Updating the City

Public facilities as opportunities to make cities

In a post-pandemic world where more than half of the planet's population lives in urban structures—villages, intermediate and capital cities, and metropolitan areas—contemporary society resides in an increasingly artificial world. Houses, buildings, facilities, parks, cities, and infrastructures, where the scales of architecture and architects' competencies are becoming ever broader and more complex. 

Faced with the pressure of growth, congestion, density, and the need to establish new parameters of coexistence and relationships, the urban facilities promoted in recent decades encourage a significant reflection in pursuit of an adequate update to these times.  
Since its foundation, every city was equipped and represented in its urban space with buildings that promoted and proclaimed the character of symbolic architecture, giving rise to the activities demanded by the different powers of society, both public and private, for their operation.  

The iconicity of these facilities generated by the form, the constructive materiality, the geometric arrangement and urban scale, creates a legacy that generates an impact on the values of society. A way of looking critically at the universe, a way of proposing beauty. In short, a way of building an identity in keeping with the spirit of the times.  

It is essential to reflect on the generation of new urban facilities.

Preliminary project national competition, Science City, Buenos Aires, 2023, third prize. Image © Juan Martín Flores/SMF Arquitectos

On the other hand, in these typologies the importance of the program has always demanded that the building embodies the symbolic values of each institution and projects an image that is austere and contemporary at the same time. In keeping with preestablished logics, the aim is to respond to all the site conditions, the program's needs, and the maximum buildable volume allowed by urban and building regulations.  

In turn, the requested program must reflect a strategy in the project that encompasses functional, spatial, and constructive aspects. It must respond to different requested activities and scales, taking into account the various workspaces required for its complex operation, ensuring different spatial scales, flexibility of use, and transformation. Moreover, it is essential to promote a reflection that points to a typological actualization in terms of the generation of new urban facilities, with new pieces and new areas and spaces, which can generate the conditions required for their future functions. 

What would these characteristics be, and what parameters would establish these definitions? We propose updating these new areas to the new scenarios, which have been created as responses to today’s critical impulses, as well as rethinking the very origin of these areas by enhancing the complex volumes that contain, in a way, the city as context and the metropolitan as substance. The definition of an architecture that proposes a spatial, proportional, and scalar system based on these parameters.  

Simply, a city turned into a building where circulations can be transformed and interpreted as streets and sidewalks, which are also like plazas in which the range of activities calls for ephemeral areas. These are spaces that do not change physically but have the quality of constantly transforming. 

The redefinition of facilities has an impact on the definition of the city.

Preliminary project national competition, Science City, Buenos Aires, 2023, third prize. Image © Juan Martín Flores/SMF Arquitectos

Such facilities and their redefinition should be rethought as areas of the city where public space enables the architecture to emulate a relationship between the inside and the outside and which blurs and makes limits and edges transparent. This approach to the project promotes the definition of a new relationship with the urban space, with the social good, with making relationships more horizontal, and generating exchange mechanisms that achieve greater empathy between the city and its people. 

Public facilities have always served to generate a representation of the different powers and interests, as well as to be the reservoir of their uses and activities. From our vision as architects and as builders of utopias, we have the challenge to rethink and design new facilities, and we have a great opportunity to redefine not only what we have been asked to do, but also to make a contribution to architecture and the city.

A city that needs to be updated, changed, and reinterpreted according to the new times. The legacy of the new facilities will provide the guidelines to generate these potential transformations. They will give us the guidelines to make a city.

Main image: Preliminary project national competition, Science City, Buenos Aires, 2023, third prize. Image © Juan Martín Flores/SMF Arquitectos