Spanish architecture from 1930 to 1970

How are we living? How were cities structured and reconstructed in our past? The Spanish Civil War was a key phenomenon to develop architecture with its own language, which in turn was key to establish a new architecture for New Spain. Several architecture groups were created to rebuild the devastated areas following the ideals of the winning side. But, as in any conflict, the ideas of the winning side and the ideas of the past coexisted – e.g., GATEPAC’s contribution, initiated in the 30’s. This confrontation of ideas will lead to the creation of many groups, such as Grupo R, El Paso, and others.

Moreover, the political regime and the institutions created to monitor the situation of housing and lifestyle, and to foster the reconstruction, were very interested in promoting a new modus vivendi that had conveyed the importance of family ties, economic rationality, hygiene and ventilation, etc. In addition, the experiences and ideas of both architects and artists were being questioned, especially in the so-called

functionalist crisis, which extends from architecture and the way of building to painting and its “messages”.

Finally, all these facts together had a strong impact at the international level, since many architects were forced to exile, as is the case of some illustrious names such as Josep Lluís Sert (who went to the United States), Felix Candela (Mexico) and Antoni Bonet (Argentina), among others.

 Article that belongs to the publication: ‘Spanish Architecture from 1930 to 1970’

Written by Cristina Olucha.


The definition of social housing arises around the 20s, when the working population due to industrialization, emigrated fields and cities need to do on the outskirts of major cities, decent places where you can live there. Progress is fractured due to multiple civil wars that were suffered simultaneously in Europe. Once established the Franco dictatorship in Spain, architecture became the instrument of political ideologies condensation regime, representing a strong patriotic feeling. Social housing was influenced by these ideological currents. The regime acted in the field of social housing, taking different measures. However, it often came to meet 50% of the plans established, strong demand and low effectiveness of some measures taken negatively influenced the progress and fulfillment of certain promises. We go into each period in order to analyze the evolution of housing throughout the dictatorship.

1920 Background of the social housing

The workers’ housing problem is political, social and urban, since the nineteenth century in all European countries. Industrialization means that many families who worked in the countryside decided to live in cities. The Industrial Revolution allows therefore a change in architecture. Thanks to the simplification of the construction process, cities take on a new form, applying new materials and rationalising traditional materials (as bricks) much more efficiently. The house-own becomes standard, easy and affordable. Its price is not the value of the building, it is the land value. Industrialisation benefits the population allowing to extent some essential services that previously could afford only the richest families.

Housing of the working class is still very distant from that of the bourgeois class, often self-built. The hygienic conditions of the working class neighborhoods across Europe were worrying and were causing major epidemics, a large street violence and a high rate of infant mortality. The relationship between city and home care was still very far from achieving the minimum standard.
The fight by cities to modernize and adapt to the new conditions that appeared was the subject of debate in the European capitals. The serious social problems that had made us see that the modern city was built by the investors. Ideas of socialising ground and diluting the boundaries between public and private were proposals made in the early 20s. Cities were colonized by industry investors (eg in the case of extensions of Madrid and Barcelona, by Idelfons Cerda).
03-ae_1These ideas of hygiene and modernization of the city and the adaptation of the architecture to the needs of a new time will be broken by wars, both at European and national level. Which will affect us more seriously Civil Spanish War, 1936-1939. Desolation after the war is total. While in other European cities popular House was the center of the transformation and growth of cities, the Spanish planning legislation was created to optimize the performance of the private land market.

After II World War, European society began a period of prosperity and social classes underwent a process of transformation and balance. The property was minimal and worthy. This is what we call social housing. In most European legislation is classified as subsidised housing.

The Franco dictatorship in 1939

In the case of Spain, on 19 April 1939 it enters a new law the definition of social housing. The advantage was that it only applied to the field of housing, but also applied to other working groups such as the military or employees of various public entities. This can be considered a great social progress, an attempt to equalize the rights of all citizens, on different levels. The intention is clearly positive. With the change of government, many things differ from the first planning and social time.
The war leaves important consequences. Besides the human losses, cities are destroyed by the war. Cities are also receiving a massive rural migration.

The position adopted by the government is to reconstruct all the destroyed, reinforcing the patriotic feeling of society. There will be a unified effort, however, most of the time did not get to meet 50% of the established plans. This will have serious repercussions, resulting in the construction of mass housing and high shantytowns on the outskirts of major cities, including Madrid and Barcelona. The big problem we could say that was not resolved until many years after the Franco dictatorship. As the example of the Barcelona ’92 Olympic Games.

The consequences of all this were that the country had just plunged into a deep crisis, which was exacerbated by measures such as economic autarky, social control and the lack of technical and human resources. The poorest was that related to the population of republican ideas, suffered the worst conditions.
The same year were created several institutions, such as: the Credit Institute for Reconstruction National Federation of Housing and Urban Development, the National Institute of Housing, the joint reconstruction of Madrid, and celebrate the first National Assembly of Architects and the General Direction of Architecture.

Often we speak more than an attempt to re-supply and use of own resources, a deliberate isolation of Spanish society towards the rest of Europe. Spain broke the lines of European economic progress. This meant slowness in the country’s economic development and made this period became the largest of an economic downturn. Favoring a recovery much slower than in other countries with similar dictatorships.
The architectural language was developed as the political language of the dictatorship. The link between architecture and the ideas of the scheme was essential. We wanted to convey to people the idea of power, superiority and nationalist values clearly. Architecture becomes the vehicle in which condense Franco ideologies. It was the end on itself.

The main idea was that the architecture have potential of all the symbols with the dominant ideological content. It wanted to be the petrified ideologies of Franco and convey superiority, victory, Empire vocation and respect for the essence and constant Spanish embodied in the new political system imposed. So, committed to building a new Spain, where the architecture had to abandon liberal fees to participate in its new social work. The work of architect happened to be available for service for political purposes, and had to ‘make fatherland’.

It was decided a new direction for the architecture that participated on the social work that were being carried out. The total fascism architecture was reflected not only in totalitarian tendencies arranged legally, and it is clearly stated at the time ascribed to the General Direction of the Ministry of Interior Architecture.

One of the concerns during those early years was the definition of a new architectural style. Since it was built again, worried about how to perform this task. National union criteria consisted of a taste for simplicity, the classic, simple and decent. Considered appropriate that the architectural style of the ‘new Spain’ was defined severity, stiffness and geometric shapes. So, the architects selected Franco as a model to follow in case of the ‘Escorial‘, since it was the ideal representative of sobriety and the Spanish spirituality . The reflection of the Golden Age of the Empire nationwide. He tried to introduce the method of composition of the Golden Age as a reliable guide for the composition of the new buildings had to be lifted. It was to take inspiration in a glorious past in order to translate it into new forms. It had to be ‘A Neoplasticism resolved in keeping with our time’.

The inspiration was the historicism of the Austrians, in the style of Herrera’s Escorial and the architecture of Imperial Juan de Villanueva. The Spanish spirit seemed to be in these examples, a Spanish architecture that expressed the spiritual and political sentiment of the nation.
Spain had recovered some new source of life, which they called the ‘Cities in Motion’. These were to populate the country. Try the utmost care when planning these new cities. They were supposed to prepare, spare keys’ to prepare the country with its national resurgence. Months after the war Franco pronounced: Madrid has to be a capital as corresponde to our State because always the cities03-ae_2 are the reflect of the life of a nation, through its Development Bank is calculated with the power of themselves ” in all cases we have the clear intention of centralization in the city of Madrid, an Imperial city”, the  9 November 1939.

To find some notable examples of contemporary Spanish architecture in the midst of the discussion of urban planning of the city.


1940 Early interventions

The villages with destruction that exceeded  75% were adopted by Franco. (A total of 102 Spanish towns, including some neighborhoods of Madrid). We can deduce that 250,000 homes were destroyed and 10% of the total damaged. On the map you can see the towns that were adopted by the regime. These early years were designed some development plans, policies and intentions for the totally exaltation of the regime. The vision of the urban district Falangist ideal was based on the disappearance of the barriers classes and the family form over the individual.

Stated that urban zoning was a tradition of socialist class struggle that had to leave. It writes the New Urban Plan, which provides for the material reconstruction of the city of Madrid. The achievements that are made during this first stage Franco individual contributions will be based on academic training and time zones from outside the Franco regime, and uses the classic styles as a way to deal with any solution.
There are two main issues hinted at in the first postwar attempt to unify the architectural language with the idea of the New Spain. First, the transfer means for professional-level technical knowledge, methods or tools of rational nature (which is evident in the layout of towns or in the types of homes) to the educational version, almost like a postcard that future generations should inherit the formation of the national spirit. Secondly, in terms of design, the general concept of how you try to generate a global ideological and political concept while the details will be the affirmation of the variety of landscapes and customs of Spain together.

03-ae_3_2We can analyze small interventions that were carried out in the first period. Three of the most representative were: Guernica, Brunete and Belchite. Since the destruction of these people was almost complete, its reconstruction was one of the most urgent tasks that had to make the new regime. Then fade planned a series of villages, parallel to the previous ones, they had good communications.

03-ae_5You can see the plants different types of housing. A perspective Brunete you can see the rationality of style facades, and a sober style reminiscent of an architecture similar to that of the Enlightenment (Versailles, for example). There were few interventions in this period. A smaller scale example is the redevelopment of the Plaza Mayor in Las Rozas, Madrid. The use of orthogonal systems (war strategy) is very common in the layout of new urban spaces.
Until 1942 practically it is very difficult to define this ‘new architecture’.

1941 Social policies are not enough

03-ae_6After those first three years, the regime is becoming more a
ware of the real needs of the population. The urgency with which we should address the issue of housing means that increasingly been leaving aside more formal and aesthetic issues that have to provide solutions to issues of a more functional.
The problem of urban slums is not yet resolved. The fact constructed much cheaper housing outside the city did not favor, but rather the contrary, the objectives that had been raised initially. We will therefore implement a turnaround in housing policy. There are new institutions that try to rearrange these troubled suburbs.

03-ae_7Never been concerned about the housing of workers, until now only been stopped at the house bourgeois attention. It is proposed that each district only 25% are workers:, which a worker just hungry to eat and today no one can buy a house in the square meters that considers Housing protected only could pay a third part of the Housing official ” .

Must use standardized and prefabricated systems that favor the industry and consumption within the state. Most of the 40 actions have a rather rural character. These examples of early ’40 show the attempt to integrate into the structure of rural housing. Are studies on the connection and traffic inside the house. It also incorporated the theme of transport to private homes. This will affect the width of the steps and connections between the different parts. 03-ae_8The technique also allows a very densely populated
high, since the heights of residential buildings is not exceeded t
he 3 or 4 levels. During these early years the definition of social housing is quite accurate. It was considered that each of the children had to have their own room. This will increase the cost of housing substantially. Will only be during these early years of experimentation, because later they will realize that it is not possible to respond to all, reducing the number of rooms in the house is one way to reduce the cost of housing minimum.

In these two models, both in 1943, we see an evolution in a more compact model for rural housing.03-ae_9

The few media became increasingly had to adjust more models of housing people working in terms of quality and square meters. Some of these houses are still standing, although many of them have been demolished and replaced by new housing plans of municipalities.

03-ae_10It can be seen on the ground left a great similarity with the house of the farmer we’ve seen before. Thus, the type of rural housing was in those early years was room for some uses or others.
These dwellings were organized around the main axis of the city.
The year 1954 is an important reform of housing laws, establishing four different types: social, income and reduced minimum income and limited discounted. The idea was to fit the needs of most people.
For the first time, some houses are built of block types: double towers H or crunchy between 10 and 12 floors. They began to raise the height solution as a solution to the housing problem. An example is the neighborhood of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, Quintana. 03-ae_11The houses of this small foreground were designed by the group of architects Organization: Cabrero, Aburto, Argote, Núñez Mera Benlloch. They built four groups with similar characteristics: San Nicolas, Francisco Franco, or Experimental Villaverde Colonia San Carlos and Nuestra Señora del Carmen (Quintana). The year 1955 will promote this new type of housing that offer a different image.03-ae_12

1957: Drawing a Social Emergency Plan. The problems of shanty towns and under-housing.

03-ae_13The 40s were taken as a failure in terms of housing construction workers. They had done some tests,
such as La Ventilla. Where many of the homes did not exceed 30 m2.
It was noted that the plans established was not enough, so it caused a growing urban overflowed provisions initials. The problem infravivenda became increasingly serious. All belts of large cities such as Madrid was filled with shacks, often lacked the basic services of water or sewer. The difference between social housing to be built at the beginning of the dictatorship (left image) and shantytowns to be populated cities (right image) in the 50s makes us to see that the types of construction are not very different.
03-ae_15The decisions that were taken were: the maximum participation of the private sector, the management of urban construction and limiting and decentralising large cities. Other measures were limited to immigration and control of the set
tlements illegal. Arose promoting Villages Directed and Villages minimal absorption. They also promote some houses upgraded.
03-ae_16The policy will take effect in 1955 populated with the construction of settlements Led, Absorption Villages, Towns and Villages Agricultural Minimum. These represent the high point in the contribution of Spanish architecture in social housing across the Franco period. Most are single-family homes in rows one and two storey blocks of four or five plants taking minimalist,03-ae_17 abstract or brutalists neoplasticist.
An example is the colony San Cristóbal, a project of 800 houses for workers EMT Madrid.

Some of the interventions incorporated a new concept of neighborhood: a part of the ‘dormitory town’, begins to introduce the idea of integrating the minimum services, providing quality neighborhoods in the city market, and social activities lúdico- sports (football team, sports), green spaces and other services that improve the quality of neighborhoods that were built since then. Another example that integrates new concepts and aesthetic ventilation and lighting up the formal aspect of the building and its façade.

1959: New political and economic period National-oriented. Start of openness and liberalization. Approval of stability plans.

The entrance of technocrats in the government and other twists in the economy, such as the confiscation of Mendizabal caused a shift in policy that caused “the miracle in the Spanish economy.”

With the creation of the ministry of housing were made breakthroughs. The openness and liberalization also moved to the architecture, creating a much more modern aesthetic that could compare to the rest of Europe. It seemed that Spain and Europe open to let itself be closed. The change was gradual, as you can see in the images, increasing housing policy evolved architecture that promoted quite speculative construction tower. In the early 60s is a setback with respect to social housing because there is a deterioration in social marginalization and new neighborhoods.03-ae_18 The amount of housing needed urgently determined the architecture and town planning in recent years of the regime. However, with ideologies will be a little more opened. Liberalism and the use of architectural forms that follow European trends as they move architectures late 70s. The shanty towns was a persistent and serious problem throughout the dictatorship. The problem was not solved until the early 90s.03-ae_19


The Franco regime attempted, through the adoption of new laws and municipal plans, to solve the serious problem of lack of housing. The scheme goes through different phases, starting with a self-sufficiency that makes the country reaches a higher poverty rates than at the end of the War. With integration policies neighborhoods interesting proposals will be around 50 when decent housing for the working class is designed for younger architects who seek a balance between the different parts of the city and the integration of the class most disadvantaged. In the last period, when the largest number of homes supplied, such that the number should be determined soon a throwback architectural and social in these neighborhoods, although they give solution to the problem economy and make the country can overcome the crisis and can be great compared with some of the major European powers. However, some problems have persisted for many derivatives of regime more years after that ended, such shantytowns, which invaded the 70s the peripheries of cities. He was given solution with the Partial Plans on the 90s.