Plan illustrating the age of the buildings in and around Poblenou. Innovation and youth at the periphery, tradition at the center.

Poblenou is a neighborhood in flux. It is the center of attention for innovation-minded government initiatives and young people—both are taking advantage of its existing infrastructure, convenient location, and industrial past.

Community definition diagram, showing three essential ingredients (people, places, activities) and the spectrum of characteristics that make up each one.

Survey summary: in what way do the characteristics and aspirations of opposing groups meet?

However, looking under the surface reveals tensions between the people that live there and the people that work there. Walking the around, one can observe many dead streets, characterized by closed metal shutters, lack of social activity, and a heterogeneous distribution between the historic center near La Rambla de Poblenou and the newer periphery. Many community groups exist, such as urban gardens, maker spaces (offspring of the 22@ initiative), fine art collectives, schools and studios, and neighbor associations (formed as early as the 1970s), but they appear unaware of each other’s activities, and are relatively silo’ed off (this is only worsened by the industrial architectural makeup of the neighborhood). These observations are reinforced by surveys, interviews, recordings of pedestrian activity, and studies of recent urban developments such as the Superilla, a well-tested model for giving public space back to pedestrians. The Superilla was initially opposed by residents for being imposed on them without due process, in spite of its subsequent success. An image of overlapping communities emerges.

Community diagram, with larger circles representing groups or organizations, and the small dots on the outer circle representing individual people. A community is not a tree.

Plan highlighting the community spaces and organizations that were interviewed, and the activities they support.

It is evident that there is much political awareness and technological innovation happening in Poblenou. Therefore, instead of creating a new network, the goal has become to strategically connect these community groups and spaces, with the goal of improving and even redefining urban communities for the new century. Each group was broken down into its “haves” and its “needs”—that is, activities that it supports and activities that its members wish it had. Then, a chart was generated which allows one to visualize speculative connections between the “have” of one group and the “need” of another. By layering multiple activities and requiring that every input also generate an output (to recirculate social capital), the beginnings of a project are revealed. If Poblenou were a brain, this project would be a synapse that strengthens the cognitive power of the community.

Projects create connections. A community synapse forms.

The goal is to seek out an already well-connected community group with a nascent project, piggy-back onto its network of people, and intervene with a project that may create unexpected and fruitful interactions with others. ConnectHORT, a community garden on Carrer Doctor Trueta, is mobilizing its resources for a project called MicroHuertos, a grassroots initiative to put food gardens on private balconies all over Barcelona. Balconies present a unique opportunity to boost interaction between residents and pedestrians on the street. What sort of incentive would motivate the owners of the balconies to participate in such a project? How do communities and public spaces qualify and quantify their level of activity? What information could a balcony garden broadcast?

Once we identify it, we want to amplify it.

The framework of the proposal is expected to have three layers: 1) The balcony gardens themselves; 2) The information which outputs to the street below; 3) The network of gardens which communicate with each other.



Poblenou: A Tale of Two Barrios is a project of IAAC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, developed at MaCT (Master in City & Technology), 2017-18 by:

Students: Ivan Himanen, Irene Rodriguez Vara, Venessa Williams

Faculty: Tomas Diez, Mathilde Marengo, Chiara Dallolio