Castles in the Air

“N’attends pas des châteaux en Espagne Car le temps passe trop vite.” Do not be busy making castles in the air, for time flies.

With this funny French saying we begin our reflection this week. If we study it carefully we can see that “Castles in the Air” translates as “Châteaux en Espagne“, or castles in Spain. It gives us the idea that making castles in this country is something that has no value, due to the large number of fortifications that draw much of the old built mass. There are numerous ruins that have protected us in bloody battles, they have been taken in amazing conquests, they have become the property of the localities that owned it. All this to end up being mere observers of their contexts, almost forgotten.

They have become the backdrops of postcards, which generate images as picturesque as people’s lack of interest in visiting them. Far away, we have been accomplices in this neglect that has led to the ruin in many cases of these constructions. But it is also not fair to take the full blame. These fortresses became obsolete, becoming large inert carcasses of activity and use. Faces to maintain, and difficult to reuse – as commonly stipulated.

Not every city should have a Guggenheim, a conference centre or an interpretation centre. Nor can public initiatives make up for the entire cost of maintaining this heritage, which is being eroded until it eventually disappears. This is something we have learned in recent years, after this little “Boom” in which it seemed that tourism and “culture” were the key that would open the treasure chest for us.

We were wrong. If these fortifications were once inert carcasses of uses, the only difference we see now is that at least they have been consolidated and may remain somewhat more in time. We may think that the occasional visits that these spaces may receive justify these transformations, but perhaps it is more interesting to move away from the dynamics of merely musealisation. After all, real culture is not just the culture that is hidden in museums. The real culture is the one that communities generate.

These ruins, which are now watching us, may once again be the protagonists of other activities designed to contribute to their localities. Stop being empty carcasses to become containers of activity. The challenge will therefore consist in being able to combine more complex uses than mere musealisation and accessibility intervention, with the reading of the different layers of the patient’s past. Also understanding our moment as one more layer that rests on the conglomerate that is its history. It is not a bad thing to let this new page be read too, the important thing is that when we write it, we do not take away the importance of all the previous ones, because without them, it would not have been possible to understand what this wonderful book that is time tells us.

We do not want to mention the challenge that would be to fight against the administrations, to give back to the localities what belongs to them because of history. To give them a chance to use it and benefit from it. We believe that this is something that must be demanded jointly by these populations, as well as by the professions that deal with these witnesses of the past.

Meanwhile, waiting to see what time has in store for us, we will spread our wings to the sky, and gradually gain height. They may call us idiots, but we will be happy building castles in the air.

Head image: Ricardo Bofill’s studio, which appropriates an old cement factory. 

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