Percibald García, State of Mexico, (2020) - To know the defects of a society, one must observe its buildings; to know its virtues, one must tear them down. The earthquakes of September 19 in Mexico made evident the most acute problems of our country, but also its greatest virtues, such as the solidarity present in its population. Events with the destructive capacity of an earthquake, manage to affect both physical structures - the houses and buildings - and invisible structures - the social fabric. It is in these moments, where the community spaces are vital for the recovery of a society battered by tragedy. Protopías is a narrative project that seeks, through catharsis and collective memory, to reconstruct the vital space of a community affected by the loss of a home, a school, a significant building. Using different techniques of artistic expression such as writing, modeling, painting and drawing, structured as a participatory process of reflection and mourning, it confronts and overcomes the trauma in community, to then shape a reconstruction project, now outside.
LEARN MORE ABOUT PROTOPÍAS
We asked Percibald about Protopías and the importance of designing spaces from the perspective and with the participation of girls and boys.
JOSÉ PABLO ACUÑA
ANA KAREN GODOY
Architect dedicated to socio-cultural processes related to inhabiting, artistic and architectural production from the link with the territories.
He has participated in programs for the defense of territory and housing in various places such as the Albany Park Autonomous Center in Chicago and the NGO Lebanon 2040 in Beirut.
Since 2017 he has been collaborating with the architect Tatiana Bilbao in a program of social and physical reconstruction in the community of San Simón el Alto in Malinalco, Mexico State.
He is co-founder of the transdisciplinary group: Colectivo Mezcladora, with which he has collaborated to carry out projects that give visibility to the voice, feeling and thinking of children in the production of the habitat. Among them are an inter-learning space in collaboration with the children of San Simón el Alto and the project De La Casa A La Plaza: Narraciones Para Tlatelolco.
What is the origin of the project?
The community of San Simón El Alto was severely affected during the earthquake of September 19, 2017. The population lost dozens of houses and buildings, among them the elementary school, which left almost 600 children without a place to continue classes. From that moment on, the children began a process of pilgrimage between various temporary spaces such as tents and tin classrooms that to this day house the student community.
During the reconstruction process most decisions omitted open and community-based processes. In the school, especially the voice of the children was ignored, even though they are the main users of this space.
This made evident something that we rarely see: the world has a primarily adult logic, where nothing responds to the feeling and thinking of childhood; not even educational and play spaces. That is why, in collaboration with the community, we began a process through which the children of San Simón El Alto, rebuilt in an informed and collaborative way a space within the school that would give representation to their feelings and thoughts.
Why should we talk about architecture from a child's perspective?
Seeing the world and our habitats from the perspective of children reminds us that in a world full of prose we have forgotten about poetry. That is, in a reality where most spaces seem to be generic images where everyone lives the same way, we have lost the ability to imagine possible worlds and spaces that allow for diversity.
Many times we forget that we inhabit and build space with much more than the physical body; our voices, dreams and imagination also shape our habitats. When we are small we operate from the intangible, the garden becomes a mythological forest and our room becomes a concert hall where we are conductors, orchestra and the music itself.
Engaging in conversations about architecture and our habitats with children as adults symbolizes reconciliation with the future that the house as a machine has stolen from us. It means recognizing that childhood has a voice, a way of seeing, feeling, thinking and living, whether we accept it or not, it represents the spaces of tomorrow.
What is Protopías?
The term protopia was coined by Kevin Kelly, as a social state where perfection is not sought. Instead, it is understood that the human is full of virtues, problems and contradictions that society is gradually resolving, embracing complexity and dialogue.
Protopia speaks of the future not as something distant and alien, but as a possibility that we are building from present and progressive actions.
From architecture, these aspirations take shape in the Social Production of Habitat, which understands communities and territories as the center of complex and multidimensional processes through which our spaces are built in a physical and intangible way. With special attention to participatory processes that vindicate the voices that have historically been minimized or cancelled, such as women and children.
San Simón dice, constitutes the synthesis of a protopic exercise, where the children of San Simón El Alto, collaboratively reconstruct an educational space from their feelings and thoughts towards the earthquake that affected their community in 2017.
How were the activities to be carried out with the community chosen?
From the planning of the activities, the project was conceived as a constant dialogue between the team, the girls and boys, as well as with the diverse actors involved such as the delegation committee, the school board and a donor.
Initially we created a guide that workshops from the transdiscipline and complex thought will address important issues such as the need to strengthen cooperation and community ties, expressing feelings towards the earthquake and the possibility of learning through play. This approached with total flexibility to change and rethink when entering into contact with other actors and community dynamics.
Within the main activities something called "inter-learning space" was created, through which children became co-creators of knowledge, marking much of the direction of the project and its needs. After this process, gender and citizenship issues were integrated and the willingness to learn outdoors was determined.
How does your practice relate to architecture, and where do you see its impact on the future of the discipline?
There is a great understanding about how spaces are delimited and built through the physical body with materials such as earth, wood or concrete; but rarely are we aware of how through our rituals, relationships, symbols and experiences we build the intangible body of spaces. We have forgotten that a city can exist without buildings, but not without people, without the human.
From this perspective it becomes important to question traditional architectural practices where design and construction exercises work only with the tangible. It is normal that there is a palette of materials, of plant species and lights; but it is strange to think that there can be a palette of intangible materials with which we have the responsibility and the opportunity to work.
It is strange that a storytelling project in a square is considered an exercise in inhabiting, spatial construction and community strengthening. When the normal, but perhaps not the most sustainable or wise, thing would be for the architect to design and build a playground to achieve the same objective.
Architecture has long since moved away from working with the human, with the poetic, and thus stopped promising us new worlds. That is why working again with the intangible as part of design opens doors so that in the future every person will be an architect or will not become an alchemist of space.