How did you come up with the idea of CM4?
It was a progressive process; a company changes as a couple does. At the beginning they meet each other, they move out to live together and so on, it’s not something that happens out of the blue. In 2009 we set up a sort of collective—if you can call it like this—among eleven friends studying architecture and we rented out a small office to finish our dissertations. Back then; we were eleven friends just enjoying our last months as students. From that moment onwards, while some of us were finishing their studies and others working abroad, we won several tendering processes and were requested to do some tasks. This was precisely the moment we realised that, even in these uncertain times; there was an opportunity for us without great commercial efforts. That’s when we decided to give a professional status to our structure without losing our optimistic outlook about architecture. Hence, four of us set up CM4 Arquitectos in 2012.
How would you describe the architectural style of CM4?
With our architecture we try to meet the needs of time and place. The time is defined by the architectonic language of our time as well as by the current situation of society. It would be strange if our projects would have a baroque language. Similarly, it wouldn’t make sense if the projects don’t meet reasonable budgets in line with our clients’ needs.
On the other hand, the place where we do our architecture shapes deeply our style. When designing a project, it is not the same if it is located in Andalusia, Oslo or Bogota. We have an architectural culture and climate conditions, which considerably affect our buildings, e.g. the relation of the built-up areas with the empty ones, the light or the private use of the house or the use of white as predominant colour. We try to use all these elements with our own language to satisfy the clients’ needs. From all those elements, the use of the courtyard has prevailed in our last projects. We conceive the courtyard as driving force of the private house, as lighting and ventilation system as well as hallway.
How do you think the crisis has affected your business?
The fact that most of our colleagues are working abroad has undoubtedly decreased the competition in the local market. However, this has negative effects as well. A region like ours shouldn’t disregard a generation so talented and polyvalent, but offer the tools to make the Andalusian architecture a recognised and recognisable brand. At the same time, the excessive number of graduates from the three universities offering Architecture degrees in Andalusia should be also regulated.
Would you say that today there are less projects but with higher quality? Are we very much aware of the importance of quality?
To consider a project with the adequate quality three critical factors must at least be satisfied: the architect should do a good project, the promoter has to pay for it, and the building company has to implement it. What’s happening today is that architects which formerly had four projects, can just focus on one nowadays, and he or she will have to work with the highest standards. This should ensure the quality of projects aiming to become new milestones and promoting the research of more economical and sustainable alternatives. However, this hasn’t been the rule and unfortunately we keep seeing low quality and tasteless (not sure I would use this word) buildings because of lacking architectural culture.
How different is the traditional architect to the contemporary one? Which skills are required?
I think the main difference is how we sell the service. There wasn’t a real commercial need before because there were more projects than architects. In the current situation, with the fierce competition and the differentiation is the key.
Undoubtedly this is a business and it must be profitable enough to pay salaries, rent, etc. There is a company structure, unless you work alone from home. But if you want to grow professionally, a structure with clear objectives is paramount. Facing each individual project, the architect has to design and think purely in architectural terms, but without strategy this is a hobby not a job.
Where do you get the inspiration?
Most of the times we don’t look for references specifically, but we find them during our trips, online, watching a movie or visiting a building for example. Sometimes the detail that you were looking for during weeks in specialised books and magazines appears one day in Berlin while having a beer. The style is obviously a key factor. We feel more represented by the Iberian school but in every project we include elements found somewhere around the world thanks to the endless information flows existing today and the easy access and fruition of the latter.
Which is your favourite building in Seville?
It’s difficult to pick one but we go out on a limb! We like very much the Santa Justa train station by Cruz y Ortiz. Its high position and its façade recall the décor of a classic building. When you arrive you shelter yourself in the outdoor roof overhangs. The entrance is intentionally small, just before the train station waiting area, which, thanks to its size and solemnity could remain a contemporary cathedral. Finally, the platform area is a big outdoor space inside a building, which owing to its quality becomes a fantastic introduction to the city.
However, picking just one building is not enough! The abbey located in La Cartuja is also fantastic. The abbey was renovated in the 80s by the very best the architectural scene in Seville could offer: José Ramón y Ricardo Sierra, Paco Torres, Guillermo Vázquez-Consuegra, Luis Marín de Terán, Aurelio del Pozo and Fernando Mendoza. Since 1992, this old monastery houses the Contemporary Art Centre of the city.
More generally, the numerous abbeys and grocery markets are two types of Sevillian buildings we feel passionate about. There are still today many abbeys and monasteries in the city centre, most of them open to the public even if they do it only partially. We recommend Santa Paula, Santa Inés, San Clemente or the recently renovated Santa Clara. All of them are small towns themselves, which used to operate autonomously. Regarding the grocery markets, only the Feria market is still functioning following its nineteenth century concept. Another fantastic market is the old and abandoned Puerta de la carne market, urgently in need of a comprehensive restoration.
Out of the several currently deteriorated and unused buildings in Seville, which one do you like the most? What kind of use could the city promote?
A city like Seville shouldn’t have abandoned buildings like the aforementioned Puerta de la carne market. We are not talking about setting up an exclusive gourmet market, but a real grocery market for the neighbourhood. It’s all a matter of priorities for politicians I guess.
Nearby the market is the old artillery factory which has an immense potential, and could be turned into the new cultural hub of the city, a truly centre of artistic production like the Matadero cultural centre in Madrid or Rome, combining university use and research. The same could work for the Altadis facilities in the neighbourhood of Los Remedios.
Tell us a special place in Seville
In the city center, banal public spaces and ordinary buildings have become commonplace. The city is losing its character that lies in its scale and proportions. For us, that’s the key value of a city. Luckily, there are still many places where you can find it. Walk along the street Enladrillada—with has amongst the most beautiful pavements to be found in the city—until you reach Santa Paula Street and the charming square next to San Marcos church. And we shouldn’t forget the delicious sweets made by the nuns of the convent. Visit the neighbourhood of San Julián afterwards, with its old tenements marked by the civil war, and continue through Sol Street and stop at El Rinconcillo for one of its emblematic tapas, the pavía de bacalao.
And a place you have recently discovered?
More than a place, I can tell you several ones. The city is witnessing the birth of a new food scene run by young people thoroughly renovating the culinary panorama. They offer a quality product in our traditional format, the tapa, providing a great service. The idea behind is to establish a relationship between the design of the place and the food. We highly recommend Nazca and Dúo Tapas, but also Perro Viejo, Plato Plató, Petit Comité, Torres y García, El Pintón and Mamarracha are excellent options.