The Architecture of the Everyday: Husos Architects on the Emergence of Migratory Urbanisms

Joanna Kloppenburg Joanna Kloppenburg

“In the Spanish language the word Husos has at least three different meanings,” Diego Barajas and Camilo García of Madrid-based practice Husos Architects explain of their namesake. “One is time zones. It also means a spindle, a tool used in weaving … particularly beautiful in its material delicacy, traditionally linked to domestic life. And phonetically, husos is pronounced the same as ‘usos,’ which means uses, so its sound echoes the uses of space.” The multiple meanings embedded within this word echo the plurality of the design team’s focus, a practice that works between the local and the global, the built world and the virtual, the immediate and the mediated.

© Husos Architects

© Husos Architects

The Garden Building with Host and Nectar Plants for Cali Butterflies GBHNPCB by Husos Architects is bioclimatic building in the centre of the city of Cali, which promotes environmental care activities among people living in it and visiting it.

While Husos could be loosely defined as an architectural practice, this is only one outcome of their work. Husos could better be described as designers of systems, tracing the behavior of the built environment through to its sociological, ecological and economic origins. This holistic approach manifests as experiments in the unexpected through their built work; traditional structures of domesticity are subverted and bioclimatic interventions are injected to test new configurations in self-sufficiency. The practice itself is constantly shifting and testing its own environment. The architects work between their home country of Colombia and Madrid, Spain, moving alongside the trans-local currents of their research. “The ideas of territory and place in an increasingly interconnected globalized world, technology as understood from an everyday angle and everyday life in general are key parts of our work,” they told Architizer in an interview.

‘Architecture of Remittances in Risaralda’ – a project developed for the 2016 Oslo Architecture Triennale “After Belonging”

Their contribution to this year’s Oslo Architecture Triennale“After Belonging,” which opened this past weekend, presents a highly detailed body of research exploring how our interconnected world means a house, a community or an entire city can be designed by systems that reach far beyond the local. Investigating how remittances — small amounts of money (and sometimes goods) sent from a family member living abroad — have shaped the architecture and urban configuration of the region of Risaralda in Colombia, Diego and Camilo (working along with photographer María García, social worker Marta Correal, and video by Bollería Industrial) present how these global flows of money and affection have shifted not only the formal architecture of the Risaralda community, but also the region’s local economy and finally the economies of the international sites where these remittances originate.

Paper models from ‘Architecture of Remittances in Risaralda’ – OAT

The research, while extremely comprehensive, is distilled into several graphic formats, rendering the trans-local flows and processes in a consolidated and accessible manner. Case studies of Risaralda community members working with their migrant family to build or buy a home are presented in a dynamic foldout comic strip, or foto-realovela (an evolution proposed by Husos from fotonovelas, a literary format belonging to the region). Paper models of the remittance homes explore the interior decor of these spaces, translating how they have been constructed over time. The flattening and merging of time zones and geographical distances effectively draws these convoluted mediations into sharp focus, presenting clearly their cause and effects and ultimately underlining the values of the community.

‘Foto-realovela’ from Architecture of Remittances in Risaralda’ – OAT

Read more about Husos’ project for the Oslo Triennale, “Remittance Architectures in Risaralda,” and about their practice as a whole in our interview below:

Joanna Kloppenburg: How did you set up your practice, and how did you come to work between Spain and Colombia?

Plataforma Husos: We started working together in Rotterdam. During the first phase of the design of the garden building project in Cali, we were initially working trans-locally between the Netherlands and Colombia, then from Madrid, where we moved in 2003. In parallel to this at the Berlage Institute, we were researching migration and its relation to the urban by making ethnographic spatial studies of different trans-local communities in Rotterdam.

‘Garden Building,’ Cali

“As migrants ourselves, we also had to redefine the way we understood our ‘habitats’ and therefore our working space, both in their multi-local and multimedia dimensions.”

We were intrigued by how, in our contemporary globalized world, the traditional spatial planning scales for understanding or defining the idea of “inhabiting” (the nation, the region, the city, the street, etc.) were no longer enough to describe and understand the everyday territories of today’s interconnected society. As migrants ourselves, we also had to redefine the way we understood our “habitats” and therefore our working space, both in their multi-local and multimedia dimensions. This is how Husos started, born as much from a personal response to our own trans-local biography as from the observations of the urban conditions we encountered in our work sites.

Where and how did your interest in bioclimatic architecture originate?

We are interested in understanding climate in a broad sense. For this reason, we often prefer talking about socio-bioclimatic architecture. In fact, our interest in climate issues came not only from environmental preoccupations, but also sociological ones.

Of course, architecture plays a key role and has an enormous responsibility in the climate in environmental terms, which is fundamental. But there is another kind of climate, which could also be described as a mood or atmosphere, relating to life in the social sense, in which architecture as well as other mediations intervene and which for us needs equal attention. For instance, we can refer to the social or political climate in a meeting.

© Miguel de Guzmán

© Miguel de Guzmán

‘Bathyard Home’ by Husos Architects, Madrid, Spain

The Bathyard Home project, built with Atipical contractors, is one example, in miniature, of this expanded idea of climates. It was, first of all, a specific response to particular requirements from a family, but in the end, it became a small-scale laboratory in which we could rethink the light wells or inner patios in old residential buildings — so present in the center of Madrid, but at the same time, so often neglected, as are the interior private spaces that give onto them. Through this project, we started searching for new values for those light wells or patios and related interior spaces in thermal terms as possible sites for new, unexpected interior views and micro landscapes, core sources of light, heat, wind currents and regulators of humidity, depending on the season, both for the comfort of plants and people alike.

© Husos Architects

© Husos Architects

Section plan from ‘Bathyard Home’

But we also began to think of these spaces as possible activators of new social climates and atmospheres, of alternative narratives within the domestic space. On a daily basis, the bathyard can potentially cause other socio climatic domestic relations to emerge around the bath experience, among the members of a small community composed of a mother, her sons and their plants.

© Miguel de Guzmán

© Miguel de Guzmán

Much of your work appears to take a very anthropological approach. In projects such as the Garden Building and the Bathyard Home, the design is guided by a close examination of behavior related to labor and domesticity. How is this approach implemented as a tool for the mutual enhancement of both the space and this behavior?

It is true to say that our work is nourished by heterogeneous methodologies such as those found in ethnography, anthropology, biology or gardening. The use of diverse tools helps us to approach different micro-realities, whether social or biological, and is part of our understanding of architecture as a practice of care. We think that for some time, a great part of the way our built environment has been developed has increased homogenization, rather than responding to the great diversity present in the everyday.

“One aspect that is fundamental for us is that design practices be understood as practices of care.”

There’s no doubt that architecture and urbanism have an enormous responsibility in this matter. One aspect that is fundamental for us is that design practices be understood as practices of care. This means approaching the social and natural realities around us in the most delicate and precise way possible, thereby understanding their singularities. There are fields of learning that offer tools for this that architecture studies in the traditional sense don’t usually provide.

In tandem, your project for the Oslo Triennale demonstrates an anthropological fascination that is more spatial than architectural. Can you expand on this research and how it informs your practice?

This project is about dealing with urban space in a broad sense, in which the different social and economic agents involved are playing a key role as much as the architecture itself.

It is focused in the coffee-producing region in Colombia, but also some areas in Spain and in the USA, where most of the Colombian diaspora is present. We’ve been conducting research into housing-construction processes related to transnational families from that region in Colombia, some of whom live and work abroad, and on the transnational dispersed urbanisms involved. Those construction processes are paid for by remittances, money that many migrant workers transfer back home out of their salaries, processes that are highly mediated by interfaces of different kinds.

‘Foto-realovela’ from Architecture of Remittances in Risaralda’ – OAT

This project started as an invitation by the curatorial team of the Oslo Architecture Triennale to report on new forms of belonging that are present in Remittances Architectures; explicit in the curatorial perspective was a questioning of the traditional idea of what a site is.

At the same time, the project seemed to us a continuation of Dispersion, a book in which we tried, 13 years ago, to make visible the multiple scales and mediations present in the construction of “the urban” by analyzing migrant communities and their dispersed urbanisms, meaning urbanisms that cannot not be understood as contained in geographical continuous areas but dispersed and technologically reconnected by multiple means and not only tectonic ones.

Collage from ‘Dispersion,’ 2003

In Dispersion we focused very much on the “receiving countries” of migration and in the role of non-tectonic scales of mediations in the construction of a new, dispersed urban dimension. In our new project presented in Oslo, we have concentrated on the urban transformations occurring in the place of origin of transnational communities and on the special role of architecture in its most tectonic dimension.

In fact, for the communities we have been studying, architecture plays a prominent role: Housing is regarded as a symbol of their faraway home, an investment for retirement and a platform intended for multiple uses such as setting up a business for their families in Colombia. Most of the cases of Remittance houses we are studying are part of an urban model that has been present in the region for many decades, developed largely by migrants themselves and their communities and built in stages over time, adapting to individual and families’ changing economic needs through spatial solutions. This research highlights certain qualities of those architectures that often go unnoticed. Indeed, these singular and heterogeneous aspects are largely ignored in the planning of new urban developments and in social housing policies, not only in Colombia, but in many other places.

Paper model of a remittance home in Risaralda, from Architecture of Remittances in Risaralda’ – OAT

By contrast, today’s policies are aimed at channeling money from remittances to be invested in housing built by commercial developers and real estate agents with a predominantly commercial motivation, closely linked to financial markets and mortgage credits, and dependent on the creation of more indebted homeowners living and working both abroad and in Colombia. The design of these projects does not allow for any transformation over time into productive or other, more flexible uses of space and are often in gated condominiums, detached from the public space.

“… migrant communities are understood not as marginal, but on the contrary, highly advanced cases that allow us to study key spatial trends present in our contemporary globalized societies.”

Many of the urban trends found are not exclusive to transnational families, but migration becomes an important vector for understanding those trends today and the key role that different agents involved have as interfaces. This happens because, in transnational populations, the reconstruction of an idea of home and a reconnection with one’s own territory is only possible thanks to the presence of multiple mediations of different kinds. Both in the Dispersion project and in this new project for the Triennale, migrant communities are therefore understood not as marginal, but on the contrary, highly advanced cases that allow us to study key spatial trends present in our contemporary globalized societies.

‘Foto-realovela’ from Architecture of Remittances in Risaralda’ – OAT

One thing that has been important for us throughout this research has been to try to develop a critical view of the two processes involved — both the developer driven and the self-developed driven processes — taking a step back from some current romanticized, non-problematized perspectives of both, especially regarding bottom-up approaches. Despite the fact that there are different values the research highlights in self-developed driven processes, it also considers various problematics in it. We believe that this multi-perspective view makes the project potentially capable of opening new working lines within this topic.

Your projects, while small scale, appear to embody a logic informed by urbanistic principles. How do you think architecture could be better served by engaging methods of city-making into the design process?

“For us, what makes something ‘urban’ today, in an increasingly interconnected world, is not about its scale, but its character.”

To approach architecture urbanistically is not only useful, but often necessary. In our view, the list of places we tend to recognize as “urban” is too short. For us, what makes something “urban” today, in an increasingly interconnected world, is not about its scale, but its character. It is about acknowledging and valuing the multiple kinds of relations, not only social ones that a certain space contains. Those relations often unveil a particular political character, even in apparently banal spaces such as a clothing atelier or a domestic bathroom in which different technological means mediate; for example, blocking or on the contrary facilitating certain everyday processes.

© Husos Architects

© Husos Architects

Back in 2003, when we were discussing these undeclared but existent urban environments for the Dispersion project, this approach was less frequently discussed in architectural discourse; fortunately this is now changing.

Husos describes itself as a “platform for spatial interventions and research projects in architecture and urbanism.” What is the motivation behind this broader classification? Has it enabled you to expand possibilities of your practice?

We are interested in developing an architectural practice that is understood from the perspective of care, not limited to the act of “making buildings” but focused on the construction of the everyday by spatial means.

When thinking of our work as a care practice, as we’ve referred to before, it becomes necessary for us to approach closely those realities and contexts in which we operate, acknowledging them in their singularities, so that any possible response can better address them without erasing their complexity. Then, research becomes a key aspect of the design process. It sometimes even becomes the project in its entirety. In some cases, making something that is hidden or neglected visible is even more important than building something physically. At the same time, when “building” is understood only as a means and not an end in itself, it can easily take many different forms, not necessarily just “a tectonic one.”

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