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C.F. Colombo, Y. Mastromattei, L. Ottolini, S. Varvaro

Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
Spaces generate things, things generate spaces.

The pandemic that broke out in 2020 highlighted old and new fragilities in the distribution of facilities in our cities and revealed the limited capillarity of those social infrastructures that would grant the population a fair and sufficient access to medical, psychological and educational services. The persistence of social distancing measures has particularly affected culture and education, sometimes excluding the groups that were already marginalised — often, but not only, belonging to social minorities.

Smart mobile devices and portable reading room could bring new opportunities for learning in peripheral neighbourhoods, especially contributing to expand literacy in low-income communities, or providing continuity to services usually present in the quarter. The idea is not a novelty and pop-up libraries are now a consolidate reality, counting numerous examples. Still, many documented initiatives are episodic and performed in enclosed spaces. Set in public areas, their visibility and overall impact increase.

The lockdown experience also showed the sometimes underestimated potentiality of attributing new uses to anonymous, interstitial urban spaces. Benefitting from an easy assemblage and transport, and moderate costs, small scale temporary installations and micro-objects could even operate there and participate in testing new possibilities, both in terms of use of the public space and re-definition of the educational practices. Their informal nature opens to the unexpected, to resignification, experimentation and play.

The United States pavilion at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2012 presented the exhibition “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good”, entirely dedicated to a selection of actionable strategies, small-scale projects, pop-up interventions conceived to make cities more sustainable, accessible, and inclusive. The projects extended beyond conventional practices and disciplinary boundaries, addressing architecture, urban and product design, landscape, social practices, social sciences and education studies, digital technologies. The exhibition was awarded with a “Special Mention” for its progressive character and relevance.

Similar interventions are diffused worldwide, demonstrating the special effort private enterprises and citizens’s associations put in completing the public services and compensating for their gaps, especially with reference to educational programmes.

Moving from a selection of case studies and cutting edge projects — “The UniProject” by Street Lab, “Trailer for Research and Activation” by Studio Bazar, “The A47 Mobile Art Library” by Productora, to name just a few —, the paper will develop a reflection on the way in which architecture and design
practices are contributing to offer sustainable solutions for a more democratic, fair, widespread access to high quality public services for children education and life-long learning.