In summer 2023, the Romanian Order of Architects (OAR Timiṣ) launched an international design competition to modernise, reimagine and enhance Timișoara’s Victory Square. As part of BETA – Timișoara Biennial of Architecture (part of the European platform LINA) and in addition to an intensive programme of planting — through MAIO architects’ proposal The Nursery — three LINA Fellows were invited to propose temporary interventions to galvanise and challenge civic perceptions of public space, Space Sal00n with The Maak, Ana Gallego with Gonzalo Martin and Filter Café Filtré. In this interview, participants share their thoughts on speculative public space.
KOOZ On occasion of Timiṣoara’s nomination as European Capital of Culture 2023, OAR Timiṣ participated in an event with The Nursery — a project by MAIO Architects Barcelona — which featured the planting of 1306 plants in Victory Square. How did the project effectively explore the integration and activation of vegetation within our cities? What was the social potential of the temporary installation and how did it gather the local community?
BETA The innovation with this kind of urban installation was an approach we are not used to in Romania, namely the vertical distribution of green space. We are living in a time of violent urbanisation where green spaces are finding it harder and harder to find a place in the anthropomorphic landscape of cities. Although it was not our intention from the beginning, The Nursery has organically developed a character of its own, as a living installation with a triple value: it successfully works as an observation point for the urban landscape, as an infrastructure for cultural events and as a green haven in the midst of the city.
The Nursery has organically developed a character of its own, as a living installation with a triple value: it successfully works as an observation point for the urban landscape, as an infrastructure for cultural events and as a green haven.
It is interesting to observe the process through which an architectural object develops beyond the roles it was originally assigned. The Nursery has sparked a strong dialogue about biodiversity in cities, about Timișoara's horticultural heritage and about the potential of urban gardening, important topics proposed by Studio Peisaj, the landscape architects of our team. We even had an architecture office in Romania that wanted to integrate a nursery-like installation in one of their residential projects in another city — which makes us believe that The Nursery could become a model for the integration of green space in highly urbanised landscapes. “Hanging gardens" are a 2600-year-old concept, but the novelty introduced through The Nursery is the social and technical potential of the installation, as well as the mixed use and the variety of functions it offers. The citizens' perception of The Nursery has grown a lot throughout the year, along with the growth of greenery. We believe that any debate in the city is a gathering point that binds the community.
The Nursery has sparked a strong dialogue about biodiversity in cities, about Timișoara's horticultural heritage and about the potential of urban gardening.
KOOZ Through the LINA platform, BETA invited three teams of fellows to explore further ways in which Victory Square could be used, exploited and enhanced by users. What makes a “good” public space? To what extent is there a pre-established set of devices and winning strategies which can be implemented across urban contexts and/ or does each approach need to be tailored to the immediate context of the site?
BETA The premise of the competition is the fact that the square no longer adapts to the contemporary needs of the city. By way of a short history of the place, the two promenades leading to the square where The Nursery is currently located — called Corso and Surogat — used to segregate the social fabric within the city (Corso was for the bourgeoisie and Surogat was for workers). As this kind of separation is no longer wishful, we think the public space should also shift towards a more democratic vision.
Victory Square frequently gathers large masses of people, be it for city celebrations, concerts, sport activities etc. It’s not so much about the fact that it’s not a good space, but it can get a lot better. As the needs and wishes of the citizens of the city are ever changing, a dynamic and adaptable space is the base ground for a successful public space. Public space should fulfil the basic needs of the citizens, when they are outside looking for a shaded, protected space with green areas, where they can gather and do different kinds of activities, they don’t have room for in their own houses — and it should be free.
As the needs and wishes of the citizens of the city are ever changing, a dynamic and adaptable space is the base ground for a successful public space.
The quality of the 3 fellows’ interventions that they will each further explain at large is that they target 3 specific minus points of the square. That’s a proof of the fact that local punctual interventions that solve micro problems contribute as a whole to the improvement of the total public space. We are very eager to see how people’s perceptions are affected by this kind of spatial activation.
Space Saloon and The MAAK, Let’s Get Ready to RRRUBBBLE, Victory Square, Timișoara, Romania.
KOOZ Space Sal00n + The Maak, your project Let’s Get Ready to RRRUBBBLE — enacted in October 2023 — aims to “rethink the role of resources and agency in architectural production”, advocating for “an architecture of availability”. Specifically, the project will seek to repurpose the staircases that used to provide entrance to the underground pedestrian passageways that crossed the square. From urban mining to urban re-purposement: what is for you the potential of exploring these abandoned sites through found or discarded objects?
SPACE SAL00N + THE MAAK RRRUBBLE aims to address resource scarcity through circular strategies, equipping the public with inspiration and tools for rethinking our relationship to material use. We choose to work with found objects and discarded or forgotten items and spaces. We consider this material world a lens through which to uncover historical, cultural and social values that are important to why, how, and what we build. In this way, materials are embraced as a process, not a product.
In order to access available resources, our approach is to source and collect items in-person, with our hands, as well as being directly involved in the making and experimentation process.
In order to access available resources, our approach is to source and collect items in-person, with our hands, as well as being directly involved in the making and experimentation process. This establishes important social links and reveals circular, connected narratives, from which new ways of thinking about and making architecture may emerge.
KOOZ Ana and Gonzalo, in quite a radical manner, your proposal Lido entirely changes one’s perception and engagement with the square, acting directly upon the inaccessible grass beds in the promenade area of the square. How does the proposal seek to reclaim these beds as public space, rather than beautification? What is the potential of such an action, considered at the scale of the entire city and beyond?
ANA GALLEGO + GONZALO MARTÍN Contemporary public spaces, which often respond to urban planning parameters or inherited traditions, have become a major focal point of the discussions regarding the necessary transformation of cities and their future paradigm. We note a keen focus on the impacts these spaces have on their inhabitants: not only physical and psychological but also perceptual and emotional — a more hospitable city is also perceptibly buildable and material.
Understanding public space as a social and common good that enhances people's quality of life, the change of use — even if only for a few days — awakens the possibility in citizens that another space and another city might be possible. This brings new observations, studies and scenarios about the urban area to the community of residents in a particular place.
Understanding public space as a social and common good that enhances people's quality of life, the change of use awakens the possibility in citizens that another space and another city might be possible.
Lido reflects on and acts in relation to contemporary public spaces and their use, promoting reflection on the new possibilities of inhabiting these common areas of cities. Through the multiplication of the same inflatable element, different typologies of urban furniture are generated; these remain respectful of the existing garden space, being of an ephemeral nature — yet they succeed in temporarily reclaiming a common space in which to develop new activities creatively for all citizens.
As part of programmed activities during the City Celebration Weekend, and for the first time within the Victory Square's green areas, Lido will change the way the square is inhabited and perceived — introducing colour and new uses, including as drawing workshops, yoga classes, family picnics and more — in a place that was previously uninhabitable and empty of use.
Positioning public space as a public good places significant emphasis on promoting alternative, porous and rapid responses in city design.
Through such interventions, a new flow of movement is generated within the square, transforming it from a area to pass through — an historic legacy from when the space functioned as a separator of social classes — into a social equaliser and place of gathering. What was considered a space of discrimination for many years becomes a community catalyst, a space of unity. This in turn generates an increased sense of attachment and care in ‘users’ or citizens, fostering a connection with the place and thus enhancing a new perception of the square.
Positioning public space as a public good places significant emphasis on promoting alternative, porous and rapid responses in city design, focussing the attention on the need to prioritise ecological considerations when envisioning new urban scenarios. The project emphasises the positive impact that an island of green space can have on our bodies and minds through an immersive and engaged approach to occupancy, rather than passive or contemplative observation. The inflatable and planted environment also provides a cosy and gentle contrast to the hardness and rigidity of the rest of the square, further encouraging a new perspective on the surroundings from within.
Finally, second life has been arranged for all the inflatable floats used in the installation, with a portion being donated to the public pools of Timiṣoara and the remainder repurposed as temporary furniture in schools.
The Romanian Order of Architects is a professional, non-profit, apolitical, public interest, autonomous and independent organisation, structured through branches in the territory. The Timiș Territorial Branch of OAR aims to communicate to society that architecture is an act of culture and public interest, with urban, economic, social and ecological implications. Since its establishment, OAR Timiș has organised numerous cultural projects, among which the most important being Beta - the Timișoara Architecture Biennial, which, since the first edition in 2016, has become one of the main architectural events in the country and euroregion.
Ana Gallego has worked in the international architecture studio Miralles Tagliabue EMBT in Barcelona since 2020. She is the lead coordinator of the Urban LAB of Mental Health which participates in the public policies of the EU, making an investigation that joins mental health, urban design and technology policies in the EU. She has taken part in MODELFest with ‘Aigua Sana’ (2022) and at BCN Architecture Week with ‘Square it' (2021), both exhibitions related to the improvement of the urban space.
Space Saloon is a collective of architects, artists and researchers, led by Danny Wills, Gian Maria Socci and Rebecca van Beeck. Their projects build communities, promote learning and foster engagement through the production of transdisciplinary forms of knowledge. The MAAK is an award-winning spatial practice based in Cape Town, South Africa. Driven by process, people and materials the studio’s outputs range from full-scale public buildings to experimental spatial enquiries. The MAAK was co-founded by Ashleigh Killa and Max Melvill in 2016.