Erik Harley does mind the bollocks
Spain’s urban avenger exposes architectural dick-waving
Erik Harley uncovers the misuse of public funds on megalomaniac constructions with hilarious viral videos. We asked the urban expert to construct his idea of a better world – one with less greed, less ego and less corruption
In TOPIA series, My World of Good, revolutionaries imagine better
Public money should be used to empower society, not just your friends. Cities are not just places to invest in, they are places to live.Erik Harley
Towering mega-hotels, audacious auditoriums, superlative skyscrapers, monstrously modern museums, ghastly glass Goliaths and half-built luxury eyesores – these are just some of the architectural aberrations blighting our cities. And Erik Harley loves to hate them.
Erik Harley uses this term to describe unimaginative tall buildings built with little attention to aesthetics that prioritise profit over livable spaces.
The Benidorm-loving artist, urban studies expert and viral superstar is the creator of Pormishuevismo, a “fake artistic movement” of urban rampages that take a critical – and hilarious – look at speculation, gentrification, corruption and unscrupulous development in architecture.
‘Pormishuevismo‘ roughly translates from Spanish as ‘I swear by my bollocks’. It’s a play on the word huevo, which means both egg and balls. He coined the word in 2019 to explain scandalous cultural calamities that don’t take the welfare of citizens into account.
The name of the movement was inspired by the film Huevos de Oro (Golden Balls), in which a macho, seedy Javier Bardem – a typical pormishuevista – has lofty ambitions to build the tallest skyscraper in the country. His character Benito González was obsessed with “sausage skyscrapers” and would grab his own testicles willy nilly. According to Erik, “He just wants to put his dick on the table!”
Erik’s popular Instagram account, Preferiria Periferia (333K followers), loosely translates as ‘I’d prefer the suburbs‘ and is made up of pithy video walk-and-talks that blend research, theory and humour to call out the shameless boasting of economic miracles and dreams of the future. “Building an auditorium or a fancy museum just to put your city on the map, that’s a huge mistake.”
He’s looking at you… Santiago Calatrava.
The highly publicised Calatrava is one of Spain’s most famous architects. The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia is just one of his flawed, exorbitant monstrosities that went over budget – costing five times more than the projected 200 million euros. Erik likes to compare this to building 40 schools, prompting people to question whether this was really necessary. Calatrava’s response? “There is so much vulgarity in the everyday, that when somebody has the pretension to do something extraordinary for the community, then you have to suffer.”
But not all Pormishuevistas are architects, urban planners or engineers. The term can also apply to curators, politicians or businessmen. Like Paco El Pocero, a controversial millionaire businessman who was sentenced to three months in prison and fined for environmental crimes after building – defaulting and never finishing – a residential estate across from a pile of rubber tyres in a small town called Seseña.
And then there’s Consuelo Ciscar, the dodgy AF former director of IVAM (Valencian Institute of Modern Art), who spent 30 million euros of public money making an exhibition about her various hairstyles. “It’s ingrained in our culture to do these sorts of stupid stunts with public money – which should be used to empower society, not just your friends,” laughs Erik.
Erik is from Barcelona. “My origin is important in all this because Catalonia is one of the only regions of Spain in which architecture opens up a social conversation. We understand that cities are not just places to invest in, they are places to live.”
If you live in Spain, you might have seen Erik on TV, heard him on the radio, or even joined one of his guided tours in 12 Spanish cities. His team of three has led more than 3,000 of the guided walking tours he’s designed. I met Erik at Diálogos de Cocina (Kitchen Dialogues) in San Sebastián, where he headlined a two-day event run by Michelin-starred chefs by exuberantly calling out exploitation in the kitchens of Michelin star restaurants… to a crowd of Michelin star chefs. Respect.
While his takedowns break down the consequences of controversial architectural projects and spotlight those responsible, Erik is not just here to educate experts – he wants to give everyone the tools to understand what really matters.
“I cannot construct, but I can deconstruct things; it’s super important to me that my mother understands all the things that I’m saying,” he says. “My main goal is to make people aware that what you vote directly affects your life and that architecture and construction is important. I communicate the things that matter to me and I try to make it matter to you.”
Erik thinks it’s ridiculous that cities are still being built with “towers instead of trees”, and blames it on politicians who aren’t up to the task of public office. “We’re in a climate crisis and we should only be building projects that improve things, not ones that destroy heritage. It blows my mind when people don’t understand that architecture has a social responsibility and is not about making you rich.”
My World of Good is a TOPIA series where we ask revolutionaries to imagine better. We asked Erik Harley to share his idea of a better world – one with less bollocks.
Erik Harley: “In My World of Good…”
… everyone has read Jane Jacobs
I have to read The Death and Life of Great American Cities every year. It’s an amazing book about how urbanism produces speculation. She was not an architecture academic, she was a writer who transformed urban planning by fighting against corruption in New York City. This book created a movement and I recommend it on my tours because everyone can understand it. I love how efficiently she thought.
… we call out cultural catastrophe
Last year, a provocative book came out that is called España Fea (Ugly Spain). It is by Andrés Rubio, who was the travel editor of newspaper El País’ travel supplement, Diario. He explains how politics is constructed in our mind and that chronic overdevelopment destroys landscapes and heritage. He says a beautiful quote that is perfect, “We haven’t inherited the land; we’ve borrowed it from our children.” We need to leave the world in the best possible shape for those who come after us.
… Ildefons Cerdà’s ideas will be mainstream
Cerdà was the urban planner behind the design of the Eixample barrio (neighbourhood) in Barcelona, the late-19th century the ‘expansion’ of the city. He was so ahead of his time, designing the superillas initiative of superblocks that are being implemented today. His vision was to construct the city not for cars, but for the wellbeing of people, with wide avenues, vegetation and rational housing conditions for a diverse mix of classes. He was concerned with hygiene, living standards and equality. See, 200 years ago there were people actually from the friggin’ future.
I am also obsessed with Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. You can see his buildings in Bilbao, Barcelona and Madrid. A very big star, he never lost sight of empowering people and how a building fits within the existential city.
… everyone has watched Huevos de Oro
It is directed by Bigas Luna, who is a very important director here, and it stars a very young, testosterone-filled Javier Bardem. His character wants to construct the tallest building in the city… the biggest penis. It is the perfect representation of a Pormishuevismos constructor, who says: “I just want to do it, because I want to do it – and that’s all!” I despise that philosophy and aesthetic. Calatrava is the perfect representation of this movement. He just wants to put his dick on on the table.
… and Benidorm
If you have never seen it, watch Benidorm… but just for a minutes or it will kill your neurons. British people see the city very differently from us. I spend a lot of summers there and could happily live a perfect life in Benidorm.
There are three British TV shows that really make me laugh. I love the Philomena Cunk character in Cunk on Earth, which is a hilarious and intelligent portrayal of where we’ve gone wrong. Also, Unfinished London is perfect – it’s about town planning gone wrong.
… I wouldn’t have vertigo
I know it’s ironic that I am scared of heights, with what I do. I push it by going to the top of buildings to get a shot when I know it will be worth it. I also get the sensation when I watch a movie, like Vértigo (Fall). The first time it was shown in Spain was at the Torre Picasso, which used to be the tallest building in the country – it is one of the points on my Madrid tour.
… my superpower would be memory
I would love to be able to remember everything. I have close relative with Alzheimer’s in my family. For me, knowledge is the most interesting thing in the world. It’s amazing that we have a computer in our brain, and such a great power to remember. I find it punishing when I don’t learn from my mistakes and make the same mistake twice.
But I always say that the best ideas come twice.
I have the best ideas when I shower.
… there would be no super production
In an ideal world, I would delete all the wrong ideas that were embraced in the last century, like super production. I am all about getting people to enjoy life, to love, to have experiences rather than be productive 24/7. Working weeks should be four days.
… there will be no sexism
No to racism, sexism and classism.
… politics would actually help people
I would never be a politician and am super staunch on that, because it is so easy to be corrupted. I’ve been asked to join some parties ,but believe that if I’m connected to a party or organisation, my message won’t get through. Instead, I have a Complaints Box for issues with construction proposals.
… I would have a silent room in my house
People are surprised that I am not a melophile (music-lover) because I always end up surrounded by DJs and people in the music industry. But I prefer silence – and reading. Background noises distract my attention and I find it difficult to sleep. If there is a noise on the street, a bird or whatever, it’s Game Over.
I enjoy my life in silence, but I would not want a silent world
as people would be sad.
… I would have stability
I would love to be able to sleeping in the same bed more; I am always moving. I would love to have stability in all the senses – from emotional to economic – and also be surrounded by people that really appreciate me. To have that in your life is what it’s all about.
… life is full of adventure
I always say that when I grow up, I don’t want to be the coolest kid on the block… but on the asylum!
Pormishuevismos would be made official
As a legacy, I would love that the word Pormishuevismo is accepted by the Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy). That would mean people are using this term to talk about things that they don’t like. Not in an academic way, but at a social level… to open up important conversations.
Erik Harley’s tips of Good people to follow
– @jonkareaga is an environmentalist from the Basque Country who encourages little actions
– @lorenaleft is an authentic, funny mum who posts reasons to be vegan and eco-conscious
– @asaaribibang is a Black actress, comic and mum, I love her approach to racism and sexism
– @bruno.leon_ is a witty trans animal activist and powerful LGTBQ+ rights ambassador
– @nuria_moliner is an amazing architect who talks about solutions
You might also like: Can urban acupuncture heal us?
What’s so good about this?
Thanks to people like Erik Harley, we are able to call out destructive projects that harm our landscape and heritage. Next, he is taking the #pormishuevista movement worldwide, starting with Mexico and Colombia.
TOPIA met Erik Harley at Diálogos de Cocina (Kitchen Dialogues), a congress at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastián, Spain. The unique two-day event offers a journey through gastronomic transformation.
Header photo by Ángel Biyanueba.
Meet the writer
Lisa Goldapple is the brain behind the world of TOPIA, and might not behave as good as gold, but thinks good is golden. The Barcelona-based founder, creative director and editor-in-chief of TOPIA has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. To understand how TOPIA really came about, read Mind Blown, because: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”