A second life

Marcos Domínguez modeling a portrait. / ANNA SPACK

“I always think that the tree would love to see itself like this. When i see a finished piece of furniture, I imagine the tree saying, ‘I like this.’ it’s like a little operation. It’s like I’m helping it a bit.” This affirmation of Ignacio Sánchez, the wood man, sums up the spirit of a creative community that has brought new life to an old industrial alley.

AFTER DRINKING A COFFEE in la Plaza del Pelícano, Luca Stasi strolls through the forest green metal gates of El Corral de los Artesanos towards his architecture workspace. He is entering a new world, a time warp to a nineteenth-century small town. Even, large, carefully-placed cobblestones line the wide street that runs through the center of the Corral. The intense sun hits the white one-story building on his right with thin metal roof shingles and characteristic shiny green metal doors that mark all the studios in this space. Dry purple flowers pour out of dusty green pots that hang on the walls between each doorway, and wildly tangled bright green vines drape the sides of the buildings.

AS HE APPROACHES the intersection of this small street, where it splits off in two directions, a rusty pickup truck pulls up next to Luca and the driver amicably salutes him as he rolls down his window. Luca turns to his right and with his tall, thin build bends his knees and arches his upper back forward to pat the man in the truck on the shoulder before he drives down the left fork of the road.

LUCA IS AN ARCHITECT with a social and urban focus who specializes in sustainability and reused materials. He studied Architecture in Rome, his hometown, and, after living in Seattle, moved to Seville in 2001 on an Erasmus scholarship. In the Corral, he designed and built La Bañera, a shared workspace.

BETWEEN THE TWO FORKS of the road lies the studio of the Hombre de Madera, the Wood Man. Its gates are twice the height of the studios surrounding it, and piles of tree trunks and wood boards rest in the shade against the front wall. To the left of the doors lies one of Luca’s mini wooden prototypes of his geodesic architectural design, a half dome composed of equilateral triangles made from blocks of light-colored wood. Placed at the center of the Corral, the children of the community now use it as a play structure.

CARPENTER IGNACIO SÁNCHEZ, the Wood Man himself, stands in a lunge position in the darkness of his studio, his back leaning forward as he carefully sands a piece of olive tree wood. Outside his studio stand two men laughing under the warm sun. Luca quickens his pace and approaches them, placing his hands on both their shoulders. He pushes down his rectangular sunglasses, revealing his deep blue eyes, and takes a breath through his clenched teeth before saying, “Ignacio, how is your taconeo going? Have you gotten the bulería rhythm right yet?”

“IT’S STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS,” Ignacio Llinares, better known as “El Inventor,” responds hesitantly with a smile. Ignacio has been working on a machine for Seville’s flamenco museum that mechanically recreates all types of taconeos, or flamenco rhythms.

ANOTHER MAN APPROACHES THE GROUP, walking quickly on his toes, his shaggy grey hair moving as his head bobs up and down. Marcos Domínguez, the sculptor, wipes his hands repeatedly on his light jeans to rub off the wet red clay that remains on his fingers. “Good afternoon! It’s quite chilly today, no?”

WANDERING THROUGH THIS SPACE is like walking through the industrial unit that resided there in the nineteenth century, only now in addition to hearing the rumble of drills and saws, the sounds of flamenco shoes loudly tapping the floor from the nearby professional dance studios fill the Corral. About a century ago, the legendary neighborhood of San Julián was home to half of Seville’s workers, most of who lived in shared communities such as the one that would later be known as El Corral de los Artesanos. Located in the northwest part of the Casco Antiguo, the medieval section of Seville, San Julián was in the proximity of the old Huerta del Barbero, an industrial area outside the city walls where factories such as La Unión Industrial y Comercial or La Sociedad de Oxígeno, Nitrógeno y Acetileno were located.

THE SPACE has not changed much since then. Marcos, who has had his studio in the Corral for 17 years, explains as he moves his hands and bobs his head in perfect rhythm, “The Corral is in the center of Seville, but it has maintained its appearance almost exactly from 1896. It takes you to a timeless world.”

WHILE THE CORRAL has not changed in its physical appearance, its spirit has been tested over the last 50 years. In the 1960s, the northern part of the city center went through a gentrification process. The Ministry of Housing authorized the demolition of the traditional neighborhood, composed of small, one-story buildings with shared facilities, to make space for the construction of new seven-story apartment complexes. The architectural layout of these apartments encouraged separation and independence instead of a shared lifestyle. While El Corral de los Artesanos was one of the few areas in the San Julián neighborhood to successfully resist demolition, since then its inhabitants have adopted the cultural mindset of compartmentalization and independent work ethic.

REFLECTING ON HIS FIRST 10 YEARS in the Corral, beginning in 1997, Marcos says that “the previous inhabitants were very old fashioned people, with a fear of change. Fear of housing inspection, fear of getting together. Any small action was impossible. Due to this fear there was no synergy.”

EL CORRAL DE LOS ARTESANOS has undergone a transformation over the last five years, a recuperation of the community values that it once had. “Formerly there were people who were here for many years, who were a bit more closedminded,” remarks the Wood Man Ignacio, who has worked in the Corral for six years. He speaks softly, yet he raises his eyebrows expressively as his pale blue eyes stare earnestly. “And now there have entered many relatively young people with a lot of eagerness and who work with their doors open. They are friendlier and share more with each other in regards to what they have and what they know.” The artisans often cook together, sharing their ideas with one another as they make lentils, the smell filling the whole Corral.

IT IS THE PEOPLE WHO WORK in the Corral who are responsible for reviving the spirit of this community. There is a common mindset among the inhabitants of the space, a need to see value in everything and to help discarded things reach their highest potential, whether it is sick wood from an orange tree or discarded cane from the Guadalquivir River.

“WHEN ONE PERSON IMPROVES, his neighbor is inspired to do the same,” Luca explains. He designed and renovated La Bañera with the intent of “revitalizing and reinstating it to urban life,” using principles of sustainable design to minimize the need for air conditioning and artificial lighting. The entrance of this coworking space is lined with canes taken from the Guadalquivir River that Luca and his project partner Marco rescued. “You can incorporate this material and give it a second life. I am passionate about these materials and need them to carry out projects that would not be possible without them.”

WHILE LUCA HAS A LOGICAL PERSPECTIVE on reviving natural and industrial products, Ignacio the Wood Man has an emotional attachment to the discarded fruit trees of Seville. “The tree is there abandoned and, above all, what is its destiny? Its destiny is being discarded in a dump,” he says. “And I know that in reality it is valuable wood, it is filled with life and it has many years of history. The wood is natural and has form; it changes color and is very similar to a person. Every wood smells different, has a different shape — the material is very magical.” He transforms these trees into tables, chairs, picture frames and sculptures in order to rescue them from being burned, from suffering eternally. When one cuts down a tree, it may be physically dead, but through its transformation into a useful object its spirit continues to live.

THE COMMUNITY’S ENVIRONMENT of collaboration, close bonds and open minds has led to the creation of genuine, innovative and impactful art that goes beyond the walls of the Corral. The Wood Man showed his Table Chaos piece at the Saatchi gallery in London, and the popular restaurant El ConTenedor in Seville uses Ignacio the Inventor’s printing press Aurelia to print its receipts. But in the end, art for these men is not just about success. Beyond ambition, as the Inventor puts it, art is like the food they cook in the Corral. “To cook you must give, and to give you must be generous and caring towards the people who come to eat.”