by Jincy IypeFeb 17, 2023
Democratic design, at its heart, rallies the creative industry at large, its practitioners and its intended user base, to comprehend design as being accessible and built "for all". As a concept, it has been famously attributed to French designer Philippe Starck, who articulated it as a "design that provides quality pieces at accessible prices." The philosophy still remains to be considered gospel by designers across design categories globally, augmenting current design tenets of form, function, quality, and sustainability.
For the World Design Capital 2022, Spanish architect Miguel Arraiz together with Arqueha Arquitectura y Urbanismo conceived the Agora Valencia, a sustainable, demountable and removable pavilion, as a "vehicle and promoter of the democratisation of design", for the city of Valencia in Spain. Designed with an undulating, beige wooden roof and a white, latticed skin, the Agora Valencia filters in natural light, attributing it as one of its construction materials, with Valencian craftsmanship, innovation, industry, inclusivity and talent as its axes.
In ancient Greece, a traditional Agora was typically a “gathering place”, an open-air plaza that served as the heart of a community, archetypally the most visited and central area, connoting both, an assembly of people as well as the architecture. This nexus formed the breeding ground of pertinent discussions and confluence of ideas across social, political, and economic strata, of and for the society. Consider it a physical and ideated blueprint of today’s parliaments. Embodying a similar character and responsibility in the design world, Agora Valencia opened to the public this year as the World Design Capital’s “nerve centre”. Design takes the heart of Valencia with this 350 sqm “participatory and inclusive venue”, built with local ceramics and 'vareta' wood, providing its open-air interior with thermal comfort, in tandem with referencing and promoting Valencian culture and its creative industry.
STIR indulges in a hearty conversation with Arraiz, who is also the Project Director of the World Design Capital Valencia 2022, about the modular pavilion design, what makes it relevant in WDC’s programme this year, and how it nurtures an ecosystem, and performs as a catalyst, for the furthering of “democratic design”.
Jincy Iype: Why did the city of Valencia, the World Design Capital for 2022, entail a pavilion?
Miguel Arraiz: Following in the footsteps of the pavilions that other world capitals of design such as Helsinki (2012) or Taipei (2016) built as the heart of their program, where design can be seen and experienced, Valencia takes advantage of the opportunity to bring design and its transversality to the general public, as well as companies and institutions.
The city of Valencia as we know it, is the result of more than a century of design, a convergence of cultures and history. Through its urban, architectural, artistic, allied designs, and more, it has earned its place as a city with a global vocation. It is hoped that Agora Valencia will be the meeting point for Valencian society, its tourism and its people. Its recent unveiling also aims to encourage everyone to participate and get to know what it means to be the capital of design. A place from which to become aware of the presence of design in daily life, its role in the desired city model, and its importance in the projection of the Valencian industry and economy into the future.
With Agora Valencia, the city celebrates with its inhabitants and visitors its status as the global epicentre of design, and gains a new venue open to citizens as a legacy of the transformative force of design. – Miguel Arraiz, Project Director, World Design Capital Valencia 2022
Since the official designation by the World Design Organisation in 2019, Valencia comprehended that it should not only have a central space to communicate the schedule of the World Design Capital 2022 but also a meeting point that would connect with people. For this reason, they imagined a place in the heart of the city where they could tell the story of Valencian design (and in some way, Spanish architecture), and subsequently, its industry, craftsmanship and as the backbone of an entire territory. It does so with a “forward-looking” approach to sustainability and materials.
Agora Valencia located at the heart of the Plaza del Ayuntamiento has become a new building to admire and enjoy in Town Hall Square, a construction that brings together some of the features of Valencian identity and embodies them in its architecture. A building that investigates the materials and the craft traditions of the territory, that speaks of the Valencian industry through its use of ceramics and of the waves of the Mediterranean sea embodied in its rippling roof, which is, in turn, a tribute to the Fallas, a known traditional celebration held annually in commemoration of Saint Joseph in the city of Valencia, Spain.
Jincy: What informs the core concept and intent of the pavilion?
Miguel: The concept, from the start, was determined by its intended use of being a strategic, gathering congregation in a public space. In a way, this is a paradigm shift. It does not respond to the conventional idea of a closed container for activities carried out by sponsors and collaborators, but its main use caters to citizens, of being inclusive and truly accessible. It is valued as a recognisable landmark of the design capital that remains wholly open to society, and through its ephemeral architecture and conceived spatial scenery, be adapted to various activities when the programme requires it.
Agora Valencia has been conceived as a gift for the present and future of Valencia. – Miguel Arraiz, Project Director, World Design Capital Valencia 2022
Jincy: How does the pavilion’s tactical location within Valencia’s town square influence its design?
Miguel: The Valencian built identity as well as its geographical, historical and cultural heritage were referenced in the pavilion’s architecture. This modular pavilion tells the story of a renowned design born on the shores of the Mediterranean, with the Mediterranean light employed as a construction material, as well as informing the shape of the dynamic roof. The purpose of Agora Valencia is reflected in the materials and manufacturing of the venue and in its construction, which fuses tradition and avant-garde, crafts and industry, using only wooden rods and a material similar to ceramics known as MDI.
From afar, the structure looks permeable, almost faint, but gains presence as one gets closer. The envelope of the modular architecture constitutes something akin to a latticework made of MDI panels that filter light in resplendent ways, giving the Agora lightness and solidity, depending on the perspective. The scale of the square, which is of a very considerable size, undoubtedly influenced its sustainable design.
The space was created as the central strategic hub of the WDC Valencia 2022 programme, linking citizens with this capital. It presents its own programme of new activities, in addition to the more than 200 scheduled ones including workshops, exhibitions, conferences and meetings throughout the Valencian community, with the objective of bringing design, talent and creativity to the general public.
The Agora Valencia explores the materials and artisan tradition of the Valencian territory, as well as extolling its roots in order to take advantage of a unique opportunity to bring design and its transversality to the citizens, businesses and institutions. The materials and production systems used created an opportunity for a modular construction, and a dismountable format of the pavilion, constituting a firm commitment to circularity and durability.
Jincy: As the project director of World Design Capital Valencia 2022, what were some challenges you faced while conceiving the pavilion?
Miguel: The first (of many) challenges that we faced was to materialise the pavilion’s sole purpose, of being an inclusive space open to citizens. Its location in the centre of the city should facilitate its function as a platform for the Design Capital, and its design should also make it a beacon, both architecturally and figuratively. As important and complex as defining and conceptualising its use was, adapting the pavilion, with its design, to the scale of the iconic place, also became a tough act to realise.
We also had to ensure that this pavilion looked at and accommodated its position of being the central strategic hub of the WDC Valencia 2022 design event, Agora Valencia becomes the link between the citizens and the capital. At the same time, it is a point of transmission and exchange of ideas, an open forum for round tables, conferences and presentations on design, as well as for educational workshops and both social and professional meetings.
Jincy: Apart from the strategically placed MDI panels and wooden rods, what other elements make up the public pavilion?
Miguel: Apart from the MDI and wood, light is considered a third, indispensable and decisive element in the Agora’s construction. Natural light filters through the facades beautifully during the day, while the designed light show devised by Radiante every night invites visitors to experience the artistic force of lighting design, to play, be inspired, relax and enjoy the space. The light projections take the form of a laser sculpture and evoke a rather graphic and editorial design on the pavement of the Agora, which takes on three-dimensionality, generating elements with a solid appearance.
Jincy: What are some cultural, local factors that inspired the undulating roof and the distinct facade?
Miguel: In reference to the city as a historical point of union between different cultures, the Agora evokes the waves of the Mediterranean Sea through its roof, which is, in turn, a tribute to the Valencian festivities, the Fallas, thanks to the artisan work of Manolo Gracia, master carpenter and artist. The building is covered with a skin developed by the companies Inalco and Wandegar from pieces of MDi - an innovative surface, developed with minerals - placed perpendicularly on the façade to filter the light as the hours go by.
Jincy: Could you elaborate on the adopted materiality and colour palette?
Miguel: The modular pavilion has a two-tier colour palette that combines the natural beige of wood of the flowing roof element with the angelic Mediterranean white of the MDI structure. The former calls to nature and its colours, while white reflects light, stands as a beacon, and also contributes to integrating the Agora's presence naturally into the square. The perforated MDI façade was also designed keeping in mind air circulation and solar radiation, while the roof modelled on the rolling Sea aids natural ventilation. The subsequent comfort temperature inside is 10 degrees lower as compared to the rest of the plaza.
On a human scale, the Agora is endowed with more “weight”. When we enter this open space, which does not have an entrance door as such, we are surprised by the expressiveness of the undulated ceiling in contrast to its logical and grid structure. Its own route conveys the will of the Agora to put design at the service of improving public space.