La Vallita Mágica

La Vallita Mágica is both an urban activism strategy and a prototype of civic design, which would allow many public schools without much space, located next to squares and parks in congested urban environments, to use part of these as one more playground for their students.

Many of the public schools in the center of Madrid have small playgrounds, sandwiched between buildings. They are noisy, without views and without sunlight, conditions that have a negative impact on the health and development of young schoolchildren. Buying lots to expand these patios does not seem economically feasible given that the center of Madrid is dense and expensive. This same situation can be extrapolated to other cities in Spain. For those schools located in squares and parks, La Vallita Mágica could be a feasible and almost immediate solution.

In this sense, the Pi y Margall Center for Infant and Primary Education in Plaza Dos de Mayo in Madrid is a good case study: at the same time that children are at school, the square that gives access to the school is practically empty, and it will be empty until the end of the working day, when it will be filled with people having a drink on the terraces or in the square. The school is publicly owned. The square is publicly owned. Couldn’t a part of this square be prepared to serve as a school yard just when this square is empty, and do it in conditions in which the privacy and safety of children can be guaranteed?

The squares need street furniture, which, if not placed, will end up privatized in the form of terraces for bars and restaurants. The squares need seats and shadows that can be vegetation or in the form of pergolas that, in addition, have a structure capable of mounting solar panels and other useful elements for the city.

In Plaza 2 de Mayo, we could have pergolas that would shade its central part, play with the trees and perhaps add a little more green to the whole. During school hours, when the square is empty, the pergola lowers and closes a section of the square, becomes a fence and allows the school to use part of the square for outdoor activities.

It would be a series of standard mechanisms, already commonly used, tested and safe. They only need small design adjustments to adapt them to this new use.

Urban Space Station

A prototype for the general invasion of rooftops and other residual spaces with high biodiversity, redemptive ecosystems, USS-s serve as seeds, catalyzing a natural recuperation of the city’s surfaces. Their uses range from scientific and educative to recreational, while they capture carbon emissions and generate oxygen. ETFE’s double skin allows for the structure to be lightweight and creates a heat exchange. Rainwater accumulates in underbelly bags, while the texture design of the structure itself helps channel the airflow to generate electricity. Secondary use as ultra-fine particulate collector has demonstrated capable of passively cleaning street-level air near host buildings. A 40% of this prototype (USS 1.0)  was built and tested within the exhibition Souls & Machines, Digital Art & New Media, held in 2008, at the National Art Museum Reina Sofía in Madrid. In 2016, a 1:1 prototype was built for the Art Triennial Emscherkunst. Placed on top of an existent building, docked onto the air conditioning of the surrounding buildings, it created a cleaning circulation; the building’s waste air and warmth were filtered by the USSs plants, cleaned, and enriched with oxygen before it was led back into the building.


Professor Justo Isasi’s Lessons

Justo Isasi, a Full Professor of “Proyectos arquitectónicos” at ETSAM (Madrid’s school of architecture at UPM) gives here one of his sketched lectures. Each one of these lessons is a wonderful coming together of history, ideas, architecture, drawing, construction, culture, etc. All of them gravitate to some extent around the importance of drawing in the evolution of ideas in western culture. These lessons were part of professor Isasi’s exam for full professorship, which he won in 2002 at ETSAM. “Thinking with Lines” is the first of the six sketched lessons that prof. Isasi is giving in the Spring semester of 2016, and it serves as an introduction to the series. Along with prof. Isasi, we at OSS have wanted to organize, for a few years now, the presentation of these lessons in a way that would allow us to film them. We are confident that most of you will agree with us that they needed to be documented and made available to the general public.

The Competition

“A new documentary by Spanish architect Angel Borrego Cubero makes for compulsive viewing” (The Guardian, Oliver Wainwright)

“Ángel Borrego Cubero’s wonderfully gossipy film The Competition (…) offers a revealing glimpse of life at a big – name practice.”(ICON, Owen Pritchard)

“The film is a history lesson. And a chance to think about who and what decides how the buildings will be and what and for what buildings are needed”. (El País, Anatxu Zabalbeascoa)


A documentary movie constructed as an almost uncomfortable but intensely fascinating account of how some of the best architects in the world, design giants like Jean Nouvel or Frank Gehry, toil, struggle and strategize to beat the competition. While nearly as old as the profession itself, architectural competitions became a social, political and cultural phenomenon of the post-Guggenheim Bilbao museums and real estate bubbles of the recent past. Taking place at the dramatic moment in which the bubble became a crisis, this is the first competition to be documented in excruciatingly raw detail.

Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, Dominique Perrault, Zaha Hadid and Norman Foster are selected to participate in the design of the future National Museum of Art of Andorra, a first in the Pyrenees small country. Norman Foster drops out of the competition after a change in the rules that allow the documentary to happen. Three months of design work go into the making of the different proposals, while, behind doors, a power struggle between the different architects and the client has a profound impact on the level of transparency granted by each office to the resident documentary crew, and which has a definite influence in the material shown in the film.

The presentations to the jury happen in one intense day close to election time in Andorra, becoming a hot event in the tiny country, with media all around the international stars that may help shape its future. Of the four remaining architects three show up to make personal presentations, every one of which becomes a fascinating study in personality, strategy, character, showmanship… and a dramatic moment in which any detail becomes both important and irrelevant, the line between failure and success perfectly imperceptible. But does the jury have the last word?

The Competition is the first film documenting the tense developments that characterize architectural contests. On October 10th 2013, The Competition opened the Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam (AFFR), with an audience of more than 500 people. The participation at the AFFR was as the same time the World Première of this documentary and since then it’s being shown all over the world. The final edit was first shown in September 2014 at Filmoteca Cine Doré, in Madrid. An Official Selection film for programs such as the Vancouver Intl. Film Festival – VIFF’15, the Intl. Film Festival of Contemporary Art from Naples – Artecinema’15, the Intl. Festival of Film on Art from Montréal – FIFA’15; the Intl. Documentary Film Festival – DocumentaMadrid’14, the Intl. Festival of Film on Art from Florence – Lo Schermo dell`Arte’14, The Competition has been also awarded an Architecture Dissemination Award at the XIII Spanish Biennale of Architecture and the First Prize at the COAM Awards ’14, an annually given award by the Architects Association from Madrid to the best achievements of architecture in Madrid.

Satoyama Hill

What to do against tsunamis?

On March 11, 2011, a level 9 earthquake on the Richter scale, and the tsunami that followed, struck Eastern Japan. Over 18,000 people died or are missing, 394,386 houses were completely or seriously damaged and the urban infrastructure almost disappeared. The magnitude of the disaster made clear that a radically different approach to city planning is necessary in the region.

On Japanese media it is often discussed as a possible solution to future disasters a relocation to higher areas. The idea would imply leaving fisheries, tourist and recreational facilities near the sea, and relocating homes to new developments on hilltops. However, this would hinder a local economy based on local fisheries and activities related to ports, forcing people to commute daily. An added concern involves the potential environmental damage of quarrying hillsides and urbanizing mountains. Also, it would be difficult to concentrate all the population effectively on the sparse high grounds at predominantly flat areas such as, for instance, the Sendai plains.

Others propose to create elevated platforms for housing near the coast, but that threatens to claim a negative side effect, as they would become a barrier for the necessary continuity of public space at ground level.

Our response is to build artificial topographies as an evacuation site, combining them with residential units forming an artificial mountain (or artificial ‘Satoyama’, an ancient Japanese practice of harvesting the climate benefits of hillsides for better housing conditions in towns). These hills protect in their interior the essential public facilities, and an infrastructure of distributed energy. The population of the now washed-up areas will be able to easily evacuate within few minutes of a tsunami alarm onto the artificial hills located at regular intervals.

Our proposal strives to avoid the complete submission of urban, housing and infrastructure designs to fear. The new ‘Satoyama hills’ try to improve urban life and housing and infrastructure design, drawing clues from Japanese traditional best practices. Offering efficient escape in case of tsunami becomes a perfectly integrated by-product.

A prototype and two study-cases

As a study prototype we propose to create communities of around 5,000 people, including one ‘hill’ complex at the centre. The dimensions, specific configuration and program of each artificial hill will be established according to the characteristics of each location. These hills will contain homes for about 1,500 to 2,500 people distributed in one hill complex, and between 2,500 and 3,500 people would live around them, within 15 minutes of walking distance. The surface of the hill is a park that can be used daily and an evacuation site when necessary. The hill’s surface combines private gardens with public routes and greenery, while its interior accommodates commercial and recreational facilities and energy infrastructure creating a network of offices, medical facilities, nurseries, schools, cultural and sports areas, etc., along the coast. In case of disaster the hill will serve as a high ground for evacuation, and a backup power source for sanitary facilities and emergency housing.

We have studied the integration of these artificial hills in two topographically different locations that were intensely affected by the tsunami: the almost flat city of Ishinomaki; and the mountainous Kamaishi where we have also simulated the energetic advantages for one of these 5,000 people communities.

Spanische Spione

At the exhibition Spanische Spione everything is dominated by a capsule which can be reached by going up the stairs. This capsule raises over the usual level of artistic enjoying, playing with the idea of the art as an instrument of elevation or social ascent, which is what gives the name to the piece: AAAEE (Art As An Elevating Experience). The position of the capsule turns the directors of the art gallery into pieces of their own venue, since one can watch them in their office trough the methacrylate. AAAEE was first shown in 2004 at the International Art Fair ARCO Madrid, where the installation converted the art fair into an art work, by the appropriating of the general view of it.


Strangely, in some canonical publications of the Modern Movement, some columns disappear from two famous projects designed by Mies van der Rohe… The are famous, precisely because of their structure’s perfection. Is this a Mies’s project? Is the missing structure essential to understand it in this way? Or the picture doesn’t show any doubts about it? The perfectionism which Mies is generally associated with, makes even more fascinating the orchestrated disappearance of some structure elements, some columns, exactly those which are more visible and necessary.


In 2003, Ángel Borrego Cubero was invited to produce and show a public art installation within the VII Biennial of Spanish Architecture. The result was “Shiny.Flat.Smooth/ Brillante.Plano.Suave” that is a video installation, which uses footage of destruction and material violence taken from contemporary science fiction and action films. Often this spectacular violence is done on shiny and smooth surfaces. Living in an era that has been marked by a heightened fear of massive destruction, this project intends to present how these newly acquired terrors manifest within popular culture. This collage of demolition footage is projected on windows and other existing shiny surfaces in public urban spaces. At the VII Biennial it was projected on the windows of the Architecture Center Las Arquerías de los Nuevos Ministerios so that anyone could see it from outdoors.


In the same neighborhoods where the sport facilities weren’t enough, in the 90’s, roundabouts became excessive. The civic void created by these was filled with kitsch sculptures. Our purpose revives dead space and turns the citizens’ sport into a show. The metallic fence’s texture turns the sport spaces into a screen and the players into silhouettes.

The Chase

In this video installation we envision Madrid as the stage for a choreography of control and surveillance spaces. We made two simultaneous video records, the first one from the traffic control cameras of the Madrid City Hall.The second one was made from a bike which makes a route around Madrid. Both records reproduce the same route around Madrid from different points of view. Madrid turns into the main protagonist of this pursuit in its streets. The simultaneousness of the 2 records produces a perception tramp which makes audience believe that everything is happening in real time.