We have seen how the architects these years have recovered and covered diverse fields of work, even explored in some less common ones such as research and development of products or systems, mainly populated by other professionals.
Although I+D is an area that has not been very prolific in architecture lately, we find some cases such as the Galician architect, Alberto Corral,, and his Ubuild, a new construction system that combines wood and high technology. Yes wood, an increasingly common material that thanks to the work of different professionals recovers its value and the role lost in architecture.
“I sincerely believe in the usefulness and social value of architecture.”
Alberto Corral, an architect trained in the ETSAC, who was impregnated, thanks to the experiences lived in England, Sweden and Finland, of the approaches and practical and sensitive ways of making architecture in these countries. Issues such as building in a logical and sustainable way, taking advantage of current materials and techniques, are some of the principles of its architecture and the Ubuild project.
“I have always had a special interest in the relationship between architecture and nature”.
Without further ado we leave you with the interview that we have had the opportunity to perform.
“Naturally, the search for beauty is also something functional. I try to find simplicity and use only the right and necessary elements.”
How would Alberto Corral be defined?
A person who since childhood liked architecture.
How, when and why does Ubuild arise?
With the arrival of the crisis in the construction sector, we were left without work in the studio. I began to consider theoretically the realization of prefabricated houses using wood as a fundamental material. One day visiting the Maciñeira carpentry in As Pontes, I see a wood machining center by numerical control. I was surprised at the ability to do almost any geometry, and especially the precision with which it could be executed. This is a technology that was totally wasted, because although in the design of furniture a lot was taken advantage of, in the field of construction it was limited to making the traditional encounters of the structures, only faster and with greater precision.
I began to consider first some new structural meetings between beams and pillars, meetings that would allow an easy and perfect fit, that a professional would not need to assemble them. The next step was to design the structure’s own components, beams and pillars, to fit in them the rest of the building elements of a building, becoming almost a construction guide.
During the process the collaboration of the Carpentry Maciñeira has been fundamental to be able to do lace tests, the help of the novitec-estudio studio to make some images or 3D prints and the collaboration of Eduardo Padín to debug the explanation of Ubuild and translate it on the page web you made.
How did you detect the need for this service? What does this new system provide?
The order was not like that. At first, I only intended to design a series of green wood houses. When I incorporated the technology of the machining centers, I realized that it allowed us to consider a new way of building.
Ubuild gives the possibility of assembling a construction between two or three people without being professionals, using only a screwdriver and hammer. As all the meetings are by lace and screwed, it allows to make any type of modification, expand the construction, partially disassemble it, or modify its construction configuration. And all this without sacrificing maximum constructive quality.
This expands the possibilities of a person who wishes to have a house. If you need it, you could start with a small house of medium configuration to expand it over time and improve the construction configuration. You can modify it and over the years if you have children, you can give up part of the house to start your life elsewhere. At the same time you can build a large house with a very high constructive quality.
Did you encounter many difficulties? Which were the most problematic?
Ubuild is a construction system that is patented worldwide through a PCT. At first I thought that the most complicated thing would be that they granted me the patent. I was very wrong, because the most difficult thing is to find companies that want to get into something new. Thank you that I have the support from the beginning of the Maciñeira carpentry, because I have tried to incorporate some other company into the project, but the ones I have contacted are reluctant to innovations and innovation. They are content to continue doing the whole life because they are doing well, or continue with the usual even if they do badly.
Another very big problem is the commercialization of the product. It is essential that people know that Ubuild exists. It is not easy, because it takes a lot of money for the promotion. Luckily there is internet, through the website and social networks, allows more and more people to know that Ubuild is there.
How is the day to day in Ubuild?
Right now we are with two single-family housing projects and manufacturing an agricultural warehouse. In addition, in collaboration with the UDC, we are finishing manufacturing an Emergency Module for humanitarian disasters. Time is going to elaborate the projects and not stop analyzing possible improvements of the construction system at all times. Since the Ubuild construction system was patented, an infinite number of small improvements have emerged that have now made it function as a clockwork mechanism. And this will continue like this constantly, because there is always something that can be optimized.
In addition, the As Pontes factory must be visited every week to see how the manufacturing of the parts is going and to discuss with the carpenters the possible improvements in the manufacturing process or in any of the parts of the system.
We incorporate 3D printing into the studio through the novitec-study, and this allows us to analyze new pieces to incorporate or modify some of the current ones.
How is the design, development and marketing process in Ubuild?
In addition to what one may consider, the engine to consider new pieces for the design and development of Ubuild, arise from the studies and commissions made by customers. As each client, land, views, topography are different, needs arise that force us to continue developing the construction system to respond to the new problems that arise. These improvements are already permanently incorporated into Ubuild.
Marketing is a separate matter. We wish there were distributors in different parts of Spain, but for the novelty there are many people who do not want to take the first step. Our fundamental tool right now is the internet and social networks.
Have you delegated functions and focused on specific parts within Ubuild?
I would like to be able to focus on the design of new models and the continuous development of Ubuild, but for now it is not possible. Yes, I delegate part of the work, but we would need more people collaborating. It has to go little by little because as long as there is no more workload, more people cannot be incorporated into the business project.
Me gustaría poder centrarse en el diseño de nuevos modelos y el continuo desarrollo de Ubuild, pero de momento no es posible. Sí que delego parte del trabajo, pero necesitaríamos más gente colaborando. Tiene que ir poco a poco pues mientras no haya más volumen de trabajo, no se podrá incorporar a más gente en el proyecto empresarial.
What was (or will be) the critical moment once Ubuild started?
The most critical moment without a doubt has been to be able to perform the first work of a certain entity. In the early days we only had very small projects, garages, aid stations, warehouses. The most important step was to develop and assemble a single-family home of more than one hundred square meters with a complicated topography. There the entire construction system was tested, giving us a very bright result and leaving very happy customers.
From this moment on, it has been easier for more clients willing to take the step.
What are your references?
Rationalism is our guide in the architectural and constructive approach. At the aesthetic and language level, we seek that the constructive elements of the system create their own aesthetics that is characteristic of Ubuild constructions.
When talking about Ubuild we try to explain to the interested people what the characteristics are, because Ubuild is a new construction approach and what are the novelties and possibilities that it opens, and that until now they did not exist in the market.
What customer segment are you targeting? What are the most demanded orders?
This is one of the problems we encountered at the beginning. Being such a versatile construction system could focus on a large type of products. Urban furniture, housing, institutional building, warehouses … Currently we have more focused on housing, because it is where more demand is found.
How and why do you use the “new technologies”? Has the “network” facilitated your work?
The Ubuild construction system is born from a new technology such as wood machining through numerical control. Currently, to study new parts that can be incorporated into the system, 3D printing tests are done before manufacturing the real pieces in wood.
The network has been a very useful tool when it comes to making Ubuild known to more people. Without the network I think it would not have been possible to start this project.
Do you combine or complement this activity with other tasks or in other fields??
I have an architecture studio, therefore we do any type of work that a client demands. For example, states with the reform of two floors in Coruña, or the rehabilitation of a building in a core of Mañón. We make projects with traditional construction systems when the client wants it, or reports of different types.
The architecture has many battle fronts open (LSP, Bologna, unemployment, job insecurity, COAs, ETSAs, emigration, communication, etc.), will they not be too many for the polarization existing within it?
The world of architecture and construction has become very complicated in recent years. I believe that if one does not have a vocation for architecture, one should not get into this world. There are other ways to make a living. Architecture is something very misunderstood that however everyone thinks they know and have criteria.
Now our work is totally corseted by regulations, laws, image culture, social networks …, it is very easy to get disoriented and lose perspective and enthusiasm.
How do you see the future of architecture? And the one in the profession?
Architecture and urbanism will always be there because they are necessary, whatever they are called. As for the profession, I think that there is an inevitable tendency towards specialization. As an architect I start to have some certain years I see it with sadness, because I just think that the architect must be that figure who has a complete vision of the project and is able to coordinate the different fields so that everything fits.
It may be an outdated vision of the profession, but I understand that the world is changing very quickly and that has to be reflected in the way of working.
What improvements do you think are fundamental and should be implemented immediately?
I am not sure what the path is. In education, I believe that although there is a specialization, comprehensive knowledge should be maintained that allows the architect to have an overall approach and vision in the projects. I also think that all the agents involved in the promotion and construction should be professionals and with an academic background.
To be a promoter or builder, I think I should have previous training, to be aware of all the repercussions of the acts and a certain professional ethic.
As an “entrepreneur”, what do you think of the architects who “open and / or recover” new fields and / or approaches to the profession?
I think this is the true future of the profession for those people who have a creative spirit. Now it is difficult to set up a studio and have projects commissioned. But you can see more beech from the traditional study. An architect has a very powerful formation where the head is structured to study a whole series of conditions and provide a solution to them. This can be applied to many areas, including developing new furniture, designing parts so that people can print them at home in 3D … We are currently housing a revolution and architects with a creative spirit can focus their energies on these new fields that are emerging.
I am an example myself. In the absence of commissions, initially all of Ubuild‘s development work was a work for an industrial designer, however an idea came up as a result of seeing the possibilities of a new technology and I developed it. Later on being and having an architect spirit, I applied all the possibilities to develop a constructive system.
I am a very normal person. And I am proof that any young architect who comes up with a good idea with possibilities, should not discard it without first trying to put it to the test. Now there are possibilities to develop things that were not 20 years ago, and if you do it right there is a Global market that you can reach from your home. It is a huge potential and democratizes the possibilities of carrying out any project if it is good and brings something new.
Are you happy with the trajectory made so far? What future projects await you??
Due to the shortage of means things are going a little slower than we would like, but we are moving forward and we believe that we have something very solid. As for the projects, we are currently with several single-family homes. I am especially excited about the module for humanitarian disasters that we are doing for the University of La Coruña, because if it goes ahead and is later offered to ACNUR, it could be a huge improvement in the living conditions of refugees.
Now tents are made that are supposed to be for a few months and then they are in them for many years.
Finally, what would you advise current students and future architecture professional?
The world of architecture is really exciting. At least when I studied, at school they didn’t prepare us for the real life of the profession. The shock is brutal and one can lose the illusion. Being aware of it and fighting to maintain the ideals is worth it.
The traditional development of the profession, with the study and clients, has been greatly complicated. However, a lot of possibilities have emerged with new construction technologies, new materials, new forms of collaboration, new demands … And all that is there for you to take advantage of. I sincerely believe that you have to be receptive to all the new economic activity that is emerging, because there is a lot of room to contribute that point of creativity that often makes a difference and that you can give. It is a good time for young people wanting to find their own way, alone or accompanied. Internet makes a difference. Now it is possible that a group of young people with little money and many ideas and enthusiasm, can develop the whole process, from the design, production and marketing of a product, thanks to the internet.
When I was young I didn’t have that possibility.
Interview by Ana Barreiro Blanco and Alberto Alonso Oro. Thank Alberto for his time and predisposition with this small space.