'Guerrilla Architect' Makes Space for Community Projects by Homesteading Government Property


Architect transforms unused government land into community centers, concert halls, art studios and homes.

For over a decade, Spanish architect Santiago Cirugeda has been renovating and improving abandoned, unowned properties and turning them into beautiful works of art that can be used for a variety of community projects.  Some projects end up as concert halls, or art studios, while others are turned into schools and homes.  Santiago’s story was recently shared with the world through a show called “Rebel Architecture”, that just started appearing on Aljazeera.

Santiago and his team typically start a project out by finding an unclaimed piece of government property, that is run down and abandoned.  The crew then moves in to secure the area by establishing a homesteading right over the property.  This requires the team to stay on the property every hour of every day so they can establish a legal claim over the land.

Santiago is a legal expert, especially in the realm of permits, property law and building laws, which allows his team to work on the edge of the law so that they can rebuild communities all throughout Spain.  Since these architects are establishing their projects on unowned property, there is no victim as a result of their actions, and there are no violations of private property.  Bureaucrats may disagree, but all government property is unowned, because it was gained illegitimately, therefore it isn’t technically owned by anyone.

“I get a kick out of the confrontations with technocrats and politicians,” he told Aljazeera, “but most of all I like building my own projects … in Seville, the crisis affects us all, we are in a desperate situation and there’s a lot of injustice in the way things are being done. What about all these empty houses and unused land? There are lots of situations that interest me – as an architect and as a citizen.”

Santiago said that his work is not financially successful but it is personally rewarding.

“I rent an old house that used to be a brothel, I drive a second-hand van, and apart from that I don’t own anything at all,” Cirugeda said. “There’s no money in this. Wouldn’t it be easier to have a normal job, to go into an office every day and get paid? … Maybe, but it wouldn’t fulfil you. When you’re laying down the nuts and bolts, with your friends, you get an immediate reward, and something grows out of it.”

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