New Design Tools of Reference: Common Spaces
New Design Tools of Reference: Common Spaces
NOTE: The next text is part of a number of significant posts I published in that blog, that have been recently translated into english.
I would like to thanks to Josephine Watson for the translation of the texts. I guess, in the near future, to translate some others more regularly and start with the english version of axonometrica.
In that case, the text I publish today is, with others, the seed of a research about a contemporary approach to some key points in architecture we are doing in my studio Archikubik with my partners and architects Carmen Santana and Marc Chalamanch, and also at the University, ESARQ from Universitat Internacional de Catalunya at the final degree design unit with Professor Marta García-Orte. The authory of the text is in partnership with her.
Any comment or suggestion will be very well accepted.
Periods of lamentation usually give way to calm and sometimes even ingenious reflection. Visualising and interpreting the field after the battle kindles thoughts and, in a tumultuous rather than programmed way, triggers new hopes. In both local and global terms, the present situation should promote a rigorous debate about the social use of architecture and the intermediary role played by architects. A few first signs reveal another new projection of the architectural fact designed to get back in tune with a social mass that seems to have turned its back on us, sometimes perhaps even because of us. Starting from what are usually peripheral positions, we could say that new logics of reference seem to intend to reunite architects with their age and their society. In other words, today an occasional situation arises as described by Josep Lluís Mateo in his book Occasions, in which he points out that ‘our works are always opportunities to understand and establish active relationships with the world.'
To revive and question these opportunities is one of the challenges on the table, and we would like to present and share some of the ideas that we are gradually visualising, both in our offices and at university.
In connection with this initial consideration and carrying out a purely instrumental analysis, one of the key issues lies in the obsolescence of the standard tools used in planning architecture. We are not of course referring to the step from pencil to computer, but rather to the intellectual instruments with which architectural thinking is worked out and which will subsequently be more or less specifically accommodated in architectural designs. We are also referring to the hope that, provided with new intellectual tools, we shall once again be able to build a bridge of dialogue with our society, listen to the circumstances of each place and embark on the critical journey incorporated in the genetic code of all architectural projects.
It is not, therefore, a question of operating in terms of categorical positions but rather of weaving markers, conceptual nodes, reflections that call for an inflection in the theoretical bases of architecture and in the valuable suggestions of future projects, whether they be in teaching or in the field of professional building design.
We can establish at least three spheres of disciplinary reflection at the root of which lies the reformulation of our calling to serve society. In following posts we shall announce these moorings that we consider structural.
Common Spaces. The idea of the communal or, in abstract terms, that which unites, that which forms a part of everyone, that which very likely has no specific owner being as it is a resource designed to serve everyone, seems to lie at the heart of the latest thinking, as already mentioned in the post Thoughts on the Everyday published in this blog. Both the title of the Venice Biennale that opened last August, Common Ground, and that of the International Conference of the Architecture and Society Foundation held last June in Pamplona under the title ‘Architecture: The Common’, could lead us to think that the centre of attention is now moving towards a new idea of community, or rather towards a logic of community. Another debate we shall not be entering into here is the depth and relevance of the reflections that surfaced around the Biennale, or the opportunistic nature of some of the projects curated by David Chipperfield. Other authors have succeeded in unmasking certain attitudes more fittingly than we could do here.
We prefer to believe that behind the idea of Common Spaces stands the possibility of reconsidering the rigid limits between public and private space, opening up the discussion of social responsibility over private spaces and the possibility of managing public spaces as efficiently as the former. The idea of the common also involves multi-scaling all large projects to guarantee their social value, i.e., understanding that every architectural project must adapt to the metropolitan, urban and human scales. We could say that all scales partake of the idea of communal space, as does the management of models of urban behaviour. Technology and what is known as ‘the Internet of things,' are causing the Net to extend beyond people—who are already beginning to make a different use of urban space—to things, enabling these to emit and receive information between themselves and between themselves and people. This instrumental revolution is altering the patterns of design thinking of cities, and particularly of common spaces. In other words, it has a direct bearing on the essence of the communal. The notion of the ordinary as opposed to the extraordinary and the idea of the commonplace as opposed to the unusual are also related to the logic of what we have termed common spaces.
Common Spaces: The Community
Over and above these considerations there is an essential debate on the behaviour of cities that for too long now have been resorting to reasonings related more to companies than to communities, which is what they in fact are.
The ability to extract urban resources for meeting an offer, namely mass tourism, oversized designer facilities, megalomanic structures designed to position the city brand relegating citizens to the background is beginning to reveal its obsolescence.
On the other hand, a new interpretation of the idea of the city as community, rooted in the communal, is resurfacing. Over the course of history this new logic of the community has proven its ability to flexibly enjoy a shared resource. In essence, a community shares resources and each of its members makes sure that resources are renewed. Looking after that which is communal is a part of the logic governing the action of a community, whose strategy is organised into ecosystems based on open and emerging standards. In short, the behaviour of a social body structured by the idea of community promotes innovation and the effective solving of conflicts, striving to share the transfer of past experiences, liberating knowledge and furthering collective intelligence.
Common Spaces: The Ordinary
Another notable aspect of the common is its relationship with the ordinary. To quote Enrique Walker, the ordinary ‘includes the architecture that architecture itself excludes.' In essence, the common linked to the idea of the ordinary implies, by definition, a condition of alterity, i.e., it consists of those objects that architecture considers lie outside its territory and against which it defines its limits. In other words and taking these ideas to an extreme, the ordinary is an expression of the distance that architects and certain forms of architecture have established with the things to which society does attach value (at least use value), while aestheticist positions or the desire to sophisticate taste have dissociated the figure of the architect from social aspirations. Another way of understanding the ordinary can be found in the exaltation of the art of the transient, the fleeting and the contingent, as described by Baudelaire and by the Count of Lautréamont, who praised the beauty of the ‘chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table,’ meaning that what is almost vulgar, as a category, can elicit an interpretation of the extraordinary. Something of the sort was put into practice by the Situations way back in the fifties.
The consistency of the ordinary within the sphere of the common can be traced in words that are closer to home; in regarding that which could be considered obvious (and yet, due to an endemic lack of attention, is now cherished and retrievable) as an inherent part of the reflexive tools of architects. Potentially, we are witnessing ordinary events, such as the proliferation of urban gardens, that reveal themselves capable of formulating concepts and strategies (once studied in depth and suitably interpreted them) and enable us to learn from the existing human and urban landscape. In other words, providing ‘an urban condition that has not been preceded by a theory and yet contains sufficient evidence to support one’.
Common Spaces: The Commonplace
So, apparently the sphere of the common is interwoven into everyday rationales and realities as an urban cornerstone, promoting a form of architecture that is closer, more real and as equally ambitious as others, and above all, repositioning people at the heart of the urban-architectural debate. This is something that has no doubt been neglected lately by a desire to stylise and astonish with proposals tat are twisted from the start. We must go back to valuing the specific time and place for everyday issues, the time and place in which projects are established because they offer precisely what society will be demanding in a not too distant future, favouring connection and exchange, revolving around spaces of contact and ordinary life and not hiding deficiencies behind the disguise of the extraordinary and over-unique.
Let’s be clear—apart from certain extreme situations, the chief ambition of architecture should be to provide most of the ordinary buildings (characterised by ordinary programmes and ordinary situations) that make their way into architectural offices with the highest spatial, functional and technical quality. To provide the highest degree of architecture to the slightest of projects; in other words, to avoid disguising social homes, health centres and schools as museums. This doesn’t mean that we should surrender our architectural ambition—quite the opposite in fact, it means focusing our ambition on ordinary projects without perverting them.
Following an obvious fascination with stylistic exercises that are overwhelmingly formal yet often frighteningly devoid of content, it would appear reasonable that Common Spaces should once again chart a complex (contradictory) reality, a reality that is open (indefinite). In turn, it would seem to be appropriate to also reconsider thoughts based on a certain sense of the common, of community understood in the Kantian sense as the reciprocal action between agent and patient. According to Kant, together with inherence and causality, this is one of the three categories of the relationship that leads to the third analogy of experience, also known as the principle of community. To quote the philosopher himself, ‘insofar as they are simultaneous, all substances are in complete communion, that is, in reciprocal action.’
In short, applied to a group of individuals, the idea of community refers to a social body that communicates, that relates to other people and things, sharing, interacting and exchanging; a sort of established common sense that has less power to judge but is able to offer a socially available and distinguished result.
There is nothing better than accepting these ideas as an aspiration to what urban space understood in the sphere of Common Spaces should encompass.
The image in the post comes from our web site www.archikubik.com and shows the extra spaces of each project we design at the office. For us an extra space is the essence of a common space concept. You can find more info in our site.
 Josep Lluís Mateo, Ocasiones, Actar, Barcelona, 2009.
 See the interesting article The Internet of Things, in http://www.networkcultures.org/_uploads/notebook2_theinternetofthings.pdf
 To learn more, see the articles and reasoning of Javier Creus, developed at the consulting company http://ideasforchange.com/
 Enrique Walker, Lo ordinario, Colección Compendios de Arquitectura Contemporánea, Iñaki Ábalos (Dir.), Gustavo Gili, Barcelona, 2010.
 André Comte-Sponville, Dictionnaire Philosophique, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2001.