Wartime destruction and post-war reconstruction

(THE Spanish Civil War and the Franco regime)

The destruction and reconstruction of cities is a topic that I have been working on for more than ten years. Wars and post-war periods can be seen as representative or exceptional social and political processes (depending on how one chooses to view history); they are intense and usually span a relatively short time. How are cities affected by war? How is the built environment transformed in the aftermath of war? How are rebuilding decisions made? How much of the decision-making is practical and how much symbolic?

For my doctoral dissertation I chose to focus on Spain. The destruction wrought upon cities during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) by aerial bombardment was unprecedented. Their reconstruction was also exceptional in that it was in the hands of a self-proclaimed fascist regime who sought materializing – successfully or not – a set of social and political values through the built environment in the aftermath of the war.

In placing the Spanish case in a broader, mainly European context, I have become familiar with other instances of destruction and reconstruction, especially in relation to the Second World War and the post-war years.

In 2011, I published Ashes and Granite. Destruction and Reconstruction in the Spanish Civil War and Its Aftermath. I have also published various articles on the topic (see Publications) and given numerous talks and lectures, the most recent at the two-day workshop Reconstruction and Resettlement in the Wake of War. Global Perspectives in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries at Trinity College Dublin, 26-27 February 2016. In this video-interview of 2010 for Spanish in Motion of the LSE Language Centre I talk about the relationship between memory and architecture in the Spanish case. 
















The use of specific images to describe, evoke and imagine cities is by no means new, and has certainly existed for as long as cities have. The question is who imagines what and when, and for what purpose? In a world in which city branding has become a fundamental tool for both national and local governments wishing to attract capital and tourism and create employment, the way cities are imagined matters.

City images seldom emerge in isolation, but as a result of contrasting perceptions, expectations and aspirations connected to both near and distant cities. This is the reason for working comparatively, for example, comparing old and emerging world cities (Paris, New York, Rio, Shanghai…), pre-colonial and colonial cities (Cusco and Lima), and capital cities with secondary cities (Madrid and Barcelona).

In the article 'Hablemos de Madrid' published in El País in 2014 I analyse the image of Madrid from both a contemporary and historical perspective. I have also delivered talks and lectures on city images and city branding, the most recent at the Departament of Economic History at the LSE. My essay 'metaphors, metonyms, cities and the city' was awarded the first prize of the 10th edition of the Premio de Ensayo Breve en Ciencias Sociales Fermín Caballero held by the Asociación Castellano-Manchega de Sociología in 2011.

Femmes et WC (Women and toilets)

Femmes et WC emerges from a simple question: Why do women often have to queue in public toilets? It is a question with deep implications, which concern several fields, including architecture and the design of public space, the socialization of the body and its needs as well as gender relations. The project approaches it from an interdisciplinary perspective. The first result is an itinerant exhibition, presented during spring 2012 at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris with the support of the Fonds pour les Initiatives Étudiantes as well as the Maisons (Houses) of Brazil, Mexico, Sweden, the Maison Internationale and the University of Westminster.  The exhibition combines a socio-historical journey through the topic (conceived and designed by Olivia Muñoz-Rojas) with artistic interpretations by Denise Cobello (with Florian Lasne and Caterina Carrá), María Alicia Flores, Cécile Gonzalez, Olivia Muñoz-Rojas, Sarah Cassidi * and Maria Athina Tzioka.

Exhibition catalogue (in French and English)


 Uncomfortable legacies

“There is no document of culture that is not at the same time a document of barbarism”, Walter Benjamin wrote in 1940. Let’s think of civilizational landmarks such as the pyramids of Egypt or the cathedrals in Spanish America, and the conditions of exploitation or repression in which these buildings were raised, to illustrate Benjamin’s paradox. If all the documents of culture are documents of barbarism, what principle do we use to decide which ones we should preserve and which we should dispose of?

A number of European and non-European governments struggle with the material, aesthetic and spatial legacies of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, but also with buildings of the post-war era because of their association with state intervention in society and functionalist aesthetics. At a time the European project is deeply shaken, it is imperative to critically (re)assess the unique built legacy of a period, the post-war years, that was foundational in the history of European integration.

In the article 'Granite remains. Francoist monuments today' published in Public Art Dialogue I interpret the Spanish case.





West Milton atomic dome