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Bienal Internacional de Arquitectura

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The Biennial MUGAK closes its second edition, the most international and the closest to citizens

  • Over 45,000 people participated in the hundred activities and exhibitions of the second Basque Country International Architecture Biennial.
  • The Basque Minister for Environment, Land Planning and Housing, Iñaki Arriola, points out that this edition confirmed the “consolidation of MUGAK as a global reference”.

Over 45,000 people participated in the hundred activities and exhibitions of the Basque Country International Architecture Biennial MUGAK, which took place in the three main Basque cities over three months. Next Sunday, 12th of January, most of the Biennial’s exhibitions that remain open will close their doors. According to the Basque Government’s Minister for Environment, Regional Planning and Housing, Iñaki Arriola, whose Department promotes this initiative since 2017, this edition’s assessment is “frankly positive”.

The Basque Minister encourages citizens to seize the opportunity to visit the exhibitions in their last two days. He cherishes “MUGAK’s consolidation as a global reference for debate and reflection on contemporary architecture and its social and cultural dimension”.

MUGAK closes down a second edition that was characterised by a deep connection with the citizenry. Proof of that are “some proposals that were brought to the streets in order to bring architecture even closer to people and invite them to reflect”, Arriola explains. Besides, the Basque Minister recognises the value of extending the Biennial from San Sebastian to Bilbao and Vitoria, “a line we want to reinforce in the future”.

He also emphasises the value of having incorporated private sponsors. Their support “sets a very solid ground for future Biennial editions”. This year’s large number of participants, 45,000 people, far exceeds the 30,000 attendees registered in the first edition.

Exhibitions, lectures, workshops, guided visits and film screenings explored the boundaries between architecture, art and culture. There were also debates between different disciplines with a very active participation of citizens.

The second edition was also marked by its international significance. It featured names of contemporary architecture as relevant as Stephen Bates (United Kingdom), Sandra Barclay and Jean Pierre Crousse (Peru) and Tatiana Bilbao (Mexico), as well as experts such as René Spitz, Klaus Klemp or Martin Mäntele (Germany).

It also included highlights like both meetings with Pritzker awarded Álvaro Siza and Rafael Moneo, as well as proposals to bring closer the architecture and reality of places as culturally different as China, presented by Liu Yang and Ding Yao, and Japan, by Yoshihiko Ito. In its two months, over 115 lecturers offered 52 lectures and conferences, in total numbers.

The local environment also played a leading role; exhibitions such as “Solar K” –held in the very Kursaal building–, “‘As Built-De la Hoz Fontán” or “Parte Vieja y Puerto de San Sebastián: Conjunto Monumental” [San Sebastian Old Town and Harbour: Monumental Complex] had a great success.

The debate was concentrated in the Basque Country Architecture Institute (IAE/EAI), the main seat in San Sebastian, but extended to Vitoria and Bilbao as well. Sessions held in Bilbao about “Cities and Care”, the conference organised on Zorrozaurre or the exhibition “La Vivienda Transgeneracional” [Cross-Generational Housing] in San Sebastian focused on the social impact of architecture and urban planning and debated with citizens how homes should be like in order to meet the needs of society in the 21st. century.

Initiatives such as the replica of one of the Tokyo Nakagin Tower capsules stimulated a reflection on both the protection of modern built heritage and minimal housing. The installation “Muga” [Boundary], created with the ladders used by migrants to climb over the border in Melilla, promoted a debate on the deep inequalities existing in the present world which, in this case, were represented by the crudeness of human frontiers. Both installations have become true icons of this Biennial’s edition.

The main exhibition of the edition, called “Diseño de sistemas: la escuela de Ulm y la compañía Braun” [System Design: the Ulm School and the Braun Company] gathered for the first time the three German archives that preserve the legacy of this School, whose influence on the industrial, political and social refoundation of Germany was decisive and whose intellectual approaches are still clearly valid and present in current design.

The parallel exhibition “Orain diseinua!” combined the two Biennial seats, San Telmo Museum and the Basque Country Architecture Institute, as well as the International Centre for Contemporary Culture Tabakalera to show how architecture and design can transform society.

MUGAK also looked into subjects related to environmental, social and economic sustainability as well as into contemporary debates and established links with the world of art and culture to attract renowned journalists, plastic artists, designers...

Therefore, MUGAK’s curator Pedro Astigarraga underlined that “the second edition presented a very sound programme with plural and transversal contents and activities, thus coming even closer to citizenry.” He also stressed that “it would not have been possible without the initiatives and efforts of the thirty entities that collaborate with the Biennial.”

Astigarraga also mentioned the great contribution and dedication of the Higher Technical School of Architecture of the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU, from its students to its professors and management. “Without their support, the consolidation of the ‘Schools Week’ and its second edition’s exponential growth would not have been possible.”

Over 600 students from seven schools of architecture took part in the Schools Week between the 21st and the 25th of October: ETSA-EHU, eaT Toledo, A Coruña, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Karlsruhe and Wroclaw animated the axis of the so-called “‘Mugak Hiria” [Mugak’s City] in the Old Town of San Sebastian, where the sculpture intervention “Islas Hub” [Hub Islands] was set up by the project room Espacio Reflex and the architecture students carried out their workshops, projects and works, which were exhibited in the Bastion’s Lookout on the Urgull hill.

“The growing active participation of schools of architecture is one of the strategic and central objectives claimed by MUGAK as a long-term project”, the curator stated.


Thirty collaborators

Besides the University of the Basque Country UPV, this year’s Basque Country International Architecture Biennial –organised by the Department of Environment, Regional Planning and Housing of the Basque Government–, involved the institutional collaboration of the City Council of San Sebastian and the Regional Council of Gipuzkoa, along with cultural centres such as the Basque Country Architecture Institute (IAE/EAI), the San Telmo Museum, the Kursaal, the Guggenheim Bilbao Museum, the Artium Museum in Vitoria, the Diocesan Museum in San Sebastian and the Cemento Rezola Museum. Other collaborating entities are the Professional Association of Basque-Navarre Architects COAVN, the Peña Ganchegui Archive, the Maushaus Architecture Workshop, the clusters Habic and Eraikune, the Wood Association of the Basque Country Baskegur, the associations Atari, Áncora and Urbanbat, the art galleries Altxerri, Arteko, Ekain and Kur, as well as the project room Espacio Reflex, the Gipuzkoa Association of Friends of Yoko Ono, the workshop El Taller and the concert venue Dabadaba.


MUGAK 2019 in figures

  • Over 115 lecturers from Europe, America and Asia in 52 conferences and lectures.
  • 20 exhibitions
  • 37 workshop hours for adults, young people and children.
  • 600 architecture students from four different countries

Over 45,000 people interested in the exhibitions, lectures, film screenings and workshops of this second edition (in 2017, participants in the activities were around 30,000)

The Programme is being prepared