Urban Futures – Cultural Pasts Conference


Community Design & User Autonomy


A track led by the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

Track Call

This Conference Track seeks to critique our understanding of participatory practices in relation to vulnerable communities and their urban environments. Consequently, it will examine contexts and neighbourhoods in which dominant hierarchies in decision-making and inequitable resource allocation are evident in on-the-ground situations. It seeks a wide perspective on these questions, including examinations of the role of architects and urban planners committed to socially responsible development practices – from institutionalised participatory design processes, to bottom-up initiatives of community planning. It also examines recent reflections on the concept of social ecology and its relation to the built environment as we design, plan and build it. Ultimately, this track aims to create what we are referring to as an ongoing collective archive that helps us re-think and problematize the concepts of user engagement, agency, environment, self-sufficiency, community-based design and the multiple possible roles of the participatory-oriented architect/planner.


To achieve this, we call for case studies, theoretical critiques, papers on new and emerging initiatives, and historical examples of participatory projects that capture the tension and complexity of community design approaches. We encourage contributions that consider non-Western initiatives, papers offering feminist perspectives, examples of specific communities suffering social exclusion and essays that re-visit the past or rescue hidden historiographies.

Example projects conducted here in Barcelona in relation to this include: i) a project for the recovery of the irrigation system at a thermal orchard, ii) a series of participatory workshops with communities of the Cardona region of the city, iii) participatory action research workshops between students at the Vallès School of Architecture and the city of Sabadell. Images 1 & 3

Key Words:

Participation, co-design, community planning, social responsibility, autonomy of the user, equity, social justice, history of participatory architecture, agency.

Key People:

Marta Serra, PhD is a lecturer and urban researcher at the Department of Theory and History of Architecture, Polytechnic University of Catalonia-BarcelonaTech. She’s ‘Serra Húnter’ fellow and belongs to the research group Architecture, City and Culture. She coordinates the history and theory course of ‘Architecture and the City’ at BA level and the ‘City and Society’ course on the Masters in Sustainable Intervention in the Built Environment programme (MISMeC – ETSAV-UPC). She researches the theory and practice of participatory architecture and community planning as well as the various forms of citizen appropriation of public space. She specially focuses on the historical perspective of user engagement and social responsibility within architecture and develops participatory action research in vulnerable urban contexts.

Jere Kuzmanić is a department member and PhD candidate in the Department of Urbanism and Regional Planning, Polytechnic University of Catalonia-BarcelonaTech. He has FPU state scholarship support. His research focuses on urbanism as social ecology and the history of planning cultures from proto-ecological and ‘bottom-up’ perspectives. He has participated in scientific, professional and activist research projects with a particular interest in social and environmental justice, direct action and cooperation in urbanism and urban ‘degrowth’. He publishes through academic and non-academic platforms including, among others, Čovjek i Prostor, eFlux, Critica Urbana and Le Monde Diplomatique.


Part of the Urban Futures – Cultural Pasts Conference


This track develops themes central to the Master’s degree in Sustainable Intervention in the Built Environment. MISMeC at UPC.

The programme is taught in two tracks. In English, open to students from all over the world, with a language competence equivalent to European B2. In Spanish/Catalan, as part of the double degree with the Master’s programme in Architecture, MArq,


Programme Rationale:

The city plays a fundamental role in a social strategy of progressive transformation of the social metabolism towards a carbon-neutral model to maintain or restore the productive capacity and ecosystem services of the territory and natural systems. On the one hand, because the city is a place of high-density material flows that define the social metabolism. On the other hand, because the city is a place of strong social perception to express public mechanisms of political participation. These two conditions make the city a key place of intervention to implement and develop social strategies for transforming the social metabolism towards sustainability.

The one-year MSc programme focuses on the city in order to identify, criticise and diagnose its metabolism – with specific tools for conceptualisation, measurement, and evaluation – and to propose sustainable transformative interventions. This process involves recognising material flows, spaces on which they act and conditions in which they operate to generate a critical discourse. The aim is to develop the capacity to intervene strategically in the city, to propose new socially acceptable models through responsible intervention in its spaces. This work is specific to the field of architecture, at the different scales of buildings, neighbourhoods, urban spaces, and territorial relations.

The programme focuses on a cutting-edge area of specialisation for disciplines dealing with the built environment in order to strategically transform the vision of professionals and guide future researchers in transforming our society towards sustainability. The MSc is practice-oriented and addresses real projects in urban contexts, through processes of social metabolism diagnosis and carbon-neutral interventions for climate change.


Urban Futures – Cultural Pasts Conference

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Other tracks:  Community Design & User Autonomy >>  Governing the Ecosystem Commons >>  |  Material Circularity >>  |  Urban Intervention – Reducing Vulnerability >> | Sustainable Lifestyles – Impact & Reduction Scenarios >>

Main Image: Adolf Sotoca