How he has managed to build up the largest architecture studio in our country was my first question mark, when I met with him one evening right before Christmas at the popular Bar Tomate. Vichy Catalan was his chosen drink, which I know is his favorite, while a chose a cup of green tea.
Education’s gold passport
My initial curiosity about the many successes of Luis Vidal + Architects (LVA) rapidly switched to his spectacular academic career. In fact, his formative years as an architect explain his outstanding success today, and might give some light into how architecture schools in Spain should be designed to train the new generations of architects.
Vidal always knew he wanted to be an architect. His father, an architect himself from Mallorca, did not encourage his kid too much, but when he saw his absolute determination, he convinced him to study abroad. The family was living in Mallorca at the time, where Vidal Jr. developed a strong passion for windsurfing and sailing.
Between school and water sports, Vidal did some research on where to study architecture and he bumped into the word RIBA. It stands for Royal Institute of British Architects, a very selective club of architects born in 1834. Its current 40.000 members worldwide could only join the club after a formal invitation, which in all cases followed a rigorous academic and professional career path. RIBA is like a golden seal for architects, it’s like the best presentation letter and above all it enhances the profession’s excellence.
To become a RIBA member you need to study three years of architecture; spend one year undertaking professional training; study two more years of architecture; spend a second year in a business environment; and finally study one more year of economics, law and management. Only a few universities in the world offer this kind of career path. Vidal chose the University of Greenwich in the UK, which offered a unique environment to its students. “We were 17 in class and we had 11 professors. We would go through design and project reviews in the professors’ own houses and it was them who’d open the bottle of whisky!”
Eight years later, Vidal became RIBA’s youngest non-British member when he was finally extended the invitation at the age of 25. He had received the Distinction with Honours award by the final panel.
At this point of the conversation I asked him if he ever feared something would not turn out to be the way he wished. He gave me a double answer: “Nothing has ever seemed easy to me, but I’ve never put myself limits.”
Not even when he met his intelligent and beautiful wife Patricia in 1989. “I knew I would marry her from the very moment I saw her,” he conceded. He could have stayed in the UK to start his career as an architect, but both love and sun brought him back to Spain. “I missed the warmth that one feels when you are here,” he explained when he reminded what he felt while living all those years in the UK.
Founder of the largest studio in Spain
In Spain, he first worked at a small practice, which he turned into the country’s largest in a matter of nine years, and in 2004 he founded his own practice. Today, with 65 architects in staff, LVA is the largest studio in Spain and enjoys partnerships and alliances with some of the world’s finest practices: a permanent partnership with the London-based Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners to develop various projects in Spain and a partnership with Renzo Piano Building Workshop to develop the future Fundación Botín in Santander. The international recognition of LVA has taken shape by being the Lead Architects of the new Terminal T2 of Heahrow Airport.
With headquarters in Madrid, LVA has a five additional offices in Ibiza, Santander, Vigo, Italy (in partnership with an Italian studio) and London. LVA is now in the process of opening an office in San Francisco and has plans to open in Tokyo.
Vidal thinks architects are problem solvers. “We need to provide the best integrated solution to all interested parties as well as the city,” he explained. For him, architecture has a social, economic and environmental responsibility, but he quickly moves away from the word sustainability, a void concept to him.
Wake up, beautiful Europe!
Vidal is a global trotter and spends several weeks in San Francisco every year with his family who stay for six weeks in the summer. But he feels at home in Madrid and he describes himself as a European. “After more than 80 trips in the past year, I’ve reached the conclusion that what’s still chic, desired and cool lies in Europe,” he said.
He wants Europe to wake up to this reality and will start off with Spain. He has taken advantage of the opportunity that 2013 marks the Year of Spain in Japan to develop a business project that aims at liaising outstanding Spanish and Japanese companies. “The Japanese have a folkloric perception of our country and identify us only with Flamenco, Siesta and Serrano Ham,” he explained. “I would like to change that perception.”
This is how his project “EDIT=E”, which stands for Efficiency, Design, Innovation and Technology=España, came about. Vidal is now in the process of identifying Spanish leading companies defined by these strengths. The initiative has gathered much attention, and the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has offered its support by recently appointing Vidal as Special Commissioner within the Year of Spain in Japan.
As has happened in his previous ventures, Vidal sees no limits in this one. I align myself with him and hope that Europe and Spain wake up and see their beauty and potential.