J.- So I’m Juan Chacón from the collective Zuloark, devoted to architecture and urbanism and urban activation since 2001. We are present in several cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Brussels, Mexico and Berlin right now. I’m going to talk about what do we do, right?


+ Yes, especially about Berlin. What are you guys into now?

J.- So, in Berlin we are doing several things: from projects of design of urban furniture and elements for artistic interventions or theatre festivals, up to more theoretical projects about public space and how people interpret the city, projects of urban activation throughout furniture […].


+ What are you interested for? Why are you involved with the urban activation and the work with the communities?

J.- Difficult question, huh?  Personally, it turns out as a passion for me, that is, I realize how the more work I do outdoors, out of a room, and the more time I’m in the strees talking to the people and thinking about open spaces in town, or the public space, the happier I am. I mean, I feel more active and more awake, so to speak. Then, I think it happens to be a personal situation and I’m lucky that our collective is addressed in that direction in many of the projects they do.


+ For example, what are the challenges that you see when you have to do an urban activation, when you have to work with a community?  

J.- For me, the most important thing (which is a joke that I’ve talked about with colleagues from other collectives) is to work in the neighbourhoods, which is a very old thing. Actually, urban activation by itself doesn’t make any sense. There has to be a reason, something like what happens in Berlin it that there’s a specific problem that has to be solved, and there are some people who get organized to resolve that problem because they realize the instructions given don’t help them, or there’s a group of people who like to intensify their work throughout the activation of a specific thing in the public space. That modus operandi or that priviledged germ of urban activation must be there, or otherwise, to do it just for the sake of doing it because it’s cool or beautiful, or because it’s supportive, doesn’t much sense, and that seems the problem to me.


+ From your experience, do you work more by beginning processes, that is, activating communites and spaces, or joining processes already existing? Or a mixture of both?

J.- Well, it’s a mixture and it depends much on the context and the process in question. Right now, we are on Emplats bay, which is next to Bethanian, a cultural institution that opened in the 80s and has a lot of background. It was a squat, and now it’s subsidized by the state. And near here there’s a park – that was made by an architect – which has a serious problem with drug trafficking and people taking drugs there. So, there is a guy who wanted to activate the plot as a productive garden and then some other guys from another collective called us because they knew us, to help with that. It’s a way to start like: “hey, you guys that already have a little experience in this, speak the language and have experience in other contexts, come help us”.

Another is that we have projects that have a long path, and when there’s a change of introducing them in an institution, like the Declaration of Urban Rights. It’s like “that goes perfectly with that project, introduce it there”. So it’s a bit of self-interest, but taking advantage of the opportunity.


+ I’m very interested in that concept because, on the one hand, people usually like to think about  joining existing processes, this is, a community already activated and then putting in within their possibilities. But there are also the processes that you lead and what you do is to adding them to… 

J.- A community or a place.


+ Exactly! To start even to activate. About Urban Rights, what’s the objective of that project?

J.- The Declaration of Urban Rights’ objective is very simple: to try to give voice, or to understand, by means of interviews of less than one minute what people think about their own cities. From, which things need to be abolished, which ones need to be introduced and which ones should be kept. Then, usually in cities, we do interviews to lots of people that are thinking about public spaces or private spaces depending on he context we are, and that gives as kind of “tags” as if they were from a blog. That helps us to understand which concepts are repeated more or less. This is the base of a project that later has a lot of more complex diversifications, since they are the open database that anyone could understand and there are collaborative maps where people set interesting places, etc.


+ For example, in this project, the community that is participating in the project would be the ones that are filling those maps, who are giving their opinion, is it still active? Do they participate actively?

J.- So far there have been three models. The first one was subsidized or activated by a community of architects in a small city in Spain, Jaén, and then, all the agents that participated in the declaration of urban rights in Jaén, had to do with Architecture and the Architects Association there. But there are also several models because one can start in that community, but sometimes you can do a series of street interviews in strategic points where there are random people, etc.

Another model is like in Lisbon, where the triennial meeting of architecture and urbanism calls Zuloark to set the declaration there, to do an urban parliament and to create a debate. Then, the people who are interviewed are linked to that triennial meeting. And now in Berlin, it has been done throughout a cultural institution: to call and invite all the citizen initiatives through an art curator who is devoted to art and culture management. So she has been searching for initiatives in Berlin since October to invite that people to participate in those interviews and also to parliamentary sessions, to talk about the city and citizen actions.


+ Then what I understand is: they are short-lived communities that get together because there’s an event or something in particular. They throw themselves into it and later each one goes on with their careers.

J.- So far, yes, but for example in Madrid, there’s a project that is promoted by the City Hall, which is “Cuesta del Moyano”. All the sourcs are there and they wanted to activate, so they regain that cultural presence and a public space because it’s a bit…. no? There is little public?   And one of the parts of the poject is the Moyano Rights, for which the foundators are aswering these questions: What would they introduce? What would they abolish?


+ So, you take advantage of the needs… like trying to extract the needs and the wishes to give them shape starting from this project, no?

J.- Correct, to understand the needs and wishes by means of the project, to be able to do other things later.


+ And what is working with that community like? or involving them in the process?

J.- I haven’t talked directly with them, but I’ve been told that it’s quite hard, that is, I’ve been told it’s complicated […] because they are afraid of any changes since every time something has changed (according to what Enrquize Espinoza told me), it was to the worse. It’s like they have been degradating them, so now, they are reluctant to any changes even if it is to give them more visibility […].


+ And for example, the urban rights in Berlin you mentioned earlier are a lot of succesions that got together for this specific event, and besides you’re seeing the opportunity to conform them somehow, no?  

J.- Well, yes, it’s exactly like that, because I have the feeling that in Berlin, all the citizen initiatives are linked to political processes or they understand that creativity is linked to a political change, and then, they are very frustrated, because they can’t find their own tools, and any step is very difficult. The idea of the Declaration was like getting them together so they built a net and shared […]. We still don’t know how it’s going to be formalized, whether if it’s like the map of “los Madriles” where it’s explained which things there are, or a catalogue where there are the tools. […]


+ And in that example, what is your task there: as a facilitator, a coordinator, an activator…?   

J.- In this case we have been the ones who have get them in touch throughout this project, by chance. I think we have the virtue, since we are not Germans, to be able to dream a little. I swear sometimes I think they barely can dream. They talk a lot about the processes of methodologies, and when you do a methodology they query it, but they don’t talk about the dream they have for that methodology.


+ Action, reaction.

J.- Reaction: “we need to stop it. How is it stopped? By means of protests and after talking to the politician…and getting a lot of people together. I need 20,000 signatures”.Therefore, those are methods that are way too bureaucratised, and they are missing a little creativity of “let’s do beautiful things, let’s regenerate our neighbourhood. I think what we do, as the agents  give them something to dream about.


+ In that case, from the path you have followed throughout the different interventions you have been doing, you  might get some knowledge. What are for you the necessary roles to carry out this type of processes?  […]

J.- Well, the person wanted is “a” Jacobo, somebody who knows everyone in the neighbourhood and who can be not a mediator, but a dream catalyst. That person who isn’t a bureaucraut or a technician, but  who knows a woman who knows everyone in the hood and knows their dreams. He can have them sit together at a table to dialogue. I think that indivdual is basic, because without them, anybody who tries to activate something is going to be lost and is going to try to take out their own dreams, which come from the outside. […] I think that architects, as designers or activators, are not users of the places they work on,  so it’s very difficult to manage to carry out a process that lasts in time […].


+ I had two questions about that: With how much critical mass can one work in a stable way? This is, from 100 on, or it’s impossible, or with 10 I can’t make it or I need to work only with leaders…”, and I also wanted to ask you: What is necessary to be able to work in a long term with regards to the process?

But first, the critical mass. 

J.- I think the critical mass can be infinite because that depends on the process you are. Right now, for example: Tempelhofer Feld is the old airport. There was a law to build there, a partial plan to build over it, and then, two women (Margaret and Gestin) with three or for more people who started saying ” we need to stop this”. And then, they set up an association, an initiative to try to get enough signatures to hold a citizen referendum so it wasn’t approved. They managed it, so the critical mass had to be of about 200.000 people, and it was necessary.


+ Sure! But in that case, what Margaret did is active for a common purpose, that is, all these people are like a protest: “I launch this call so they do this specifically. But to manage the process itself, […] as an activator, one has a relationship with the community to have some meetings, where decisions can be made without losing control, because in the end, not everybody can speak […]

J.- That answer is complicated, no? You’re saying where the limit is closed. I think the limit of critical mass is the number of people who want to be involved in something. But, where do the dreams come from? […] I like the method that I use in Zuloark a lot. We aren’t many but it works very well. It’s the trust method, that is like: “I abstain because I trust  the person who is going to make the decision about this for the good of everyone. Then I think with resources like this one doesn’t try to impose their opinion over the rest, it’s easier to get a larger critical mass, which in the end is a nice thing because the diversity is what gives cuality to the projects.


+ In the case of long-term processes, you have detected like valleys, depths… as kilometre points, right?

J.- I have the feeling, not as if I were going bullfighting, but what usually happens, or what I’ve seen in processes like La Cebada, or Bicylope in Mobait ( which is a smaller project bu works equally) are these stages: Starting off with a community or a group of architects is a process which becomes very powerful because everyone is very excited with something new,when that materializes somehow, it doesn’t lose strength, but it gets that inertia and then there’s some kind of testing and that’s when the users enter, which is part of that critical mass because they modify the space in other ways and seeing what can be done and living how it can be modified. And then, as in the case of La Cebada, there’s a new group of people who want to activate the space and then it gets tested again. It’s like a bicycle that goes on its own and it keeps going because someone pushes it and it think it’s beautiful.


+ And in this case, those new users that get in and add energy to the pedalling, do you attract them somehow, do you search for them, or is it the inertia of the project itself the one that generates that attraction? From your experience.

J.- I think it’s the inertia of the project. Mobait is a beautiful thing. Bicyclopes are urban furniture that produce energy and are built by the communities they are from, since it was the neighbours who designed and built that furniture with us. That is a Medialab project: we start off and then we contact neighbours to learn about their needs. We did another activation  with a school and what was in the street, when the permit to have it installed was over (In Germany permits are used for everything), so just a while costs a lot of money and then, they are over. A girl we had never seen in the whole process, sat down and said  that we couldn’t  dismantle it, she had built it with her friends from the neighbourhood and it was impossible to take it away if we didn’t have a dismantling permit, that she was going to call the police and I thought it was great.  On the one hand it was like: “I have to dismantle this, it’s getting dark” and on the other hand, it’s wonderful that this neighbour has taken over the place and she thinks it’s so hers, I don’t know her and she’s been here throughout the process”. She’s the most active member and she’s turned out to be the most active agent in Bicylope, and that seemed great to me. I think it’s a natural thing from the place. These things that are tested and then has their own life is cool.


+ And when there is no life on their own left […] in la Cebada or in this kind of dynamics, do you think is possible to create activities or events or dynamics or whatever attracs people or is it better to give up?

J.- Well, I think if it doesn’t come to life by itself it’s because od something, doesn’t it? What I mean is that’s it’s better that an action doesn’t get a life on its own in this type of urbanism which is activated by the people’s wish, who live there, the communities that are there. Even people who want to activate because they see a chance and if that doesn’t get a better life that could evolve throughout events and the change of the formal structure, that Alexanderplatz or Puerta del Sol don’t get a life is much sadder because it’s more expensive to build. But that shouldn’t imply a failure, I mean, if something doesn’t get activity it might be for so many reasons we can’t control that we shouldn’t see it as a failure and force ourselves to activate it.


+ One of the question that comes up more often in the interviews I’m doing is the economic sustainability in the processes, how that affect the evolution, durability, longetivity or quality of the process. In which sense have you guys faced the economic sutainability of the different places?  

J.- This is very interesting for me, because I think it is a hot topic. On the one hand, I belive that any kind of neighbour initiative at the moment, and especially in Spain, is getting political connotations which shouldn’t have, and I think that’s very bad. A lot of people who activate this kind of spaces or carry out this type of initiatives, are linked to the left wing, and then, they are individuals with a left-wing identity, whereas some others not, huh? But there is a lot of people who demonize the funding of these projects throughout a cultural institution, because they doubt about the origin of those fundings. Then I think we should be more open to discuss what public space is and who can finance the public space. Because truth is without resources, you can’t activate anything. You can’t do events […] Then, the lack of resources involves the death of projects. Because people get tired of investing in resources of their own energy, they need a back-up of resources. One needs to find where those resources are.


+ I was going to ask you about finances that are only related to the public administration. If you have ever thought about: on the one hand that it could be “private funding”, on the other hand that “banks which decide to give credit”, throughout undertaking, more from the bottom to the top, throughout the sale of services like a bar or tourist guidebooks.  

J.- Everything is legitimate to me, everything that generates activity. Living in a country like Germany I’ve understood it much more, because in northern European countries the public spaces is used for a very few months, so they make the most of them. Whenever it’s sunny, they go out to the streets and that has to be made possible […] We need to invent new methodologies, we should be creative in the systematic bureaucracy, so that we can execute those budgets. It shouldn’t be right that only a group of people had it for three years. People who manage it is throughout neighbours associations at a municipality level, they are public contests… A network of sharing ought to be done. I think it’d be interesting.


+ How cool, because, beside politics and bureaucracy, other people talk about that as well: This morning I talked to Michael from ID22, and they were talking about they are focusing on changing the politics and the bureaucracy that allowed to have access to another type of resources. I wanna ask you aswell, who should be paid in this kind of processes? Which part would be more voluntary and which part should be more like a contract?

J.- I don’t have an answer. I think each case has to solve that. I can guess how necessary figures who are present in the whole process and who can be followers can have some kind of compensation for being there. What it’s dangerous with all the methodologies is that a person wants to get on board just to get paid. There should be a person, a manager who could call and hire some people. Another idea is to set a contest concering the paid part, but also to offer the chance to do another part as a volunteer.


+ So it’s a halfway situation.

J.- There must be a halfway situation!


+ So apart from the will, there should be an economic support that allows people to keep the will, but….   

J.- Definitely, I think it has to be something halfway. I don’t know how it could be applied. It’s complicated.


+ And do you know which roles are essential for you?

J.- Always Jacobo’s role.


+ Should Jacobo get paid?

J.- Jacobo should get paid!


+ Ok.

J.- Jacobo should get paid where he can do his job, which is in many neighbourhoods, but he needs a lot of time…


+ It could be… I was thinking about Jacobo’s role. They are agents who are important in the processes so they don’t disappear for money’s sake. Rather than hiring them, they shouldn’t have to stop what they’re doing because they need a full- time job because they can’t live on anything else. Then, they say: “Look, I have to get in this study (building), because if I don’t do this, I don’t live”.  

J.- Correct! It ‘d be the way of understanding how…


+ Sure, how compensate those individuals you don’t want to leave. Not so much the ones you’d like to come along, but the ones you don’t want to go away because there’s no money.  

J.- Correct! But that would be a model like the one in “the Malaqui”, which is “when you become a parent, you get a paternal or maternal leave. The couple decides how long gets each one, because it’s good for the education of the kid, and then it’s necessary for society.” Therefore, “you are getting paid for having a child”. And it’s not that, it is understandable because it’s a social benefit.


+ Yes, well, I hadn’t thought about it like that, but when you mentioned it, I said “yes, for me, it would be like that concept”. I mean, there are some people you need to keep doing what they’re doing, and if they don’t have income to do it, we have to get it, don’t we? We have talked about this with Paco at the “office”: “We all should do a crowdfunding so that Paco didn’t have to work and he could do what he’s doing at the moment: take of everyone and have that type of role.  

J.- Well, the best or the worst thing is that there are some people who have that role and manages to have a life economically viable because…they say… “I don’t have to work because I do what I fancy, and I think that’s what happens to you and a little to me.


+ Yes! So, what are the challenges that you see in the processes that are taking place now?  

J.- For me the challenge, or what I’m thinking about a lot lately is… to be content generators and not people who sort out the problems of the continent. If not, to be catalysers or people and to give work and people are active and activating places. Thanks to what we have understood how we have access to these resources. We mentioned this before. […]


+ How many people are necessary to carry out that, I mean, to be able to have the responsibility of: hey, because that’s very interesting for me, to get a lawyer, or whatever. What figures do you see that could help to be able to carry out that project?  

J.- I think a jurist can be ok, but it has to be a very special jurist. I mean, I think they are people who are intrinsecally capable of absorbing and releasing a lot of pressure on the others. Then, I don’t think the profession prepares you for that.


+ They would have to have some competences that have to do with conflict solving, the ability of absorbing pressure and…On the other hand, some specific abilities that could do in those fields, no?

J.- It doesn’t have to be a person specialized in that because they have studied that. I think maybe Margaret, who is a designer of I don’t know what, is the one who knows the bureaucratic process in Berlin the most, to manage such a strong process as of Tempelhofer, or how to activate a square, or the name of a door or how to request things, because you are talking to German politicians


+ You guys have offices practically everywhere, no? In Zuloark the sun never sets, I mean, when one is already in bed, there’s someone else “on fire”.   This is related to a perception that I’ve been told in other interviews: There’s a global problem that affect all of us and nevertheless, all the answers, all the studies that we’re doing have to do with hipercontextual answers; they have names and surnames. How do you think these two situations can be related?

J.- We think we are very original when it comes to having these problems and solving them, but they’ve been happening for a hundred years. In the 70’s, the “local global team” topic wasn’t new. I heard it when I started my degree, in 1998, and I guess it was already in the 70s. Or when David Harvey in the 80s, or the communitary gardens of New York, which had this kind of problems. In the end, their goal was to solve that. I think that we are trying to do the same as what everyone has done in the actions, which is trying to act in our environments, so that enables our lives and closer people’s lives to be more beautiful.


+ What do you miss out to carry out that? Because you talked earlier about the necessity of communities of  being accompanied on many occasions, of having a support which is not even economic, but to know that they’re not alone. You guys that have offices everywhere, and you are talking about “Los Madriles”, “Los Berlines”, etc. What do you miss to get a more collective support?

J.- I miss sleeping, sleeping a bit longer. That’s it, sleeping longer to have my mind concentrated a 100%. I have the feeling we are on a thousand things. I would like to have more time for just one thing. I’d like to say I’m at this place we are now and I’m going to be working there 6 months with the community… and then I’m going to do another thing, and I can be there with them every day.


+ And of course, those activities that absorb your daily lives, could be carried out by other people or wouldn’t have to be carried out….  

J.- Or they didn’t exist. If they didn’t exist, you could be focused for six months. When we think about that project calendar, we could try to be more realistic. What I think is right now, everyone overworks because of the immediacy of the tasks. […]


+ Later in the study of Autobarrios some problems have arisen like the depletion of leaders, of projects. People who ends up sick and tired, and it’s heard;” Let somebody else get the position, I can’t anymore”, I believe it, “I believe it, everything is cool even at an economic level, I’m receiving some funding. The problem is my energy, there’s no more”, they you say: “I need some sleep, I need holidays, I need… How can that be solved?   

J.- Did that person just work there, or did he have another job?


+ Yes, he had a lot more things, that is part of all his tasks. He went through what you’ve just mentioned.  

J.- But that can be solved by having fewer things. The solution is a better time management. What I talked yesterday: “I believe it’s a better calendar outlook, and of your own time”. I mean that you can afford it, which is related to resources even if you have to feed a family. In the end you have to make money to feed them, so the project should let you feed them.I have the feeling we overvalue the fundings we’re given. “Wow, we have 2,000 euros, so with that we can set up all this”, and you might say… “With 2,000 euros we can pay the administrative who manages the project, or if not, you can’t do the project, or it’s a meal one day”, because to manage a meal, do the call for proposals, design a webpages, in the end you have to gather five experts. […]


+ I was going to ask you now about evaluation. One of the problems that also arises is: How do I transmit my supervisors or my colleagues the positive aspects of the project with other possible sponsors? I mean, what indicators let me tell somebody that this is working? In all these processes those indicators can’t be quantitative: “It’s not as if 20,000 people do it better, or because other 5 people come it’s going to be worse, or because only women or inmigrants have come”.

J.- How is that evaluated?


+ Like, which indicators? Or what type of evaluation?, or what type of model allows us to tell these processes so that they can be tested, I mean, a theorist who’s not here says: “I do believe that”, then he does the legendary: We have collected signatures, taken pictures, there’s 50% inmigrants, 20% locals, gender equality”. In the end, we know that in all these processes, that’s not what gives them quality.

J.- That’s it!


+ Quantitive processs don’t give quality to the project.

J.- “Likes” on Facebook, huh?


+ Retweets!

J.- Retweets! Yes, always! Everyone’s so happy when “It’s gone viral, kids”


+ I remember a talk, that was amazing for me! A talk at the National Library. It was a conference about architecture of…I don’t know what. Then on the Internet there was a lot of people commenting, I don’t know how many people watching it on streaming, retweeting, hashtagging…The organizers were in the room. There were 10 people in that stalls prepared for 200. That bar was “on fire” because they were seeing their customers on their phones. For them that was an indicator, an evaluation indicator. But in a process like La Cebada, or probably Moabit, or Tempelhofer, the evaluation is different.

J.- I think the evaluation of something that lasts in time, and where things will go on, that’s enough for yourself. When you have to explain ir to get fundings, I think it has to be something measurable.


+ And how can be that measured?

J.- The parametres you’ve just mentioned. I mean: How many people have attended? How many events have taken place? How much audience? The diversity of events and people. What agents have participated in those events and which CV do those agents have? If you’re going to request a grant to a cultural institution, it’s the quantity of people and what agents there are. If a well-known magazine does an activy “Autobarrios”, I guess that when it comes to request a grand, that is showed in the CV and that’s going to have a name. I believe that type of indicator, or to have an Autobarrios CV is what it’s going to give you an indicator and you might be give more resources. And the other indicator es that it’s in use and it’s kept alive. If it’s alive, that’s a success. I think that’s the indicator that a poject is fine.


+ Okay.Alright, if you have something else that you are thinking of…

J.- I just answer, to myself.


+ Okay, thank you very much then.

J.- You’re welcome.


+ How cool!