2009-2010. Josep-María Martín. A DIGESTIVE HOUSE FOR LAVAPIÉS (related work)

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 Memory and habitat: habitat prototype in Onex.
BAC, Bâtiment d’Art Contemporain. Onex y Ginebra, Suiza



Josep-Maria Martin was invited to participate in the collective exhibition “Habitat/Variations”, in order to rethink the concept of habitat and different ways of living. To develop the project, the Genevan architect Raphaél Nussbaumer suggested a collaboration to reflect together on the spaces in which we live.

The project focused on the city of Onex, a bedroom community in the suburbs of Geneva, Switzerland. It was built in the sixties, a period in which different solutions were suggested to solve the housing problem. In those days a lot of apartment blocks and collective spaces were built, which no longer answer today’s needs of size and comfort as well as the diversity of the new family structures.

These neighborhoods contain a highly diverse population, ethnically as well as culturally.

The majority of its inhabitants come from countries all over the world, which have had to move for socioeconomic reasons or as political refugees that are running from a war and bring tragic experiences, which are added to the common difficulties of adjusting to a new country.



To question the space were we live in and establish an analogy between the digestive system and the home, as an organism that digests personal and collective memory. It is a way to focus on the relationship between spaces that people live in and how it can help individuals manage and face history, personal and collective memory with the cognitive realm of life and the welfare of people. We intend to find answers to the relation habitat-memory:

- How can our own history, our contribution, coexist with the history we find in reality?
- Do we experience the legacy of a place’s memory?
- What do we contribute to the memory of a certain place?
- How do we face our personal and collective memory?
- What influence does the habitat have on the individual, the family, community…?
- How does space help us digest the events of our lives?
- What is a family’s quality of life?
- How do family members contribute to it?
- How does it affect personal and professional relationships?
- How do we face cultural displacement?
- How do we live with people belonging to other cultures and backgrounds?
- How do we coexist with the memory of war?


- Propose the intervention of an architect to develop the project collectively.
- Identify a family form the neighborhood of Lavapies to carry out the idea.
- Open up a participation process.
- Identify and invite different interlocutors linked to the project.
- Research on how the habitat helps us face memory.
- Carry out interviews with each of the people identified as significant.
- Reflect on family living in a suburb of Geneva.
- Order the obtained information.
- Elaborate and conceptualize the proposal.
- Design the architectural project.
- Debate about the proposal with the family and other previously interviewed interlocutors.
- Design the executive project.
- Build and open the designed space.
- Evaluate the experience.
- Build a real-scale model of the apartment in the Bac, Bâtiment d’Art Contemporain of Geneva.
- Make a video documentary about the project.
- Spread the project.
- Search for funding.
- Experiment for 3 months with the prototype.


- Begin collaboration with the architect. Raphaél Nussbaumer.
- Choose the neighborhood of Onex to develop the project.
- Identify the main interlocutor of the Sr. Mercolli neighborhood Service director for Youth and Community Action of Onex.
- Open up a participation process carrying out interviews.
    - Mr Kurteshi, Caretaker of Onex’s blue tower.
    - Mr Mercolli, Service director for Youth and Community Action of Onex.
    - Mr Bürgisser, Director of the Housing Office of Geneva’s Canton.
    - Mr Pythoud, Architect.
    - Mrs Parisod, eco-biologist.
    - Mr Armenian, gastroenterologist.
    - Mr Ries, Dietician.
    - Mrs Quinodoz, Radiologist.

- Research and reflect on the importance of habitat to help “digest memory”.
- Interview and suggest the Kurteshi family an intervention in their house of blue tower Avenue du Gros-Chêne 43 in the city of Onex, as beneficiary of the project.
- Needs in the habitat identified by Mr Kurteshi.
     - Recover the relation between nature and earth.
         - Improve the relationship among neighbors and other residents in the city.
         - Widen the playing areas for their children and their neighbors’.
         - Need to create relational and community areas.

- Josep-Maria Martin’s remarks:
    - Multicultural composition of the neighborhood.
    - Kosovo-Albanian origin of Mr Kurteshi.
    - A design related to his origins and war (memory).
    - Being caretaker of the building in which he lived.
    - Double role: caretaker and tenant.
    - Reluctance to improve his house.
    - Recreation of his original Kosovo-Albanian habitat.
    - In the neighborhood there is a difficulty in creating areas of transition between public and private space.

- Order the information obtained on the subject.
- Present and debate on the proposals to the family and interlocutors of the project.
    - Proposals:
       - Build a balcony in the West façade.
       - Build a garden on the communities’ terrace roof.
       - Build a cabin, in the flowerbeds surrounding the building, for the children to play.

    - Findings of the debate:
        - Need to create a community area signaling the transition between private and public space.
        - Develop a collective area on the terrace roof of the building: garden, vegetable garden, cabin to play, barbeque, etc.
        - Mr Kurteshi, caretaker of the building, committed himself to manage the use of this new area.

- Carry out the executive project modifying, integrating and enriching the initial proposal of the Digestive House Prototype.
- Elaborate, in collaboration with Mr Kurteshi, the rules of use.
- Search for funding.
- Carry out the administrative management needed to develop the project.
- Build a prototype.
     - Spread the project.
         - Exhibit the Digestive House project in Geneva’s Bac.
         - Create a real-scale model of the Kurteshi family’s apartment.
         - Show the plans and photographs.
         - Produce a documentary film.
- Press release.
- Publication.


The Foundation, owner of the building, showed their interest, approval and support in the project by providing the necessary resources needed to carry it out. The intention was to take most of the experience and spread it to other neighboring buildings.
The prototype wasn’t finally installed in the terrace roof, for external reasons.
Geneva’s fire department didn’t give permission, due to a change in regulation (produced during the project’s development) related to the building’s emergency exits.
Onex’s City Hall and Mr Bürgisser, Director of the Housing Office of Geneva’s Canton, keeps working in order for the project to become a reality.
The Digestive House enabled them to visualize the need to improve the neighbors’ communications in Onex and, also, the need to treat the transitional areas between private and public spaces.











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