Legal Grey Zones and Joyful Construction: Recetas Urbanas’ Architecture



Since 1996, Seville-based architect Santiago Cirugeda and his team of Recetas Urbanas have been organizing and self-constructing social projects for various urban communities in Spain. Funambulist contributor/friend Lucía Jalón Oyarzun interviewed him for us in a self-built neighborhood of Madrid.

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The conversation between Lucía Jalón Oyarzun and Santiago Cirugeda in Cañada Real. / Photo by Román Alonso (April 5, 2019).

Introduction by Lucía Jalón Oyarzun ///

“It is a joyful construction.” This is how José, one of the community’s elders who’s working along with the team of Recetas Urbanas, describes what’s happening at the construction site for a community center in Cañada Real in the South of Madrid. Not five minutes have passed since we arrived and we are already in his car with him and Santiago Cirugeda, the founder of Recetas Urbanas, on our way to a bar to discuss the project.

Cañada Real is a 14 kilometer section of an old transhumance route, the Cañada Real Galiana, which started to populate outside the law in the 1960s. Today, it is one of the largest informal settlements in Spain. Around 8,000 people are estimated to live there in heterogeneous urban areas, where illegal suburban homes co-exist with self-constructed houses where a large Roma population as well as a growing immigrant community live, surrounded by illegal workshops, parallel economies, bars and dumping sites.

While there have been several attempts over the years to intervene there, the conflicting social and political agents, as well as a legal framework understood as article of faith rather than something that serves people, had left the area and its population at an impasse. For instance, the public bid to build this community center on an empty lot at Sector 5 went unfulfilled several times before Recetas Urbanas came along with their proposal.