La Vallita Mágica

La Vallita Mágica is both an urban activism strategy and a prototype of civic design, which would allow many public schools without much space, located next to squares and parks in congested urban environments, to use part of these as one more playground for their students.

Many of the public schools in the center of Madrid have small playgrounds, sandwiched between buildings. They are noisy, without views and without sunlight, conditions that have a negative impact on the health and development of young schoolchildren. Buying lots to expand these patios does not seem economically feasible given that the center of Madrid is dense and expensive. This same situation can be extrapolated to other cities in Spain. For those schools located in squares and parks, La Vallita Mágica could be a feasible and almost immediate solution.

In this sense, the Pi y Margall Center for Infant and Primary Education in Plaza Dos de Mayo in Madrid is a good case study: at the same time that children are at school, the square that gives access to the school is practically empty, and it will be empty until the end of the working day, when it will be filled with people having a drink on the terraces or in the square. The school is publicly owned. The square is publicly owned. Couldn’t a part of this square be prepared to serve as a school yard just when this square is empty, and do it in conditions in which the privacy and safety of children can be guaranteed?

The squares need street furniture, which, if not placed, will end up privatized in the form of terraces for bars and restaurants. The squares need seats and shadows that can be vegetation or in the form of pergolas that, in addition, have a structure capable of mounting solar panels and other useful elements for the city.

In Plaza 2 de Mayo, we could have pergolas that would shade its central part, play with the trees and perhaps add a little more green to the whole. During school hours, when the square is empty, the pergola lowers and closes a section of the square, becomes a fence and allows the school to use part of the square for outdoor activities.

It would be a series of standard mechanisms, already commonly used, tested and safe. They only need small design adjustments to adapt them to this new use.

Urban Space Station

A prototype for the general invasion of rooftops and other residual spaces with high biodiversity, redemptive ecosystems, USS-s serve as seeds, catalyzing a natural recuperation of the city’s surfaces. Their uses range from scientific and educative to recreational, while they capture carbon emissions and generate oxygen. ETFE’s double skin allows for the structure to be lightweight and creates a heat exchange. Rainwater accumulates in underbelly bags, while the texture design of the structure itself helps channel the airflow to generate electricity. Secondary use as ultra-fine particulate collector has demonstrated capable of passively cleaning street-level air near host buildings. A 40% of this prototype (USS 1.0)  was built and tested within the exhibition Souls & Machines, Digital Art & New Media, held in 2008, at the National Art Museum Reina Sofía in Madrid. In 2016, a 1:1 prototype was built for the Art Triennial Emscherkunst. Placed on top of an existent building, docked onto the air conditioning of the surrounding buildings, it created a cleaning circulation; the building’s waste air and warmth were filtered by the USSs plants, cleaned, and enriched with oxygen before it was led back into the building.


Satoyama Hill

What to do against tsunamis?

On March 11, 2011, a level 9 earthquake on the Richter scale, and the tsunami that followed, struck Eastern Japan. Over 18,000 people died or are missing, 394,386 houses were completely or seriously damaged and the urban infrastructure almost disappeared. The magnitude of the disaster made clear that a radically different approach to city planning is necessary in the region.

On Japanese media it is often discussed as a possible solution to future disasters a relocation to higher areas. The idea would imply leaving fisheries, tourist and recreational facilities near the sea, and relocating homes to new developments on hilltops. However, this would hinder a local economy based on local fisheries and activities related to ports, forcing people to commute daily. An added concern involves the potential environmental damage of quarrying hillsides and urbanizing mountains. Also, it would be difficult to concentrate all the population effectively on the sparse high grounds at predominantly flat areas such as, for instance, the Sendai plains.

Others propose to create elevated platforms for housing near the coast, but that threatens to claim a negative side effect, as they would become a barrier for the necessary continuity of public space at ground level.

Our response is to build artificial topographies as an evacuation site, combining them with residential units forming an artificial mountain (or artificial ‘Satoyama’, an ancient Japanese practice of harvesting the climate benefits of hillsides for better housing conditions in towns). These hills protect in their interior the essential public facilities, and an infrastructure of distributed energy. The population of the now washed-up areas will be able to easily evacuate within few minutes of a tsunami alarm onto the artificial hills located at regular intervals.

Our proposal strives to avoid the complete submission of urban, housing and infrastructure designs to fear. The new ‘Satoyama hills’ try to improve urban life and housing and infrastructure design, drawing clues from Japanese traditional best practices. Offering efficient escape in case of tsunami becomes a perfectly integrated by-product.

A prototype and two study-cases

As a study prototype we propose to create communities of around 5,000 people, including one ‘hill’ complex at the centre. The dimensions, specific configuration and program of each artificial hill will be established according to the characteristics of each location. These hills will contain homes for about 1,500 to 2,500 people distributed in one hill complex, and between 2,500 and 3,500 people would live around them, within 15 minutes of walking distance. The surface of the hill is a park that can be used daily and an evacuation site when necessary. The hill’s surface combines private gardens with public routes and greenery, while its interior accommodates commercial and recreational facilities and energy infrastructure creating a network of offices, medical facilities, nurseries, schools, cultural and sports areas, etc., along the coast. In case of disaster the hill will serve as a high ground for evacuation, and a backup power source for sanitary facilities and emergency housing.

We have studied the integration of these artificial hills in two topographically different locations that were intensely affected by the tsunami: the almost flat city of Ishinomaki; and the mountainous Kamaishi where we have also simulated the energetic advantages for one of these 5,000 people communities.

Civil Registry of Madrid

There is probably no other building with as much pressure from visitors throughout the Campus of Justice as the Civil Registry. The huge flow of users to the Registry makes natural to perceive it as a continuation of the public space of the Campus. It is difficult to understand the Civil Registry as a building of ordinary offices when, unlike the others buildings located on the Campus, most of its surface is for public access. We decided that the Archive of the Civil Registry, by its importance and size, should become the structuring element and the server of the rest of the space, instead of a mere basement. Circulations become clearer and more efficient if public access occurs closer to the center of gravity. The typical offices building, with its repeated slabs and partitions is a riddle for the large number of visitors that require its use. On the contrary, the Archive, manipulated and raised, can serve as a large structural floor at the scale of the Campus public space, simplifying the structure of the building. The façade surface of the building becomes a third smaller than expected, which leads to savings in construction and energy consumption. The building closes to prepare and use a part of the park: it is almost as if the citizen did their paperwork in the Retiro park. The skin is made by a double layer of ETFE cushions, with a heat exchange chamber inside and programmable solar control devices. The continuation of the park and the public space of the Campus inside the building creates an ideal winter garden for the celebration of weddings. They will have an accidental enthusiast audience as they wait to resolve their own issues.

Public Housing Orcasitas

The form of this building is designed in accordance with its location. It opens, curves, and rises in relationship to the pre-existing buildings, expanding a notably precarious and scarce common areas. We propose a building that is capable of creating public space on its own. The competition rules called for buildings that create narrow streets and block the possibility of continuity between open areas. We propose an exercise in adaptation and continuity. In such an extreme situation it is paradoxical that the extension of a building beyond its prescribed limits favors the development and continuity of public space. The building slips among its companions allowing the width of the main street to expand. The elevation and the location and design of windows is optimized by taking into consideration the gaps between the surrounding buildings, providing longer views from them. The building was thought to offer views both from pedestrians on the street and from cars driving on the nearby M40 ring highway.

City Display Barcelona

This generative public art installation was assigned to us by Abalos & Herreros, architects of the Barcelona Urban Waste Treatment Plant, which was the main facade of the Forum de las Culturas de Barcelona in 2004. It seemed interesting to use the opportunity of the large waste treatment machine to produce a prototype of a new contemporary façade that would interact with people and allow them dialogue in a public space. Visitors to the Forum de las Culturas could write messages with their mobile phones live, in a size of 55×16 meters, which made them a public mode of communication. Another board would be located in the moving urban landscape that constitutes the Barcelona ring-road, providing a fleeting show to thousands of drivers: 440 blue LED bulbs would serve to monitor the plant’s sensors, making visible environmental data related to their own garbage to the citizens of Barcelona or any other type of information in a graphic, fast and intuitive way or even retransmissions of the sea that is behind, blocked by the same Waste Treatment Plant that serves as support thus becoming sort of a huge X-ray screen.


The AAAEE (Art As An Elevating Experience)’s second version was developed with a similar concept to the one we had designed for the 2004 edition of the International Contemporary Art Fair ARCO Madrid. It was another opportunity to convert the art fair into an art work, trough appropriating a general view of the fair. The visitors were elevated over the ground level. Art is converted into AAAEE, in a literal way, physically, into an elevating experience. This is also a fairground and a journey. The piece turns the fair’s space into a “Playtime” with a Mars orange tone, into a colorful landscape that contrasts with the extreme clarity of the object’s perception and the people inside.


In 2003, Ángel Borrego Cubero was invited to produce and show a public art installation within the VII Biennial of Spanish Architecture. The result was “Shiny.Flat.Smooth/ Brillante.Plano.Suave” that is a video installation, which uses footage of destruction and material violence taken from contemporary science fiction and action films. Often this spectacular violence is done on shiny and smooth surfaces. Living in an era that has been marked by a heightened fear of massive destruction, this project intends to present how these newly acquired terrors manifest within popular culture. This collage of demolition footage is projected on windows and other existing shiny surfaces in public urban spaces. At the VII Biennial it was projected on the windows of the Architecture Center Las Arquerías de los Nuevos Ministerios so that anyone could see it from outdoors.


The director of the International Art Fair Madrid ARCO asked a chill-out space. The purpose was to produce a rest space where you had to do more exercise. In first place, the rest was produced by forcing the body to leave the horizontal movement and to climb onto to the back of an object 6 meters high. The object is an architectonical element, an out of place stair leading to nowhere. Depending on the moment and the height, the stair changes into a viewpoint, a meeting point, bleaches from where to see a show, a fashion runway, a place from where to look out and a place where to be seen. In second place, the rest was for the eyes and the sight under. The void of the pavilion was recovered and used in order to see from above. Art seen from 6 meters up.

Music Festival Festimad

The assignment was to devise a strategy to make the music festival Festimad easier to install and nicer and more interesting to enjoy in its new location. The idea was to produce a series of “infrastructure plugs” that would allow for different space tools and gadgets to be connected depending on necessities. These “plugs” would be easily activated or deactivated. This proposal reduced the Festimad need of yearly expenses on infrastructure, while offering urban services in a large area of previously dejected public space. Around these “plugs”, different uses are distributed according to distance and required density of services.