This interview by Elvia Wilk was originally published in uncube magazine


For the past 14 years the architecture conference/festival Eme3 has initiated dialogue and debate in Barcelona’s urban context. Intended as a meeting of minds, invited participants include those who build and those who think about building in an expansive set of talks, exhibitions, and events, aiming above all to get the public involved. uncube editor Elvia Wilk (herself a participant in the festival’s Share-It section) asked Program Director Javier Planas and Sub-Director Charlotte Debarle about this year’s programming in the midst of economic crisis — programming that employs creative, unconventional means to live up to its truly ambitious mission in this context.

How did Eme3 originate? Who was involved in its conception phase and what were its initial goals?

Eme3 was initiated in 1999 by group of friends coming from different disciplines, with the idea of providing a space for artists, designers and architects to express themselves in a different way. At that moment, there were very few events of that kind, and so our earliest editions were definitely experiments.

Eme3 has been an inclusive association since its beginnings. We are very attached to the fact that the event is free, so that Eme3 is open to a broad public audience, and so that the participants pay no fee. Obviously this makes festival financing difficult and uncertain, since we entirely depend on public and private contributions.

This year’s topic is TOPIAS: Utopias Becoming Real. The concept of utopia is a well-worn one in the architecture world – how did you re-invigorate it from a new angle through the lens of the “topia”?

The topic for us is rooted in the specific socio-economical context we are living in, especially in southern Europe where the possibilities for architects are drastically reduced. Since its beginnings, Eme3 has highlighted projects with participative and bottom-up methodologies, but since the economic crises these practices have become very common.

That’s why, starting with the 2012 edition, we included practices with built work in a section called build-it, and exhibited various unbuilt proposals and theoretical work in a share-it section. With this strategy we wanted to emphasize confrontations and exchanges of ideas and practical methodologies about, for example, financing, legal structures, communication, and the role of education.

Could you talk about the program site this year, the factory building Fabra I Coats? It’s an unusual building for Barcelona – there aren’t too many disused/re-appropriated factories in the city – and it’s in a neighborhood, San Andreu, which is fairly removed from the city center. How does the location serve or affect the project?

Yes, the location is very interesting. Fabra I Coats was a nineteenth-century textile factory that had a strong presence in the Barcelona neighborhood of San Andreu, since a lot of its habitants were employed there. It went out of commission in the 1980s and until 2008 it was closed to the public. In 2009, the Culture Institute of Barcelona bought it and began renovations, though a big part of the construction was immediately slowed due to the economic crisis. We wanted to use the festival as a chance to make this unique place in Barcelona open to the public. Through our programming we have managed to bring people into the space, despite its distance from the city center – it’s 25 minutes by metro from the Plaza Catalunya, in the heart of Barcelona.

How does this year’s event compare with previous iterations? How has the programming evolved over time?

This year’s edition was one of the most complex in terms of organization, not only due to the lack of resources but also because of the complexity of the program. We tried to combine the most successful aspects of past events: intervention in public space, such as the construction of the Catalan vault, along with exhibition, workshops, talks, video projections and debates.

This year we had around 45 participants coming from 17 countries, which is a similar number to previous years. In each edition, we try to mix well known professionals and emergent practices through an open call. For many young participants, eme3 has been a first step towards building public recognition.

The projects selected to form the build-it section were given a budget for construction, so we selected projects that seemed like they could have a long life. Map13, who won the prize in this section for their Brick-Topia project, were very audacious – not only in terms of complexity of the structure and use of money but also in terms of time – we built it in less that 3 weeks! It was initially conceived as an ephemeral project, but it will now likely stay on-site for years to come.

The conference/festival has a long life this summer. This is an important aspect for continuing to engage the public. What’s coming up?

This is the first year we are keeping the exhibition open for the entire month of july with an activity program. The activities will activate the factory’s courtyard space, where Brick-Topia is located.

The idea is to propose a range of open-air activities to Barcelona residents, especially in San Andreu. That’s why we were so happy on the 20th of July, when the Fabra I Coats was packed with people for an open-air festival put on by Mutuo Centro de Arte. With a day of concerts, a flea market, competitions, and DJs, the objective of making this incredible public space popular was totally fulfilled!