Heritage, Spain, Architecture

Alejandro García Hermida: the Origins of INTBAU Spain and TBCF

Reflections on a personal history with vernacular architecture

Terrachidia's NGO research project on the Siwa oasis. Egypt, 2018
Photos by Terrachidia

Alejandro García Hermida, the co-founder of the Traditional Building Cultures Foundation and INTBAU Spain, spoke to EastEast about his passion for traditional architecture and the institutional work he has been doing to preserve and promote time-tested building practices in the Iberian peninsula. 


I often wonder to myself, why did I get interested in traditional architecture when this is not something that is especially encouraged or taught at the majority of the universities?

For me, my experience in architecture was learning about something totally different to what I would then focus my work on. I’ve been lucky to grow up in a place where there is a strong traditional identity in urbanism and architecture, which is Toledo in central Spain. And then, I’ve been lucky to have a family that has always made me travel a lot and see beautiful places. My family also had an interest in crafts and how things are done. 

In fact, after studying architecture, I turned to archeology first, and later, in the process of working with it, I realized I did like architecture, just architecture of a different kind. So I moved on to studying restoration. During my architectural studies I was lucky to find some faculty who were interested in built heritage, in the classical language, in vernacular architecture, and earth building. That allowed me to discover there was something else apart from what we had been taught. 

In addition, I met two people who were very important to me: Leon Krier and Paolo Marconi. Paolo Marconi was teaching in Rome and by then, Léon Krier and his wife, Irene Pérez-Porro, were coming a lot to Madrid. I interviewed them for a magazine I used to publish with a friend of mine, Teatro Marittimo. And I loved what Léon Krier was opening me up to: I realized there was nothing weird about my interest in traditional architecture, on the contrary, it was something that was shared by a lot of people and there was a whole international movement working in the same direction.

The Restoration of The Sidi Abdullah Khalifa marabout by Terrachidia NGO. Village of Ouled Yussef, the M’hamid Oasis, Zagora province, Morocco
Photos by Terrachidia


With a number of like-minded researchers, we started Terrachidia. We started working in the south of Morocco, in a beautiful oasis with fantastic palm groves. The project was precisely structured to allow students and professionals from all over the world to have the opportunity to learn from traditional architecture, practicing on site, and communicating directly with local masters.

Leon Krier was on the jury for the Richard H. Driehaus Architecture Prize, which gave the 2010 award to Rafael Manzano Martos, a fantastic architect from the south of Spain who has been one of the few people working to keep the practice of traditional architecture alive. Richard Driehaus liked Rafael’s work very much and announced that he would launch an award in Spain named after Rafael Manzano: the Rafael Manzano Prize for New Traditional Architecture. They needed someone to organize things in Spain, so, in 2012, Leon Krier and Irene Pérrez-Porro recommended me to develop this project. 

With the support of Richard Driehaus and the University of Notre Dame, we started doing lectures at the School of Architecture and arranging annual summer schools in different locations of Portugal and Spain. As the number of projects kept growing, we were trying to come up with flexible and quick ways to provide administrative support to them, and joined forces with INTBAU Spain, which I had co-founded in 2012. 

In 2022, after Richard Driehaus had passed away, we started working on a new foundation to provide the framework for all those initiatives we were doing first with the University of Notre Dame and then with INTBAU. This is how the Traditional Building Cultures Foundation came about. 


One of the key projects of the Foundation in which INTBAU Spain also collaborates is the Spanish Network of Traditional Building Crafts Masters, a directory that will soon also include Portuguese building artisans. This has been a large-scale project: in the beginning, we had 20 people working on it. We divided the country into different regions and one person would be assigned a part to coordinate. The directory included craftspeople who are doing something special and are considered real masters within their trade. Sometimes they work very locally, and it takes time to find them. These are often family businesses or small companies that are not well-positioned online either. So it’s a complicated, living project that keeps growing. Now the platform allows one to easily find specific artisans for specific projects.

Left: José Toral López from 'La Lazada Granada' family joinery and cabinetry firm. Granada
Right: Glass Artist Alberto Francisco Chueca Lenzano. Navarra
Bellow: Master in andalusian tilework Fátima Quesada de la Cuest tiles working in her workshop. Granada

Photos from Spanish Network of Traditional Building Crafts Masters


I’m always inspired by the work of Hassan Fathy, he is one of the main masters of traditional architecture, along with, of course, Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil. And Leon Krier has been very important to me in terms of the vision of the city and urbanism. 

But there is one person in particular who has had a great influence on me: Donald Gray. He was an Australian architect working in southern Spain, where he built entire new towns, little towns. He was a fantastic person and he surrounded himself with a team of people from different building trades that worked with him on many of his projects. We even did a book on his work a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, he passed away before it was published, but we were fortunate to have him with us while we were making it.

Alejandro García Hermida
PhD in Architecture and MA in Conservation and Restoration of Architectural Heritage from the Madrid Polytechnic University School of Architecture, where he has been Associate Professor since 2019. His professional practice has been devoted to traditional architecture and building and the restoration and study of historic buildings, largely in Spain and Morocco, along with the creation and management since 2012, thanks to Richard H. Driehaus, of the initiatives run today by this Foundation. He is also the CEO of Kalam Corporation in the USA, a board member of the NGO Terrachidia and cofounding Vice-Chair of INTBAU Spain.