Technifying public space and publicizing infrastructures: Exploring new urban political ecologies through the square of General Vara del Rey

DomÍnguez Rubio, F. & Fogué, U.

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DomÍnguez Rubio, F., & Fogué, U. (2013). Techanifying public space and publicizing infrastructures: Exploring new urban political ecologies through the square of General Vara del Rey. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(3), 1035–1052.

Architectural Design , Infrastructure , Madrid , Spain , Technology , Urban Political Ecology

The aim of this article is to explore new ways of integrating technology, nature and infrastructures into urban public spaces. This is done through a case study, the design of General Vara del Rey, which is offered here as a model to explore a novel urban political ecology that calls into question dominant definitions of public spaces as self‐contained sites operating independently of natural and infrastructural spaces. Through the double movement of ‘the technification of public space’ and ‘the publicization of infrastructures’, the square aims to rethink the political ecology of urban public spaces by enabling the effective incorporation and participation of infrastructural and natural elements as active actors into the public and political life of the community. It is argued that the transformation of infrastructures into fully visible, public and political agents provides a useful model to address the growing proliferation of infrastructural and technological elements onto contemporary urban surfaces and to open up the possibility of new forms of civic participation and engagement.

Main finding
The authors claim that the political valence of a design does not reside in the spatialization or materialization of political programs and ideologies, but rather in the capacity to generate spaces of political discussion and social engagement. Three tasks in the technification of the public square project were identified: 1) continuity and redistribution (ie. merge functions of socialization, nature and infrastructure so they are not read independently), 2) collaboration and coproduction between socioeconomic, natural and infrastructural spaces such as in the transformation of the square into a productive agent using solar arrays and rainwater capture, and 3) climatic intervention using actions of different devices that combine with natural elements to create the 'ergonomics' of the democracy and public action through different microclimates. For example, this project publicizes its process of energy production to illustrate causal relations between individual and collective consumption patterns.

Description of method used in the article
To explore the potentials for the integration of technology, nature and infrastructure in imagining new urban political ecologies, the authors discussed a model from Elii, the architectural design firm of the General Vara del Ray public square. Analysis of their work showed Elii was successful in disrupting the typical separation between infrastructural spaces and political space through two symmetrical operations:(a) the technification of public space and (b) the publicization of typically hidden infrastructures thus giving a socio-material understanding of the public as opposed to viewing public space as static containers.

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