The Design of Tactics: research challenges
Design is not always an action performed to solve problems but also for setting questions. This assumption emerged as central in the research the team of architects from the Politecnico di Milano carried out for the en/counter/points project on practices for public spaces reactivation.
The original working programme consisted of a preliminary exploration of the current approaches through on-field visits aimed at studying reconverted spaces, and a series of interviews with experts and practitioners to collect their experiences.
The researchers intended to investigate the perceived and actual impacts of participatory practices, interactive cultural activities, activism, and appropriations in and of public spaces on individuals, society, culture, and communal space. The plan included meeting many people, getting in touch with local communities, travelling.
Seven of the best European groups specialised in these types of interventions accepted to collaborate and reveal highlights regarding the hidden process behind their most important projects and the criticalities they faced: Construct Lab, Orizzontale, Atelier Mob, Colectivo Warehouse, ConstructLab, Collectif Etc, and Bruit du frigo.
December 10th, 2019: Francesca Gotti interviewed the team from ConstructLab in their studio, in Berlin, Urbanstraße 64.
January 24th, 2020: Francesca and Jacopo Leveratto met and interviewed Stefano Ragazzo from Orizzontale in Milan.
January 29th, 2020: Francesca interviewed Tiago Moita Saraiva from Ateliermob at Casa dell’Architettura, Piazza M. Fanti 47 in Rome.
Mascha Fehse and Alexander Römer in ConstructLab studio during the interview. Photo © Francesca Gotti.
Then the pandemic came, and it came right when the programme was getting intense and the research team was planning the forthcoming phase consisting of a workshop with a design action on the field. People, suddenly, had to quarantine, self-isolate, and apply physical and social distancing, which is opposite to the scope of the type of intervention at the core of this research project.
What to do?
The initial motto unfolds our spirit: design is not always an action performed to solve problems but also for setting questions. Experimental research in architecture entails adopting an even more open, prompt, and creative approach to face even unpredictable challenges.
The impossibility of launching a design participatory action suggested concentrating on questions: what makes a neglected site suitable for a revitalising project? How can a micro-scale intervention create opportunities for human encounters and cultural interaction? How to approach and involve local communities in a tactical project? And then, how to continue to engage people after the action?
These questions are at the heart of the everyday work of the groups we interviewed. Still, we wondered if other, maybe unconsidered, issues could emerge from younger talents. An international call for project titled EN/COUNTER/POINTS Design Ideas Competition was therefore launched with the hope to collect fresh, cutting edge ideas for enhancing small, marginal urban areas worldwide, and at the same time compare different cultural approaches to the theme of inhabiting public spaces.
Homepage of the ENCOUNTERPOINTS Design Ideas Competition. https://www.encounterideas.polimi.it/
The EN/COUNTER/POINTS Design Ideas Competition was conceived as an open procedure, inviting architects and prospective architects, urban planners, designers, landscape designers, creatives, activists, and postgraduate (BA) students to redesign and (re)activate neglected and marginal urban spaces to promote a more resilient, cohesive, and equal future for cities. Moreover, the competition and related communication and dissemination also aimed to broaden public discourse about tactical urbanism, participation in public spaces, and the construction of a sense of belonging.
The process of writing the call was itself a test.
A dedicated website was launched in March 2021 to support the communication of the competition and offer inspirational material for prospective participants or people interested in the topic. A section of the website was dedicated to reference materials divided into thematic categories: “interviews”, which are written excerpts from interviews with the experts involved in the preliminary phase of the research; “talks”, with videos from seminars and recorded interviews; “articles” and “websites.”
A clear, strong lettering logotype and a vibrant graphic design were adopted for visibility and to make the different communication formats uniform.
The competition was officially launched with a public online seminar on April 30th, 2021 with the participation of people from Construct Lab, Orizzontale, Atelier Mob, Colectivo Warehouse, ConstructLab, Collectif Etc, who were members of the jury. A second seminar on October 29th, 2021 hosted by the Politecnico di Milano and simultaneously transmitted online, presented the four awarded projects and officially opened the online permanent exhibition.
First Prize Project: #05. La piazza è… (The Square Is…), Specchia, Italy.
Maria Bagnati, Alessandro Leonel Medina Bocanegra, Rocco Sebastiano Pagnoni.
Awarded Project: #04. Vegetate and Illuminate the Square, Bogotà, Colombia.
Daniela Escamilla Ospina.
Awarded Project: #10. A Democratic Leisure Infrastructure: The Beach, Valencia, Spain.
Andrés Mayans Ferrer.
Awarded Project: #12. Estação popular! Águeda, Portugal
Beatrice Barone, Alexandre Curopos
The initiative was fruitful. New questions emerged, stimulating further considerations: what does low-budget intervention mean? What do we intend with temporary/short-term actions? What does “inclusiveness” means, related to an urban public space?
The whole research experience is condensed in the book “The Design of Tactics: Critical Practices for Public Space Re-Activation”. The volume presents the process and initial outcomes of the Polimi’s team three-year investigation into the design of tactical interventions reports the interviews, critical contributions by researchers and a synthesis of the awarded projects.
The competition website will remain online, at https://www.encounterideas.polimi.it/