Organic Urbanism Studio

The 2016 University of Calgary Architecture Term-Abroad Program in Barcelona studio course, with architect and professor Arturo Frediani as invited Guest Professor, aimed to simulate an organic urbanization process. The entire class of 23 students had to collectively design an urban plan while simultaneously having to design clusters of houses in teams of five or six, and individual live-work patio houses for themselves. Class work, team work, and individual work had to be carried out simultaneously. The site that was selected, La Font de la Guatlla, on Montjuïc, lies on a steep hillside above a modern neighbourhood and below a park built for the 1992 Olympic Games. Ruins on the site reveal the existence of a shantytown in the pre-Olympic era.

C:UserscarmeDownloadsCiutat Vella - Montjuic Model (1)

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In order to lay the groundwork for the studio, a Collective Site Appropriation Workshop was organized in which four teams, each equipped with a fixed length of boundary tape, stakes, and a sledgehammer, were required to physically lay claim to a plot of land within the site upon which they would design their house clusters.

Collective site appropriation

Collective Site Appropriation Workshop

Communal spaces –streets and paths as well as a public space– also had to be planned, requiring the four teams to negotiate easements and land swaps. Once the lengths of boundary tapes were in the finally agreed upon position, the students had effectively drawn a preliminary urban plan at full scale directly on the site. Positions of the stakes were surveyed so that, back in the studio, property lines of each team and communal rights of ways could be drawn up, and the complete site modelled three-dimensionally.

The total amount of land per team, as well as the area of the complete site (nearly 8000 m2), were purposely limited in order to simulate scarcity and stimulate a degree of density and complexity. Property lines of individual houses, along with siting and massing, had to be negotiated within each team. The site that was provided was very steep (40º average), providing an added challenge that pays tribute to the ingenuity of Barcelona’s barraques: informal settlements built by immigrants from southern Spain on steep hillsides that were usually the only land available.

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1:200 working site model of the urbanization at an early stage

Rather than merely seeking formal inspiration from informal urbanism, this studio actually set out to practice it by simulating a process that results in such urbanism. This meant the urban design could not be authored by any single planner, and that the students would each have to play the role of a land squatter. Resolving low-level conflicts thus formed part of the studio process, especially given the limitations of the site and the challenge posed by having to design an urban plan collectively.

Urban and architectural designs inevitably went through all sorts of iterations as part of an ongoing negotiation process that lasted most of the term. These iterations eventually resulted in a genuinely organically designed neighbourhood that involved no single-author, no algorithm, and thankfully no fisticuffs.

Students: Carolyn Andrews, Jennifer Bassett, Dustin Braun, Madeleine Chu, Noah Covington-Jarvis, John Ferguson, Anne Gorsalitz, Charlea Greig, Karolina Hanula, Nicholas Heathcott, Braden Horner, Jubril Idowu, Christina James, Stephanie Karpuk, Jayde King, Cody Kupper, Janine Law, Carson Long, Cassandra Milford, Francesco Petrisano, Jordan Polanski, Amanda Vanderzee, Kalie Widmer.

[More can be read about this studio –specifically with respect to Arturo Frediani’s theory of Evolutionary Aesthetics of Architecture– by downloading this PDF (in Spanish)]

cluster evolution

Evolution of a cluster

Urban evolution

Evolution of the site

Final urban plan

Final “Nolli Plan” of the urbanization

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1:200 working model of the urbanization

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Visualization of a cluster of houses from outside

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Visualization of a cluster from within

John Ferguson

Student John Ferguson’s house

Kalie Widmer

Student Kalie Widmer’s house

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About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture, CIEE Architecture and Design program, as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

One comment

  1. Pingback: ‘Organic Urbanism via Collective Site Appropriation’ | Rafael Gómez-Moriana

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