Barcelona Cultura

Juli Capella: a humanist design in order to live better

Juli Capella is an architect and interiors designer. For him, design should be universal, economical and sustainable. He directs the studio Capella Garcia Arquitectura, some of its most noted works of which are the Omm hotel in Barcelona as well as the interiors of the restaurants Jaleo (Washington DC) and Mi Casa (Dorado, Puerto Rico).

The Design Museum of Barcelona is working in the creation of the collection "Emergency! Efforts against covid-19", which will gather actions, projects and objects in the design sector that have given answers to the urgent needs of the sanitary and social crisis caused by the pandemic. During the Barcelona Design Week in November, an exhibition with the more outstanding propositions will be presented. 

In this context, we talk with him about the conclusions we can draw, in terms of design, after the Covid-19 pandemic: that genius and creativity are within each and every one of us; that the public space belongs to us, and that our home can be a much more flexible place than we thought.

During these months, the maker community has been aligned to respond to the demands derived from the sanitary crisis, bringing cooperation and collective intelligence to the focus.

The reaction of the design sector has been agile, fast, willing and very creative, but we must acknowledge it hasn’t been 100% effective. I am obviously in favour of networking when it comes to design and production, but in the end it was the traditional industry who fixed the problem. Until SEAT decided to close down its production line and start making breathing machines, nothing was really working. 

However, we have witnessed people making masks and lab coats, as well as breathing machines in 3D printers. Everyone has become a designer. Is this a threat to the sector?

I don’t feel it that way. I am happy that people have realised that creativity and intuition are within. This is how I believe it should be. I know there is a certain disregard, in the sector, towards homemade design, but I believe this only hides the darkest part of design, which is the ego every creator has. This slight intrusion is precisely what induces us professionals to move forward. I think we should feel happy about the fact that the creative spark has ignited within everyone.

Also, design has proven useful for everyone.

The aim of design is to define the material (artificial) environment that surrounds people. It is what allows us to commute, to get dressed… it basically helps us live better. I believe that during the pandemic we have been able to see the humanist or social component of design, that which puts the people in the centre. Usually, when the media speak about design, they show the latest car model or the furniture in the Milano exhibition; this makes people perceive design as something elitist and expensive. But this time we have seen that design can save lives. At the same time, it is the cause of the mess of the world we live in.

What do you mean?

Bad design is also design. We have created an unhealthy environment and an unsustainable productive system. Ironically enough, the same discipline which is destroying the world is the one which can redirect it. How? Going from an unconscious and mercantilist design, to one that is more conscious, that will make repairable or reusable objects. Design cannot act as the slave of capitalism anymore. We have a chance to make a change towards a social design, and we must make the most of it in order to move forward, because our duty as humans is to improve our living conditions, as well as those of our environment.

Is design a means for social transformation?

Totally. There is a basic principle in design which is “design for all”, and it means that, when you are designing, you must try to design for everyone: not for disabled people or for rich people – design must be universal and as economic as possible. It must aim to be accessible and break inequalities. Currently there is also a claim for design to create synergy with the surroundings; for example, a kind of design that will think of the materials at their disposal instead of those which should be acquired internationally. 

The mask has come to stay. Is this a new opportunity for design?

Throughout history, the tendency of clothing is towards minimisation of apparel, which goes in line with the hygiene and sociocultural habits. As far as masks are concerned, they are very badly designed. You can tell that until now they were only worn by a small group of people –medical staff– and only for a few hours; they are not conceived to be worn for the entire day. So yes, we designers have a good opportunity to rethink masks and improve them, especially when it comes to ergonomics and materials, besides customising them. What if we design a transparent mask, so that our face can be seen? Or a mask made of a colour-changing material, depending on the day and our mood? All of this depends on the imagination we pour in it. 

How will the mask alter the way we interact with each other?

I believe the mask makes us go backwards in the process of the liberation of the body. We shouldn’t give up vindicating physical contact: it’s so sad that we can’t kiss, or touch, or caress. We are not aware of how serious it is for our society that we get used to not touching each other.

Regarding public space, how do you think we will interact with it, after having been confined?

Public space has been regained as a precious and valuable commodity. We have realised that we weren’t allowed to use it like we wanted to, because the market has become so powerful that it has transformed it into a product. On the street, you can do almost nothing but circulate; but people are perfectly aware that it is a safe and healthy space, and maybe now we value more the fact that we have it, because when we didn’t have it we missed it so much. We must remember that the public space is ours, it’s our heritage: most people can barely afford a rent, and this is why we must also remember we own a part of the library, of the health center, of the leisure space... 

What do architects and urban planners have to say about this?

We want more public space, and we want it better conditioned. There is a certain obsession for growing and making the city bigger. I keep asking myself: why do we have to grow more, if we live in a high-density city already? It’s obvious: if you understand the city as a product, you must exploit it to its utmost. But we mustn’t forget the ultimate purpose of the city, which is that people should be able to live in it. This is why I believe that we should do the opposite of growing: we must remove elements, like the car –I’m not against the car, but it is clearly not well designed, because it pollutes and takes up space–, and instead of building, we should restore. The pandemic has shown that entire areas of Barcelona don’t have decent housing. Now we must prioritise this, instead of new built constructions.

Due to lockdown we have established a new dialogue with our home. 

Totally. Two things have happened: we have seen the fantastic value of the home (and I’m not saying house but home) and, at the same time, we have noticed the deficiencies and inconveniences of our own house. Why have people felt uncomfortable in their houses? Because we live in very small places that cannot be enlarged. I think we should design houses in a way that the partition can be moved; this way, the house would become a much more flexible space. Besides, most of the houses don’t meet the standards of views, ventilation and sunlight. This should be the first point to which architects, promoters and administrations should reach in order to change the current legislation. No new housing promotion should be projected unless it has a minimum metres of sunlight and views

Balconies and rooftops have been more important than ever.

Do you know how many thousands of hectares you can find, only in Barcelona, where there is nothing going on and no one is ever using them? I remember I used to play on the rooftop as a kid, and it was also where the clothes were hanged, because they dried in the sun and not with electricity. We could also build green rooftops: instead of leaving them with tiles, we could cover them with earth and plant anything. This way we would have a better isolation of the house, we would benefit from our harvest, and we would be generating oxygen and eating down CO2.

How will working from home affect our concept of home?

I can’t understand how people are so happy about working from home. For me, there is the risk of prostituting the house. The primary activity of human beings is living, not working. We work in order to live, not vice versa, and until you see this hierarchy clearly you won’t understand that the house must be preserved. It is not good to move work inside the house. Something different is being able to work from home because you have a conditioned space where you can work from: this is fine, and I do believe we should start looking for a balance between physical work and working from home. 

Ajuntament de Barcelona