Transversal Collaborations
An interview with Javier Peña—Ibáñez
Madrid, ES

Javier Peña—Ibáñez (1985, Logroño), an architect with a studio in Madrid, is a curator, researcher, teacher and consultant in architecture, design and the city. He is the Director of Concéntrico, the Logroño International Festival of Design and Architecture, and focuses on the management, curation and dissemination of cultural projects.

 

Let’s start from the very beginning. What were some of the initial moments that characterised the start of your career?

I studied and graduated from ETSAM (Escuela Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid). Ever since the beginning of my career, one of the areas that I felt that I wanted to develop professionally was to practise an architecture that was closer to people's daily lives. I found it vital to bring people closer to topics that we as professionals might already be familiar with, such as scale, light, materials, and so on. These basic concepts are seldom presented to the general public in an accessible manner. 

Another important issue to me was the environment within which we operate. During my studies as an architect, we worked a lot on buildings but we never worked on what I now define as “connecting spaces”, which on a large scale is the city or the urban environment. These two themes continue to complement the projects that I have developed throughout my professional career.

 

What were some of the first projects that brought you close to these topics of interest?

When I graduated in 2010, I had already developed a series of projects designed as public installations. As a creator, I would facilitate a combination of connections and understandings to bring the medium of the city closer to its people. At that time, I was interested in doing projects that questioned various issues, for instance, “How do we, the people, navigate the city?” or “What do we know about the built environment as opposed to the domestic environment?” Through such approaches, I developed a series of installations, which led me to design furniture, exhibitions, etc., all with somewhat similar languages. This was reflected through my project called Basics at the Libros Mutante book fair in Casa Encendida, Madrid, or the different exhibitions that I developed at CentroCentro, Matadero, and other cultural institutions around Madrid.

It was during this journey, composed of several projects and installations, where I perhaps began to notice that those individual and anonymous pieces of work would not manage to convey the message I wanted. I needed to work in a more collaborative manner so I went on to become involved in curatorial practice, a far more collaborative and varied field. I then began to question how those formats had to evolve in order to facilitate a greater reflection and a capacity to integrate wider audiences.

 

You have touched on several interesting points. Among them, I am particularly interested in exploring the idea of formats. Using the “format” as a means of reaching a wider audience is also an important theme for the activities we develop through New Generations.

I find that it is quite a fundamental issue for us. The format must always be complemented by a strategy, allowing you to work in a very transversal manner. Curatorship, the use of a strong narrative, visual identity, exploration and research, all configure the complete execution of an idea or specific project. I would never dissociate the format from the strategy, they are two inseparable concepts. 

Apart from my usual work, transforming formats is another service that I often provide to the various institutions that commission me. For instance, in 2018, I collaborated with Fundación Arquia in a project to transform the arquia/próxima forum into a festival concept. We came up with other narratives and ways to expand their content, making them more attractive and accessible. This is a method of working in which I feel very comfortable. It is a way of working wherein you don’t simply devise a project from scratch, rather you become the transmission vehicle for other agents and their content, which in the case of the arquia/próxima project, had already been devised.

 

The New Generations project focuses on what we define as emerging practices, architects who have defined new ways of thinking, doing, and practising the profession of architecture by proposing new formats and ideas. Throughout your professional experience, you have also developed similar projects such as "Prácticas Relevantes". I am interested to know what you have learned through the project. Were you able to identify emerging trends or topics of debate that characterise new ways of thinking?

What I perceive about the emerging practices is that they generally stray away from labels and categories. The profession of the architect involves many fields: we are professionals who need to know how to respond to very different and complex situations how, for instance, we are currently responding to the current health crisis. I often see professionals who are very open to these new ways of doing architecture from the more social content, environmental content, and the ethics of construction processes, to direct attempts to establish new links, not only with their clients, but also with society at large.

 

One of the projects that best summarises these concepts, and without a doubt your most consolidated creation, is the Concéntrico Festival. How did that come about?

Concéntrico is an annual festival that first launched in 2015. However, it was already undergoing development since 2013-14 with the idea of creating a festival for the city of Logroño. Since the beginning, we were very interested in urban typologies: streets, public squares, patios, passages; spaces that we might find in any city around the world but were also very characteristic of the urban environment of Logroño and other medium-scale European cities.

Starting as a small project, with around 4-5 collaborators, we have then gone on to build a format that now involves more than 30 institutions and private companies that contribute their perspectives and represent an added value for us and the city. The most stimulating thing about the project is the transversal collaboration between local and international teams, such as the numerous practices that take part in the festival every year.

Concéntrico's proposal aspired to become very heterogeneous right from the outset, capable of responding to many sorts of problems with different degrees of profoundness such that different types of audiences could find answers to distinct questions. In this sense, the project has evolved very much throughout the first six editions, growing every year. Anyone who has participated in the various editions of the Festival would be able to clearly perceive that. It is as though we have undertaken a kind of journey together with the public, exploring what they had to offer, and in turn refining the curation of the festival over the years.

 

Has the new global health crisis forced you to change your way of working or organising the festival?

With respect to COVID-19, I can say that we have been quite lucky because all the interventions that we developed and planned this year were designed for fairly large spaces, and we have been able to maintain our original plan. We have been planning the sixth edition of Concéntrico since May 2019. Although it was originally scheduled for May 2020, this year for the first time, we moved it to September. It is possible that next year we will maintain it in September but that is something that we will decide later.

On the other hand, we have developed new forms of communication and participation in events. While I do consider it important to promote communication through digital media, I also find it necessary to encourage participation in the physical space. This is one of the most important aspects of the Concéntirco project and despite all that has happened this year, it is something that we will continue working on in future editions of the Festival.

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Portrait Courtesy of Javier PeñaIbáñez

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Basics. Muebles del Patio at Libros Mutantes Art Book Fair (La Casa Encendida) Photography: Asier Rua

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'Cine Bogart. Imaginar un edificio' exhibition at CentroCentro (Madrid) Photography: Asier Rua

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Nolla by Robin Falck for Concéntrico Festival Photography: Peninsula

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Ring Deluxe by Plastique Fantastique for Concéntrico Festival Photography: Josema Cutillas

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VI Festival Arquia/Próxima Prácticas Relevantes, coordinated by Javier PeñaIbáñez Photography: Javier Antón