My summer in Madrid


Hello everyone! I’m reporting – happy and well, despite heatwave- from Madrid, Spain! After enjoying a month of cool and often rainy nights, watching thunderstorms above the skyline of Madrid city from the window of my room, the heatwave everyone has been warning me about has finally hit. To give you an idea of the current situation, last night, around midnight, the temperature was at a refreshing 30 degrees celsius (86 fahrenheit). Yes, midnight..

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But unlike the unstable weather, I have been steadily and consistently delighted and extremely happy with my internships! I am interning with rebel architect Santiago Cirugeda, aka the Al-Jazeera documentary’s guerilla architect and activist. The project we are currently working on is called “Habitar el Aire” (which translates to “Inhabiting the air”), and it is a collective construction project with a social architecture movement backstory.  (

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In collaboration with a number of women’s rights associations, volunteers, volunteer architects, and interns in Madrid, we have built a portable house which will serve as an accessible women’s center in the city. Several districts in Madrid either do not have a women’s center, or have an inaccessible one that has very short hours or/and is policed making it inaccessible to working women and women trying to attain legal paperwork. Our built house will serve as an accessible women’s center in one of these districts for a year each, and then move to a new location in another district with lacking accessibility. The center will offer various services, be available as a social meeting spot, and also house several legal specialists and psychologists.

The materials we used to build the house are recycled, with the yellow beams seen in the pictures having priorly served as cement molds for construction and the wooden boards being made of leftover wood cut into tiny pieces and pressed into final form. The windows were a gift from a friend of Santiago who had no use for them and was about to throw them away. The furniture was designed by students in the art and design school, also from recycled materials. The purpose of this is ensuring the sustainability of such social construction project both environmentally and financially.  



Every day is a work day – even weekends. Work starts at 9am and ends around 8pm (sometimes even later). We do have a midday lunch break, and several short coffee/snack breaks. The hours are definitely long and at times exhausting, but since the type of work is interactive and very social, it is quite manageable. In fact, most of the time, the work we do is, though physically demanding, very fun and entertaining.

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A typical work day involves reading over the architectural plans of the house, planning which parts are to be built on that specific day, then measuring and cutting the different pieces of wood, and putting them together with electrical screwdrivers. We then make sure that all parts fit and work the way they are supposed to. The house is divided into 4 large foldable modules, each of which is first constructed separately. At the end, the four modules are put together to construct the full house. The idea is to make the actual mounting of the house a simple process, in which the easily transportable and foldable pieces from the 4 modules are just attached to each other. That way, the house can be mounted in one day.

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Most interns and young architects and volunteers participating in the construction are in their 20’s and the working environment is amazing. I am definitely getting introduced to Spanish jokes and sense of humor, and am constantly practicing speaking Spanish since it is the language everyone uses on site. What I love about this collective construction philosophy is that everyone is taken seriously and is allowed to contribute their ideas, no matter their level of expertise in architecture or construction. If small constructive problems arise we all pitch in and decide on the best solution. Since Santiago Cirugeda´s alternative architecture projects are quite known among the press, we have a documentation team of journalists and reporters video recording our work, taking pictures, and interviewing us. In the evening after work we all are tired and usually have dinner together, joined by the team of journalists who have become our friends, and hang out until we can’t stay awake any longer.

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Santiago Cirugeda´s philosophy is that architecture has to serve a purpose and that it´s creation should be a social process catered at the specific needs of the future inhabitants. He often works on the edge of law, twisting legislation to make it work for his specific projects, making it as affordable as possible.

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Since my project is comparative, I am now also interning at Ruiz-Larrea y Asociados in Madrid. This firm is specialized in crafting sustainable architecture making use of green design and environmentally friendly technology. The work setting and dynamic is in an office and is very professional. While both projects are alternative approaches to architecture, it quite different from Santiago´s project. I am learning a lot about different sustainable architecture certificates that can be granted to buildings which fulfill the requirements. I am even evaluating a project myself using BREEAM guidelines (one of the previously mentioned certificates), checking which of the requirements are met by the building and which are not, calculating how many points the building obtains. Other than that, I help out with tasks using architecture software such as Autocad, illustrator, Revit, and Photoshop which is helping me become more comfortable using them.


In my free time I explore the city with friends, wander around my neighborhood (preferably in the evening in order to avoid a heat stroke), or go to art exhibits in the city. Some other highlights of my time here have been going to the MadCool festival, where Arctic Monkeys, ODESZA, and other cool artists performed. Another highlight was definitely taking the zipline across the river in Toledo during a day trip with friends as well as exploring the city with fellow CISLA scholar Meher.


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Wow, Jamila, what an incredible opportunity! It must have been so rewarding to be a part of change-making and actually seeing the fruits of your labor. I can’t wait to hear more in person!

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