Team Representative: Guillem Colomer (ES) – architect
VIDEO (by the team)
1. How did you form the team for the competition?
COFOarchitects is a Rotterdam-based practice founded in 2015 by Guillem Colomer. Since then we have been involved in a large variety of projects with strong commitment to design excellence. We shape everyday places to better society and improve people’s lives. We mobilise our vast network to develop genuine designs in close collaboration with committed clients and resourceful partners. Our ambitious proposals are always realised by mobilising a Collective Force, which gives name to COFOarchitects.
2. How do you define the main issue of your project, and how did you answer on this session main topic: the place of productive activities within the city?
BoTu is a vulnerable, yet incredibly diverse, neighbourhood in Rotterdam. Twice a week the central square hosts a local market, but the space remains underused during the rest of the week. The proposal combines the dynamics of the highly appreciated market with the large diversity of cultures to consolidate a genuine collective identity. Productive development only makes sense if it fosters human happiness. The relations of production and distribution in society can only change if culture changes as well. Architecture can play a fundamental role by means of spatial compositions with strong expression that influence people’s mindsets. The design purpose is to encourage a productive neighbourhood through socialisation. A central urban avenue is created to activate the neighbourhood with the most dynamic coexistence of activities. The mutual interference of the new RAMBLA and the multifunctional hub, the KAPSALON, will create a stimulating collective image with a multifaceted authentic expression that can represent the local community. The heart of BoTu will become an intensely productive place where social bonds are strengthened while working.
3. How did this issue and the questions raised by the site mutation meet?
BoTu is an area with an enormous potential to become a genuine neighbourhood by mobilising its rich diversity: people with all sorts of cultural backgrounds, languages and skills. However, it currently misses a good-quality public space where such diversity can be enhanced and dignified. We shape cities, and cities shape us. Instead of a strictly aesthetic expression, we want a deeper impact; we want to create a sense of community. We propose a system of connected public spaces that build the local identity; a physical collective image that celebrates and expresses its rich diversity. By re-introducing a RAMBLA, the current underused square is transformed into a long vein that connects the commercial axes and the upcoming M4H’s Makers District. This new pedestrian avenue for everyday use is designed to stimulate continuous social interaction and it can be instantaneously transformed into the market. The public space extends into the KAPSALON, which literally translated from Dutch means “a covered living room”. This interior public square is constantly activated by the adjacent multi-programmed halls: a library, a sports centre, working spaces... Its distribution ensures that all kinds of cultural and productive activities can take place simultaneously. The design purpose is to encourage a productive neighbourhood through socialisation. The project mobilises the same multicultural collective spirit that created a local tasty meal, which is also named “kapsalon”.
4. Have you treated this issue previously? What were the reference projects that inspired yours?
During the design and execution of a Tibetan Buddhist centre in Rotterdam, COFOarchitects treated the issue of consolidating a genuine collective identity through participation. The highly diverse community itself transformed a former industrial-printing house into their centre. The limitations and opportunities of this type of process influenced the design. The architectural solutions had to be adapted to the skills and capacities available within the community. The execution took place in multiple intense workshops sessions. The participatory process provided a very special and intimate bond between the neighbourhood, the centre and the community. Working at Neutelings Riedijk Architects, Guillem Colomer obtained relevant experience through the design and execution of theaters, city halls, museums, libraries, hotels, schools and other mixed-use public buildings, where complex functions and logistics were balanced with delicate urban contexts to give them iconic significance. Neutelings Riedijk’s STUK building in Leuven (Belgium) was a major inspiration for this Europan’s proposal. Its spatial concept is a city with many houses; a mosaic of different locations for performances, productions, rehearsals, reception areas, courses and organization. The central patio, an intimate inner court, forms the complex's heart and organizes the routing. All the public functions have an address on it. Another main inspiration was the ambition behind Frei Otto’s works: making buildings for the society we want to be. The Multihalle in Mannheim is a multipurpose hall, built by Frei Otto for the 1975 Bundes Gartenschau (federal garden show). It is the largest timber lattice shell structure in the world to date. With its experimental history, open spatial qualities and integration into nature, it has the ambition to be an “open space” for an “open society”. Otto laid the groundwork for an experimental culture that remains highly relevant today: a social space where citizens can interact in multiple ways, endlessly stimulating their creativity and broadening their knowledge. COFOarchitects is currently working on the transformation of this incredible architecture piece and its surroundings.
5. Urban-architectural projects like the ones in Europan can only be implemented together with the actors through a negotiated process and in time. How did you consider this issue in your project?
The design ambition leads to a vibrant neighbourhood with a high level of mixed use and accommodates a wider range of activities, functions, people, building typologies, dimensions, tenures and affordability. An open system guarantees a high degree of adaptability to any uncertain future demand, creating a resilient system that adjusts to the unpredictable flows of contemporary societies. The complex is arranged into four separate volumes – a housing bar and three multipurpose halls – which can be developed through different processes and at different times. The different volumes appear fragmented but function as a compact entity. As architects, we can contribute to develop a genuine urban transformation by applying our knowledge and skills in close dialogue with all the actors involved. We are able to build enthusiasm and trust, and above all, enable participation to empower the neighbours. Active democratic participation ensures social engagement, and viceversa. The phased development strategy promotes a gradual implementation which facilitates collaboration between the municipality, the neighbours, and other stakeholders. The design encourages citizens to get involved in local initiatives and interact in multiple ways. For example, the multifunctional central space becomes the heart of the neighbourhood, stimulating discussion and participation to collectively explore urban coexistence. Another example is the RAMBLA which can be instantaneously transformed into the market. Each market stall is covered by a colourful canopy made by the neighbours with different patterns. These canopies create a unique atmosphere where each individual identity is celebrated and the cultural diversity of the neighbourhood expressed.
6. Is it the first time you have been awarded a prize at Europan? How could this help you in your professional career?
We believe our first Europan prize could be an excellent chance to implement a participatory, social strategy that can better the city we live in. COFOarchitects has already developed several small-scale transformation projects in Rotterdam. For example, a Tibetan Buddhist centre built through a participative process that served to strengthen the community. A follow-up project for a public garden, involving the same community and the neighbourhood, is currently in progress. Working further on the Visserijplein Europan site will be an excellent chance to implement this participative strategy at a larger scale. We are also excited to apply there the methods that COFOarchitects, along with the Municipality of Mannheim, are developing for the transformation of Frei Otto’s Multihalle. Through this Europan prize, we hope to expand our professional network and our visibility to be able to work on highly ambitious and transformative projects. We are looking forward to collaborating with the Municipality of Rotterdam and committed stakeholders in the further elaboration of this exciting project.
Functions: Architecture and urban design
Average age of the associates: 33 years old
Has your team, together or separately, already conceived or implemented some projects and/or won any competition? If yes, which ones?
COFOarchitects has already implemented several small-scale transformation projects, such as a Tibetan Buddhist centre in Rotterdam. The centre was developed through a participative process that served to strengthen the community. The unique process (both designing and building), the re-use of materials and the characteristic identity of Buddhism were the essence of the project. We were nominated to the ARC16 - Young Talent Award for this project. COFOarchitects has also won two other multidisciplinar European competitions. In 2018, a signage and communication project to promote the works of architect J.M. Jujol in the region of Tarragona (Spain). This project has already been built and is currently in use. And in 2019, the transformation of Frei Otto’s incredible Multihalle in Mannheim (Germany). COFOarchitects is currently working on this project.