Sometimes we tend to circumscribe the possibilities of tactical and temporary urbanism to urban spaces of limited size (urban voids) or open spaces expected to be public (parks, plazas, streets, etc.), thinking only of their usefulness as small-scale interventions. However, in the current times of economic crisis in which so many large scale urban developments are stalled or have simply seen the implementation of the plan will take longer than originally envisaged, we cannot afford to maintain these urban spaces waiting better times to return for the developer to complete the plan for years and years. Can we do more than contemplate the fences that enclose these halted building sites?
During the last months I have been collecting some experiences on using adaptive and temporary strategies to develop transitional projects in master plan developments. As usual without aim of being exhaustive, here you can find some notes. I started mulling over the idea after discovering in the book The temporary city some cases (check particularly the chapter titled “Re-imagining the city”) that go beyond the small-scale project and in the field of large urban developments, big real estate corporations and urban master planning. One of the covered stories in the book is located in King's Cross area of London under redevelopment, a large area of 67 acre development that will host mixed uses through a multi-year regeneration plan. Argent, winner of the competition to become the development partner, proposed from the beginning a very flexible master plan, assuming, first, that everything is outdated in a master plan from the beginning and, second, it was worthy to allow parts of the site and remaining buildings to be uses for temporary uses taking advantage of the different periods of time it will take to complete the site. Thus, the site is able to accommodate transitional activities and experimentation while completing the master plan synchronizes with the market situation in a strategy that eases to open up the building site and host activities and temporary facilities. Among all the interventions that have been hosted over time perhaps the Electric Hotel, a pop-up theatre boosted by cultural organizations that understood there was a great opportunity to use this site (while it was yet being redeveloped) to install a very simple structure to organise by-night sound and dance performances, giving a temporary use to this space.
In the same area of the city we can also find another similar example: the use of an abandoned petrol station on a site that will be transformed into residential use but in the meantime (while the project is completed), this facility has been converted into a temporary installation, The Filling Station, which houses a restaurant in the remaining structure. Also in London, in Newham, another relevant project is taking place in an analogous process is which complete development will take some times but some uses and activities have been liberated to host Canning Town Caravansei, a project developed by Ash Sakula.
Another project of interest is developed in Ghent (Belgium), in a former industrial area that, before becoming a residential zone through an urban regeneration process, has allowed hosting a large outdoor cultural space to be used while the process is completed. DOKGent is the materialisation of this idea of introducing temporal strategies for community use and social dividend in a master plan that, otherwise, would have remained just a fence with the "under construction" banner precluding any other use. Again, this is a master plan that assumes the possibility of the temporality not as an obstacle to the traditional exclusive, permanent and expulsive features of urban projects, but as an opportunity to expand the possibilities for enjoying the city and even for temporary income generation for private promoter (includes cafes, markets and art exhibition spaces with musical activities, sports, outdoor cinema, community gardens, etc..). Again, a way to create social value in a complex long-term process of urban transformation by introducing transient uses and.
But, for once, I'm not going to go very far for a last example. ZAWP Bilbao (Zorrozaurre Art Working Progress) is the best way to explain the potential of confronting the master plan to the needs to activate every urban asset. Bilbao has opened its last major transformation process in the Zorrozaurre area with master plan designed by Zaha Hadid. Bilbao has been acknowledged as a major experience in urban renewal and the Abandoibarra area regeneration (the central piece of this renewal where Guggenheim Museum is located) has just been completed in a process s that has lasted nearly two decades. Twenty years to complete a huge central area in the city and in a time of great economic prosperity. A renewal process as complex as Zorrozaurre, now developed under much more difficult economic constraints in public budget and real estate market will also take place a long period of time (2030?). Do we have any alternative to just wait until bulldozers come and the process is complete? People behind ZAWP saw the opportunity, without sacrificing their critical position on council´s plans, to develop a process for reuse of spaces and possibilities of this industrial district, with a strong focus on cultural promotion and giving visibility to neighbourhood memory, configuring the project as a good way to understand the possibilities of introducing the transient logic in complex urban development, even as a way to influence the resulting final design.
These are a few examples of the many cases that could be mentioned. All of them point out the ability of flexible scale urban intervention to create useful spaces that cannot be suspended simply because they are under development or regeneration. Clearly the more formalist tradition of urbanism shelters permanent, large-scale, long-term and hierarchical planning, all of them central patterns of our legal tradition but it is increasingly evident that masterplanning is not able to respond to reality and social needs. The economic crisis has stalled many urban projects is our cities (and likely they will be for a long time) but it would be a huge loss not finding use for these spaces with proposals capable of activating the creative capacity of society and public assets to generate flexible and not costly urban initiatives.
Masterplanning has met the growing movement of tactical urbanism interventions and is discovering that it simply works. Lighter, quicker and cheaper appears and offers an alternative to the difficulties of developing large-scale projects in cities. Flexible phasing, better responses to changing conditions, leverage full capacity use, test low-scale solutions,..represent a new understanding of the planning famework but also a new way to use master planning for community needs.
P.S. By the way, if you were looking for a good collection of tactical urbanism interventions, Spontaneous Interventions is your site. Spontaneous Interventions: design actions for the common good is the title of the U.S. Pavilion proposal for the 13th Venice Biennale and the collection includes all types of interventions and offers a magnificent example of available possibilities. You can also take a look at Urban tactics. Temporary interventions + long term planning prepared by Killing Architects, which mentions some of these projects and many more.