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Architectural Enlightenment In Valencia
The question “when did you realise you wanted to be an architect?” is discussed a lot in the studio. In my opinion it’s a very special and important moment for an architect, and the narrative behind each student’s decision to study the subject and follow the profession is often charming and personal. I would even argue that if an architecture student doesn’t have a strong basis that’s formed their decision to take the course then they shouldn’t really be doing it. I get the impression that a career in architecture is a labour of love, and unfortunately if your heart isn’t in it it’s unlikely that you’ll lead a happy work life.

There is a definite moment that I decided architecture was for me. After finishing my GCSEs I had to consider what I wanted to do with my life, since the subjects you take at A-level influence the degree you study, and therefore the industry you work in afterwards. Sixteen is a young age to making decisions that big, however that’s a topic for another article. I had decided that my calling was somewhere in the design industry, since I enjoyed graphic design, however I had no idea where I would fit in. I also wanted to work in a design profession that includes mathematical and scientific investigation since that’s where my natural abilities lie. In order to relax after the exams my parents and I went on holiday to a small town called Altea on the Spanish coastline. Included in the trip was a day trip to Valencia, a city which I have fallen in love with and since been back to. Two distinct features in Valencia blew me away with their creativity, intelligence and aesthetic, making me realise that I have a passion for architecture and that I’d be happy to design space for the rest of my life. I hadn’t realised it before, but the two examples showed me that architecture is a perfect combination of my interests, abilities and values.
The first Valencian wonder is El Jardín Del Turia, which translates to The Garden of Turia. It is a park that snakes continuously for nine kilometres through the city and was designed by architect Ricardo Bofill. The park was originally a river, however it was rerouted in 1964-73 following a particularly disastrous 1957 flood in which over 80 people died. The altered river course left a large axis through the city that was sunk below the urban bustle and had rich, fertile soil. Whilst many city authorities would fill in the void to create flat building land, the local authority authorised the creation of a park. El Jardín Del Turia is a wonderful, tranquil space to stroll through. It is split into sections ranging from leisure and sport facilities to landscaped gardens. People socialise around the fountains and greenery which cool the park, an important factor in a city that recently broke the European temperature record for May. Another benefit is that it acts as a safe and comfortable cycle route that cuts through the heart of the city. This is likely to encourage more people to cycle or walk to work, improving health conditions and sustainability. Unfortunately many cities are becoming decreasingly “green”, El Jardín Del Turia is an exemplary case study of how ecological spaces should be incorporated into dense urban environments.
The second wonder is one of the complexes along El Jardín Del Turia, La Ciudad De Las Artes y Las Ciencias, designed by world renowned Valencian Architect Santiago Calatrava. It is a cultural park that contains a planetarium, museum and opera house, among others. Calatrava is a trained engineer as well as an architect and he remains my favourite architect to this day. His work is smooth and clean, with the distinct and beautiful bone-like geometry creating sharp lines and engaging patterns.
Whilst walking through El Jardín Del Turia it started to dawn on me that architecture was the ideal profession for me. The park showed me that architects solve large scale problems with flair and creativity and have the potential to change millions of lives for the better, two pursuits that appeal to me. Sustainability is also one of my passions, and in our changing climate my generation of architects have a huge responsibility to reverse the negative climate path that the built environment has heavily contributed to since the industrial revolution. Upon reaching La Ciudad De Las Artes y Las Ciencias I was staggered and borderline euphoric that I’d discovered what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Whilst experiencing Calatrava’s work I had the realisation that architecture is an amazing, world-shaping combination of maths, science and design, and it was at this moment that I thought “Architecture is what I want to do”.