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Dressing up the Square

Domesticating the Community Room

Problem. Previous Condition of the Site

Sant Miquel is a working-class neighbourhood in Olot which has grown around the road leading to Girona. The replacement of industrial zones with residential areas occurred in parallel to the arrival of a great number of newcomers in the past two decades, a fact which has transformed the neighbourhood into the most diverse area in terms of population.

This square area – measuring 65m on each side – was developed in the 1980s by creating two platforms at different levels. Due to the heterogeneity of the surrounding buildings, the square defines its own perimeter through different architectural elements. All wall facings are built in mortar block, a pattern which is used as a basic module in the original project.

Neither the habit of the newcomers of making an intense use of this space as an area for interaction nor the ability to summon people together for the neighbourhood’s traditional celebrations have managed to change the sense of deterioration of the square. Its state of neglect, accumulated dirt, grey wall facings and insufficient lighting are the main shortcomings neighbours point out. Hence, the square has gradually lost its role as public space and has become a simple multi-sports court which is a focus of disputes.

Opportunity. Objective of the Intervention

The project defines and develops one of the key actions included in the Comprehensive Plan for Urban Rehabilitation – and agreed upon by the neighbours themselves – which aims to enhance comfort within this neighbourhood’s most representative public space. The plan is the result of a participative process launched by the Olot City Council and led by Paisaje Transversal.

The appropriation of public space by citizens is highly dependent on the space’s character. Showing off its new attire, the Sant Miquel Square in Olot takes on a domestic touch which leads one to perceive it as the neighbourhood’s communal space. With minimum costs, less than €20,000, the foundations have been laid for the square once again to become the centre of social life, a space where all of the neighbours can meet and feel at home.

Process and solution. Description of the Intervention

By applying a selective layer of paint, this intervention comprehends and enhances the spatial quality, geometry and construction systems of the square’s architecture. Tops, patterns and carpets provide the wall of concrete blocks with a sense of lightness, brightness and colour, following its own inflection and highlighting the textile nature of the support.

The geometric patterns evoke domestic life and also the events which are characteristic of the neighbourhood, such as the paper-costumes parade, the traditional farandula dances and the outdoor concerts under the marquee. This action strengthens the uniqueness of every space but most importantly, it creates a backdrop which is easily capable of hosting a wide range of activities and users, including games.

Four colours of the same chromatic range are applied over walls with siloxane paint and road marking paint is used on the pavement. The wall facings were previously cleaned with a pressure washer and the obsolete elements of street furniture were also removed.

The intervention is accompanied by other isolated actions such as improvements in street lighting in the main areas of the square, the use of screening plants at the less-defined side of the square and the recovery of one of the street corners as the entrance to the square.

Assessment

The space’s character has been transformed at a very reasonable cost. The painted patterns become one more layer of the existent architecture, giving recognition to the substratum while also improving its attributes. The square is now kinder, more cheerful and refined but, above all, it is more welcoming and can take in more uses. It can easily and safely host a much wider range of activities and users, far beyond mere ball games in the court.

The intervention is the backdrop for an agenda of new activities organised by the neighbour’s association, favouring that the square can once again become the neighbourhood’s public space par excellence.

Entrant office name: unparelld’arquitectes: Eduard Callís, Guillem Moliner
Role of the entrant in the project:
architects (conceptualization, design and construction management)
Website: www.unparelldarquitectes.cat
Project location: Plaça de Sant Miquel. 17800 Olot (Girona). Spain
Design year: 2015
Year Built: 2015

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