Reporting from Barcelona: Initiatives in International Cooperation and Local Participation

In this series, students document their experiences during the internships in 2012. Scattered across the globe, they are reporting from places like Haiti, South America, Africa, Mongolia and Japan. ————————————
Flavia Scognamillo reports on her internship with COAC  institute in Barcelona, Spain.

My internship takes place right here in Barcelona, a city of the developed world where the global financial crisis makes daily headlines and a wide range of short-term policy measures prove more or less effective. In this context, the economic recession has already affected flows of international aid and downward trends in Official Development Assistance have been confirmed by the latest annual OECD analysis (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) of DAC (Development Assistance Committee)-Donor aid:

“In 2011, members of the DAC of the OECD provided USD 133,5 billion of net official development assistance (ODA), representing 0.31 per cent of their combined gross national income (GNI). This was a -2.7 % drop in real terms compared to 2010, the year it reached its peak. This decrease reflects fiscal constraints in several DAC countries which have affected their ODA budgets.”

Fortunately, besides governments, other entities contribute to supporting development projects, including professional associations like the Architects Institute of Catalonia (COAC – Col∙legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya), where I am currently completing my internship as part of this masters course. The institute’s Cooperation Department is currently working on a number of actions of collaboration with non-profit and non-governmental organizations, such as grants, open meetings, debates and exhibitions.

Grants for cooperation and development initiativesOne of these initiatives is a series of grants that the COAC awards to local NGOs for a specific project that deals with cooperation and development either at the local or international level. In the past years, the institution has earmarked 0.7% of its annual budget for the Catalan NGO Arquitectos sin Fronteras (Architects Without Borders). In a move to  amplify their commitment to social and sustainable architecture, this year the COAC announced an open call for proposals to provide grants to non-profit organizations focusing on architectural or urban planning projects of international and local development cooperation. Taking in account the global economic crisis, the COAC has recognized the importance of enlarging its funds to others organizations.

In March I began working as intern at COAC and was assigned to elaborate all the required documents for this first call, under the supervision of Sandra Bestraten, architect and chair of the Board of Directors. Due to the lack of previous experiences, the organizational challenge has been met thanks to thematic researches among national and international references: general rules, guidelines, application forms, selection mechanisms, evaluation criteria and final reports. This study has shown the importance of a comprehensive approach for moving through a project’s cycle and for a proper evaluation of viable proposals. The final structure of the Call for Proposals reflects the COAC’s general principles and strategic objectives as pillars of an efficient and effective selection process.

Collective Architecture Open Debate

Despite worrying forecasts and bleak outlooks, many individuals and groups are approaching the current situation proactively to come up with new strategies and solutions. A renewed social conscience is generating multiple opportunities for collective actions.

On March 15th 2012, the COAC hosted the open meeting Una nova manera de treballar en xarxa (A new way of networking led by Collective Architectures, an international network of collectives with the purpose of bringing together different platforms involved in issues of architecture and urban planning in Catalunya. The idea of Collective Achitectures is based on developing three lines of work:

  1. Creating an open map for sharing information, experiences and investigations
  2. Organizing a technical office geared to the needs of inhabitants
  3. Coordinating actions with the collaboration of citizens and experts

Synergies between groups are considered as project resources for building shared systems of mutual learning and exchange. Such multidisciplinary networking recognizes the necessity of changing and evolving models and processes, one of the greatest challenge we face today.

Exhibition and lecture RESET 11.03.11# New Paradigms

From the 8th to the 31st of March, the COAC also hosted RESET 11.03.11# New Paradigms“, an exhibition and lecture series on contemporary Japanese  architecture organized by Anywhere Door. The event brought together different generations of architects, from young students to famous architects, showcasing projects designed for the reconstruction effort of the Tohoku region affected by earthquake and tsunami one year ago.

Catastrophes like these have considerably shifted architectural mindsets on a global scale: architects are reconnecting urban planning with nature and are increasingly aware of their social role and responsibilities. The restored sense of community has brought Japan back to the Metabolism movement, which focused on architecture as a social good.

The projects were organized in different sections according to their chronological order after the tsunami:

  • 1 month (simple partitions)
  • 3 months (temporary houses, community spaces, small urban reconstructions)
  • 6 months-1 year (large scale urban reconstructions)
  • future opportunities (proposals)


“Fish Arch” (Sakana no Archi) Yasushi Ikeda Laboratory (exhibition poster)


Archi+Aid. Lecture by Cat, Kazuhiro Kojima + Kazuko Akamatsu

Additional local initiatives: Boys and Girls Council of L’Hospitalet
Consell de nois i noies. Plenary session.

Citizen participation is a recurring topic and even governments are now aware that social inclusion creates new networks and ensures greater acceptability of projects among inhabitants. Through my work with Sandra Bestraten at COAC, I also came to know about architect Emili Hormías, a coordinator of the Boys and Girls Council (Consell de Nois i Noies) of L’Hospitalet, a working class suburb located immediately southwest of Barcelona. This is a project of citizen participation that involves youths in matters of public interest. Children take part in discussions on city issues that concern them and they in turn make proposals that are made available to the municipal government. The participation in the council is an opportunity to learn more about the functioning of the city and to promote values ​​of coexistence and democracy.

The Council is made up of boys and girls selected among students of primary and secondary schools in the city. Half of the members are renewed every year and counsellors are appointed for a maximum of two years. The children work in teams of 10-15 grouped according to educational areas.

On the 14th of March, Emili Hormías invited me to participate in a plenary session of the Council, where the groups shared projects currently underway in the 3 main areas of media, leisure and urbanism, the last of which is coordinated by  Emili .

The Boys and Girls Council project was inspired by an Italian pedagogue and researcher, Francesco Tonucci, who studied the relationship between children’s cognition and their social environment. His most important project is the “City of Children”, considered a new way of conceiving the city, with children as a reference point. The Boys and Girls Council has been working for six years and some of its proposals have been realized, especially those related to the improvement of accessibility and public transport.

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Two months of internship have flown by and Barcelona has revealed a promising array of positive initiatives to make itself and the world around it a better place to live in. This city is a constant stimulation of the senses with its multicultural crowds of people, streets and events: I am here, but I could be anywhere in the world.

All photos by Flavia Scognamillo.

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