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L. Ottolini, E. Bersani

Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
Currently ongoing at the AUIC School of Politecnico di Milano, the Workshop "Catalytic living" is aimed at undergraduates of the Master's Degree Course Architecture-Built Environment-Interiors.

It is a multidisciplinary didactic experience that tries to raise awareness and motivate students with regard to their active role in the participatory re-design of collective urban spaces. In the current cultural scenario, deeply scarred by the effects of the pandemic, the idea that configuration of everyday places can actually affect both the quality of life of the people living there and the dynamics of creating a sense of community, even more essential today, has become much stronger.

Living is interpreted in its broadest sense and characterized by the attribute "catalytic", originated from the term "catalysis" which indicates, in chemistry, the phenomenon in which a substance changes the speed of a reaction. The formula "Catalytic living" is then associated with other keywords which define more specifically the scope of application, such as: micro-actions in fragile contexts, participatory actions, urban interiors, visual arts, learning from practice.
The educational experiences are involving the students deal, in a participatory way with the involvement of local communities, with a series of design experimentations that lead to the tangible realization of small punctual works. These are aimed at reactivating collective spaces inside buildings or open spaces, laying in condition of environmental or social fragility.

These are creative micro-actions, able to trigger transformation processes that make such spaces immediately usable, stimulating in those who live there a process of knowledge, re-appropriation and care and suggesting new uses: “catalyst” projects, indeed.

The educational experiences are designed overcoming strictly academic boundaries and are organised on direct collaboration both with “Third Sector Associations”, namely with cultural associations and artistic unions already operating in the area, and with Local Agencies willing to support the tangible implementation of the designed creative actions.

In general, these are micro-scale works that may be able to promote the implementation of informal, flexible and interdisciplinary practices, specific for a way thinking that considers the project as a temporary and experimental action.

Their limited duration in time, the articulation of creative micro-actions and the desire to involve as many people as possible, both in the design and in the implementation and dissemination of results phases, encourage collaboration between experts from different disciplines and enhance a mix of unconventional ways of expression.

This paper aims to share the first results of the workshop currently led by the authors and to outline a possible development strategy of this pedagogical approach which identifies in direct and concrete experiences a tool for an effective, albeit small, transformation of collective urban places. At the same time, it could be a tool to define and spread local identities-respectful modalities of intervention on urban micro-space. Furthermore, the actions investigated and experimentally proposed by the research are easily replicable since they are able to catch and decline the specificities of the different contexts in which they are inserted, and can represent a convincing example of good urban regeneration practices applicable to the several fragile fragments of our cities.