The “Mil plazas” Project was started in 2004 as a jump from academic ambit to a public urban ambit. Based on design, management, and construction, this project tries to recover residuary spaces and the modernization of territory following a low cost strategy by using waste and materials from the area. This initiative is run by the university of Architecture in Talca and carried out by its students. The project ends in 2008 with the construction of seven squares, and its use and social impact have verified that this project is working.
2.1 DEMOGRAPHICS, LOCATION, SURROUNDING
Talca is a city and community of Chile. It is the most important city of the chilli longitudinal valley and one of the most populated with Rancagua and Chillán. According to preliminary data from the 2012 Census, population of Talca have decreased to 200.461. This decrease is attributed to the settlement of a large number of new valleys that belong to the south sector of Talca but that have trespassed the limits of Maule. In the city there are communities of emigrants coming from Arabia, Italy, and Spain, which characterized the trade of the city.
Urban expansion of Talca has produced neighbors with really different characteristics. In the centre are settled services, commerce and the rest of business activities. To the east the presence of the State Railway Station, bus stations and terminals have originated the existence of a dense commercial area, called Barrio Oriente. Industry area is located in the periphery. In the north and south many medium and low residential are settled and in the east a high residential area has been growing.
2.2 POPULATION GROUPS
Natural resources are varied, but agriculture has a main place in Talca’s economy. Nowadays the currently orchards are vegetables, fruits and cereals. However vineyards have special importance being the Valle del Maule the area with the greatest production of wine in the country (45% of the total)
Livestock activity (mainly pork and country) is important due to main factors are base on it. Mining is almost inactive.
Talca is the main industrial centre of the area. It has factories that manage the agricultural resources of the adjacent area. Paper industry, wood, plastic and metal; canning, milling, food and beverages, meat processing and sausage are also an important parte of the Talca’s industry.
It was essential the arrival of immigrants (Spanish, Arabs, Italians and Germans) that reinforced trade and manufacturing. Also hydropower development boosted industrial activity in 1980.
However, many earthquakes (1928,1939,1960) and the excessive politic and economic centralisation of Chile around Santiago have decreased the industrial development in Talca.
City is an important trade and service centre. Its main commercial street is the Street 1 Sur, where is located most of the Banks, finances institutions, and the most important stores. Mall Portal Centro a big moll is also located there.
City of Talca presents a lack of green areas and public spaces due to the own growth of the city, the main occupation of the population (livestock and agriculture), and the population density. The city is established as an urban centre surrounding by big gaps.
Green areas maps of Talca show us three alarming realities:
1. Green areas deficit. Bases in World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, City of Talca should have at least 1.6 km2 of green areas. However it has just 0.69 km”.
2. Optimal green areas. The optimal green areas are located in the perimeter of the city.
3. Unformed green areas. In the poorest areas of the city where children and young population are concentrated there is not green areas in good conditions and the ones in good conditions are minimum.
In a ranking among the main cities of the country, Talca is evaluated as one of the worst in diverse aspects by 1400 citizens that participated in a studio called “Barometro Marca Ciudad”.
As a result of this interview, citizens leave Talca in the antepenultimate place in the ranking of cities to live. In addition Talca got really bad results in work and tourism, image and contamination, and environment.
Talca’s city has been affected in the last years by some problems that have affected Talca’s society, for example delinquency, that has corrupted a big part of youth.
However delinquency is a problem generated by drug use, family’s dramas, friend influence and alcohol.
In general Talca is an unsafe city. It is difficult to find a place where to meet with friends or relatives and being safe, just a few places in the city are protected by police.
UNIVERSITY OF TALCA
As a manager of the project. Is included in the own concept of the university this kind of workshop. When the university is set up in 1999 is based in there main concepts:
- “Officiate” in relation to the current activities related to the work of an architect to develop the idea, to project, to supervise…
- “Operate” in relation to the pro-activity that society expects from an architect, it has to do with the undefined role of architecture nowadays.
- Innovate: To transform knowledge in riches.
They are the active part of the project. They are developing all the graphic material necessary to establish the concepts of each square. Once design is defined they build it by themselves with help from the neighbours.
They were a passive agent in the whole process, however when students started to build the different devices for the squares neighbours collaborated in construction.
Private companies: The students through private companies have collected some of the constructive materials. These companies have given these materials as a donation for the project. An example of this is one greengrocer company that gave 150 pallets.
Government of Talca: Has been the sponsor of the project. The most expensive one was Colín square that cost 2,5 millions of pesos (3250€). The cheapest one was a pallet square, 130.00 pesos (170€)
2004: Worksop starts for students of Architecture University of Talca. This workshop is for junior and senior students that promote a process of research, projection and construction to look into in the modernization for the Valle central territory. The workshop is not a social course or a construction atelier; it is an academic practise that looks for a complexity. That’s the reason why 300 students changed the university for the surroundings of the city to work with the citizen, the materiality and the place.
2005-2007: Different projects were developed in the workshop. The workshop is based in research, creation and construction. There is a common hypothesis in all of them; intelligence and enthusiasm are the only resources that substitute money. So, in this way being smart, with wiliness and with a small budget, students are be able to design new ideas to build seven squares in five weeks.
2008: Students build seven squares in Talca in August and September. Even wasn’t strictly programmed, some general characteristics were applied, like waste materials and a small budget.
As I said before there is not a programme or plan to develop the construction of the squares, however it is possible to see that there is a method. Just university of Talca and their students are management the project that make the process a lot of easier. Some companies have collaborated in the project by giving constructive materials.
1. LOCATION OF THE ACTIONS
Looking for and analysis gaps in the city to set up the different installations of prototypes
Most of these places belong to their own quotidian experience; places without any function and without any future plan of being improve or treated. All these places are a residual part of the area that paved criminal activities and are avoid in urban plans.
2. LOOKING FOR MATERIALS
Students tried to look for and collect waste materials and materials in the area. Also they looked for sponsors that can participate in the Project by giving materials. In this case the Project had a Budget giving by the city hall to buy materials, however a low cost concept has been present in all the decisions taken in the project.
3. IDEA AND PREDESIGN
Once the students knew all the materials they can use or once they propose some cheap materials to work with the design phase started. Location was really taken in account to establish the concepts that define each one of the squares. However these concepts were more related to poetry or something artistic than to social aspects.
Before to start working with a real construction in the square many models were built in order to visualize the finish and to check their behavior.
When it was necessary plans and details of the prototypes were drawn, however some of the didn’t need any plan or draw and were worked by models or fast sketches. Even design was an important part of the workshop the main deal of this project was to work in a real concept trying to avoid the conceptual or theoretical part.
Collect and prepare all the materials needed for the squares. Even all the constructive part of the project was done by the students is not specify in any part of the documentation how was done the management of the materials. Who buy, how they transport, how they get all the necessary tools to build…
There is a lot of photographic information of the students building the different interventions on the squares. This part was, maybe, the most important of the Workshops, the one that make the difference among this project and the rest of them developed by the university of Talca. In some of the squares neighbours helped the students building the prototypes. However this was something spontaneous.
5. STRATEGIES- LEVELS OF INTERVENTION
– Recovery of residual spaces: All the interventions have been developed in empty places without any function. Some of these places were gaps in the city or have become a landfill.
– Rehabilitation of public space: All the projects developed in the squares were thought to reactivate the public space by making an interesting and attractive place that citizen can use.
– Creation of quality space: All the interventions go further than to reactivate the space and to attract citizens. Some poetic aesthetic was looked for, for example by using materials of the area. In addition an improvement of the space conditions was another design factor. Some squares have furniture or shadow areas.
– Economy: A low cost concept is more a condition than a strategy even they had a budget from the city hall, most of the materials are recycled or collecting from a close area. Most all the materials were really cheap and companies gave some of them.
– Artistic concept: In all the designs for the 9 squares, students looked for an artistic idea that fix with the identity of each square, making an attractive place, a landmark or a landscape.
– It is a risky to intervene in a public space without taking in account the public opinion. A previous and serious analysis of the situation is missing in order to work with a specific context for each square
– Citizen participation happened, in some cases, as a something spontaneous not as a part of the project. It would have been more interesting and, better accept by the citizen if they would have the opportunity to participate in the conceptual development as well as in the constructive area.
– The perspective given by the University of Talca is more academic than social, as they define in the brief course. However it should be take in account that working in a public space always have social connotations.
– All the devices have more an aesthetic deal than functional, that transform the public space in something to watch not to use. Even some of the interventions can be use as a meeting place, public space is something else than a place to sit.
– Even all the interventions were really cheap, low cost concept could have been applied in a more ambitious way by using in all the devices waste material. That will suppose a bigger effort by the students in management and design.
– The whole process hasn’t been really structured and there is not a register of the management or a statistic document in order to really measure the success or failure of the project.
The most important of the Project is the precedent that has created. It had a big social impact in Talca society with a really low budget. The message of this project is that is possible to change, to improve, and to solve a problem with willingness and without money. It has established a reference; a process.
In this case low cost concept was a strategy that allowed showing how it is possible to create a new reality, a quality public spaces with a low budget. However none of these interventions have improved the economy of the area.
The reactivation of these residual spaces has given public spaces to the citizen creating meeting points in the city. In addition this has allowed to decrease the delinquency and drug addiction areas in the places were the interventions are located. Moreover the project has originated the creation of associations and neighborhood meetings.
Most of the projects have been developed with waste material. In addition places where interventions have been placed used to be illegal landfills, so they needed to be cleaned in order to start the constructive project. In short, the use of waste material and the cleaning process of the empty areas of the city give the project an important environmental concept.
In conclusion, we have to notice that this project has been developed and management by students, that’s the reason why there is not a strict or well-organised plan or programme. However the fact that the project was in some parts spontaneous, as the citizen participation, was an important part of itself, because allowed the project to work as an experiment as well as something opened to alternatives.
It is important to realize that even there are some parts of the process that could have been developed in a better or more ambitious way, the social impact and the good results in the city of Talca have been really high, establishing a precedent.
However the project have been more recognizable in an architectural framework than in a social context. The reason why this has happened it is because all the conceptual context of the project was developed in an academic ambiance, being more important the expression of the students than the social result. Even that, the project still works because all of the squares -although were designed with a really simple idea of what public space should be- are a quality public spaces with proper furniture and with an attractive point.
Even the squares are not complex related to the use of itself, to the activities that are insert in the squares, we found good solutions that have created meeting points in the city and avoid delinquency in some areas, however the main critique it could be that students haven’t been ambitious in relation to improve the life of the citizens in more ways.
9. WHY IS IT AN EXAMPLE?
- It has established a precedent to show how it is possible to solve a problem or improve a situation with enthusiasm and a low budget. Good solutions don’t mean big amounts of money.
- The initiative came from an academic context, which means ways to teach and learn are changing and are being adapted to new realities.
- The entire project has been developed with a low cost concept, by using waste materials o really cheap materials, which also have an environmental benefit.
- Project has improved the conditions of Talca city, recovering green areas and meeting places and, at the same time, decreasing problems of delinquency, drug addiction and illegal landfills.