What is your first memory of architecture?
Architecture has always played a role in my life, particularly through my father’s influence. When I was little, for part of the year we lived in a small house with modern ’60s-inspired decor, built by an architect who was a family friend. In the summer, we adapted the renovation to make the house habitable and we lived in part of it while it was under construction. Architecture both as a process and a finished result was very present throughout my childhood.
When did you decide that your professional and vocational career was going to be architecture?
At a very young age, because of that paternal influence. Also because at school I excelled in both sciences and humanities, so it seemed like architecture was my destiny. Life itself guided me along that path.
Do humanities and sciences come together in architecture?
Absolutely. At first I understood that only vaguely. I knew that there was a lot of art in architecture. When I entered the Granada School of Architecture I realised that not only were aesthetics and the historical connection important, but also the social values that architecture should contribute to the context in which it develops. I think the humanities side is just as important as the artistic part and the aesthetic importance of architecture. That’s where I make the connection.
So do architects have a social responsibility in their work?
Without a doubt. They have a duty towards history, because when you build something you exert an influence over a place, both in anthropological and purely architectural terms. In turn, there is a social context that you have to resolve depending on whom your work is intended for. As well as that, the project enters into a dialogue with a place and with the society living in that place, and it should improve it. That’s where the responsibility lies.
With regard to influences, what styles do you feel closest to?
It’s not easy to talk about styles. My architecture is fairly uniform in its end result. It’s not a question of having a very recognisable style but of making your style fit the circumstances of each project. Obviously, there’s a style that can be called contemporary, which corresponds to current technology and aesthetics, but it also has a lot to do with what you learn through the history of the place in question. For example, when I work in the Mediterranean, the Mediterranean architecture that emerges from a traditional, pure construction is the one that most influences me. In contrast, when I work in the centre of a city with a very distinct style, such as the Albaicín in Granada, the references are different. I can’t adopt a style, but I can adopt an attitude.
Has your place of birth had a latent influence on your work?
I feel it has influenced me a great deal because it’s almost inevitable – it’s in your blood. Not only that, but also the environment I work in is primarily the south of Spain, which means that my work itself makes this the most familiar kind of architecture for me. Above all, that influence affects my treatment of materials, my perception of the light, how I conceive certain domestic spaces and give a particular value to certain aspects such as density and textures.
Which projects stimulate you the most?
I could say that any job is stimulating because we let ourselves get swept away by our passion for architecture and we look for goodness in all our commissions. However, that’s not how things work in reality. The projects that stimulate me are those in which there is a connection with the intention behind the project. If that objective, besides being interesting, is also benevolent, there’s a stronger connection with the client. If the client is public, a public space, the motivation increases because the number of people you will reach directly is much greater and the social benefit is also much higher.
When you work with a client for the first time, what do you need to know about them in order to immerse yourself in their project?
I like to know what their concerns are, what interests them, not only with regard to the place, but also the use and aspirations that the client has planned for that space. I am also very interested in making a mental connection with the client, in terms of tastes. That connection is decisive in the outcome of the project. Sometimes it involves months or even years of work, in which there are moments of great intensity, so knowing the client well is beneficial for everyone. On a few occasions, I’ve rejected the project after meeting the client because I considered that with my work I was not the best person to carry out the kind of architecture they were looking for.
Tell us about a project that has been decisive in your career.
The projects I did at the beginning of my career, with great enthusiasm – above all, projects involving public facilities and spaces such as the Biodiversity Centre in Loja. And in terms of private commissions, I would mention the Casa de los Vientos, in La Línea de la Concepción (Cádiz), which has received several international awards, because it emerged as the happy result of a period when economic resources were severely lacking. That is a very important aspect of my career: I am an architect who has matured during a time of crisis. I first got started in the final years of the construction boom in Spain, but I matured during the crisis and that’s evident in my work, where projects are carried out with minimal resources. That obligation to maximise the minimal resources available has led me to do architecture based on what is essential, where the search for beauty is established through what is necessary. Finding functionality and beauty with minimal resources has been the challenge of many of my projects.
Is the architect an artist?
Yes, but not only an artist. An architect should also be a humanist. Sometimes we are also doctors because architecture cures people in certain psychological aspects. At the same time, we are also technicians, because we resolve complex technical aspects. But above all of these abilities, architects must be generous, responsible and honest.
Have you ever experienced “Stendhal syndrome” when you have seen a building?
Many times. I felt it in Alvaro Siza’s Boa Nova Tea House in Oporto, in Scharoun’s library in Berlin, and in the Pantheon of Agrippa in Rome. And of course, the Alhambra is another of those places that never fail to amaze me.
There’s no doubt that Granada is the city that has seen you mature professionally. What are the must-see places to visit in the city of the Alhambra?
As well as the typical places – the Alhambra, the Palace of Charles V, the Albaicín quarter and the Cathedral – one thing really worth doing is the route up from the Fuente de las Batallas to the Mirador de la Vereda de Enmedio. The walk takes you from the Fuente de las Batallas, up Reyes Católicos to Plaza Nueva, along the Carrera del Darro with the Alhambra on your right-hand side, then it continues up to Sacromonte and the Vereda de Enmedio, when you can see the Alhambra again, and it’s one of the most wonderful things you can do in Granada. And if you do the walk at sunset, it’s just incredible.
To find out more about José Luis Muñoz, visit: http://joseluismunozarquitectura.com