G3. J. Alvado (mañana inglés)

BENIDORM A massive irony

Why Benidorm? Benidorm is a unique compact touristic city, very different seen from the air than from the coast. In the horizontal perspective, appears as a swarm of skyscrapers where there is not room left for a pin. In the vertical, it appears as a grid of buildings with a lot of space between them, with green areas and wide streets. Along the years, there has been a special relationship between architecture and tourism, it can be said that both depend on each other. Today, we cannot deny the global condition of the architectural practice and the geographical open relations due to touristic experiences. Architecture, in terms of tourism, is now an integral element of the global planning of the city and its surroundings. The city of Benidorm is in the middle of the discussion of this paradigm; the truth is that the compact city concentrates 40% of national tourism in 1% of the territory of the Mediterranean coast. It is a unique urban coastal hyper concentration. In ancient times, the architecture, as a touristic attraction, had a very important role. Temples, great theatres, stadiums… were built as monumental public buildings that embody an expression of the culture and the society in which they were designed. Nowadays they have become attractors for the new era. In many European cities, like Paris, Rome, Athens, Venice or Barcelona, the tourism is based just on the monuments culture, in the field of architecture and on the cultural characteristics of the society belonging to an age when architecture was created. However, what does happen when the attraction is the city itself? Nowadays, the brand in these cities is the history, but the rapid increase in the consumption of heritage culture generates the collapse of City Centres. The great visiting demand and the problematic relation between citizens and tourists needs to be rethought. A new cultural perspective and a contemporary approach to tourism need a close connection to landscape. When we talk about landscape, we talk about a new place identity and a new way of consumption of space. Two workshops developed in Benidorm shows a new point of view to sustainability, a new touristic architectural approach to the natural territory. A lot of imagination and the same amount of sense of humour was a cue to rethink the touristic experience. The first one was “Re-Inventing Benidorm”, the “Winter Workshop” at Alicante University directed by Elia Zenghelis in 2004. The question that Zenghelis presented was: what would have happened if the construction of the city of Benidorm were thought as a unique massive block? As an example of this massive approach, projects were presented as architecture Islands, big constructive mountains or flying compact architectures as waves. All the projects presented as examples, where drawn to experiment the compact city to find a new comprehension of the place and the global economic activities as cultural landscapes for touristic destinations. Along that week, all the projects had on mind the project Exodus, a part of a series of eighteen collages, drawings and watercolours that pictures a walled city within the city of London. That intervention was designed to create a new urban perspective by architectural innovation and political subversion. The project intended to be read as a factual and fictional scenario for the contemporary metropolis. The architectural media used was collage, to create vivid scenes of life within the dystopian urban confines. As it was said in the MOMA catalogue, the project was the catalyst for the founding of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, O.M.A. in 1975. Our students used this idea of dystopia developed in Exodus to create buildings as cities. All the projects presented a clear and recognizable sign at the scale of the landscape and they were designed to preserve the environment and the local ecosystems. The second workshop, taught by the Dutch team of architects MVRDV was published in the book “Costa Ibérica. Towards the city of leisure” (Actar). The workshop was hold in Barcelona in the summer of 1998, halfway between sociology and architecture. Costa Iberica. Towards the city of leisure. The Dutch planners consider that the touristic factor forces to diversify the current mono cultural model (sun and beach) of the Iberian coast. In this sense, some of its crazy initiatives were framed: building replicas of emblematic buildings such as the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, or the Kio towers that lean over the Plaza de Castilla in Madrid, as mirages of a cultural offer. The proposals accept Benidorm as an irony, and from there, they propose their future in proposals such as densifying the urban area, in a formula that the more buildings it concentrates, the more space it releases for other uses that allow diversifying an economy cantered exclusively on leisure. Do these proposals have to be taken seriously? To mention two articles written along the process by Winy Maas. The first one is the passage entitled The Black Hole: “The city seems to attract an international selection of uneducated visitors, a congregation of vulgarity: vulgar food, vulgar clothing and vulgar leisure, all within the limits of the city, there is no life beyond its borders. Tourist planet on the outskirts of the galaxy, surrounded only by infinite space, a recurring nightmare, Spain has created a monster and it seems that he likes it “. Second, he wrote in City of Salvation: “Each country has its own meeting places. You feel at home away from home, you eat the same junk food you usually eat; you drink the same beer you drink in your country. There is only one BIG difference: the sun always shines here (…) Benidorm is the perfect refuge, in fact, it is a kind of massive cruise (…) There is no reason to go ashore before the holidays are over and it is time to go home, where you will remember the Great vacation you’ve spent in Benidorm.” These two writings express the fragility of the vocabulary to describe the paradigm. “Costa Iberica. Towards the city of leisure” Both workshops generated a compilation of projects that concerns how to develop tourism and at the same time preserve a certain set of landscape values. They show that modern tourism ought to be closely linked to nature dimensions of sustainability. The massive blocks relate that the meeting with tourism gives certain effects in the landscape and highlight the need of strategies to achieve sustainable development. The architecture presented transforms the territory into an attractive landscape to feel the experience of nature and preserve the territory. Both used irony as a particular process of thinking. There was a strategy about the subject to change and the contingency and fragility of their final vocabularies to describe the change. In the book “Contingency, irony, and solidarity” (1989) Rorty defines “ironist” as someone who fulfils three conditions: “She has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary she currently uses… she realizes that argument phrased in her present vocabulary can neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts… she does not think that her vocabulary is closer to reality than others…”. The opposite of irony is common sense. As their own productions and reflections indicates, “Costa Ibérica” and “Re-inventing Benidorm” are not only workshops about Benidorm, but also about the Spanish Mediterranean touristic experiences at the coast. The conclusions talk about a long and compact linear city based exclusively on tourism. However, of course, the Dutch Team and Elia Zenghelis focus on Benidorm as a paradigm of the tourist city and propose, among other things, densify it to the maximum to preserve the rest of the coast. Nowadays architecture and tourism must find a new direction to sustainability and to protect and respect the landscape. The course, aims to explore how architecture values ecosystems, landscape experiences and impacts in the territory as a necessity to develop new practical methods to preserve the nature. Joaquín Alvado Bañón Javier Sánchez Merina