Building Refuge Within the Grey Areas of Regulations

Building Refuge Within the Grey Areas of Regulations

October 30, 2019

Henry F. Hall Building
1455 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W.
D.B. Clarke Theatre


Santiago Cirugeda is a Spanish architect whose practice is born of the frustration that as an artist or an architect it is quite easy to transform the space of the city through obtaining permits for installations and temporary interventions, yet as a citizen it is almost impossible to take action to improve your own environment. His work therefore questions what it is to be an architect in this context and he tries to empower citizens to act in their own locality by showing how it is possible to subvert laws, regulations, and conventions. In this, his work is about the possibility for action, appropriation, occupation and use, where the citizen can act as initiator, using the guidelines and instructions set out by Cirugeda to build, display or create space. At the same time, Cirugeda's practice questions the notion of the architect as sole author-designer. His is an open-source architecture conceived as a tool kit or a user guide, distributed freely through his website Recetas Urbanas or 'Urban Prescriptions'. His antidotes to capitalist and commodified space are available here for anyone to replicate. Cirugeda describes his practice as 'an urban and social renovation', making an architecture that is cheap and available to all.

A substantial part of the studio's work so far has tackled those sites in cities that have been left over by demolition, lying empty or walled in-unusable for reasons of active neglect, lack of care or abandonment. One suggested action gives specific advice on how to apply to the local council for a permit to install something temporarily. This 'something' is, however, never to be taken literally, but acts as a mask for alternative actions. In the project 'Public Domain Occupation with Skips', the structure merely resembles a skip but is in fact a vehicle for citizens to occupy the urban realm through 'taking the street'. Another proposal applies for a permit to erect scaffolding for re-painting the façade of a building, but instead creates an enclosed space in a scaffold-type structure that can be used as a temporary extension or simply as a semi outdoor space; Cirugeda calls these pockets, 'urban reserves'.


The Office of Rules and Norms (ORN) is an arts-based transdisciplinary collective that engages with regulations, the rule of law and cultural norms. These engagements reveal, comprehend, play with, subvert, and transcend current ways of understanding and acting in relation to regulatory forces in order to make room for more equitable alternatives. In its attempts to query legal and behavioral urban infrastructures, the ORN specifically deploys art and design practice, culture, and methods along three axes:
Art as Subversion | Intervening in grey areas of regulation
Art as Pedagogy | Making public various forces and forms of influence
Art as Decision-Making | Reorienting modes of knowing and deliberating