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In this #PROFILE series, we touch base with the recipients of DESIGNSCAPES’ 3rd and final Open Call for design-enabled Innovation Scalability Proofs.

Last month, the DESIGNSCAPES team talked with Elisa de los Reyes García López from Agroplaza Kirikiño. In our conversation with her, we learned more about how the project had to evolve in its scaling journey and the lessons learned from a successful collaboration with the municipality of Bilbao.

Agroplaza Kirikiño in short

The project aims at promoting experimentation and learning environments for urban ecology. More explicitly, Agroplaza aims at co-designing and installing pieces of urban furniture that promote sustainable practices (cultivation, food, energies, water, waste), featuring technological systems for goods exchange, waste reduction, and production of renewable energy. Initiated by PEZ estudio in Getafe, Madrid, the project is now being replicated in the Kirikiño square in Bilbao, Basque Country, in collaboration with Protec.

What is Agroplaza Kirikiño currently busy with?

The project is reaching the last steps of its replication in Bilbao. After finalizing the design of the furniture, the team of PEZ estudio is now waiting for their main partner Protec to build it, and for the municipality’s permission to implement it in the city’s square

Getting to this point required the team to adapt significantly both their products and their ways of working. Compared to the first prototypes made in Madrid, in Bilbao “the prototypes are going to be in an open square, so it was very important to reduce their maintenance and increase their durability. The wooden structures are also made using digital fabrication instead of artisanal methods,” Elisa told us. “We have worked with Protec, the City Hall and the enterprise in charge of the maintenance of the public space equipment in order to make the systems simpler and easier to repair,” she continued, adding that “In order to make the installation, we are now working with the people that work normally for the town hall.” All of this caused the budget for the project to go way higher than what the team expected. “Because the materials are of a better quality and prepared to be installed in public space,” Elisa stated, “the ones that we had made before were very artisanal and experimental, so they were easier to get broken. So it’s been a very interesting process, but it has also forced us to make a lot of big decisions and changes.”

Regarding the impact of the pandemic on the project

Upon describing how the health crisis has impacted Agroplaza Kirikiño, Elisa first touched on the participatory sessions the team had to carry out in the neighborhood: “We‘ve been lucky because we made a lot of them during the summer and the last one was in October,” she told us. “We had to duplicate the session so we could have fewer people in each room — and it was also more work for us, but it was okay”. What proved more challenging, however, was to engage with citizens digitally: “What we did is that we went for very small online meetings with some of the associations,” Elisa told us. The pandemic forced the team to adapt both their approach and the tools used in the project, the same way some of their collaborators had to tweak their processes because of the situation.

“What proved more challenging, however, was to engage with citizens digitally.”


The story and the team(s) behind the project

The architects at PEZ estudio, the initiators of this project, have been involved in participatory and ecological projects for more than 10 years now. Agroplaza, in particular, stems from research and a series of explorations named “Agronautas” that the studio inaugurated back in 2012. “We started making small workshops in different places, working with communities, making participatory designs in order to a make up a better relationship with nature in these places,” Elisa recalls, “and from all that we ended up with a collection of prototypes that allowed us to purify water through the use of plants […], to reuse the rainwater, or to do things linked with renewable energies or human energy … to incorporate biodiversity in public space”. For Getafe’s Sustainable Week in 2015, the team decided to install all these prototypes in a square — and that’s how the first Agroplaza was born.


Their experience in working collaboratively with different stakeholders, together with their continuous explorations and experimentations, helps them not only produce beautiful products, but also “to find the right people who can make things happen,” as Elisa put it. For this replication in Bilbao, PEZ estudio works in collaboration with Protec, a Basque company specialized in wood treatment and production of furniture and small buildings. “They are really interested in experimenting and using advanced technologies, so that’s great,” Elisa told us, “because it’s not so easy to find these kinds of people in the building sector.”

A fruitful relationship with the municipality of Bilbao

When asked about the factors that helped replicate the project, Elisa immediately mentioned the support of Bilbao’s town hall. “They were very open to developing the project,” she told us, “it has been the key thing, not only for the funding part, but also to make the right steps towards a standard furniture.” Thanks to the municipality, the team was able to collaborate with the different enterprises responsible for the cities’ public spaces, and in doing so, learned a lot: “It’s been challenging, but on the other hand it has also helped the project go a little further and take the step toward public space furniture.

This relationship started back when a municipality counselor collaborated in one of PEZ estudio’s previous projects; they kept in touch, and then the opportunity to bring the project to Bilbao materialized, thanks to the DESIGNSCAPES Open Call. 

“It’s been challenging, but on the other hand it has also helped the project go a little further.”


The relationship has continued to bear fruit: Upon hearing, during participatory sessions, about citizens’ desire to renovate the entire square of Kirikiño, the municipality decided to collaborate with PEZ estudio to scale the project. 

Lessons learned from the replication phase

This taught the team “that this type of process requires a lot of time because participation needs time, and so does designing and building a complete new thing,” Elisa confessed. The other main lesson was on how to design for public spaces and collaborate with public authorities: “That was also one of the objectives of scaling,” Elisa told us, “how to go from the experimental and artisan thing to a more established approach, to enter the ‘mainstream’.” Before adding: “Now we know the steps we have to take, we know the municipality’s schedule, we know the type of people we have to work with.” 

Looking ahead

The team is looking forward to installing the furniture, expecting that “it’s going to be very interesting to see how the elements we are installing now are going to be used and how [citizens] are going to react,” Elisa explained. When discussing the near future, Elisa shared with us that the main thing in the team’s mind is to understand how to best reconfigure the entire square of Kirikiño. From the DESIGNSCAPES side, we can only wish that Agroplaza’s collaboration with the city of Bilbao continues to be a fruitful one and that the Kirikiño step is only … “square one” of many more installations to come.

Photos: Agroplaza Kirikiño