Santiago Cirugeda on self-construction

Spanish architect Santiago Cirugeda talks architectural activism and self-construction.

Download options

“I didn’t want to be an architect,” says Santiago Cirugeda. But, after 13 years of study, the Spaniard, now known as the rebel architect, has become renowned for his self-built projects that circumvent legal constraints.

Cirugeda’s projects transform abandoned buildings into inhabitable spaces. The activist architect uses his expert knowledge to find ways around the legal system. Europe’s weakening financial environment meant large-scale development was slowing down. This created a need Cirugeda’s projects could fill – the idea of self-construction.

“We don’t want to wait for a politician to say, ‘now we’re going to do this or that’,” he says, adding that people need an open space to create, and do it themselves.

In his talk, Cirugeda details an example in which a group of people required a space to inhabit. Unable to secure funding, the group, with Cirugeda’s help, pulled apart an existing building to construct a new one. “It’s ugly, I know,” says Cirugeda to the delight of the audience.

“Our way of doing architecture is like I’ve said, we never think about ‘the client.’ The client doesn’t exist. What exists are users and actors or main actors,” he says. “And whenever there are calls I say, ‘if you want me to work with you, you work for me.’”