I CAME across this compromised sunset while jogging around my neighborhood in Jerez this week. An abandoned foundation jutting out to meet the sun before the horizon, the scene struck me as a dramatic reminder of Spain’s real estate bust and a testament to its economic predicament.
The photo is taken from the park connecting the Alcazar (Arab Fortress) with the Cathedral and the Tio Pepe Gonzalez Byass Bodega. The pleasant area features benches, lines of orange trees, a gazebo, and an open space that hosts a sizeable market on Sundays. It also provides a clear view of the horizon at the exact point where the sun descends, a rare triumph given its low elevation and positioning in the center of the city. This of course makes the park a favorite stopping point for wanderers, dog-walkers, and couples.
Despite the beauty of the vista, I was most taken by the way the exoskeleton of this unfinished building obstructs the sunset. The rays are blocked and forced to merely squint through the empty windows. A pleasant yet marred landscape, it is a constant reminder of the rise and fall of the Spanish economy.
The real estate boom refers to the development craze in which thousands of Spaniards clamored to construct more and more homes and office buildings throughout the country over the last 30 years. The government encouraged the practice and the banks issued significant mortgages and long term loans for prospective buyers. Foreign investment also increased, with many natives of Northern Europe buying up land. This craze inflated the economy, and proved an unsustainable model. Spanish real estate prices rose over 200 percent between 1995 and 2007, rendering many developments unaffordable and many Spaniards stuck with loans they could not shake off. Mirroring a similar housing boom in the United States, in 2008 the Spanish bubble also burst painfully. The supply of homes greatly exceeded the demand and thousands of building projects were abruptly abandoned. Today, one finds deserted foundations like this one all over the country, some 25 percent of all projects constructed between 2000 and 2010.
Eventually, things will probably turn around and a developer will see this building through to completion. The structure will hold carpeting, insulation, and happily employed Spaniards. Curtains will block the windows and the structure will become opaque. The sunset from the park will be lost and only those working in the office will see the horizon. For now, Jerezanos can still sit on the benches under the Arab walls, inhale the damp air from the fermenting grapes, and wait out the economy with their faces to the setting sun. After all, great views cost nothing and the sky cares not for an economic crisis.