTOS is run by architect, lecturer and published author Juan M. Otxotorena. The firm - founded almost 20 years ago - is described by Otxotorena as ‘lively’ and comprises a blend of young architects and engineers. Gaining the majority of their projects through competitions, the practice concentrates largely on educational and institutional buildings within Spain, but has also dabbled in residential architecture to great effect.

Here, WAN talks to Otxotorena about besting the competition, the challenges of practicing in Spain and why emerging architects should aim higher…

How to stay ahead

The professional world today is extremely competitive, and forces us to continuously innovate to keep up. Customers are highly trained and are increasingly demanding. We participate in many architectural competitions where we are forced to measure our resources with the most advanced and prestigious colleagues.

Industrial innovation offers its resources to the project; it is in charge of its materialization. And it is essential to keep regular contact with the construction industry and its materials and technologies. We must find the necessary balance between the claims of the design and the possibilities of carrying out reasonable, economical and safe conditions.

The current challenges for architects practicing in Spain

Spanish architecture has always been rather crafted, and therefore authored, architecture. And it has to pass this model to a much more anonymous, collective and enterprise architecture. This would be the single most important challenge facing Spanish architecture today. Ideally this kind of projecting shouldn't lose their virtues on product customization and design quality. Otherwise, the last economic crisis in Spain has hit the construction sector, whose growth has slowed dramatically in the last decade: we have to expect to recover.

Advice for next generation

Teaching needs a parallel adaptation to new times. Indeed, perhaps it is finally starting to pass the role of the ‘architecture of the show’ that has occupied the art scene in recent decades with enormous academic attention. Maybe it's true that times are more aware of the responsibility of our task, seen in terms of service, economics, sustainability, context, landscape, etc… There is much to progress in this area, without sacrificing the design ambition.

I would encourage young architects to cultivate hope and aim higher in their aspirations and goals. It takes ambition and perseverance. This is a changing world; and you have to fight hard to break into the professional scene, but emerging opportunities end up for those who can find them.

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