First-Ever U.S. Exhibition of the XIII Spanish Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism (BEAU) at The Cooper Union

spanish-biennial-of-architecture-beau-cooper-union-nyc-untapped-cities8“Alternativas / Alternatives” at The Cooper Union.  Photo by Marget Long. Courtesy of The Cooper Union.

For the first time in history, the XIII Spanish Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism (BEAU) is taking place in the United States in an visually-stunning exhibition presented at The Cooper Union. The show, entitled Alternativas / Alternatives, features 22 jury-selected projects by contemporary Spanish architects, completed between January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2015.

spanish-biennial-of-architecture-beau-cooper-union-nyc-untapped-cities7“Alternativas / Alternatives” at The Cooper Union.  Photo by Marget Long. Courtesy of The Cooper Union.

Unlike traditional exhibitions, where viewers are forced to stand a certain distance away from the featured works, Alternativas / Alternatives is entirely hands-on and interactive. Upon entering the room, your eyes will immediately focus on faces projected on a series of small screens, which are erected on poles rising from an inclined platform. Four larger displays, depicting a slideshow of buildings and structures, form a semi-circle around this area – undoubtedly the focus of the exhibition.

The curious display is ingeniously engineered, just as you would expect from an exhibition focused around architecture and design. Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the smaller screens present audiovisual commentary about the winning projects, ranging from small-scale works, such as residential homes to larger “interventions,” such as public parks. As a commentator describes the various qualities and benefits of each design, images of the structure/space are simultaneously displayed onto the larger screens.

spanish-biennial-of-architecture-beau-cooper-union-nyc-untapped-cities“Alternativas / Alternatives” at The Cooper Union.  Photo by Marget Long. Courtesy of The Cooper Union.

Complimenting the audiovisual commentary are architectural models presented neatly across tables situated on the side of the room. This is, perhaps, one of the most entertaining parts of the exhibition simply because it invites viewers to actually hold 3D reproductions of each project. Instead of presenting architectural plans, which are difficult to read and understand, these models are fitted with barcodes, which people can scan to bring up pertinent information about the designs onto a TV monitor.

Alternativas / Alternatives” at The Cooper Union.  Photo by Marget Long. Courtesy of The Cooper Union.

spanish-biennial-of-architecture-beau-cooper-union-nyc-untapped-cities5“Alternativas / Alternatives” at The Cooper Union.  Photo by Marget Long. Courtesy of The Cooper Union.

According to Carmen Moreno Álvarez, one of the co-directors of the exhibition, the jury-selected works, categorized under three divisions: Heritage, Planning and Innovation, were selected on the basis of how well they fit into the context of the area, not necessarily for how aesthetically beautiful they are.

“The economic crisis was a critical time for our country’s architecture and we saw a halt in new construction but enormous growth for restoration work,” says Francisco Mangado, Spain’s General Coordinator of Biennals, who oversaw the curation of Alternativas / Alternatives.

“Alternativas / Alternatives” at The Cooper Union.  Photo by Marget Long. Courtesy of The Cooper Union.

Given the circumstances at the time, many of the projects employ sustainable practices and implement innovative solutions to counteract a limited budget and lack of resources. Moreover, they are also considered to be “interventions” in the landscape, designed on top of what’s already existing in a city.

While taking in the exhibition, it is evident that a great deal of innovation was needed in order to conceptualize and conjure up these projects. In fact, the multi-disciplinary jury of the selection process included not only architects, but also journalists and engineers, among others, who each shared their own insightful perspectives. And while architects are generally inventive people, the context of the landscape and time period required them to put on their thinking caps more so than ever.

Alternativas / Alternatives is on view from October 27 through December 3, 2016 in the United States. It is curated by BEAU Co-Directors and jury members Begoña Díaz-Urgorri, Juan Domingo Santos and Carmen Moreno Álvarez, and overseen by Francisco Mangado, Spain’s General Coordinator of Biennales.

Next, check out more on articles about our city’s stunning architecture.

 BEAU, The Cooper Union, The Spanish Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism

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