Madrid/Vienna: Urban Act(iva)ors

Project: MADRID/VIENNA_Urban Act(iva)ors: Staging TEDx in a Self-Made Neighborhood
Date: Summer 2015
Professor: Mauricio Soto, Antje Steinmuller
Class: Advanced Summer Travel Studio

In cooperation with Teamlabs and Basurama, Madrid.

_context
The nature and form of urban social spaces has been changing considerably over the past two decades, and so have the mechanisms for activation of public space. New types of social spaces emerge inside the private domain as apps like EatWith create ad-hoc gatherings of strangers around food, while the public domain relies on event-based activation that ranges from guerrilla initiatives to publicly or privately sponsored performances and festivals. In Paris, a citizen poll recently gave Parisians the opportunity to vote for urban temporary projects that will now be implemented – funded by a 20 Mio. Euro ‘participatory budget‘ set aside by the mayor. Increasingly, cities open up to new participatory models in shaping public space that integrate entrepreneurial approaches to enabling new forms of social interactions. This has led to an environment in which bottom-up short-term initiatives increasingly find government approval, if not instrumentalization within long-term planning strategies. In the process, a new critical discourse is emerging on the nature of participation, the quality of acupunctural bottom-up interventions, and how architectural expertise can contribute to broader and longer-term considerations of their impact on the contemporary city. This travel studio exposes students to the ongoing dialog about entrepreneurial approaches to urban social space in two cities whose historic and current evolution of public spaces holds lessons from both ends of the spectrum: from government funded concepts to bottom-up neighborhood interventions in public space.

_the cities
Madrid and Vienna provide examples of different and complementary mechanisms for the formation of public urban space. Vienna has a long history of investing in both the public realm and social initiatives. It offers a range of recent projects that combine innovative strategies for producing contemporary, flexible, and highly programmed spaces within a range of formal urban space typologies from several centuries: from the historic Museumsquartier in the city center, to locally and communally developed neighborhood spaces, to family-oriented urban beaches within the infrastructural development of the Donauinsel. Madrid’s recent economic struggle, on the other hand, has sparked the evolution of a culture of bottom-up initiatives to impact the public realm, fostering opportunistic urban projects and a strong interest in social entrepreneurship. With the rapid expansion of the city in the 1950s-70s, many of Madrid’s historical plazas gave way to traffic circles as most of the city development efforts shifted to apartment blocks on the city’s periphery. From the public space revitalization program Madrid’s city council initiated in 2009 as part of the Madrid Plan for Social and Intercultural Coexistence, to the large scale tent structures during the politically motivated occupation of the Puerta del Sol plaza in 2011, Madrid holds a range of case studies for top-down and bottom-up activation of public space. Together, the two cities provide a rich set of case studies for a dialog about the mechanisms and factors that shape public space, from its physical formation, social and economic parameters, its evolving cultural significance through time, the invention within their development, to the opportunistic adaptions of how they are used. In the context of this historic and contemporary formation, this studio becomes a platform for conversation about how architects, designers and artist in the role of ‘urban act(iva)tors’ can insert themselves in innovative ways into the larger physical, economic and cultural forces that produce urban space.

This travel studio understands itself as a ‘mobile think tank of urban actors’. Through site visits to a range of public spaces in both cities (supplemented by guided tours, presentations and discussion sessions with local guest speakers involved in shaping public space) the studio will expose students to a range of entrepreneurial approaches to the activation of public space. Public space – and the confluence of factors that shape it – is by definition locally specific: based on cultural patterns, urban formation processes, current social trends, and the political and economic conditions of a place. An introductory 3-day seminar in San Francisco in May will introduce specific case studies of present local models in the host cities. These case studies will then become key components of the travel itinerary. The class will the meet in Vienna in late June, where we will connect with Departure, a government organization that funds social entrepreneurship initiatives from the local creative sector, and faculty from a Social Design / Urban Innovation program at the University for Applied Arts for lectures and discussions while visiting case study sites. The majority of travel time is spent in Madrid where students will collaborate with a local community and students from an entrepreneurship program on a full-scale project within a neighborhood public space. The time in Madrid will also include visits to different public space case studies as part of a broader conversation on past and present typologies of public space.

_the project
The project site for this studio is the San Cristobal neighborhood of Madrid. On the outskirts of the city and home to different immigrant groups, this area has been lacking in public spaces, employment opportunities and social/youth infrastructure. Basurama, a local organization concerned with issues of urban consumption and waste at multiple scales, has been working with this community in the framework of their Autobarrios (Self-Made Neighborhoods) project. Autobarrios reflects a way of building city that is based on a collaboration between different professionals and local citizens. It is reliant on building a network between a range of urban ‘agents’ that contribute their expertise towards a specific goal. In the case of San Cristobal, this has led to the transformation of an abandoned space under an overpass, reinventing its use, and converting it to an evocative urban space by and for neighborhood youth and residents: local artists collaborated on murals, and the french architecture group collectif etc collaborated on the design of multifunctional urban furniture. Over the course of the project in the past two years, Basurama has created a network of local non-profits, professional partnerships and industry as resources that have supported the project through funding, donations and expertise. Supporters of the ongoing evolution of the project include the French Consulate, Renault and Matadero Madrid, a local arts center. The community is now managing the programming, use and maintenance of the space with the guidance of Basurama. As part of this programming, the community will host a TEDx event on the site in July 2015. Like its parent, TED’s, mission, the TEDx program supports local organizers who aim to spark conversation about contemporary issues within their own community by providing a TED-like experience of screened talks, live presentations and lively discussion. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, under a free license granted by TED. This CCA travel studio will collaborate on the design, development and construction of the definition of the space for the TEDx event, including a stage and background for projection.

Basurama and Teamlabs, a partner of Mondragon University’s entrepreneurship program, will integrate CCA students into the ongoing conversations about the TEDx project within the community. Students will be exposed to community dialog, entrepreneurial fundraising, collaborative design work-shops, and full-scale construction during their stay while contributing their expertise in design, strategizing and making to a real-world project. The studio deals with urban and architectural issues with regard to it’s full-scale construction aspect, but understands itself as multi-disciplinary in nature.

Title image: TEDx Madrid