2024 Dulux Study Tour – Day 8, Madrid: Finding the grounds

By Jamileh Jahangiri

It’s our final day in Madrid and the conclusion of our practice visits. Starting the tour with the immaculate itinerary that Abbey Czudek took months to organise – thank you Abbey! – as I scroll down to today’s schedule, I am excited about the last two studio visits.

We begin with Ensamble Studio and Fabrica where Antón García-Abril welcomes us with his boundless energy. As he turns on the coffee machine, he makes a striking statement: as architects, we need to revolutionise how we practise to stay relevant. This question has haunted me since I started my practice. In this era of global warming, AI advancements, and diminishing control over projects, a fundamental re-evaluation of our approach is crucial.

Antón García-Abril of Ensamble Studio with the Dulux Study Tour group. Photo by Linda Cheng.

Antón leads us through his workshop, emphasising the importance of model making and a deep understanding of construction and fabrication methodologies. The workshop functions as a research and development hub, where various prototypes are assembled, challenged, and tested before reaching the site. In some cases, prefabricated elements are constructed in the workshop and later shipped to the site, significantly reducing cost and time.

After exploring the model collection area of the fabrication studio, we head to our final practice visit of the tour: Foster and Partners’ Madrid office. Co-directors Taba Rasti and Pablo Urango Lill run this relatively small practice of 20, which is filled with models and hand sketches from the directors and Lord Foster himself. It feels like a localised Spanish architectural practice, yet it represents Norman Foster’s global legacy. Pablo elaborates on the practice’s structure, design methodology, and impactful projects, highlighting their significant role despite being a smaller branch of the renowned Foster and Partners.

A model of Foster and Partners Ombú office project. Photo by Jamileh Jahangiri.

Reflecting on these conversations as we wrap up at Foster’s office, I can’t help but see the connections between all the practices we’ve visited. Despite their varied locations, cultures, scales, and project typologies, common themes emerge. It seems surreal to be able to visit these practices in such a small window of time, many of which have influenced my way of thinking throughout my career.

Model making stands out as a fundamental tool, not just for presentation but for design and understanding spatial functionality. Understanding manufacturing and fabrication is another shared emphasis. Many practices prioritised the importance of manufacturing and fabrication, from prototyping chairs and lights at Kengo Kuma and Associates to manufacturing window typologies at Barkow Leibinger, and creating prefabricated architectural elements at Ensamble Studio. These architects are pioneering a more sustainable and appropriate future for our industry.

What strikes me the most is the fundamental role of research in these practices. The groundbreaking creations and technological advancements are rooted in thorough research and a deep understanding of fundamentals. The advancements in design and technology we’ve witnessed are deeply rooted in rigorous study and a comprehensive grasp of fundamental principles. This commitment to research enables these practices to push the boundaries of architecture and contribute meaningfully to a sustainable future.

As we conclude our tour tomorrow, I am reflecting on the profound lessons we’ve learned. Filled with optimism for the future of architecture and inspired by the innovative practices we’ve encountered, despite their impact, they stay humble and curious.

– Jamileh Jahangiri is founder of Studio Orsi.

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