Lecture by David Barragán, Al Borde
Response by Juan Herreros, Professor of Professional Practice at GSAPP
Al Borde is a Quito, Ecuador-based studio, whose Principals David Barragán, Esteban Benavides, Marialuisa Borja, and Pascual Gangotena champion an improvisational, collaborative approach to design. Resisting theory and dogma, their projects seek to enhance local development and engage communities in social innovation. Recognized globally for its process, the firm was named to Domus’ guide to the world’s best architecture firms in 2019.
Each of Al Borde’s projects is conceived of and materialized with the resources and knowledge that are found in place. In the projects, the input of others adds something that members of the firm cannot see clearly from their distant position as architects. Even thinking of a long-term immersion process, they can never come to achieve the whole understanding of the place and its conditions as well as the ones who live on site. This acceptance of the value of others’ knowledge makes them comprehend participatory design not in a romantic way of charity, but as a tool or strategy for the project to perform as its best. When others assume responsibilities in decision-making, the project has fewer possibilities that things turn out badly or more chances of being corrected over time by all involved and not just by architects.
“Do things with less” is the credo of Al Borde and the title of an award-winning 2018 documentary film they collaborated with Kilwadenko Novas to create. The firm has been featured in landmark exhibitions, such as the 2014 exhibition Think Global, Build Social! Architectures for a Better World in Vienna, the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial The State of the Art of Architecture in 2015, and the Reporting from the Front exhibition at the 2016 Venice Biennale.
Al Borde often works on projects with low budgets; they attempt to turn scarcity of resources into an advantage, considering not just money, but also skills, knowledge, materials, property, or even friends and acquaintances as assets in the project. Each of the firm’s projects is shaped by vernacular practices and natural or upcycled materials available on-site. Projects include Escuela Nueva Esperanza, a rural school built in 2009 in the coastal village of El Cabuyal, Ecuador; the Culunco house, a semi-buried family home built in 2014 in Tumbaco, Ecuador; and the House of the Flying Beds, a historic property renovated in the city of La Esperanza, Ecuador in 2017.