30-11-2021

RE-THINKING URBAN PUBLIC SPACES

JAJA Architects,

Public Buildings, Architecture and Culture,

Perhaps never before as in this period the city has been at the center of the unanimity of reflections and re-evaluations, partly caused by the need to find adaptive strategies facing climate change and migratory flows, and partly due to a pandemic that has shaken certainties, questioning life and work’s usual practices.



<strong>RE-THINKING URBAN PUBLIC SPACES</strong>
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Perhaps never before as in this period the city has been at the center of the unanimity of reflections and re-evaluations, partly caused by the need to find adaptive strategies facing climate change and migratory flows, and partly due to a pandemic that has shaken certainties, questioning life and work’s usual practices. The efficient and rational city, determined by the rigid principles of modernism, has revealed many dysfunctions and finding new and more flexible ways is probably one of the greatest urgencies required by the research projected towards a sustainability, intended as capability to adapt and react with less vulnerability to unexpected situations. The long isolation, that we have been forced to confront, has highlighted deficiencies and, above all, shown how much the availability of a collective and inclusive dimension was missed, necessities proven by the many 'unscheduled' areas become settings for unforeseen activities by users. There are many spaces that have seen a spontaneous appropriation, helping within limitations of the restrictions to release pressure or to organize small extemporaneous convivial events.
 
In the increasingly densified contemporary city, an architecture that knows how to guarantee new forms of typology summarizing and proposing a multiplicity of uses has undeniable advantages, not only for alleviating the excessive compactness of the urban fabric, but also by encouraging greater porosity and permeability towards the community.  Besides helping to contain a progressive and excessive expansion and limit that famous 'soil consumption' at the expense, for example, of small or large green lungs, so vital for the residents’ daily life, many of these new hybrid spaces have the potential to transform into social condensers, reserving public areas and fulfilling a number of requests, from housing and work to recreational and cultural, without taking into account the unplanned, unexpected demands of the city. The hybrid scheme, with its blend of different uses, tends to enhance and revitalize its surrounding context.
 
There is a group of architects, all very young, particularly interested in creating spaces for people, and equally attentive and passionate in the search of interstices, in-between urban corners, that they love to approach by conferring a vitality they never possessed. Kathrin Gimmel is one of the three partners of this Danish studio, JAJA Architects, that I had recently the pleasure of hosting during one of my podcasts. Despite their age, they have been recognized and appreciated and this notoriety is derived from one of their first works, an operation of perfect transformism, that with a limited budget they have been able to express with creativity and playfulness. It is with an optimistic curiosity that they approach their projects and, exploring the potential of an architecture far from pre-established, obsolete schemes and paradigms, are able to amaze us with their fresh statements.

  The building gradually lights up with life and a pattern formed by the arrangement of alternated planted boxes discreetly interrupts the entire facade, punctuating it rhythmically. Climbing green plants grow along the net, creating a strong and vibrant color contrast, and providing an unexpected organicity. Long diagonal stairways, zigzagging sculptural signs, ascend from street level, adhering to the walls of two opposite sides, offering their handrail as a guide to a surprising discovery: the extensive roof surface accessible and usable as a recreational space. The edge of that handrail that accompanies visitors seems to extend and, as a sort of fil rouge, unravel, swirling and rolling up to create concentric circles and pyramids, identifying points of different experiences, play, fun or exercise experiences or simply moments for a break, to rest while admiring the sea. It is with a crescendo of touches, all strategically amalgamated that the whole intervention enhances the full formal and social potential of an anonymous, dull structure, transformed into something exciting. This stimulating graft, capable of communicating to everyone its distinctive playful character, transmitting an almost childlike sense of lightness, combined with practical parking lots, reiterates how a hybrid building can be a winning architectural solution. The exemplary intervention will be a social meeting place and an active part of its local environment, attracting a very diverse community, residents and visitors, adults and children and helping to nurture new ways of living together.
  Another uniqueness, which I personally love about their work, is the ability to instill curiosity, stimulate wonder and an intense desire for discovery, making the public space desirable and encouraging an authentic appropriation of it by users. Their interventions try, so to speak, to remain unfinished, open to the new stories that will weave the future users, helping these kind of platforms to grow, evolve and even change. A simple and rough industrial structure, typical of the ‘60s, when it was still in production, inspires GAME Streetmekka Aalborg, an invitation to expand, or rather dissolve the boundaries between the large volume of the building and the street. It is the local urban culture with street art and murals, to which the former factory delivers its facade as a living canvas, with improvised dances, multiple spontaneous activities and unpredictable events that currently animates the old eternit laboratory, that, without renouncing its industrial charm, abandons the introverted character of the past to entrust its essence to the community.  The generous size of the empty interior appears like a huge teeming room: each contributes to an atmosphere of irresistible dynamism. Both sport and leisure furniture, designed with great taste, using improvised and largely recycled materials, have been skillfully reduced to the essential and perhaps for this reason maintain a sense of informality that makes everyone feel to be in a familiar environment, where anyone can find a corner to nurture and grow, adding an own contribution to develop the narration.

Our works intend "not just to take space, but to give space too", with these words one of the authors explains how to weave as many relationships as possible between what is and what will be, is the ultimate goal of their efforts. An ideal that they recognize in a city accessible to all, built for inclusion and diversity, nourished by the active involvement of the collectivity. The stories start from the buildings and come back enriched with new contributions, without imposing any program: are the people who each time define their own script, actors in a theater that welcomes them and wishes to give them the guidelines on the stage.



Virginia Cucchi

Credits:

JAJA Architects: https://jaja.archi/
Park ’n’ Play, Nordhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark, JAJA Architects, Photo Rasmus Hjortshoj/Courtesy of JAJA Architects
GAME Streetmekka Aalborg, JAJA ArchitectsPhoto Rasmus Hjortshoj/Courtesy of JAJA Architects
First Wooden Parking House, JAJA Architects and Open Platform (OP), Rendering JAJA Architects and Open Platform (OP)

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