Santiago Cirugeda is the hero of Spanish self-build, a skilled architect and a committed activist who has dedicated his professional career to helping recapture public space in Spain.

Contemporary architecture is all about 'what a beautiful building'…'what a pretty project' .... But architecture is more than that; it should be functional, cheap. It should be a reason to come together – and that's what we've done.

Santiago Cirugeda

From his hometown of Seville, Cirugeda runs Recetas Urbanas, an architectural practice which provides legal advice and technical support to groups all over the country.

He is a founding member of the National Network of Collective Architecture Groups, which brings similar architects together, and part of a new initiative to map and share materials across Spain.

Shunning the profession's obsession with aesthetics, Cirugeda focuses on finding low-cost, sustainable materials which are easy to build with, allowing him to work with community groups – from an alternative school in Barcelona to an art collective in Badajoz.

"People tell me my architecture is ugly. Interesting - but ugly. But I say - who doesn't have an ugly friend?"

Often working on the margins of Spain's urban planning and construction laws, Recetas Urbanas has become a go-to for groups struggling to realise their plans.

With his warm and passionate nature and tireless work ethic Cirugeda has helped dozens of groups to occupy spaces and build their own structures, at a time when the Spanish government is virtually powerless to help.

He says: "Spain is a total disaster because of the crisis ... The people are abandoned by the state ... There's huge unemployment, a government unable to help ... or even guarantee our basic rights, so people are doing things their own way .... In times of crisis, people come together to deliver collective solutions. There are many collectives appearing, talking about reusing stuff, recycling."

For more on Santiago Cirugeda and his work:

Recetas Urbanas: http://www.recetasurbanas.net/v3/index.php/es/

National Network of Collective Architecture Groups: http://arquitecturascolectivas.net/

Follow Santi Cirugeda on Twitter (@santicirugeda) and Facebook

Source: Al Jazeera