Faculty Focus: Rafael Beneytez Duran
Rafael Beneytez Duran, a native of Madrid, Spain, is an associate professor in the Texas Tech College of Architecture. He received his master's and doctorate degrees at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid (ETSAM), one of the most important universities of architecture in Europe. His career has allowed him to teach and work in countries around the world, among them France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. Rafael joined the faculty at Texas Tech in 2017. One of his main goals is to develop programs that help students understand the connection between architecture and the land where they live. His international experience has also been instrumental in expanding the study abroad program for architecture students in Seville, Spain.
What influenced you and your family to make the decision to move to the United States?
"I spent a lot of time working for a very prestigious Spanish architect named Rafael Moneo, who won the Pritzker Prize which is something like the Nobel Prize in architecture. Moneo came to the United States as the chair of the department of architecture at Harvard. He was commuting from Boston to Madrid as well as working on other projects in the United States such as the Los Angeles Cathedral, the Whitney Museum (New York), the Cranbrook Art Museum (Michigan), and the Fine Arts Museum of Houston. I was working very closely with him and became the leader of many projects. Moneo encouraged me to come to the United States, but I couldn't do it at the time. My daughter was recently born, I was finishing up some buildings in Spain and my office Z4Z4-Z4A was very busy in those years, but it did get me interested in the possibility of moving here. Six years later, when my children were older and my office was more stable, we considered moving to the United States again."
What brought you to Texas Tech?
"While working and teaching at ETSAM in Spain, we were focusing on the notion of territory landscape and cultural context. Many times we explored the Great Salt Lake of Utah, the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico as well as the vastness of the American West, all of which have amazing and intriguing territories and landscapes. Arid territories are very attractive to me." Rafael interviewed with various universities and stated "it was a beautiful moment when I received my offer from Texas Tech. I felt super comfortable in Lubbock. The territory is something I like to explore – the vastness, the scale, and the people who are different because territory is forming them. It was also challenging and attractive to start in a very quiet setting instead of going to New York or Pittsburg. Our family was a little tired of the busy cities. We lost a lot of time commuting and fighting with all busy urban things. We felt that we needed this time for us to grow as a family, write the material we have been working on and finish some designs – time, concentration, quietness, territory and beauty. So Lubbock became a paradise in these terms."
Since moving here, Rafael's affection for Lubbock and Texas Tech has been influenced by TTU professors such as Chris Taylor, director of Land Arts of the American West, and the works of poet and songwriter Andy Wilkinson, musician Terry Allen, and actress and artist Jo Harvey Allen to name a few. He also attributes his love for the arid lands of Lubbock to the spaghetti westerns he watched in his youth. "The spaghetti western was very important to us because we could totally recognize ourselves in these movies since Spain is an arid land. The horses and cowboys, the horizon and infinite lawns of Texas look familiar to what we have in the south of Spain. So this land seemed very familiar when I came here. It was a kind of parallel landscape. "
I understand you have been instrumental in bringing Spanish culture and heritage to architecture students at Texas Tech. Can you talk some about this?
"It was a good thing for me and better for the college that the dean of the College of Architecture, Jim Williamson, was very attracted as well as visionary with the potential of TTU Seville Center as a pedagogical tool in Spain. He understood that the TTU Center in Seville could be a very important opportunity because there is a clear and powerful pedagogical project between both places. He had the vision to try to make study abroad something bigger than a summer program. Since I am a Spaniard and I worked for ETSAM for many years, I felt I could offer a relationship between the two institutions. Jim and I traveled to Spain and talked to the deans, provosts and directors at ETSAM and they saw the opportunity to work together as well. Jim had the intuition that by expanding overseas the student education through this project could position the college in a very productive agenda nationally and internationally and I can see this is now happening"
Last summer, Rafael took a group of 21 Texas Tech students to Spain. He developed a program where the students studied at both the TTU Center in Seville and at ETSAM in Madrid. "We invited a historian to talk about the tight relationships of these two territories (Texas and Spain). We also invited lecturers to work with the students in the design studio. This was important because when students went to the studio classes at ETSAM, they could merge with the body of students there and interact with them. What we were doing was a real immersion. We were able to break the isolation of the students and we gave them a lot of liberties and responsibilities. Liberty and responsibility go hand in hand. They feel free but at the same time responsible for themselves. And suddenly the students understood the purpose of studying abroad. They had opportunities to go in the city together, they were sharing the living quarters, they were sharing the voices together, and they were sharing the pedagogical content for a week. Then the faculty that was teaching the students in Madrid were invited to come to Seville. In Seville, the faculty made a critical analysis of the student's work under the expectation of the Spanish way of teaching and learning. It is different because they are not receiving the same type of feedback they receive at Tech. So the students were exposed to a very different pedagogy."
Rafael stressed that during the study abroad experience "It is important that the students understand that you are not making a comparison that your experience here is better or worse, but it is to feel the overlapping and the richness of both cultures. You are a representative of your culture here and this experience allows you to value your own culture more. So exposure to Spain is giving you a better understanding of your place in your culture as well as an understanding of this place and a new culture. We encourage the students to try to break this sense of comparison. The project here is a sense of observation. You are revealing your own culture by observing another culture."
What are the advantages of sending TTU architecture students to study in Spain?
"It very important that we make our students proud of their education here at Texas Tech. Lubbock is a place to embrace. Lubbock is not New York, Paris or London. We cannot compare them as some individuals try to do. It makes no sense to do so. Observing the everyday life one could easily say that there is more life quality in Lubbock than New York for both, family and individuals out of the pressure of cultural strengths. I want to be a tourist in New York, but I don't want to live in New York. The pedagogy here should be based on embracing the richness of this place. When you talk to your Spanish friends about Lubbock, it is some place that is unknown to them. Lubbock and Texas are really rich things to talk about. We should feel proud of it and embrace this land."
"The other thing that happens is the study abroad program gives the students the opportunity to develop friendships that can help them in the future. Not only will the students have someone to visit the next time they go to Spain, we are also trying to build professional relationships for them. If a student would like to have an internship in Spain, I can connect them with Spanish architects because they have already had an experience there. You learn a lot when you travel, and now the students have friends and contacts around the world."
Rafael is a wonderful ambassador for Texas Tech. He believes that we should not say to the students that we are preparing them to leave the area. "I really love it here for so many reasons. I profoundly believe in the opportunity of this place. Architecture students should work on building a renovated image of West Texas, because this has not been done yet from the eyes of contemporary architecture. It could be said that they need to go to New York, Boston or L.A. to confirm what is already imagined because there is a lot of imaginary already done that perfectly fits in what you find there. Somehow, those places are overworked and there is narrow room to present something new out of the already overdone culture. Instead, this area of the West is a new quarry of knowledge that someone needs to cover, represent and explain. Developing life in an arid land is about environment, resources, climate change, territory and scale. There is a lot of work that needs to be done here and the students should embrace this opportunity that offers the land and its culture because it probably has the keys to the future. "