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Terrain in Spain

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The Modern in Spain: Architecture after 1948 By Gabriel Ruiz Cabrero. MIT Press, 2001. 200 pp. £20.50

One evening, a couple of years ago, I was shown round a school of viticulture and oenology - a sort of wine university - in the countryside of PenedÞs, west of Barcelona.

The use of one set of rooms had changed since the completion of work 10 years before and I asked if they would be reorganised.My guide shook his head as he replied: 'That would interfere with the architects' idea.'

The architects were Bach and Mora; my guide was the caretaker. Things are quite different there.

The fact that I was there at all owes something to the extraordinary rise in interest in Spanish architecture during the 1980s.Hitherto unknown outside the country, it was proclaimed at the time by a number of books, special issues of the Architectural Review, and the advent of El Croquis (to name but three). They told us something about a country which had been isolated since the civil war, and a society that was keen to represent itself by good Modern architecture. This message remains true, but it was particularly potent at a time of stylistic uncertainty in the UK and elsewhere.

Spain's fascination with Modernism makes the work identifiable. There are many different expressions: the romanticism of Bach and Mora; the elemental purity of Campo-Baeza; the interpretative richness of Moneo; what Cabrero describes as the 'sense of risk' of Miralles; and so on. But for Spanish architects themselves, there were two key players. The first was Coderch in Barcelona, whose magnificent shuttered 1950s apartment building there surely anticipates almost every architectural discussion since (see picture); the second, de la Sota, in Madrid, whose high-minded condemnation of most architectural magazines as 'pornographic' still rings a bell.

Cabrero's book is well researched and well illustrated, but it is not an especially good read. Notwithstanding credits to three editors and three translators, the translation from the original Spanish is awkward - too faithful to the original language. Try this, on the 1940s: 'Towns and villages having been badly damaged, the lack of housing and public buildings of all kinds made rapid reconstruction a priority. These tragic circumstances provided architects with an excellent opportunity, and it was capitalised on by a very specific sectorà ' Do you want to read on?

The picture layout is not up to MIT Press' usual standards either. Even Cabrero's mentor Raphael Moneo does not escape without his shore walls at the Kursaal auditorium at San Sebastißn being cruelly cut by the spine.

That said, this is a very welcome addition to what remains a limited literature on the Modern architecture of Spain. Its particular achievement is to provide a rigorous, yet concise and approachable, reference for the whole of the period, effectively covering everything of note from the 1920s onward.

One is tempted to agree with Cabrero when he comments on Seville (though it could equally apply to much of that wonderful country) that its 'joie de vivre stems first from its delightful climate and then from man's skill at finding ways to enjoy life to the full' - and it is a tribute to his work that one is also tempted to explore its buildings as a part of that.

Read this book and empathise, while sipping a little vino de Jerez with your tapas.

Things are quite different there.

Charles Rattray teaches at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and is associate editor of arq (Architectural Research Quarterly)

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