Practical design for better urban spaces

New kid on the block reimagines public spaces

The FURNISH project creates safe, beautiful, and open areas for neighbours and communities to engage more meaningfully with their immediate environment

Parents and children enjoy the new recreational space at Entença school in Barcelona, designed by IAAC Valldaura Labs – Photo by FURNISH/IAAC Valldaura Labs

During the pandemic, changes in mobility patterns caused by restrictions on movement led to a sharp rise in demand for more recreational areas as well as expanding spaces on the streets for pedestrians and cyclists. FURNISH saw an opportunity to transform unused public spaces into more liveable areas temporarily.

The Cooperative Automative Research Network (CARNET), the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) and Elisava – Barcelona School of Design and Engineering, along with the respective city councils, worked on a range of tactical urbanism projects in 2020 and 2021, with support from EIT Urban Mobility and the EIT Community New European Bauhaus initiative.

The projects wanted to harness local digital manufacturing to meet the challenge of recapturing public space through tactical urbanism, an approach that reconfigures a street to expand the area for pedestrians, cyclists, and general recreation.

Tactical urbanism, also known as guerrilla urbanism, do-it-yourself (DIY) urbanism and pop-up urbanism, favours quick, low-cost interventions that incorporate the input of neighbours and local communities in the design phase.

In fact, creating social capital between local governments, businesses, and residents is a key objective of the approach.

FURNISH was part of various open calls for teams across Europe to digitally fabricate and test prototypes. Open to fab labs, research groups, designers, or makers able to produce rapid solutions, the final teams selected represented cities of varying sizes, locations, and cultural values.

For the projects in 2020, seven design teams successfully developed, fabricated, installed and tested their prototype designs in five European cities: Espoo (Finland), Barcelona (Spain), Budapest (Hungary), Guimarães (Portugal), and Milan (Italy).

The prototypes were tested by more than 300 people through living labs, and citizens contributed to the process of design and gave their feedback to improve the final pieces in a participatory and iterative manner.

Cities are a complex system of social interactions that are constantly changing and facing new challenges, said Inés Aquilué Junyent, an urban planning officer at CARNET. She believes tactical urbanism “is an opportunity to experiment [with] new innovative solutions with real urban living labs” to help cities solve pressing issues and improve the quality of life for local residents.

FURNISH also looked at creating spaces between the street and schools for children and parents to enjoy and feel safer. IAAC Valldaura Labs designed outdoor benches, structures for playing, and a wooden “nest" using mostly wood grown in the nearby Collserola forest, essentially creating a connection between the urban and more rural areas, and rezoning a small part of the street.

The Elisava team's design for the playground structure called VORA where kids and parents can play and sit, using a space originally for parked cars on the corner of a street – Photo by: FURNISH/Elisava

The project also created an open-source repository of urban planning, mobility, and temporal space design solutions, replicable anywhere in the world. 

One of the main goals for creating and making available the design blueprints and instructions, is to encourage city planners and policymakers to initiate tactical urbanism projects themselves – demonstrating how a design and implementation process can be agile, cost-effective, citizen-focused, and aesthetically-pleasing. 

With the availability of fab labs and 3D-printing resources in many major European cities, the democratisation of urban planning is more feasible than ever. 

To learn more about the FURNISH projects, visit their website and download the designs and prototype guides here