Time catalysts: research by design in the loose ends of Barcelona

Bajet, Pau (2023) Time catalysts: research by design in the loose ends of Barcelona. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


The passage of time, understood as the duration of becoming in space, offers playful yet serious liberating potentials concerning individual and collective, human and nonhuman rights of appropriation and transformation. This research enquires about the use of time as a design tool in pursuit of such potentials. Drawing upon theoretical frameworks and architectural precedents, it establishes a critical under standing of the capacity of a deep, cross-scalar territory of ever-changing spatial configurations, with openly interpretable supports gathered from specific physical and cultural pre-existence, loosely suggesting delightful habitation over time. The ‘time catalysts’ at the heart of this thesis seek to embody these promises. They set out to deal with urban fringes damaged by the rise and fall of industrialisation, locating the investigation in the southern ‘loose ends’ of Barcelona. In opposition to the widespread tendency towards tabula rasa urbanism, time catalysts are assembled as situated alterations to found contexts. Their slow-changing rhythms are rooted in a fractal field, amidst consecutive infrastructural space (resistance) and its capacity to stimulate successive appropriation (change). They strive for a multiplicity of spatial, political and ecological purposes.

In its approach to architectural and urban investigation, this doctorate mobilises its core argument ‘by design’. This methodological pathway bridges practice and theory by using design speculation as a medium of critical and prospective qualitative enquiry. Transdisciplinary relevance is prioritised in this outlook above scientific verification; instead, the uncertain interrelations of explicit and tacit awareness are of primary interest. The design outputs of this investigation distinguish between ‘artefacts’ (situated spatial prototypes) and ‘artifices’ (ambiguous design strategies) - the former containing irreducible yet ineffable knowledge embeddedness, the latter attempting to communicate designerly ways of knowing that demand, for their meaningful mobilisation, practical wisdom and intention.

Behind the hill of Montjuïc, in a former agricultural terrain of decayed industrial developments near the sea, specific places are approached at different scales - city edge, urban fabric, and room ensemble - providing a context for design speculation in a two-step research process. Firstly, design appears as an interpretive method for defining subjective contexts, identified as found-time catalysts, by means of unveiling fragmentary situations with the potential of stimulating upcoming change. In a second step, design provides a vehicle for speculation. The design research process launches and tests the potential of time in a constellation of projects that both enhance previously found situations and creatively release new-time catalysts in fresh forms. From furniture to landscape, these projects provide gradients of infrastructural support in-between typical categories, scales and disciplinary convention. Their purported insight is made evident in their capacity for overcoming simplistic dichotomies through manifold tectonic, social, climatic, metabolic and temporally nuanced interrelations. These interrelations engage with a deep awareness of the past (pre-existence), as well as producing new spatial resistance to catalyse futurity (in open-ended, slow durations of becoming), awakening a profound civic and ecological sense of coexistence in solidarity, that curates their aesthetics and meaning. Finally, a loose cohort of interconnected visual-written design strategies - the artifices - intends to articulate situated typicality, rather than objectified type, in the search for deeper structures that may trigger ambiguous, perhaps unexpected forms of liberating spatial praxis.

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