Design as social tool

Design as social tool

Gustavo Diéguez and Lucas Gilardi, the names behind a77, are Argentinian architects who explore spatial and functional concepts of nomadism, ephemerality and transition using the rough-and-ready yet symbolically-charged language of the humble packing crate to build open-ended structures that can be assembled and dismantled according to need and the desire to bring different groups of people together. When fitted into left-over places as temporary occupiers of time and space, their autonomous, unstyled structures advocate the need for unburdened, non-rhetorical, “alternative” landscapes. a77 develop on the ideas of Allan Wexler and Andrea Zittel and others who reject the banality of most built landscapes though not the need for original and unusual objects and spaces, but the a77 idiom is less artistic and solitary than that of the American artists and designers. Their interiors and buildings are made by hand using simple though not unsophisticated materials. They see space as a potential organism to which, for example, a plywood prosthesis may be hung or attached “if needed” to create a children’s play space. Or they might brutally recycle old trailers to emphasise their basic function, repaint and fix them in place above a sloping man-made vegetable plot. To this diversity is coupled the social and collective use of these objects redeemed by graphic design and new uses; a diversity that may serve as a catalyst and condenser of small acts of social communication. In their own words: “Self-build means proving to yourself that you can do certain things in a way that amounts to a real alternative, that you don’t need outside help, that if you want to do something, the power to do it lies literally in your own hands…”

Self-build means proving to yourself that you can do certain things in a way that amounts to a real alternative, that you don’t need outside help, that if you want to do something, the power to do it lies, literally, in your own knowledge and hands. The need to do this can be for economic reasons as well as personal.
This way is cheaper, but even more importantly, it’s a way of getting involved in the physical construction, not just its design. This personal involvement helps you discover not only the pleasure of building things, but also something that design concerns, which are often remote, can never offer, which is direct contact with the materials and shapes that belong to specific places, and the gradual discovery of what each individual material or shape have to offer.
Getting up close like this means that building acquires a special kind of subjectivity that brings it closer to forms of art and craftwork. We all like industrial objects, both aesthetically and physically, but this attachment becomes greater when we can transform them into personal objects.

We think recycling creates a double challenge. Ethically, it means helping to conserve precious materials or objects, and this gives us an enormous satisfaction of doing things is as much aesthetic as ethical. This also means that ethics can be seen as one way of utilising the resources and opportunities available to us.
Aesthetically, it implies the transformation of something no longer considered useful into something imaginative. The result of all this can have both practical and philosophical value.

The question of form versus function provides one of architecture’s great dilemmas. Form is linked to aesthetic emotions; function is connected to mechanical and social emotions. Our job is to find the emotion and its most suited context. In this sense, physical involvement in building something can be seen as one way of activating senses and memory. When something we have done satisfies both aesthetic and functional needs, we feel genuinely moved.

Quality of life can be improved in any context. What counts is the creativity and imagination each individual inhabitant puts into appropriating a given physical context, and the extent to which the context makes this possible.
We appreciate that people, through our projects, learn that they can do a lot with scarce resources and very little help, and also do it with passion, like it’s just for them.

Many of our projects are nomadic, because they’ve toured many different exhibitions, living in them as non-specialists. This nomad status in certain contexts enables us to work in a variety of situations and disciplines.
Other projects were intended to be nomadic in public city spaces, in the hope of reawakening people’s participation in and interaction with the spaces around them, and boosting their appropriation of and sense of belonging to those spaces through social activity.
We did this in Mataró in 2009 (We Can Xalant) and we now intend to take the experiment a step further in Buenos Aires with the Fundación Proa and other institutions in the south of the city.

Mental processes and form
Creating form can be the outcome of several processes – rational, intuitive or random – and there are people who adapt better to one rather than another. Of course, the artistic component can sometimes carry more weight. However, our creations combine all three processes. We are more rational when we have to think about costs, schedules and functions, for example, and more intuitive when we physically create the montages we’ve imagined or seen in various publications, using models and images. And we are sometimes more random in our approach when we come across an unexpected material or accidentally discover a new combination. Form gradually starts to define itself as structures progress and, to varying extents and in varying proportions, when rational and intuitive processes start interacting with each other.

Poverty, simplicity, crisis
Poverty, as a lack of resources, encourages imagination and adaptability and enriches experience. The creation of objects from found or very cheap materials doesn’t necessarily imply any shortcomings on the aesthetic front. Aesthetics is free and available to everyone. It’s a very powerful tool that can provide a lot of satisfaction and should be utilised more often.
For this reason, we see economic crisis as an opportunity to make things.

Urban ecology
We realise that ecologists’ proclamations reflect real concerns and deserve attention, as much in terms of waste reduction as well as for small-scale energy saving. We can see this clearly when we recycle something we’ve built: we consume less energy and fewer resources when we make use of what already exists. But we’re not interested in a kind of technocracy that dictates what does and doesn’t qualify as sustainable architecture, or in the industry that has grown up around “green” issues.
We live and act in artificial urban contexts that are also part of our nature. We think there should be a kind of real “urban ecology”, some vital connection between inhabitants and context. We need to be aware of what is around us and how to take care of it.

Applied technology is indispensable for any construction. We adapt technology to the economic resources available for each individual project. We create architecture for the environment we live in and the technological possibilities it offers. The challenge we set ourselves is to achieve what we want using the means at our disposal. We aren’t low-tech activists, but we like using low-tech forms.

Architect or Archistar

We think the most important thing is to know how these mega-profile architects are adapting what they say and do to the current crisis. Everyone can see that international consumption of architecture encourages the lionisation of architects by the media, exactly as in all the classic consumerist mechanisms, and they themselves certainly seem to revel in it.
All we can do is have some fun wondering how this aesthetics of waste, and the architectural magazines for that matter, will ever manage to adapt since there seems no likelihood whatever of this happening, at least in the near future.

Waste and Crate
Generally speaking, using industrial waste is the cheapest way to develop a poetical form of expression.

To us these three words aren’t alternatives, but complementary modes of action tailored to the needs of individual projects.
These are urban and architectural categories that outline useful ways of thinking at the present time.

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