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  • Writer's pictureIHS Alumni

22@ a time and the transformation understood as a process more than a solution

Updated: Apr 13, 2022

This article presents the winning proposal for the C40 Students Reinventing Cities Competition for Barcelona and specifically for the northern part of the 22@ Innovation District. The project has been developed by our alumni Riccardo Palazzolo Henkes (UMD12), together with his classmates of the Master in City and Technology he has recently completed at the IAAC (Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia) and the advising support by Dr Mathilde Marengo.


In the last two decades, cities have shaped socio-technical transitions as urban responses to climate change. Driving the urban system towards one that is sustainable requires adaptive, inclusive and participatory planning. One of the main reasons behind this project is the belief static proposals are one of the problems in urban planning, specifically in regeneration projects. Therefore, "22@ a Time" aims to introduce a process to achieve intelligent urban design instead of proposing a closed and definitive solution. The idea comes from the concepts of urban transformation, self-sufficient urbanism and "placemaking". The objective is to establish a transformation process through enabling infrastructures (hubs) and the involvement of citizens to face the current environmental, economic and housing crisis affecting Barcelona.


This project proposes a model of gradual transformation, where the collaboration between public actors and citizens represents the main driver. The main elements of this transition model are:

  • System of HUBs that promote and lead the deployment of solutions in cooperation with the public

  • Catalogue of solutions classified into 4 main categories

  • The architectural form and the adaptive densification process

1. Hub system

The transition model requires hubs capable of generating transformation and co-management dynamics by adding different actors: citizens, the public sector, private companies, associations, among others. Each HUB is capable of operating independently, nonetheless, cross-collaboration will enable a circular system to be activated as the basis for a sustainable community.

  • CoCo House (Center for Co-design and Co-management)

  • Manufacturing Athenaeum (Makers)

  • Micro-platform for last-mile delivery

  • Shared storage system for retailers (same space as the micro platform)

  • Green hub for the promotion and maintenance of green spaces

  • On-site construction workshops

Fig. 1 - Network of hubs

2. Catalog of solutions

The transition towards the development of an environmentally friendly and inclusive city consists of the implementation of a catalogue of solutions categorized according to the phase of the project in which they are implemented and their intended objective.

Fig. 2 - Catalogue of actions

This catalogue of solutions is based on four main values:

  • Connectivity: there are interrelated solutions that can be activated only after previous solutions have been implemented. This linearity sets the pace for connecting different solutions and therefore different actors.

  • Adaptability: taking into account the connectivity between solutions, the catalogue allows a development rhythm that adapts to the opportunities and constraints that may appear (lack of involvement by agents, need for space...). These characteristic increases project resilience, as its performance no longer depends on a defined and specific physical result, but can activate different solutions and can adapt its rhythm without stopping the transformation process.

  • Co-management: solutions are based on the progressive involvement of the community, moving from a first phase led by public agents and progressively transferring the leading role to the community. Thus, the implementation of a solution will be a shared decision, which will facilitate combining technical with local knowledge.

  • Experimentation: the innovation of this transformation model is focused on the transition (or process) beyond a given result, offering an opportunity for experimentation towards the creation of a new empirically tested redevelopment process. Therefore, it foresees continuous learning that will allow solutions to be adapted and implemented more efficiently and adjusted to each context and moment.

3. Experimentation and development

Aiming to adapt the physical transformation of the area to the gradual activation of the spaces, the involvement of the community and the slow densification, the project focuses specifically on the architectural form and the provision of housing.

Modular architecture

One of the main design strategies in our proposal is the use of modular and circular structures in order to design adaptive and customizable spaces, which also coincides with the transition process that requires spaces that can be adjusted and transformed. This approach allows the use of the same units in different aggregations and for different uses depending on the needs of each phase of the transition process. For example, initially, the units can be used as temporary spaces to house pop-ups, small-scale services and housing units. At a later stage, these units can accommodate new uses.

Social housing

The 22@ represents an opportunity to address the problem of affordable housing, as shown by future plans for the area and according to the social housing strategy being implemented by the City Council. As per the modification of the General Metropolitan Plan, this area will be more balanced in terms of productive uses and housing, increasing from 10% to 30% ceiling for new housing.

The modular design strategy improves the implementation of this social housing policy in the area by adding a circular component that addresses the tension between affordability and sustainability of social housing development. This model brings efficiency to the use of resources (for example energy and water) since the on-site construction centre supports the manufacture of some parts of the units on a local scale. This local factor promotes a greater potential for social acceptance for the surrounding community since the units can be produced locally and with the contribution of the community within the different centres.

Phases of the project

Considering the needs of the construction process and the densification strategy, the transition model proposes to be implemented in an approximate period of 6 years, always depending on the ability to generate the necessary dynamics for the consolidation of each phase before moving on to the next phase.

Phase 1 - Activation (0 to 2 years)

The objective in this phase is the generation of public space and its activation through the opening of Calle de Bolivia to Calle Josep Pla and cooperating with establishments and neighbours to activate establishments. This stage also includes the rehabilitation of the former Colores Hispania factory (currently in disuse and part of the catalogue of the industrial heritage of Poblenou to be protected) to establish the Co-design and Co-management Center (CoCo House).

Phase 2 - Expansion (1.5 to 5 years)

In this phase, it is proposed to activate various hubs to start promoting the assets of the area and begin to build a more sustainable community. In the same way, the area will begin to densify, adding new housing units (both social and free) and associated services to ensure that residents can find themselves in the area. The use of modular structures will be one of the main strategies to promote sustainable and circular construction.

Phase 3 - Consolidation (4 to 6 years)

Greater leadership on the part of citizens and greater development of the different hubs is expected, which in this phase will begin to connect with other municipal actors and networks, integrating the transformed area into urban dynamics on a larger scale.

Fig. 3 - Phases of the project


Regardless of the impact that the new centrality may have, the same transition model presents two useful innovative elements for the development of future transformation projects: the generation of an equipment incubator and a participatory citizen experience limited in time and space.

Regarding the incubator, each hub will have a well-defined objective and a series of agents that will promote its growth in an oriented and accompanying fashion. As each hub reaches a certain maturity, it will become a new facility for the city or will be added to an existing facility.

In addition, the participatory experience and involvement of the community in projects at such a close scale will allow them to see the real impact of their decisions, bringing awareness about the value of their involvement. This element is crucial to promote real and extended participation to a greater number of citizens, encouraging their involvement and thus generating a virtuous circle of participation and co-management.

In conclusion, this proposal can generate a new city model focused on co-design and co-management, which favours citizen involvement in the transformation and management of their own community. The result of this transformative dynamic is a more inclusive city since every citizen can be involved in the decision-making process; more adaptable to the needs and opportunities that might appear and need to be prioritized, and more robust, since it is based on a catalogue of solutions, a network of hubs and a well-defined phase system. The implementation of this innovative model is aligned with the 22@ tradition of innovation and may represent a new urban concept that reaffirms Barcelona's status as the capital of urban planning and a benchmark in the development of more sustainable and inclusive cities.


22@ a time is the winning project of the C40 Students Reinventing Cities competition for the 22@ Innovation District of Barcelona, developed by Riccardo Palazzolo Henkes, Alvaro Cerezo Carrizo, Marta Galdys, Íñigo Estaban Marina, Leyla Saadi and Nadh Ha Naseer from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and Mahsa Nikoufar from the Edinburgh Napier University, having as advisor Dr Mathilde Marengo from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia.

About the Author: Riccardo Palazzolo Henkes (UMD12) is a consultant and urban researcher with a main interest in urban regeneration, urban data, innovation policies, smart cities, and sustainable development. He is a Co-founder - Business & Product Development at UXCity, a start-up that aims to uncover the complexity of the urban context working with spatial data.


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