Conjuntos Empáticos is a Madrid based non-profit organization formed by young architects whose agenda includes workshops, installations, research, and more. Throughout 2019 the organization inserted temporary-inflatable devices into urban space, inviting people to engage with playful plastic membrane structures that ask us to question the limits between public and private.
Courtesy of Conjuntos Empáticos
Text by Sálvora Feliz and Marta Benito
The city can be understood as a fabric sewn together by a series of articulating spaces that should function as urban social activators, these being materialized at different scales. We will describe them as certain permanent or intermittent prototyped actions that trigger or reactivate programs in urban environments. These interventions are particularly interesting in places with little or no traffic for certain audiences, which we call Inatmospheres (Feliz, 2019), capable of generating an attraction for children that interacts with the prototyped objects and promotes socialization activities in city spaces that are more spacious than the standardized ones. We are, therefore, in front of viral actions of the urban space that claim the common ground for children.
Through this sequence of interventions, we intend to promote the use of public space for the neighbors and the children. First in Plaza Callao, then in Plaza de Matadero, and finally in Cal Comte de la Cova, we make available spaces that are temporarily qualified for their use and enjoyment.
Courtesy of Conjuntos Empáticos
The plastic membrane of the structure serves as a medium for hosting collective interventions or simply moments of relaxation, such as a small concert, games, or collective drawings, thus encouraging the social as a form of interaction. In this way, the inflatable structures behave like organisms capable of awakening the restlessness of the passer-by due to their lightness, materiality, and surprise effect, characteristics that guarantee a sensorial experience propitiated by the environment and the public space.
This sequence of actions took place in Plaza de Callao (on 03/23/2019), Plaza de Matadero (from 03/09/2019 to 03/10/2019) and in Patio Cal Comte de la Cova (from 07/03/2019 to 07/06/2019.
There are numerous antecedents of urban social activations carried out by diverse agents, perhaps not under this name but with these determinations. In this way, we differentiate between two clearly profiled tendencies. One of them, as “the irruption of the private in the public, or rather, the creation of a new social value, which is the publicity of the private” (Barthes, 1980), which characterizes the exposed theory (Colmenares, 2016) on the appropriation of public spaces by means of domestic actions. Determining what is understood as the domestic and what could describe the adequate conditions that build this type of performance is a starting point for recognizing when the actions carried out are working the public space as an extension of the conditions that facilitate private life.
In contrast to this theory, the second movement consists of the qualification of public environments to be capable of being appropriated by subjects, but without the elements that allow this appropriation to be related to the objects or relations recognizable in the domestic environments we inhabit. This approach considers the public space to be worked on at different scales, such as a topological landscape, generating environments such as Aldo van Eyck’s Playgrounds (Fuchs, 2002) or the mini-territorial spaces linked to well-known collective housing projects such as Alison + Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens (Smithson and Smithson, 1956).
Independently of these two movements, in recent years, the work of various collectives in close relationship with the movements of collective creation strategy that demand qualified public spaces for the use of the neighbors, have resulted in the design of numerous mediating objects (such as those developed in the architecture and childhood research project directed by Sara San Gregorio in MediaLab Prado), urban furniture (developed by Enorme Studio); ecological self-construction workshops (by Pez Estudio); Do It Yourself Institute (by Todo por la Praxis); artistic-urban interventions (by Basurama); or Handmade Urbanism (by Zuloark). All these proposals, at their different scales, allow the temporary appropriation of the inhabitants of neighborhoods that have grown up denying the spaces of social relations. Despite this denial, the city has a large number of over-dimensioned spaces for travel, prepared for more static programs, but doomed to abandonment due to the lack of use located in them.
We propose these spaces as places of activation in the cities, propitious to be inhabited and reactivated through actions triggered by reconciling elements or micro-articulations of activity, which trigger a new action, either exhibition, sportive, or playful, promoted from an architectural installation focused mainly on the empowerment and recreation of a child audience, understanding that they are those users with the freest look on cultural assets and capable of imagining new uses through the estrangement of elements located in these areas of opportunity. These areas, which are not recognizable as abandoned places, and which some authors have defined as spaces of anonymity or non-places (Augé, 2004), are located in environments of everyday life, or what other agents would call public space. However, we prefer to talk about collective space as a concept, rather than public space, since we believe in these zones as meeting areas in opposition to the concept of space ownership. We understand that collective space can be public or private, and urban space can be enjoyed individually or accompanied. That is, it is necessary to change the current meanings, to differentiate between ownership (public or private), management (public or private), and use (collective or individual) of the space at common disposal.
Jacobs (1961) states that “children need an outdoor, non-specialized base of operations where they can play, observe, and shape their notions of the real world.” As a facilitator of this experience, we have proposed the construction of a sequence of prototyping.
The application of this research is materialized in artifacts that facilitate the generation of appropriations of places in the city, generating ephemeral reconversions of urban spaces. An example of the appropriation of these areas would be the temporary taking of a square or a boulevard to transform it into a playground during a certain time slot per day, and subsequently returning it to its traditional use. It is important to emphasize that some prototypes could have qualities of permanence in space. In this sense, it must be the continued use of the same, which reinforces such a condition, since we assume that the city is changing and must mutate with the needs and demands of our small users, and not necessarily vice versa.
Thus, in this project, common elements are sown in the collective space to activate certain areas. In this way, we will generate a fiction through the decontextualization of objects. We create new conditions that make it possible for the children to rediscover those places they see every day, to enjoy them and to allow new activities.
As unidentified objects, these prototypes were located in spaces foreign to them, arousing the curiosity of the small users of the receiving environment. As a result, people who were on the road and the neighbors who had already taken over the space came into contact with each other. The prototypes became collective micro-articulations triggered by the estrangement that the artifacts generated in the participants.
As these prototypes are intermittent, once they have been collected after occasional use, they leave a memory of the diversity of activities that can take place in their absence, knowing that they can take shape again in a different space to trigger new situations. These pop-up actions can behave as elements that reactivate synergies in urban environments with little traffic, generating the attraction of neighbors who will interact with the performative element and socialize in those spaces of the city that have over-dimensioned proportions and triggering processes of dialogue that will allow actions to be managed by neighbors.
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· BARTHES, R. (1981). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang.
· COLMENARES, S. (2016). “Tame and reclaim: Domestic performances as a model for Appropriation of the public space” en Proceedings EURAU 2016, Bucarest 8-30 de septiembre de 2016. Bucarest: “Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urban Planning.
· FELIZ, S. (2019). “Inatmósferas” en Prototipos, Prototopos. Madrid: DPA Prints’.
· FUCHS, R. (2002). Aldo van Eyck: the playgrounds and the city. Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum.
· JACOBS, J. (1961). Muerte y vida de las grandes ciudades. Madrid: Capitán Swing libros.
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LOCATION: Madrid, Spain / DATE: 2019 / DESIGN TEAM: Conjuntos Empáticos (Sálvora Feliz + Marta Benito + Tomás Pineda) / COLLABORATORS: Alberto Ferrero, Noemí Diaz, Nada Bourass, Raquel Calvo, Gloria Cavatton, Marina García Valdés, Alberto García de Vicente, Cristian Giles Jiménez, Juan Pablo Gómez Loaiza, Nerea Iturbe, Leire Jericó, Daniel Martín Villamuelas, Laura Pérez, Javier-Chan Porras Rhee, Wladimir Pulupa, and Miguel Ángel Ygoa.