The growing involvement of community organizations in housing design and city transformation is influencing how architecture understands itself as a discipline, especially in areas such as professional practice, academic education and administration. This global trend towards community-led development is driven by various agents, including national governments, local administration, neighbourhood associations and private developers. While each agent might have different motivations and aims, there is a common social and political aim to build communities and their urban environments.
Among the many cities where community-led design is becoming increasingly important, Barcelona is defined as case study due to the intersection of grounds challenging traditional city decision making: at a social level due to the new political and social awareness as a result of 15M Indignados Movement in 2011, at a political level due to the municipal government constituted by former activists since 2015, and at a disciplinary level due to the emergence of young collectives of architects which are challenging the discipline from within.
The inability of traditional disciplinary tools to respond to current social demands in the midst of a situation of crisis and scarcity policies after the 2008 real estate bubble crash produced a deep disciplinary shift both as due to political commitment and as means of survival. As a response to a crisis situation situation, a number of architect collectives have emerged claiming a need for a politicization of architecture at all levels, especially in community-led urban transformation and the housing crisis. They got involved with local grassroots and civil groups, being increasingly defined as enablers and leading to the emergence of new practices, protocols and methodologies. Both architects ’collectives and administration are increasingly demanding a redefinition of architectural practices, with the role of the architect defined as that of a social enabler.
This research investigates how this new community architect is part of a strategic re-thinking of the relationship between urban development and city policies. Taking Barcelona as a research context, this thesis will develop a new theory of urban transformation framed by social movements and protocols of collective participation. By analysing the new roles of architects in relation to new municipalism and associationism it explores whether a different process is effectively producing a different outcome for the city at a larger scale, re-strategizing the relationships between administration, neighbourhood associations, academia and architects under the framework of new community-led urban development protocols.