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Bienal Internacional de Arquitectura

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"We cannot afford to have unused built-up spaces"

Photo: Mikel Blasco

  • This morning the conference 'Rehabiting the domestic' was held in the new ephemeral pavilion of the Mugak/ Biennial in Bilbao, which brought this concept and the importance of housing rehabilitation closer together.
  • The councillor for Urban Regeneration of Bilbao City Council, Jon Bilbao, presented a pilot programme aimed at combating loneliness by means of aid for the refurbishment of homes for people who share them.
  • For his part, the Director of Housing, Land and Architecture of the Basque Government, Pablo García Astrain, presented the 'Loft Study House' guide, which includes recommendations and good practices for converting commercial premises into homes.
  • The Acha Zaballa Arquitectos studio has refurbished three social housing units in Santutxu as part of this programme. The architect Cristina Acha presented the project in a conference.
  • Irantzu Ibáñez and Andoni Duque, from HALO Arkitektura, closed the day by presenting the first of the publications that the Mugak/ Biennial is promoting in this fourth edition: ‘Rethink to reinhabit the domestic’, which invites the public to reflect on our housing.

The concept of the domestic and the rehabilitation of hauses as an urban strategy were the focus of a conference this morning in Bilbao. Entitled 'Rehabiting the domestic', it was held in the new ephemeral pavilion 'Mugak/ HABIT[atu]Z', as part of the fourth edition of the Mugak/ International Architecture Biennial of the Basque Country, which kicked off its programme in Bilbao on Monday. New scenarios for refurbishment have been proposed there, with design as a fundamental tool for building domestic spaces.

The curator of this fourth edition of the Biennial, the Bilbao architect María Arana, recalled the words of the 'pritzker' Wang Shu at the inauguration of Mugak/ 2023 last October: "The house is closer to people's needs, and that is why the Chinese studio Amateur Architecture emphasised its satisfaction in developing them, in the sense that they are more human because they are involved in people's lives. Moreover, they are the backbone of sustainable urban development.

The first intervention was given by the Councillor for Urban Regeneration of the Bilbao City Council, Jon Bilbao, with the presentation of a pilot programme of social innovation that aims to combat loneliness. In his speech, entitled 'Innovative programmes in integral and sustainable urban regeneration', Bilbao announced that his department is studying the possibility of providing aid for the refurbishment of housing for people willing to share them.

Thus, he announced this intergenerational initiative that will begin to be tested in Bilbao la Vieja and will contribute to urban regeneration through public-private collaboration, focusing both on housing access policy and on improving habitability conditions and supporting social integration. "We are talking about helping in the rehabilitation of those homes in which the owners, who are single and in need of company, are willing to share it with another person or family", explains Jon Bilbao.

Converting commercial flats into housing

The Director of Housing, Land and Architecture of the Basque Government, Pablo García Astrain, has presented the 'Loft Study House' guide. This is an initiative of this Directorate, a document that brings together recommendations and examples of good practice for the conversion of empty ground floor premises in urban areas into housing. According to García Astrain, "we cannot afford the luxury of having unused built spaces".

These transformations, in addition to making disused public heritage profitable, serve as a reflection on the revitalisation of obsolete urban fabrics and on new sensitivities around the domestic. "The right to housing speaks of dignified and adequate housing, an adequacy that we in the Basque Government have defined through the habitability decree. We have made a commitment to the dignity of housing through architecture, good architecture, which has the capacity to convert a house or premises that had another future planned into a home. That is why we have created a guide that brings together the initiatives that we have promoted to revalue empty building sites and turn them into homes, so that others can do the same", said García Astrain.

The Bilbao studio Acha Zaballa Arquitectos, which has already refurbished three social housing units in Santutxu as part of this project, was in charge of developing the guide. One of its members, Cristina Acha, gave the conference ‘The street and the home, a receptive binomial’, where she stated that these reforms make tangible the questions on the construction of domestic intimacy, the definition of comfort or the response to the conditioning factor of security at street level.

"The project's emphasis on design issues, which may seem incidental, has to do with the importance given to the definition of the concept of 'domestic'. The project returns to the basic questions of the definition of housing and aims to contribute to the reflection on its inclusivity. A consideration of design as a complementary tool to the regulation of minimums in favour of its universal use. Sufficiently flexible, sufficiently equipped, capable of serving as a space for personal growth for everyone. All this without forgetting the positive influence that this domestic atmosphere radiates into the street", said Acha.

An informative guide for reflection

Finally, Irantzu Ibáñez and Andoni Duque, from HALO Arkitektura, closed the day by presenting the first of the publications that the Mugak/ Biennial has promoted in this fourth edition. According to the authors, ‘Rethink to reinhabit the domestic’ invites the public to reflect on the most basic habitat, our homes".

Available free of charge at various points throughout the Biennale, one of them the 'Mugak/ HABIT[atu]Z' pavilion itself, the guide raises a number of questions based on the idea that "houses all over the world are becoming more and more similar, especially now, at a time of ecological and social crisis, when 'inhabiting' as a socio-cultural stance is key. Even more so now, in times of ecological and social crisis, when 'inhabiting' as a socio-cultural posture is key. What are our houses like? What kind of homes do they promote? What messages underlie them? What houses could we imagine ourselves in?", Ibáñez and Duque have launched. For this reason, this guide invites the public to share their reflections and conclusions through the Instagram profile @re_domestico.

The Programme is being prepared