Site specific urban activation is practiced all around the world as a means to invigorate the population to engage with their city and fellow citizens. This phenomenon is not limited to city-hubs; even on the Azores islands, an archipelago 1450km west of mainland Europe, the Walk & Talk arts festival serves to engage with the arts community to come up with installations and arts projects that focus on site specific cultural creation. Italian studio Orizzontale responded to the brief by creating a striking timber installation; ‘Casa Quarteirão’.
The project aims to reclaim the physical space from an influx of parking lots and cars, for public space centered around “convivial and collaborative use”. After consultation with the the local community, the chosen site had two key structures constructed at the entrances of the small Travessa (or laneway), to define a public square for gathering and exchange. The larger Pavillon (Rua Pedro Homem) provides a place to gather and organise events, and the smaller structure (Rua d’ Acoa) serves to create a cosy entrance experience and unusual view of the area from a tiny terrace.
Various aspects of the design refer specifically to the area itself. Orizzontale explains that the project was “envisioned as a Viviero, a collective greenhouse for the community, inspired by the intimacy of traditional Azorian residential architecture”. The material used was selected for it’s connection to the locality, made mostly of Cryptomeria japonica timber, a conifer species endemic to the island.
The project also involved a collaboration with NO-ROCKET (Francesco Zorzi an italian visual designer and illustrator based in Amsterdam) that had his own complementary intervention in the space that specifically focused on visualizing the “O Quarteirão” identity. Together, the elements of the project nicely tie together as a site-specific response.
In addition to the focus on locality, the design allows for flexibility. The construction approach itself consists of a series of modular sections, so that the program of the installation can be potentially adapted and personalised according to the various activities envisioned. The light timber framework makes for manageable re-configuration, with the entire project erected in just 5 days with the help of local residents.
As part of a wider program, this small corner of the world shows how energising intervention projects can be. Simple ideas that effectively address the locality and act as an unexpected point of interest create an impression of vitality in a city. This cannot be underestimated in terms of value, both socially and culturally. Today’s cities benefit from projects instigated by the inhabitants themselves, to keep them authentic and relevant to the community in which they exist. In cities, islands and countries across the world, may festivals such as Walk & Talk continue to add such value to the urban landscape.