Spanish architecture joined Europe’s avant-garde through the work of a group of young architects who demanded “hygiene, soundness, ‘comfort’, rationalism, economy; everything but decoration” from their works, as one of them, José Manuel Aizpurúa, stressed in an article published in La Gaceta Literaria in March 1930. In October of the same year, in Zaragoza, they assembled to write the foundational charter of what would become the Group of Spanish Architects and Technicians for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture (GATEPAC).
The factors that resulted in the formation of the group, whose works reflected the architectural regeneration that occurred in Spain, took place a few years previously. Contacts with the international avant-garde threaded together by Fernando García Mercadal, José Manuel Aizpurúa and Luis Vallejo via their participation in the CIRPAC (International Committee for Resolving Contemporary Architecture Issues) and CIAM (International Congress of Modern Architecture) meetings held in 1928 and 1929 were decisive in cementing a strong commitment to rationalist architecture. Further, exhibitions would play an important role in disseminating this new way of building, with The Exhibition of Basque Artists (San Sebastián, 1928), the Exposició d’Arquitectura in Galerías Dalmau (Barcelona, 1929) and the Exhibition of Modern Architecture and Painting (San Sebastián, 1930) the stages for casting light on the unmistakeable path Spanish avant-garde architecture was taking.
To this backdrop, in October 1930 GATEPAC was officially founded in the Grand Hotel in Zaragoza and was organised into three geographical sub-groups: the North Group, the East Group and the Centre Group. Among the agreements reached in this first foundational meeting, two are worthy of mention: affiliation with CIRPAC and a commitment to publish the AC (Documents of Contemporary Activity) magazine.
The proclamation of the Second Republic in Spain opened the way for these architects to work for new institutions. It quickly became apparent that mass housing to improve existing living conditions, schools, libraries and museums to facilitate access to education and cultural development in society, and hospitals ensuring access to healthcare were the amenities the country urgently required and a guarantee to endow cities with a new formal and ethical dimension.
However, their practice wasn’t solely about altering the image of the city. Rather, they sought to factor into the planning process the ideals of new architecture: hygienism, new construction systems, new materials, rational organisation and the elimination of all traces of historicism. Examples of this new conception of urban planning most notably came in the so-called Plan Maciá, devised by the East Group, in collaboration with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, to order the growth and interior reform of Barcelona, moving further along the path of development Cerdá had taken in the nineteenth century. Along with their usual city of residence, they designed a new one intended for rest and vacationing (Ciutat de Repòs i Vacances), another major contribution to urban planning from the Catalan city. This time, the focus would shift to leisure time and a proposed large holiday complex on the other side of the estuary of Llobregat, in which the living zone was designed with collapsible and extensible cabins.