Adapt and Reuse

Photo show of Spain’s modern ruins offer lessons for another economic crisis

Architecture East On View
The award-winning photo essay, Unfinished, which examines the aftermath of the economic crisis in Spain, is now on view at the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College. (Miguel de Guzman and Rocio Romero for Imagen Subliminal)
The award-winning photo essay, Unfinished, which examines the aftermath of the economic crisis in Spain, is now on view at the Spitzer School of Architecture at City College. (Miguel de Guzman and Rocio Romero for Imagen Subliminal)

Spain’s explosive building industry was hit hard by the economic crisis of 2008, resulting in an incredible number of unfinished and abandoned construction projects. Photographs documenting these “modern ruins” hang over the center of Unfinished, a new installation at the Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York.

Though it details derelict buildings, the exhibition isn’t all financial doom and architectural gloom. The main body of the show highlights 55 extraordinary projects from the last few years that explore new strategies for adapting these neglected structures and building with limited resources. For the designers of these projects, who have learned hard lessons, architecture is something that remains unfinished. Their buildings are designed to evolve and adapt to future uses. They embrace the visible passing of time, rather than building over it.

Cleverly adapted from the multi-room Spanish pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale, the installation has a spare design and straightforward construction that reflects the resourcefulness of the projects on display. Although the content focuses on Spanish structures, the issues explored in Unfinished are as universal as the installation. As politicians and businesses around the world inevitably repeat the same mistakes that lead to the last crisis, architects will have to more seriously consider how they build and what they build.

Ultimately, Unfinished demonstrates the resilience of the discipline. It is, as the curators write, “a validation of innovative and engaged practices that have parsed through the wreckage to find a voice.”

Unfinished will be on view until February 8, 2019.

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