Educational Project: VILLENA OBSERVERS | Workshop for visualization of landscape | 2013

* The following text is part of the paper presented by Iván Capdevila and Vicente Iborra at the 5th International Conference on Research in Architecture and Urbanism, held between October 23 and 25, 2013 at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ISBN: 978-84-616-6468-9).

* The shown data visualizations have been made by Alejandro Sánchez Zaragoza and Salvador Serrano Salazar.


It is a workshop framed within the educational project “The experience of landscape: understanding and creation. A multidisciplinary approach” which was developed throughout the 2012-13 academic year at Villena’s IES Antonio Navarro Santafé together with the Department of Building and Urban Planning of the University of Alicante.

The project obtained the National Prize for Education (Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports) in 2013 and in 2014 was selected as a Best Practice by the International Jury for the Dubai International Award for Best Practices 10th Cycle, UN Habitat.

The workshop has been designed and directed by the architects Vicente Iborra and Iván Capdevila (PLAYstudio) within the activities of the More Than Green Project. First-year high school students have been the participators. It took place during the months of November and December 2012.

Through the aforementioned educational project, it is intended to carry out a multidisciplinary project with a transversal nature, which affects all the subjects taught during the course, trying to create a possible common thread between all of them. So:

“More than accumulating knowledge, it is much more important to have at the same time:

– A general attitude to pose and deal with problems.

– Organizing principles that allow to unite the knowledge and provide meaning. ” [1]

For this course, “Landscape” has been the chosen given by the school direction. As we can read in the given brief  “the landscape is a heritage that beautifies and dignifies a place. But, in addition, as Thoreau writes, the landscape educates: it transmits a certain sensitivity about the place, it teaches us to see and think around us. Therefore, this project would be meaningless if it were limited to raising a theoretical reflection on the landscape: it aspires to preserve heritage and also to improve the territory that requires a landscape intervention, as is the case of the school’s educational environment. Turn the way to school into a journey through suggestive landscapes. ” [2] Thus, it is a topic that allows the approach from both objective and subjective criteria (geology or biology, but at the same time also subjects such as history or philosophy), and at the same time having a proactive attitude proposing actions on the surrounding landscape, making true the statement of Ernst Jünger in his work Late Revenge. Three roads to school reminds us that learning begins from the moment the journey to school begins. It is precisely here, and in order to develop a series of workshops that lead to proposals for action in the school’s immediate environment (fig. 1), where a collaboration between the Department of Building and Urban Planning ( University of Alicante) and More Than Green is established.

villena observers 1_foto aerea IES
Fig 1. Aerial view of IES Antonio Navarro Santafé environment, Villena.

What is VILLENA OBSERVERS’ main goal?

Villena Observers is the first of these workshops and its purpose is to complete the analysis and diagnosis of the environment that students encounter on their daily journey from their homes to the school, based on their own experiences. The results will be used as a starting point for a later experience whose purpose is to act physically on the reality previously described.

How has VILLENA OBSERVERS been developed?

The analysis was carried out by the students, each of whom had to take a total of 10 photographs of those aspects that were relevant to them in their daily journey.

For the management and storage of all the information, Flickr has been used, whose purpose is to store and share photographs taken around the world. Each of the participating students had to upload their photographs on the Villena Observers user, classifying them in two different albums: good things and bad things. At the same time they had to add a brief description of what was photographed and geoposition the photograph indicating the place where it was taken.

The diagnosis was made by professors Vicente Iborra and Iván Capdevila based on the information posted on the web.

Why has VILLENA OBSERVERS used Flickr?

For two reasons. The first, because it allows each photographer to record the visual document, including a geographical location (fig. 2), time and a description of those issues that make it relevant. The second, because, given it is a web tool, it is publicly accessible and is therefore open to all citizens.

villena observers 2_mapa flickr

Fig 2. Flickr map showing the photographs’ geoposition.

This type of tool, which combines the taking of photographs, their description and geolocation, can become a powerful tool for the visualization of urban problems, which can help the public authorities to focus its efforts to satisfy the public, or so that a group openly show the problems it encounters in its day-to-day life. There are already multiple experiences in this regard on web platforms developed specifically for this purpose.

In this workshop, given the minimum budget available, instead of developing specific software, a web platform was used to archive and share photographs with a very different goal; that is: to identify and make visible what the students find of the IES Antonio Navarro Santafé in their daily route to the classrooms, therefore this website has become a page of complaint or collective celebration of an existing reality. This has been possible thanks to the possibilities offered by Flickr (archive, public display, description, classification and geolocation of photographs).

What are the results obtained in VILLENA OBSERVERS?

A total of 302 photographs have been made, housed in the two albums previously described. Once the time allotted for taking images has concluded, they have been classified into categories ordered by the number of photographs that comprise them (thus indicating their relevance for the students) (fig. 3):

GOOD THINGS: Pedestrian traffic, green areas, historical elements, “natural” views, shopping, souvenirs, public transport, urban metabolism, motorized traffic, facilities, equipped public space and urban art.

BAD THINGS: Urban image, open fields, pedestrian traffic, motorized traffic and urban art.

Fig 3. Photographs arranged according to detected categories.

What conclusions can be drawn from VILLENA OBSERVERS?

1. Regarding the photographs geolocation:

The positive and negative aspects detected share a geographical location, then on the way to the institute we can find both good and bad things, although it is true that the negative ones are clearly concentrated around it, while the positive ones spread more throughout the urban area (fig. 4). We could therefore say that the situation “worsens” as we move away from the consolidated urban centre (fig.5).

Fig 4. Comparative between bad things / good things, according to geotags location and concentration.

Fig 5. Cartografía que compara la concentración de fotografías geoposicionadas en el Flickr de VILLENA OBSERVERS agrupados en las categorías de good things (montañas) vs. bad things (depresiones)

2. Regarding the perception of the surrounding landscape:

Although the exercise established that each student had to take a total of 10 photographs, to classify 5 + 5 in two albums (good things / bad things), it was also left the possibility for each student to decide whether it was pertinent to photograph this maximum number of photos. Thus, it has been observed that the number of uploaded photos has been unequal (139/163). It could be determined that the general perception of the landscape is negative (fig.6).

villena observers 6_albumes good_bad

Fig 6. Good things/bad things Flickr folders.

It is observed that there are different perceptions on the same issue. What for some of the participants in the workshop is a positive thing, for others it is the opposite. There are several examples of this: areas with spontaneous vegetation in the vacant fields near the center (fig. 7), graffiti, “urban” elements used as spontaneous benches in the absence of other urban furniture. This question can also be extended to the way photos are named. For example, the accumulation of water that occurs in one of the wastelands is called both puddle and lake.

villena observers 7_bueno malo_subjetivo

Fig 7. “paisaje lúcido” vs. “hierbajos”

The “external” location enables a good perception of some issues, such as distant landscapes (close ones not so much), distant views, horizons or even the perception of natural and historical local landmarks (fig. 8).

villena observers 8_ext_cosas buenas

Fig 8. Fotografías clasificadas como “good things” que muestran cuestiones propias de la ubicación externa del instituto

However, it is this “external” location that clearly causes a large part of the deficiencies detected. On the way to the centre we can find “wastelands” (fig. 9); that is, an area without clear attributes or “natural” conditions since they are on the border between the built / urban, and the agricultural / productive. What I. Solà-Morales called terrain-vague, that is: vacancy and imprecise space. These wastelands that characteristically populate the our cities boundaries are clearly identified as one of the main problems while they constitute the shortcuts through which the students access the centre on foot.

villena observers 9_ext_cosas malas

Fig 9. Fotografías de los descampados clasificadas como “bad things”

It can be said there is a concern for the urban scene they encounter on the way to school (78 photographs). Historic and qualified buildings and public spaces are valued (fig. 10), but black spots are also clearly identified, these are dilapidated buildings or urban infrastructures in poor condition (fig. 11).

villena observers 10_escena urbana_bien

villena observers 11_escena urbana_mal

Fig 10/11. Fotografías pertenecientes a las categorías de “escena urbana”

Part of this urban scene is determined by its cleanliness. Given the location “external” to the city, it can be concluded that there is no systematic cleaning of the route, once it leaves the urban limits and even less inside the “wastelands”. It should also be noted that many of the waste that appears in the photographs are “juvenile”, such as beverage or fast food packages, so this lack of cleanliness could be addressed, at least in part, with the collaboration of all the students … If they had bins along the way, of course.

The fact that an issue has been identified as “good” does not mean that its presence is sufficient in the urban scene, that is to say that its existence could be merely testimonial, although it is identified as positive. Examples of this can be the categories: pedestrian traffic (road safety), facilities, green areas, urban metabolism or public transport (fig. 12).

villena observers 12_dotaciones

Fig 12.

3. Regarding the taken photographs:

Surprisingly, most of the photos do not show people. In those cases in which students or pedestrians do appear, the images explain in a more emphatic way how the public space is used and therefore a perceived reality (fig. 14/15).

villena observers 13_acceso peatonal

villena observers 14_sin personas

Fig 14/15. The presence of users in the images explains what is intended to be shown, in these cases that the sidewalks are insufficient and that the openings are used as shortcuts by the entire educational community.

The album in which a photo has been classified can be identified simply by the angle of the photo. Many of the “bad” photos are “choppy”, while the “good” ones present an angle similar to that of our gaze while walking (fig.16). We could therefore say that pejorative issues are issues of detail, while things valued as “good” are found in “long views”.

villena observers 16_punto de vista

Fig 16. Imágenes pertenecientes a los álbumes “good things” y “bad things”

What happens after VILLENA OBSERVERS? Suggestions for possible future actions:

Working with temporary actions given that the “times” of urban planning are usually very long. Faced with the idea of terrain vague, that of a space of opportunity, proposed years ago by Ábalos & Herreros architects, incorporating a positive vision of these places, since almost anything is possible in them. Thus oppose activity to the idea of land on hold.

In recent years we have
been observing multiple examples of “how citizens are building interesting
ways of what we could call doing and practicing the city from a small
scale.” [3] These examples could be called “social star-ups”, as
they do in a recent article by Esaú Acosta and Alba Balmaseda. It lists its
main characteristics:

– “Bottom-Up”: they arise from citizen concern and develop bottom upwards.

– “Co-creation”.

– “Co-responsibility”: processes of collaborative social responsibility.

– “Social R + d + i”.

-The appearance of the figure of the “prosumer”; this is both producer and consumer of urban space.

-And the appearance of “ductile infrastructures”, adaptive and capable of rapidly mutating in the face of future changes.

A large part of the existing initiatives in the Spanish context can be found in the Vivero de Iniciativas Ciudadanas ( Many of them can be a clear reference for the next steps to be taken in the context of the educational project The Landscape Experience: Understanding and Creation. A multidisciplinary approach. We like to think that our collaboration with the VILLENA OBSERVERS has been one more agent in the “Co-creation” of a new landscape in the surroundings of the IES Antonio Navarro Santafé de Villena.