Border architecture, interview with Policarpo del Canto, YTAA winner

GeoFront has been the project that has taken this young man from Leon, Policarpo del Canto Baquera, to win the Young Talent Architecture Awards 2016. This architect, who moved to Madrid to start his academic training, surprised with a project that purposes the creation of a Neutral State in the Strait of Gibraltar. The university chose him as one of the candidates to participate in this first edition, winning the first prize with a project characterized by its social and political aspirations.

Currently Policarpo works in the architecture studio Langarita Navarro and is a mentor in the Qualifying Master’s Degree of Architecture Projects at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. Also, six of the charts of his project about border development are part, together with the work of other artist, of the exhibition “The edge of the wound”. Curated by Juan Guardiola at CentroCentro Madrid, the exhibition explains the existing conflict in the Strait through art and documentary.

Policarpo del Canto, one of the award-winners of the first edition of Young Talent Architecture Awards 2016. Photography: Agustín Martínez


Policarpo del Canto, you have a very multidisciplinary vision of architecture, why did you decide to study this degree?

The truth is that I do not have a particular reason. Neither of my family has ever studied this degree. I remember in the high school I liked very much to make diagrams, maps, photography, technical drawing…Little by little, I realized architecture as a discipline could combine these elements in the design, from a small object to a building. I leaped into the void and it surprised me more than I expected.


Your project GeoFront was one of the award-winners of the Young Talent Architecture Awards, what is it about?

The project presents a series of questions that have to do with architecture and other disciplines like politics and sociology. All starts looking for a legal and projective frame able to embrace all these issues. This is how the first action appears, a bureaucratic fiction: the creation of a Neutral State in the Strait of Gibraltar. Assuming its execution, some technical issues that support the building of this State are considered: a technical fiction.

Geofront presents, from its narrative side, the role of the territory borders in the present nations. At the same time, from its technical side, it presents issues like the coordination of protocols the border state embraces. The first territory to be built will host the Maritime Customs of the New State. The functional organization and structure are studied. Plans and sections of the project belong to a secondary archive representing a frozen fragment of the design. Axonometric drawings and perspective have a more prominent role, able to coordinate a higher number of variables and conditions.


Charts of transboundary waters of the Bay of Algeciras. Image: Policarpo del Canto.

Could you sum it up in a simple way?

To create a state starting from its customs and place it in the borders between Algeciras and Gibraltar, with a shared sovereignty by the two countries.


YTTA have a very specific way to select projects, how did the initiative of taking part of to the YTAA come about? Did it come from you or from the university?

It was an initiative of the university. Then we presented several projects and the university chose some of them that would be directly submitted to the awards. The Young Talent Architecture Awards Jury chooses the winners.

‘Architecture as a discipline could combine many elements in the design, from a small object to a building’ Policarpo del Canto



GeoFront cover plan. A peninsula that connects not only the territory, but also social, economic and political issues of different countries. Image: Policarpo del Canto.


Is there any model that had an influence on your education and projects?

In the development of this project the reference points mainly belong to other fields. One of them was the Technological Observatory of the Strait of Gibraltar, a collective that mapped technologies and virtual connections in the Strait. Some texts of Javier Lezaún, director of the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society at Saint Martin’s School, on the governance of new technologies in social structures, have also influenced. Among the architects I admire: Toyo Ito, Rem Koolhaas and all the OMA generation (like BIG, WEST 8, FOA) that concurs with part of the thought of the school of Madrid. I think I have my moments though.


As you are a recent student, do you think students projects have more freedom when they are developed than, for instance, a project to be presented to the Mies van der Rohe Awards?

I think so, but it depends on the school. In Madrid you have much freedom to develop your own project, but to do so, you have to pick out the suitable tutor. It will be possible to develop as long as you have a clear ambition and motivation. Therefore, academic projects will always have more freedom than the built ones: the economic relevance is not a variable at that moment. Actually, the Mies van der Rohe awards a built work.



Extitutional processes of the city of Madrid developed together with VIC (Spanish acronym for Social Initiatives Community). Image: Policarpo del Canto.


How has the award affected on your career?

It has had a very positive influence. It has allowed me to meet people interested in the project and to give it visibility. At the European level, the most important aspect is to obtain visibility, something impossible to achieve from the school.


Are you working in any project right now?

Six of the charts I presented as a project will be exhibited with a similar format but in a different context in the exhibition “The edge of a wound” at CentroCentro Madrid. It shows the Strait of Gibraltar as a socially fractured space and makes clearly visible the situation of a conflict the media seems not to want to have in the headlines.


Interview: Borja Alcarria Borràs

Translation: Carmen Gómez Guzmán