We are ecosistema urbano, an urban design and architecture studio based out of Boston and Madrid. We are designers and professionals specialized in urban innovation projects, working with the principles of design thinking at the intersection between different disciplines: architecture, landscape design, engineering, and sociology.
Our approach can be defined as urban social design by which we investigate the intersections between the design of environments, spaces, dynamics, and tools in order to improve the self-organization of citizens, social interaction within communities, and their relationship with the environment.
ecosistema urbano has used this philosophy to design and implement projects in urban contexts from different countries: USA, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Italy, France, China, Russia, Paraguay, Bahamas, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Bahrain, and Honduras, among others.
ecosistema urbano operates within the fields of urban consultancy, architectural and urban design, public space quality assessment, and urban transformation processes. Our work spans from the initial conceptualization to the final implementation of the projects, and our clients include local and national governments as well as multilateral agencies.
In recent years, our research has developed around the design of public spaces focusing especially on the improvement of bioclimatic conditions in contexts and climates as diverse as Norway or Bahrain. We place a particular emphasis on producing quality public spaces that are climatically comfortable. Our practice responds to climate change by equipping spaces with short and long-term strategies to achieve resilience.
ecosistema urbano was founded in 2000 in Madrid by architects and co-directors Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo, in 2010 the studio expanded to include an office in Boston and has been operating internationally ever since. Since 2004 founding partners Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo have led workshops, lectured, and taught at the most prestigious institutions worldwide.
Lately ecosistema urbano has been working on a very diverse array of projects located around the globe. In the last two years, we’ve been leading urban consulting projects in various cities in Kyrgyzstan, focusing on participation and urban space, and an Upgrading Project for Dhaka Neighborhoods in Bangladesh. At the urban design scale, we are currently managing the construction of the first phase of the Málaga University Campus (Spain) and developing the proposal for the Ecopark La Paz in Barranquilla (Colombia). After having built the Cloudroom pavilion in Columbus, Indiana, we have redirected our bioclimatic design efforts to creating a new temporary Pavilion for the Harvard Climate Solutions Change Fund on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Our other latest projects include Open Shore, the redevelopment of West Palm Beach’s waterfront, which encompasses also the Banyan Hub, a mixed-use bioclimatic building in (West Palm Beach, FL, USA), a landscape revitalization project for Hermosillo Historical Centre (Mexico), the Public Space Reactivation Plan CUENCA RED (Ecuador), Encarnación Más – Urban and Territorial Planning of Encarnación (Paraguay), and the Master Plan for the historic downtown of Asunción (Paraguay).
As a part of our methodology, ecosistema urbano has developed different tools and participatory techniques to involve citizens in the creative and transformative processes of urban environments. During the last decade, Ecosistema has successfully experimented with social software, communication platforms, and the possibilities offered by the new technologies to achieve the creation of more democratic urban environments.
Urban. Social. Design. Three words that describe our dedication: the urban context, the social approach, and the design understood as an action, an interaction, and a tool for transformation. Understanding types of behaviour and processes at different levels is crucial.
Creativity is a network. In a globalized world, creativity is the capacity to connect things innovatively and thus we understand that the protagonist of the creative process is not just a team but an open and multi-layered design network.
Community first. Cities are created and maintained by people for people, and urban development only makes sense when the community cares about it. We work to empower the communities to drive the projects that affect them, so social relevance is guaranteed.
Going glocal. Just as cities have residents and visitors, and planning is made at different scales, every urban project is born in a constant movement between the direct experience and specificity of the local context, and the global, shared flow of information and knowledge.
Accepting –and managing– conflict. Participation, like conversation, means letting all the points of view be raised and listened to. Public debate only makes sense if all the stakeholders are involved. Every project affecting the city has to deal with both opposition and support, consensus and contradiction.
Assuming complexity. Encompassing the complexity of the urban environment requires simplifying it. Instead, we prefer to admit its vast character and understand our work as a thin layer –with limited and, at times, unpredictable effects– carefully inserted into that complexity.
Learning by doing. Our experience grows through practice. We know what we can do, and we challenge ourselves to do what we think we should be doing. We solve the unexpected issues as we move, and then we take our lesson from the process and the results.
Planning… and being flexible. Urban development is what happens in the city while others try to plan it. We think ahead, make our dispositions, but we are always ready for reality to change our plans… mostly for the better. Rigidity kills opportunity, participation and urban life.
Embracing transdisciplinarity: We assume that our role as professionals is evolving, disciplinary bonds are loosening, urban projects are complex, and circumstances are continuously changing. This requires open-minded professionals, flexible enough to adapt their roles and skills and to use unusual tools.
Technology as a social tool: Today’s technology enables us to better relate and interact with each other and with the surrounding environment. As the digital-physical divide narrows and the possibilities multiply, it becomes an increasingly significant element in urban social life.
Keeping it open: Open means transparent, accessible, inclusive, collaborative, modifiable, reproducible. Open means more people can be part of it and benefit from it. These are the attributes that define a project made for the common good.