The architect 'tapahuecos'

Jon Goitia introduces himself On twitter as an architect and investor, who puts “impossible real estate in value”. His specialty is transforming video stores, clothing stores, shoe stores and other local businesses that are dying in Madrid into housing. Perhaps because of that habit of rescuing abandoned spaces, his business sense was instantly activated when last summer he discovered another wasted hole in the street: a tiny lot between two brick apartment blocks and green awnings in the Ciudad Lineal district, six kilometers east of Puerta del Sol.

The plot of five meters wide by ten meters long is covered by vegetation and is located in San Fidel 87, one of the streets of Bilbao, a working-class neighborhood built in the seventies and eighties. Apparently, at the time of parceling the land, that minimal farm was drawn, unattractive for the developers.

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Goitia, 45, says that the owners of the plot were delighted to sell it to him. Before the great real estate crisis of 2008 they had designed a building of small apartments, but with the economic debacle the plan was left in the water and they never took it up again. Now this architect of Basque origin wants to fulfill a dream from the days when he was studying for a degree at the Polytechnic of Madrid: to build a narrow and elongated single-family house, inspired by the architecture of Amsterdam. According to the plans and the sketch of the preliminary project that you have already designed, before requesting the license from the City Council, the house will have five floors plus a basement and a roof terrace with a swimming pool. It is the house of a bourgeois in a working-class neighborhood and according to what he says, he will move into it when it is ready, because “it is a luxury” to have such a large residence, relatively close to the center.

“I think this project can encourage others to follow the trend,” he says. “They are small suturing exercises to take advantage of the already built city.”

Sketch of the residential building designed by Jon Goitia on Calle San Fidel, 87, in the Ciudad Lineal district, Madrid.
Sketch of the residential building designed by Jon Goitia on Calle San Fidel, 87, in the Ciudad Lineal district, Madrid.

The former dean of Madrid architects, José María Ezquiaga, comments for this article that it is positive to cover spaces as complicated as San Fidel 87 with housing, one of many holes in the urban fabric of the capital. “These spaces cannot be used because of their size, nor as green areas, nor for public facilities. On the contrary, it is frequent that they are not kept in good maintenance and cleanliness conditions with the evident damages for the neighboring neighbors ”.

This tendency to take advantage of empty spaces would contrast with the expansion plans of Madrid, a metropolis that will continue to grow on the map in the coming years. More than 100,000 new homes are planned in the southeast (El Cañaveral, Los Cerros, Los Ahijones, Los Berrocales and Valdecarros) and more than 10,000 in Madrid Nuevo Norte.

Disappearing businesses

Goitia has become known for being one of the architects who has led in the last five years the trend of converting commercial premises into housing. He himself lives with his partner in a old butcher shop It had been abandoned for 10 years, when he bought it in 2014 to convert it.

Jon Goitia's apartment is an old butcher shop in the north-west of Madrid capital: upstairs the premises before the transformation;  down its current state.
Jon Goitia’s apartment is an old butcher shop in the north-west of Madrid capital: upstairs the premises before the transformation; down its current state.

It was one of its first “changes of use”, the name given to these projects that must meet habitability requirements established by the Madrid City Council. In 2015, 8 changes of use were processed in the capital. Since then the number has grown year after year. There were 542 in 2019 and 581 in 2020, despite the pandemic. According to the numbers given by Goitia, his company, Goitorre SLU, has transformed 80 premises into 250 new homes.

There are town planners who warn that this trend has risks. Agustín Hernández Aja, professor at the Polytechnic, highlights that the balance between residential and commercial uses is in danger. “Among other inconveniences, the disappearance of these spaces reduces opportunities for small neighborhood entrepreneurs,” he observes.

Goitia says that the demand to make changes of use does not stop growing and the pandemic seems to have accelerated the phenomenon. For now, that is your core business. The long house is his illusion. He says he is sure that the City Council will approve the project as a single-family home, since municipal regulations do not prevent it in that area, and he hopes that the technicians will also respect his design.

Half a million investment

He estimates that he will invest half a million euros, the 100,000 he paid for the site and the cost of the work. “There will be those who do not want to call this luxury because of the location, but I have no other name for a house so close to the center, with a 30-square-meter gym and a swimming pool,” he says.

In his spare time, he investigates on the Internet if there are homes in Madrid that are inhabited with as many floors as hers, a septúplex, counting the roof and basement. His house project would have even more floors than La Zarzuela, which is a triplex. In the Bilbao neighborhood, he would certainly be like a king.

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