The observed observer

Several minutes ago I received the publication of the 11th Spanish Architecture and Urbanism Biennial's publication. This is a book which I certainly was willing to have and read thoroughfully, not only because is the final point and summary of the work I did for the Biennial but also in order to study all the participant works and read the articles. I have not yet have the time to read with the care it deserves to be red but it seems that there's been a pretty good work done by Fundación Caja de Arquitectos.

The following text is an abstract of the texts written for the book by Ethel Baraona, Pablo Garcia Bachiller and myself as the staff of the Biennial's Documentation, Dissemination and Transparency Team. The goal of those texts is to explain our work at the same time we offer a different, more intimate, point of view  about another view: that made by the Biennial by making the selection of the finalist works.

The observed observer
... or the gestation of the documentation, dissemination and transparency programme

Since its inception, BEAU has been a snapshot of Spanish architecture and urbanism generated in the course of the previous two years, viewed through the lens of an independent jury with alternating members who bring with them their particular vision of the moment. What is perhaps not so obvious is that it is also a reflection of its own time. The observer is also the observed object.

In recent years we have seen how the Internet and ICT has entered the day to day existence of most people in developed countries. Even websites, which have been part of our daily lives for a  relatively long time, have had to evolve in order to survive: it is no longer enough to have something to say nor to be a mere shop window. There is such an excess of information on the Internet that we have to provide something more if we do not want the documentary noise to drown out our message. No wonder, then, that Web 2.0, the one that allows user participation, has evolved,  giving rise to many social networks (so fashionable lately), blogs, etc., and a change in the way we communicate with our friends, acquaintances and professional contacts. New interaction channels like Twitter have changed not only where we tell something but also what, how and when we tell it. Recent social events in the world have shown that although this is just the beginning, social networking can, and will, continue to play an exponentially significant role in many fields that they were not even designed for, proving their astonishing capability for adaptation and evolution.

Some say that the current crisis is a crisis of values, more than an economic crisis. We have lost faith in banks, businesses ... which is why we are beginning to call them to account. It is  increasingly common for us to ask where a product comes from, by whom and how it was manufactured, what is done with its waste... before we even decide to buy it. In a similar way we want to know who is funded by our money when we open a bank account or buy certain products or services. No wonder, then, that the companies which inform us about this information in a clear, transparent way are  beginning to stand out from those that do not, and are starting to be more successful.

All of this may have helped to promote current concepts like coworking, crowdfunding, crowdthinking, citizen participation ... i.e., different models of participation and collaboration based on perfectly familiar concepts like teamwork, knowledge society and collective intelligence to achieve optimal results that overcome individual limitations.

In this context, it is not surprising that this year’s BEAU has drawn on all these parameters and conditions. Actually, it could not have been otherwise. The Documentation, Dissemination and  Transparency team, formed by Ethel Baraona, Pablo García Bachiller and myself, has collated some of these parameters and included them in this Biennial, establishing for that purpose common goals and a teamwork methodology that gives us a degree of freedom of movement. This consensus-based metodoloy, at the same time, has allowed each of us to develop those themes which, due to affinity or knowledge, we can best handle to achieve the best possible results. All of this is part of an integrated, unitary project focused on defining the known ingredients in a new, unitary and coherent way, and generating an optimal response to the Directors’ commission. At the end of the day, that is essentially our job as architects.

The following pages explain the three major pillars of the project. To make it easier to understand our work, each text focuses on a specific issue and is signed by the person who was responsible for its development, although the real process was slightly different, as these three types of action never remain in their pure state and are continuously intermingled, along with the work done by
each one of us.


The artciles "Disemination" by Ethel Baraona and "Transparency" by Pablo García Bachiller have not been included in this post although both can be red in the attached PDF (See below).



Any event like the Biennial has two clearly distinct times or moments. The first one is immediate, the one that narrates the progress of the event itself and above all, publicizes the work which the jury considers to be an excellent response to the reality of the moment. This is a relatively short time. Its messages have to be fast and reach the largest possible audience. We are talking about dissemination. The second one is more diffuse. It is timeless because it mostly occurs when the Biennial itself
has finished, and increases in value with the passage of time after its conclusion. Unlike the former time, this is a period when the information is deeper and is digested
more slowly, when quality and content prevail, because it has to lay the groundwork to facilitate permanent access by anyone, in the present or in the near future, and establish a personal perspective that encourages the generation of new interpretations and relations between the works and the context, or with each other. We are
talking about documentation, i.e., the processing of all the information that has been generated so that sooner or later, it can supply the documentary requirements of a
third party.

In this documentation process, the web once again played a role as an information hub. One of the things that was to determine its success or failure was a new aspect of this year’s Biennial: the publication of not only the winners but also most of the 750 submitted projects. Since the staff and resources available for this process made it
impossible to publish such a large number of works within the competition period, we decided to allow the participants themselves to publish their own work when they provided the compulsory information required by the organisation.

To make this possible, considerable effort went into  designing a simple, user-friendly protocol, particularly the standardization of all the fields in accordance with the
competition regulations and the criteria for generating documentary meta-information to ensure uniform submissions in correct formats. What was initially a constraint became an opportunity to generate a large database of documentary material of great interest for those interested in the subject, with information about competitors, specifications, descriptive summaries, research reports and, most importantly, the actual panel submitted for the award.

We had the information, and now we had to present it. Just as or even more important than having quality  information is the ability to present it in a suitable form that is not only easy for readers, visitors and researchers to view and compare, but is also, as far as possible, user friendly. Maps proved to be of great importance in this regard. Since all the projects were geopositioned from a set of coordinates based on their address, we generated a single page with an interactive map. This map allowed visitors to view all the participating projects on a single page, and also filter the winning, finalist and selected entries or other participants by activating or deactivating
the corresponding layers. Other notable interactive features that facilitated searches and comprehension of their relationship with the environment included the ability
to move around a full screen map, change the background layers and display the summary information of each project as the mouse moved across its location.

Although the project section is the most important part of the website, it also documents the rest of the information related to this Biennial such as Final Projects from the 4th Biennial, which is given a similar treatment to the projects, the jury session chronicles, articles, tweets and events.

Finally, the documentary task was completed with two activities which, while not done by our teamwork, are also part of this work: the exhibition and the publication of the
Biennial in this book. They have the particular merit of transcending the virtual realm, leaving a sediment in the physical world.

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