The architectural typologies: churches, hospitals, schools, stations or shopping centers appear highlighting the priorities of an era. Sometimes they disappear, and that also illustrates priorities. It is clear that without airplanes there would be no airports. It also seems clear that palaces are hardly being built any more – we call the homes of the tycoons enriched by industry (not by the exploits of their ancestors that we euphemistically consider cradles) mansions. Thus, more than the invention of a type of building, what is surprising in architecture can be the change within a typology.
Housing, the initial cell of the discipline, finds it difficult to change more spatially than technologically. This resistance to transformation defines us as a society and ultimately makes the lofts and the current mini-floors (also called studios) have something in common with the first houses, a kind of heat-fire enclosed in a single room. Thus, in a land with more novelties than real alterations, it is curious to note that no typology has changed as much as that of the churches. In a Leopardian attempt to change so that nothing has to change, places of worship tried to speak to painting, music, new towns, suburbs, and disenchanted worshipers throughout the 20th century. They did it with their best tool, the mystery. But also with risk, calculation, imagination, lack of means and daring. The result is a visual spectacle, the physical portrait of our spiritual longings and perhaps the conviction of the church that abstraction should be as much theirs as, for centuries, figuration was.
David Garcia-Asenjo he is an atypical architect: he is not a designer who believes he deserves more recognition than he receives. He’s a guy that everything — from music to literature to soccer to bar talk — seems to be interested. He seems to find time for everything. And his way of looking at architecture benefits from his open mind. So much so that, in recent years, he has commented on the discipline from the radio (Julia on the wave) as well as from Twitter, which is where it has installed its platform open 24 hours. It is precisely there that he has brought together the hundreds of patrons who, by popular subscription, have managed to publish his Step-by-step architectural manifesto (Libros.com) after a campaign of crowdfunding.
Therefore, from that closeness and consensus, this should be an interesting book for many people. Or perhaps for many people close to García-Asenjo or who at least share his fascination and interests. Let’s see.
David knows how to spread the need to walk around the city looking at the buildings that compose it and also the wealth — and the difficulties — that remain beyond the facades. That is why he takes the reader to the Parroquia de Santa Catalina de Siena in Madrid —which looks like a flying saucer being a beautiful concrete parable— or enters the Church of San Jorge in Pamplona to show us the spirituality that is achieved when alabaster and concrete.
The book begins by explaining his need to clarify, that is, “to bring closer, the architectural processes”. Also discovering himself – he grew up in Moratalaz seeing the church of Santa Ana de Fisac. This leads him to make very pertinent reflections, such as observing why the great temples of the urban centers break down into modern chapels – which respond to their time – in the suburbs. He explains that in the twentieth century — Christian temples — adapt to limited space, instead of ruling over it. And from there begins a journey to the “evolution of the architecture of churches”, a transformation that echoes that which occurs in the rest of the plastic arts.
It is precisely this ambitious journey that leads this architect to describe rather than interpret. He writes, for example, that the parishes of Santa Ana or Nuestra Señora de Moratalaz were built on land donated by the developer Urbis, but he does not consider what assignment or investment that data could mean. He asks, quoting Esteban Fernández Cobián, if “Are our modern churches Protestant?”, But he does not answer the question.
Instead it explains the difference between the stereotomic —defined by heavy elements that cannot be distinguished individually— and the tectonic —defined by individual elements. For this reason, instead of integrating life, place, arts and crafts, use and, in the end, avant-garde – as José Luis Fernández del Amo wrote that he needed the renovation of the temple for the new religious art – García-Asenjo lets himself be carried away by his architectural enthusiasm and leaves us more images than answers. He accompanies us to visit temple after temple without our understanding if it was the Second Vatican Council that promoted the proximity to the plastic arts – seeking in the nakedness of modernity a return to the origins of the church -, or is it the progressive loss of importance of the church —or the change of her patrons— which displaces her to the periphery and strips her naked.
That is why the best part of the book – the enthusiasm that leads to desktop publishing – may turn out to be the most difficult to understand: the lack of a filter that might have achieved a more distant edition – or the lack of captions in the images that chapters open, the most beautiful that the reader will not be able to identify. David is an expert in churches, he knows a lot about architecture, he has all the knowledge to share and all the enthusiasm to spread but he is learning, in his own radio interventions, that he must choose what he wants to communicate.
There is enthusiasm when, speaking of Iglesias, he is unable to pass by the old BBVA headquarters in Sáenz de Oíza without stopping to say that it is the best skyscraper in Spain. But there is also a lack of filter. This avalanche of unfiltered knowledge is what, in my opinion, ends up separating García-Asenjo from the general public, always short of time. And that is what makes his didactic, meticulous and worked Step-by-step architectural manifesto be an excellent reference book for any architect — or bishop — willing to build a temple. To the rest, explaining what has happened in the churches, we still do not understand why it happened. That is, it is important not to speak only of architecture to try to explain architecture.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.