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Thinking Outside The Blocks

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Thinking Outside The Blocks

Nik Vandewyngaerde, Jaron Vanooteghem, Emiel Swinnen and Joachim Mertens

[ PROLOGUE ] Studio Supereixample acts as a collective think-thank, reflecting upon the urban condition before, during and aEer the transformation of El Poblenou. We’re convinced that, despite the absence of direct links between projects, every vision embodies corresponding ideas and concepts, based on a similar analysis of the urban tissue. Based on a common question, a different vision is proposed every time, clearly defined and still flexible enough for reflection and feedback. The variety of sites allows us to propose answers on multiple levels and scales, addressing the district of El Poblenou as a whole.

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[ AMBITION ] This project doesn’t want to be a fully-developed masterplan, but an ambition which tries to conceive a way in which a city, on every level and scale, should transform in space and time. How can an urban vision act, so the city can ensure a qualitative environment to work and live in? Interventions and small projects will try to evidence our vision, operating within a flexible timeframe and guaranteeing new perspectives for the future.

[ STRATIFICATION ] El Poblenou has a very interesting morphological stra:fica:on, which has crystallized through time. Originally a historic grid formed on the borders of the Pere IV, a street which ensured the connection between Barcelona and France. The parcels, which were mostly used for agriculture, were implemented perpendicularly. The arrival of the new grid by Cerda in 1859 imposed a tight, rational grid upon the historic tissue. The ambivalence created by this double layered tissue is still highly tangible in El Problenou today. The Superilles-plan introduces the next transformation, where a more sustainable city is persued by restraining its mobility. Contemporary tendencies are slowly erasing the tilted grid, which has more and more trouble showing itself. This historic layer keeps on shrinking because of the large economic shiE and population growth. The rapid development in the area is most of the time ensured by projects like 22@, where multiple parcels are bought at once in order to build new residential towers and office buildings. The former industrial identity of El Poblenou is still present today, but oEen neglected, dilapidated and abandoned. In this diversity of functions, building heights and typologies lies an alternative urbanity, which in the past used to shape and will shape again, the character of this district.

[ PICKING SIDES ] We aim to highlight the tilted grid as an expression of the historic city. The resilience of this tissue deserves a chance to survive and to be a surplus for the whole neighborhood. The new Superilles-plan can serve as a catalyst to unlock the potential energy of this stratification, and to make it resistant to external influences. The implementation of this plan as a new game- changing factor in this already complex layered structure should be dealt with carefully. The Superilles-plan has to be the hinge between the tilted and the Cerda-grid by questioning today’s urban condition. In this strategy, the historic, spatial and social context are fundamental for the development of a sustainable vision on a metropolitan scale.

[ GENTRIFICATION ] The transformation of Poblenou is not unique. Similar changes can be found in other major cities, all over the world. OEen they go hand in hand with the neglect of lower social classes, pushing them out of the gentrified districts. Gentrification is omnipresent and has a dual connotation: on one side parcels and housing get privatized and the introduction of fancy coffee bars and hip exhibition spaces cause market prizes to rise. On the other hand some small businesses and clandestine processes, oEen an important economical driving force for an area, are repressed. Initiatives like ‘community land trust’ could serve as a solution for multiple generations. In this way buying the land with common ownership, and not allowing any speculation. We think clandestine activities and small scale businesses should be able to stay low-profile, but can be organized in a subtle way, creating a structure for them to function in.

 

FRAME SPACE AND TIME AS ONE UNDERSTANDING

[ WORK FRAME ] Borders are always defined by their content. We’ll focus on an area undergoing a lot of pressure and enclosed by multiple parties. The area used to be a vibrant, productive and economic hotspot for the city, but nowadays multinationals and investors are preying on every part of vacant space. Until now the parcels were divided irregular and arbitrary, because of the historic underlayer. This disobedient anomaly in the Cerda-grid survived through time, and will be the supporting backbone of our urban strategy. Small interven:ons are perpendicularly aligned on the central axis, the Pere IV, and implemented in leE-over spaces and abandoned buildings. The projects differ in function, typology and scale, aiming to represent what this kind of urbanity could be.

[ CIRCULAR CITY ] The challenge of our strategy shapes the resistance against the typical way of planning, where profit oEen forms the main idea. Focus on small scale development, experiments and the historic iden:ty are needed to create a durable vision. El Poblenou presents itself as a perfect playground for urban circular thinking. A circular way of thinking shouldn’t only be applied to manage waste, but also on urban morphology and buildings. These are brought back into cycle by renewing their typology, which makes them more independent and resilient. With these small interventions, we aim to change the resistance of the urban tissue on a global level, standing strong against tendencies like gentrification and 22@.
[ PHASING ] An urban transformation is executed in different stages in :me. We want to emphasize this project won’t be developed instantly. Our strategy keeps a goal in mind, where every step takes the project closer to its destination. The transformation of a city is an infinite process without a well- defined start or end. This urban project tries to be more like a process. Each project aims to react on what’s needed, and because needs change in :me, they should be able to interact with each other, adapting to new influences. The completion of one phase can serve as a catalyst for a new one, even between different projects.

[ SUPERILLES-PLAN ] The implementation of the Superilles-plan makes sure this transformation can be executed. It offers an alternative and opportunity to revive the tilted grid. This can be fulfilled on two levels. Creating statements by doing the exact opposite of Cerda by superimposing the tilted grid back on the Cerda-grid in strategic places. Besides that, interventions should be designed to define the new vacant space, created by shiEing mobility to big axes. In this way the historic tissue becomes more armed, more resistant and impossible to neglect in the future.

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PRODUCTION URBAN FORESTATION AND PUBLIC PROCESS

[ PRODUCTION SPINE ] As a historical important axis the Pere IV is threatened to lose its meaning. With the arrival of the ‘Superilles’ plan, the mobility function will be shiEed to new traffic axes. Instead of trying to fill up this vacancy with functions and structure, we plan on foresting this vacancy. The forestation system accumulates and transforms vacant property as well as under-used infrastructure into an adaptive and productive urban forest. This will mark the tilted Pere IV as a sign of resistance, a continuous spine empowered by multiple projects connecting to it. We shouldn’t program the city, but process the city. The process will be fed with vibrant life and movement supported by reused tilted buildings and warehouses. It can be a local process providing leisure and work for the people, bringing them back together. The project obtains value through time. The process is continuous and not everything will happen suddenly. In some areas asphalt needs to be scraped off, holes need to be drilled and topography needs to be created.

[ PRODUCTION FORESTATION ] This is a fast growing forestation type, which is more dense and has a limited diversity in :me. It has economic and timber purposes, because it approximately needs 5 years to cultivate. In this case we use the lombardian black poplar as locally inspired type of tree. AEer five years you will obtain durable wood, which can be used for furniture and construction, addressing the other functions generated next to the Pere IV. Due to the density it can also be used as a shelter belt forestation next to the new mobility streets, cancelling the noise. It is important to notice that the production lines will start in different phases, therefore wood can be harvested constantly.

[ SPONTANEOUS FORESTATION ] This kind of forestation uses different species of trees that allow other diversity. They are planted in multiple densities which will define space and circulation. Thanks to this principal the public functions on the Pere IV will have a more enjoyable space. Towards the transportation roads we expect more noise and carbon emission, resulting in a different topography and a higher density of trees. Sometimes the forest spreads out into the ligle alleys and open spaces next to the Pere IV, extending its influence. Inspired by the Barcelona tradition trees are used like the Siberian elm, Cel:s australis, Kurrjong and platan. All the trees are season dependent, which brings a feeling of constant change on the Pere IV.

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[ CULTIVATION FORESTATION ] This is a kind of production forestation which spreads further than the Pere IV. This type centers in the glasshouses which are plugged in on the Pere IV as part of the whole proces. Some examples of them are apple trees, orange trees, berry bushes, banana trees and more. All these processes do not only aim for a more sustainable city, but also try to intervene in the socio-economic issues of the area.

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EDUCATION ENVIRONMENT FOR CRAFTSMANSHIP

[ SOCIAL INTERVENTION ] Barcelona has an unemployment rate of more then 20% and even 40% for young people. In El Poblenou numbers are even higher, desperately asking for a solution. Projects like 22@ are nevertheless offering jobs, but are oEen to techno-centered, only agracting well- educated people from outside the district. As a reaction we propose a project which offers a place were people can learn craEs like woodworking, mechanics, welding and more.

[ REVITALISATION ] An abandoned warehouse, deeply embedded in an old Cerda block, next to the Pere IV, provides a perfect location. The Labourschool is a hidden organism inside an outwards facing block only accessible through small passageways. Moreover the parcels are leEovers from the old industrial tilted grid. At first we will open up an old passage formally used as an hangar to restore this former connection. By removing an old shed between the passage and the warehouse, we create a small square functioning as an outdoor extension of the school.

[ ONE WORKPLACE ] The school itself keeps its industrial facade on the southside blocking the strong mediterranean sunlight and opens up it facade and shed roofs on the northside allowing soE light to enter. A large set of stairs is put in together with some open spaces cukng through the different levels, and connecting the school as a whole. The sounds of welding at ground level will be heard in the woodshed on the third level. The building will be adaptable and become a vibrant space where people can come, learn, work together, creating more opportunities.

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HOUSING MAKING A STATEMENT

[ THE WALL ] A large vacant space can be found in the heart of El Poblenou, bounded on one side by a tilted line. Unfortunately the previous buildings were torn down for 22@ and new high-rise, partly erasing the historic tilted grid. This former passage used to be strongly connected to the Pere IV acting as one of the main arteries towards the Gloriès-square. Nowadays this connection is invisible and the passage-like way of living is gone. In this project we aim to revive this urban form and strengthen it for the future. With the implementation of the Superilles-plan, the adjacent street won’t be used by traffic anymore, allowing us to make a statement and impose the tilted grid upon Cerda’s. Inspired by parts of the remaining building wall, we define a wall as the catalyst for further development. By doing this we don’t only close the Cerda street, but also mark the passage as a gateway between the recyclage facility and labourschool.

[ STRATEGIC BLOCKS ] By strategically planning the construction of the houses, the interruption of the street and start of the passage can be strengthened. The first buildings will become anchors for the next ones, creating clusters and completing the project. By alternating the width and depth of the buildings, we don’t only highlight this small-scale development, but also design a large variation of typologies as co-working, work-living, apartment and houses. At the rear, the blocks all have different depths creating open and intimate places and generate a view towards the open space.

[ CRICITAL MASS ] The goal is to restore the quali:es of living in a passage instead of next to a Cerda-street, a quality that nowadays only can be found in old El Poblenou. New housing will bring back the life and people to the passages, ensuring it will keep its meaning over time. The project also incorporates the idea of ‘community land trust’, where a central organization buys the land and people can build on it. Those people don’t own the land, but are safe from speculation and excessive land price rise. In this way we would like to give a chance to larger families or people of modest means to live in this area.

Interview

Who influences you graphically?

Every project is unique and is approached differently, therefor the way we graphically represent our work will differ. Often we ask ourselves what the image in question wants to express, and if the technique we’re using succeeds in doing so. This means we we are constantly looking for new projects and ways to represent architecture in order to broaden our own graphic perspective. Lately some Belgian offices like Bas Smets, Architecture Workroom Brussels, Office KGDVS have caught our attention. Additionally we’re still young and like to experiment a lot with new techniques, programs etc.

To what extent does the proposal’s clarity rely on both the perspective views as well as the typical axo/plan/section?

A vision for a very large urban area is not easily explained and by using only words it will be difficult to succeed. Sometimes a simple map of the site will do just fine explaining the basics, where in other cases you can incorporate a lot of information into just one axonometric view without losing the general overview for the projects it supports. We very much enjoy using a kind of ‘layerdness’ in our images and perspectives than meets the eye at first. For example in the sections also a chronological view is employed, next to the normal lineair spatial frame. We tried to express our point of view by being very straightforward, clearly defining what we want to show and what kind of visual material would do the job.

You talk about a connective link between projects in relation to site, to what extent can this be expanded to a larger scale and talk about architectural practice as one great big continuum?

We envisioned a strategy for Barcelona El Poblenou and the proposed architectural projects aim to prove this vision. You could see this as a kind of ‘slim fit’ for the site we were working on. It has been created specifically for the unique urban tissue of this quarter, and therefor can’t just work elsewhere. We’re convinced that approaching architecture on its large scale as well as on a much more subtle small scale is necessary in order to come up with an architectural answer that makes sense. In our case, we chose to focus on the inherent morphologic and socio-economic qualities and use them as a guideline for all the smaller architectural interventions. By referring to the project as more of a general strategy, the implementation on the smaller scale gains a degree of freedom. This allows other architects to easily understand what’s at stake in Poblenou, step in with their own projects and fill in the figurative gaps we’ve left open. In a way it is a bit envisioning the architectural practice as one big continuum, instead of all doing our own separate thing.

What is your take on the hyper realistic render?

We choose not to use hyper realistic renderings in our projects, mostly because they don’t coincide with the story we want to tell. We like to see our images more as realistic collages, created with textures, pictures and narrative elements we gathered ourselves when we visit the project locations and glued together using mainly photoshop. By doing so the projects depicted within those images don’t ask to be implemented exactly in that way and keep there imaginative freedom. Hyper realistic renders are aiming for the opposite, and are therefor not that useful for the way we like to address architectural projects.

What is your work process in terms of programs used? 

For the visualizations we often use SketchUp as the basis for the geometry and the general perspective of the image. Sometimes V-ray is used to generate a realistic shadow and texturing, but most of the work is done using Photoshop. The isometric/axonometric drawings are made using Autocad and are later on processed in Photoshop.

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