Quaderns 2011 – 2016

D'arquitectura i urbanisme

Publicació del Col·legi d'arquitectes de Catalunya

Reactions #262. Ethel Baraona Pohl: Parainfrastructures


Quaderns #262

“¿Have you ever wondered where those lines come from… and where they go?” [1]

This simple, thoughtful phrase is the opening sequence of Cédric Klapisch’s Paris. In the same way these characters “discover” and wonder about the omniprescence of infrastructure in our cities, reading the latest issue of Quaderns (Parainfrastructures) brings this urban layer to the attention of architects, habitually “sidelined from this action framework.” The contributors to the issue propose a trajectory that points to the fact that, from the early twentieth century, certain architects proposed the creation of mobile infrastructures, with an ephemeral presence in physical space, such as the GATPAC’s “Ciudad del Reposo” project for Barcelona (1931) [2]. Towards the end of the 1960s and throughout the 1970s, avant-garde architects proposed similar approaches, relying on inflatable structures, or, as José Miguel de Prada Poole would say, “inflastructures”.

Nevertheless, economic and urban growth for the past hundred years have revealed a practically invasive presence of infrastructure. The dream that inflastructures could solve problems such as poverty, social exclusion and delinquency was only left as a utopian vision of the future. In his book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), Reyner Banham [3] writes about the relationship between architecture and infrastructure by referencing the way its inhabitants coexist with the fragments that make up the city on a daily basis. In this sense, it might be relevant to wonder about the relationship between infrastructure and time, as proposed by Javier García-German, and the way concepts such as obsolescence, urban ecology and parainfrastructures fit into our contemporary view of cities. In this sense, the question would be, can infrastructures be adaptable, mobile, and dynamic? As García-Germán states, we are more likely to find answers to this question once we are able to understand the functioning of our urban ecosystems. According to this view, anticipatory and adaptive strategies will contribute to our understanding of the relationship between architecture and time, and possibly allow for the reuse of obsolete infrastructures, according to the present time. Stan Allen [4] describes this well when he writes “it is important to think about the real and practical limits of interventions designed within the complex, changing dynamics of the contemporary city.”

“The ability of architects to transform moments within the web of infrastructure systems is an opportunity to rethink the invisible.”
- Katrna Stoll & Scott lloyd, Infrastructure as Architecture [5]

Today, various interesting proposals recover the idea of adaptable, mobile, dynamic infrastructures. One example is Paisajes EmergentesAirplot, un project that is basically a “critical utopia”, proposing blocking aerial route in an area near London’s Heathrow airport, reclaiming the right of residents to the air space above their properties, in contrast to the “brooding omnipresence in the sky” mentioned by Enrique Ramírez in his essay on Air Control.

David Gissen closes this issue of Quaderns with a text on infrastructure preservation, with the fundamental idea of transforming our understanding of infrastructure and history, through the work of curators, conservationists and historians—not engineers—and thus promote the recovery of existing infrastructures. Still, we think it is important that the concept of parainfrastructures doesn’t solely focus on physical and tectonic infrastructures. Our cities are full of complex invisible infrastructures for communications, information, and even more importantly, relations. The different forms of representing and understanding these networks would provide a point of departure for a more organic understanding of cities through their relational infrastructures.

Ethel Baraona Pohl

[1] From “París” Cédric Klapisch, 2008
[2] GATCPAC, « Una ciutat de repòs per a Barcelona », Mirador, 5 novembre 1931, p. 7
[3] Banham, Reyner. Los Angeles. The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Berkeley, Los Angeles, Londres: University of California Press (1971)
[4] Allen, Stan. From the Biological to the Geological. Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks. Jovis (2011)
[5] Scott Lloyd, Katrina Stoll. Infrastructure as Architecture: Designing Composite Networks. Jovis (2011) More information: infrastructureasarchitecture.com

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Quaderns d'arquitectura i urbanisme is the journal of the Association of Architects of Catalonia