‘Spain is ugly’: the editor of El País tackles his country’s ‘cultural disaster’ | Spain

For nearly two decades, Andrés Rubio has pored over photos of Spain’s magnificent cathedrals, delicate Moorish architecture and quaint cobbled streets. But as editor of the El País newspaper’s travel supplement, what often caught his eye was what hovered in the background: glimpses of towering megahotels, skeletal remains of half-built tenements, or jarring blocks of apartment buildings.

For him, the conclusion was inescapable – even if it clashed with Spain which attracts millions of tourists a year and is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Unesco World Heritage sites. “Spain is ugly,” he said. “It’s very hard to say, but that’s the way it is.”

His controversial view is the backbone of a new book, España Fea, or Ugly Spain, which drags readers into what Rubio describes as an “unprecedented cultural disaster.”

Looking beyond the dazzling Alhambra and alluring whitewashed villages, it lists Costa del Sol fishing villages that have been supplanted by a chaotic jumble of overdevelopment and charming villages where carefully preserved historic centers give way to outskirts marked by discordant housing blocks.

Catchy title aside, the aim is to explore the country‘s hugely varied approach to development. He is quick to point out municipalities in which development has been done well, such as Barcelona, ​​where tradition and the public good have often come into the conversation.

The city of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain – where a former mayor used to turn down hastily conceived projects with the phrase “it’s unworthy of Santiago” – is also presented as a model, as are villages like Vejer de la Frontera. in southern Spain and Albarracín in central-eastern Spain. “Spain as a whole is very chaotic,” he said. “But there are individuals who are very successful at doing things.”

He is also a fan of the Mediterranean town of Benidorm. “I love her so much.” Although he stops short of calling the coastal city a model of development, he said it has done well in striking a balance between population density and respect for the natural landscape.

“There may not be many examples of great architecture – there are skyscrapers that are very beautiful – but the overall tone of these skyscrapers is very dignified,” he said. . He was quick to add, “With a few exceptions. For example, the recently inaugurated Intempo tower is hideous.

‘Hideous’ Intempo, the tallest residential building in Europe, in Benidorm. Photography: Heino Kalis/Reuters

He describes these municipalities as rarities in a country where development has long been driven by speculation and developers rather than thinkers and artists. Spanish politicians, in his view, have compounded the problem by refusing to have any sort of national conversation about how to develop its towns and villages in a way that protects the country’s historic past, takes care of its beautiful landscape and serves the public good.

It contrasts Spain’s laissez-faire approach to development with that taken by neighboring France, where in 1976 former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing called on the country to fight “the ugliness of France” in a letter to Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.. “France was the only country where the state took over and tried to control the process, in a way,” Rubio said.

As a result, Spain is far from alone in its chaotic approach to development, he said, citing examples that stretch across the Mediterranean. “What we need to do is empower the thinkers of the city,” he said. “Engage the best architects, urban planners, landscape architects and geographers and all their multidisciplinary teams to do it right.”

And how to treat the imperfections that already exist? Rubio concedes that’s where things get tricky. He outlines a sort of “urban acupuncture”; small, targeted actions aimed at healing areas such as La Manga, where he said decades of unfettered construction had destroyed what was once one of Spain’s ecological gems.

Within days of the book’s launch, Rubio’s provocative take on Spain featured prominently in national media. So far, the reactions he has received have been positive, he said. “People see this as a very big problem in Spain. If you destroy a landscape, you end up destroying part of our memory.

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