As Unit A descended on Madrid for our field trip the fast paced world of architecture was quite literally translated to inform the determined stride we embarked upon. There was less of the drifting ‘dérive’ approach (despite perhaps the accidental trespassing incident) one might have expected, so whilst legs and feet may have not thanked us for it, it did mean we managed to see a lot in the brief time we had. Plus the walking was interspersed with chances for ‘rest’ as multiple opportunities for play revealed themselves throughout the city.
Despite the playful approach it was definitely educational and by each being allocated a building beforehand it meant we were collectively prepared for what was in store. This meant we had an understanding of the concept and aims of the architecture and our preconceptions could be tested. We all had the opportunity to directly hear the design process of one of the projects we would be visiting as on the second day we were fortunate to be invited into the practice of Ecosistema Urbano. We were given a presentation of their recent projects and design philosophy. With a focus on urbanism and sustainability, they have an interest in public involvement in order to provide platforms for participation and creativity that are beneficial both socially and environmentally.
The following day we visited their project entitled ‘Eco Boulevard’. Situated within the ordered surroundings of recently master planned Pau de Vallecas, Eco Boulevard is an example where the architect’s control is passed over to the users allowing them to appropriate the space. As a platform for public expression and response it encourages active participation of local residents but also exists as a desirable location attracting interest from the wider context. The project arose out of necessity to ‘solve’ the existing which means its affects are limited because change possibly cannot be induced on the fixed housing, whereas conceptually as an initiator of growth in the area it provides a strong model of change and development in the city. Initially the Eco Boulevard was designed to be temporary, aiming to encourage urban growth until no longer required, however has since gained monument status. This rather detracts from the aim that the growth and change from the installation would expand and shift to the whole area in order for it to adapt and evolve of its own accord. However, the structures of the Eco Boulevard certainly allowed us to temporarily gain control of the space and produced a sense of freedom and interaction, similar only to that achieved by the play equipment in the Madrid Rio.
Other highlights of the trip included the Na Sa de Guadalupe Church of which initial disappointment of its closure instantly vanished when access became available through the adjacent building. Descending allowed us to emerge directly inside the church where we were met by the stunning atmosphere created by the light through coloured stained glass on every wall. The UNED Escuelas Pías Biblioteca, a church converted into a library, was also a collective feature, the high level of detail and consideration allowed the new and existing to feel equal rather than disparate elements. The field trip allowed us a full on inspirational fix to start this term with and gratitude goes to Colin and Carsten for organising this fantastic experience and to Ibstock for subsidising the trip and Ken and Dale for accompanying and sharing with us our unit adventure.