I was last month in my lovely Buenos Aires again. I wrote an article over an exchange program regarding design & sustainable development I’m working on. I share it here:
The big challenge!
The environmental challenges of Buenos Aires are quite the same as years ago but getting worse every year because of climate change effects. On top of the rapid growth in population (slums). Reboratti (argentinean environmental scientist) in a recent interview, described 4 important interrelated, environmental problems to work on:
1. The solid waste (in Buenos Aires we produce 1 kilo of trash per person per day)
2. The contamination of rivers and canals.
3. The contamination and lack of biodiversity in our farming landscape and how this is negatively modifying our natural landscape.
4. The lack of awareness among the population.
Next to this, the social and health problems (not listed here) remain a big challenge as the slums in the city have grown 50% in the last 9 years.
Fortunately, there are initiatives and people taking action to implement change in many sectors. Here below are some examples of these type of people (friends and new contacts) I met while on my trip.
El CheLA, A77, m7red..
In Buenos Aires City, I had the opportunity to talk to Gustavo Dieguez and Lucas Gilardi from A77 as well as, Mauricio Corbalan and Pio Torroja from m7red. Their work shows a discovery of new role for architects. One that tries to contribute to society’s challenges.
I was invited to the initiative ‘El gran Aula’ of A77 in collaboration with cheLA Foundation. The project is an event-installation of wood modules (classrooms) that are set up at the local ‘Plaza’ (in this case, plaza Parque Patricios). Each module offers people an ‘open school idea’ around different topics: photography, design, music and meals.
If you want to learn more check these links:
El Gran Aula
Centro Cultural Nomade at Proa
El CheLA is a great initiative started by Fabian Wagmister. It hosts different social enterprises like Ashoka, Socialab, Njambre, A77 and more.
Having a coffee in the beautiful Bar Celta, Mauricio Corbalan, from m7red and involved in GarageLAB, explained the project “que pasa riachuelo?”. This is a cross-sector research and pollution- information -mapping. It represents a milestone in Argentinan environmental history: it is the first pollution Supreme Court lawsuit, initiated by citizens. Its judgement must be fulfilled by the three governments: the National, Buenos Aires province and Buenos Aires City.
I talked shortly with Paula Cardenau from Njambre, with Matias Kelly from Ashoka and with Jorge (Yoyo) Riva from Socialab. They are working to empower and scale social enterprises from the business sector.
I visited my friend architect Mederico Faivre, and he showed me the great building renovation work they are doing in the Unqui (Universidad de Quilmes). They were able to recycle 7800 tons of metal of the old textile factory.
Beside the building, the Unqui has an interesting program ‘extending the university to the community’. They have a workshop program where people (that have no access to education) can learn a practical job, predominately a craft activity: carpenter, sewing, etc. I see much opportunities to fulfil these programs with design activities, involving designers and other disciplines as well to make more impact for the local community. We will work out a collaborative program to make this happen.
Read more about the Unqui programs here
CEP goes on
It was nice to see Carlos Levinton as well from the CEP (FADU) after many years. They are working with the concept of eco-centros in different places in the province of Buenos Aires. He explained la ruca technologica, a project they did in the south of the country in collaboration with many people (Ingeniero Jacobacci, Rio Negro) and financed by the National government in 2013. It was the collaborative construction of a cultural eco-centre with volcanic ash. They made a publication with manuals that show among other things, how to build a dry toilette, solar kitchens and grow native endangered plant sort.
It would be interesting to know how they continue sharing these technologies nowadays as I understood it was only a one time project.
There is much more…
I met as well architect Martin Zaitch. He is working as a freelance architect for the local government and most interesting is his architecture work in the slums.
I got an invitation to assist to an event of Proyecto Habitar en la FADU, great initiative, but I didn’t have time! I would like to visit them in the next trip.
As well as Project Ciudad Roca Negra of Ariel Jacubovich! More in spanish here
Buenos Aires City
I see Buenos Aires City still with so many challenges to give address! For instance in my old neighbourhood, San Telmo, there is much to do!
I was happy to experience some encouraging improvements:
Biking the city!
One of the improvements is the bike circuit the ‘bici senda’. They have extended the circuit. Each time more people are using it. It is not the most pollution free city to bike around yet. And so there is much to do in the city to make it healthier. There is more awareness of pollution and this bike circuit is definitely a good start!
Eco Bici Buenos Aires
Also nice project of photograph Enrico Fantoni, BiciBA that shows how biking is expanding.
‘La Usina del Arte’ is an industrial monument building recovered last year. The citizens gained Museum and Cultural Center from this old factory Usina from the Italo electric company.
The recovery of this monument building is part of a plan to integrate the abandoned southern sector with the city center. The building is very well restored. Simple and effective reminds me of the Tate Gallery in London. What better for Buenos Aires than a place to house the highly talented local artists! Well done! Bien hecho!
Another nice example of social-urban restoration, still in the planning phase, is Puente Alsina.
The local government will recover another forgotten building, Alsina Bridge. Their aim is social integration through cultural activities, like a circus school, learning to make the local musical instruments bandoneon and schools for facade restoration!
Read more in spanish here.
The city government also implemented a farming school program.
I see there are great efforts, but I also see the need of connecting these programs with other sectors and disciplines and the local community, in order to include these activities as daily habits.
Conclusions and opportunities
1 There is need of an integrated vision on the current challenges.
2 The need of design and space for practicing a new profession for instance in architecture, urbanism.
3 Integration of disciplines and sectors in the solutions (public, private, academy/science, ngo’s)
4 Longer term planning, projects that continue to grow over time. This is an opportunity for adaptable and repetitive systems.
5 In general ,there is not much awareness about the blue / circular economy.(see link) There is much to do to spread the knowledge with practical examples and working pilots.
1 Solid waste
is still a big challenge as most of the waste goes to landfill. The law Basura Cero has not been successful. The quantity of plastic bags and short-life packaging is huge. I think that part of the solution could be to regulate (stop!) the use of plastic, and start producing bags with materials that don’t pollute the environment in their production process and gain value as well being used as fertilizers and compostable materials).
The City government has achieved charging money for plastics bags in supermarkets. That is a solution in “thinking in doing ‘less bad’,” but alas, this is not solving the source of the problem. I know it is not easy to removed a large oil product industry, but don’t you think it’s time to promote healthy industries and circular business?!
Some good news: In the University of Buenos Aires a group of scientists developed a organic cleaning system using specific mushrooms that clean the sewers of paper and textile industries
Read more in spanish here!!! : )
2 Buenos Aires performances rock!
Art and culture (mainly theatre, music, dance) are unique added values of the City! Wonderful how much high quality and quantity of art is available in This City! The question that I ask myself is “isn’t there a way to apply this amazing talent to address the environmental and social challenges”
3 Integrating design with never before combined disciplines
Good work from the City Government is for instance the vegetable garden programs in basic schools. Well done. Bien Hecho!
The next step will be the opportunity to involve other actors in the project to make it more ‘realistic’, and turn it into a community out reach program.. If we could relate this project with the neighbourhood, including professional gardens, each school in connexion with a restaurant that harvest their production. Imagine mobile dinning-rooms/vegetable gardens that integrate art and food.!!! Yum! Here we could generate impact in the community and create awareness regarding healthy food, waste=food, circular natural cycles.
Social Design Strategies
Since 2004 I change the direction of my profession, from being a full time architect that worked in different kind of construction commissions to be a social strategy developer, working together with different stakeholders to develop projects that create value in many aspects, value for the local community, for the people and companies involved in the project and for the environment. I didn’t quite completely my activities as architect. I use my design skills to co-create products and spaces to achieve more impact implementing these social strategies. Some examples are the Exhibition of Desycling Amsterdam in 2008 or Van Recycling tot Redesign in 2006.
The design of social strategies is intensive and heartwarming work. It is not about making a plan from the studio, but it is about making a plan together with many participants. Going out and talk with many people. It requires much listening, empathy, and team work. I believe this kind of work will be more and more common in the future, as we are switching from ego designers ‘that come with the fantastic solution’ to facilitators, activators of change. Check projects labeled as ‘social design’ to learn more about these strategies.
We need to develop many social and psychological skills in order to implement social design strategies successfully. The secret is to be open and willing to develop skills that you even never before imagine you will develop. I believe the best way to learn is willing to learn, and by doing it. It is like being mother, nobody teaches you how to be a good mother. It is a matter of willing and feeling. If you really want to become a great mother or father and start asking yourself ‘how’ questions during the process, you will be always in the right path!
In the next years I will focus myself on transferring knowledge & experience (even more than in the past) to young professionals. Letting them the space to learn, facilitating the social design process in the practice. If you want to know more about the plans and if you are interested in this subject, feel free to contact me, there is much to do!