Speaking to Xavi Calvo, director of World Design Capital València 2022
Speaking to Carlos Lamela, architect and president of Estudio Lamela.
"The pandemic has made us reflect on something we have been thinking about for a long time, which is about changing our life habits and being more understanding in our working times and patterns".
Architect, co-founder and CEO of Estudio Lamela. We caught up with Carlos Lamela, co-founder and CEO of the renowned Estudio Lamela, and one of the participants in the third event organised by Actiu at its Madrid showroom as part of Madrid Design Festival. With forty years' experience, he runs the studio set up by his father seven decades ago and which has since been involved in roughly 2,000 projects, among them being Madrid Airport's Terminal 4, the Colón Towers, the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, the Canalejas Centre, the Astro Tower in Brussels, Warsaw Airport and the Krakow stadium.
For Actiu, Carlos Lamela is someone to look up to, as the son of a visionary, a true trailblazer in shaking up Spanish architecture. Was it inevitable that you would take up this profession? When did you decide to follow in your father's footsteps?
I always say that, if I had had the chance to live three lives, as well as being an architect, I would have liked to have become a pilot and a diplomat because I love travelling and seeing the world. These are two things that, interestingly enough, I have also been able to do as an architect. Over time, I have become increasingly aware of what a great architect my father was, as well as a thinker ahead of his time. His personality had an impact on me from a very early age. When I accompanied him on many of his site visits at the age of 12 or 13, I realised I wanted to be an architect too. Further down the line, I was lucky enough to work with him for many years, but, as time went by, he had outgrown architecture and, when I, together with other architects started running the studio, he kept himself busy with his humanistic work. As a great thinker, he immersed himself in studying aspects related to water management and air quality, and when in the 1970s nobody was talking about ecology, he was already a die-hard ecologist, who coined the word 'naturalist' and wrote the treatise 'Cosmoism and Geoism'.
Focusing on this process of internationalisation and Estudio Lamela's powerful business vision, what do you think of the link between concepts such as architecture firm, company and profitability?
My father, who early on in his professional career was also a developer and builder, became aware from the outset that in order to understand a discipline such as architecture, it is important to see it as part of a business linked to the world of construction and development. Although, at that time, this somewhat prosaic vision of architecture, which was normally associated with a more artistic facet, was not well regarded. Further down the line it led to us becoming a studio that works meticulously on its projects and works very well as a team.
When it comes to teamwork, how is the studio dealing with the changes in working models, whether on-site and remotely, and how can digitalisation, through things like virtual reality or concepts such as the metaverse, become a fundamental tool for generational change?
I first heard about an architecture-focused computer when I was around 14 years old and, since then, things have evolved at breakneck speed, with the arrival of the fax, laser printing, BIM... and now NFTs and a metaverse that questions the boundary between the real and the virtual. New technologies have shaken everything up, fostering open and free access to instant knowledge, and helping us to work remotely in a very productive manner. Working models are adopting greater flexibility, whether in terms of organisation and schedules, as well as spatial flexibility, and offices are becoming friendlier spaces, with hotel-like lobbies, and offices making way for areas that foster exchange and socialising. Not to mention the mobility of cities which, with drones, initially for package delivery but later for human transport, is going to radically shake things up.
With regard to the circular economy and sustainable architecture, are we really designing friendlier and more sustainable cities? Is this because of the pandemic or is it something that was underway beforehand that has been accelerated?
The pandemic has made us reflect on something we have been thinking about for a long time, which is about changing our living habits and being more understanding in terms of our working models and work-life balance. When it comes to sustainability, we are going to revert back to things that fell by the wayside, such as natural ventilation, which in turn will lead to the air in cities being better looked after. Something else that will make a comeback are terraces, a tradition that arose in the 50s and 60s thanks to Gutiérrez Soto and that, after excessive permissiveness when it came to not cracking down on them being phased out, they started disappearing as they were restricted by the General Plans. Now all this is changing and General Plans, such as those in Madrid, are being modified to foster the use of terraces and outdoor spaces, prioritising things such as nature, open air, better air quality, greater flexibility, cleaner urban transport and friendlier cities. Certifications can help with this, however, they should not become a restraint or a label, but rather a by-product.
Finally, we would like you to tell us about one of your latest projects and how you see things in the coming years.
As well as the project we have just launched together with Cruz y Ortiz for a tender we've been shortlisted for with nine other teams to renovate an urban area in Budapest, in Madrid we are now working on two buildings in Mendez Álvaro that are going to be one of the capital's biggest office complexes. Also in Madrid, we have recently completed the Canalejas Centre, a highly-complex urban regeneration project due to its urban location, heritage, technical solutions and diversity of uses which, together with the project in Plaza de España and Puerta del Sol, will lead to the creation of a spectacular and landscaped axis in a part of the city that had become out-dated. As an exciting project, the two lives I mentioned earlier, or continuing in my career as an architect, which fortunately is a profession with a lot of life in it.
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