Ecosistema Urbano is a Madrid based group of architects and urban designers operating within the fields of urbanism, architecture, engineering and sociology. They define their approach with urban social relevance and have used this philosophy to design and implement projects in Norway, Denmark, Spain, Italy, France and China.
The firm was was co founded in 2000 by architects Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo. Since then, Ecosistema Urbano has received more than 30 awards in national and international architecture design competitions and their projects have been exhibited at multiple galleries, museums and institutions.
At the moment, Ecosistema Urbano is working on several urban proposals and their most recent projects include the new building for the Reggio Children Foundation in Reggio Emilia (Italy), an experimental urban playground in Dordrecht (Netherlands), the “Ecopolis Plaza” a waste to resources building on the outskirts of Madrid and the project dreamhamar for Hamar (Norway), a network design project for the redevelopment of the city’s main public space.
Keen to unearth and comprehend the brand’s mantra, we at Home Review sat down with one of the founding partners, Jose Luis Vallejo, for an exclusive interview.
What is the thinking that underscores your work?
We understand architecture has got a very strong social objective. We consider ourselves architects in a broader way (augmented architects) establishing links with sociology, engineerings and urbanism. We define our approach as urban social design by which we understand the design of environments, spaces and dynamics in order to improve self-organization of citizens, social interaction within communities and their relationship with the environment.
We, as architects have the ability to start processes in cities. Urban transformations provoke social transformations and the other way around, so our decisions have a great social impact. For that reason it is interesting and necessary to cooperate with other professionals with different skills and points of view. We may not be able to fix the problems by ourselves, but we certainly can create the conditions for changes to happen.
We see a lot of tall generic energy guzzling buildings forming the major part of contemporary architecture. Is there an alternate solution? Which mega cities according to you are growing right?
We have amazing examples of sustainable urban environments within Mediterranean cities. A compact model that allows its residents to move easily by bike, foot or public transportation within a short time.Barcelona is a very good example of this compact and livable Mediterranean urban environment. During the last decade it has lead a transformation from an ecological perspective thanks to the Barcelona’s Urban Ecology Agency (bcnecologia.net)
Do you think architects who have the important task of shaping a sensible forward-looking architecture can follow a path of eco-stewardship?
We believe the architect’s work in the city is a statement and from that point of view our work should be didactic promoting a more respectful attitude towards urban environment. We are interested in urban contexts, where small proposals are able to generate big transformations and improve the urban complexity.
From this perspective, it is important to pay attention to the management of resources to make the existing urban tissue more efficient. Urban regeneration processes should be taken into consideration: green areas and biodiversity, water, energy, wastes, noise and air quality, mobility, environmental education and public participation.
We look at a city as a playground: an enjoyable experience for children and adults, a surprising catalyst able to generate new responses from users and able to stimulate creativity.
Are there specific architects (living or dead) whose work has had a particularly significant influence on your designs?
At this moment, we find inspiring initiatives from other disciplines more dynamic than Architecture. The developers of creative commons concept, linux, wikipedia, free software, open source, etc…These kind of initiatives are transforming the world in all senses and we are exploring the best way to incorporate those concepts in our discipline and the work we produce.
Are people (clients) these days ready to experiment with their personal spaces if it means being environment friendly and getting houses that are more energy efficient?
I would say that my main concern is about architects more than the clients.A good building design guarantees a better life for its users and a lower maintenance cost for its whole life, which also makes it more economically efficient. There is also a very close relationship between architecture and the quality of public space linked to it, this relationship impacts the quality of life for citizens, as well as social sustainability. Sustainability deals with all human activity. It is not just a concept of energy – it has to do with environment, as well as social and economic issues. Therefore, a responsible design from the energy standpoint – a bioclimatic building – is not enough. Many practices are just focused on the energy issue; we are also concerned about all the other aspects such as social, economy, mobility, and so on.
How much of your work is based on sustainable architecture?
The management of resources is crucial. Sustainability is all about that. We always try to push things beyond, being really persistent when we believe in something. You have to be very hard working, optimistic and full of energy. We don’t believe in universal principles, we believe more in small temporary truths that push us to move…Think big, start small, act now.
We find very appealing the waste-to-resource kind of projects. That is a contemporary challenge in which architects have a lot to say. For instance we designed a project for the city of Maribor in Slovenia that was about the transformation of a former landfill into an urban development.
Sustainability is also linked to innovation, and innovation is related to the way the own working process is conceived. You cannot be really innovative if you don’t even question your own creation methodology. We like to experiment in that way and try different tools…although sometimes success is not reached. The method is more risky, but if you success you have created a new path.
We are now exploring innovation in our production through concepts such as networking, creative commons and open source. We are researching how these concepts affect our work, incorporating new values beyond the established parameters. We are also trying to innovate by using new tools and materials in our practice, which are more related to other disciplines/contexts, for instance communication tools for citizen participation.
Compiled By Mala Bajaj