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The Dish

BaSiC Initiative: Los Piletones Environmental Plan and Childcare Center

Basic Initiative's Argentina Program is a multi-year project that engages students from Portland State University, University of Texas Austin, and MIT in a development program for an informal settlement – Los Piletones – in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The aim of the project is to design and partially build a children’s day care center which will allow mothers in the community to pursue work, pursue an education, and manage their lives.

Students’ involvement with the community--through charettes and conversations with various community members and stakeholders during the design process--will help ensure that the project reflects the community’s needs and desires.

The program is focused on creating long-term viability and resilience for the community, two ideas which are fundamental to the program’s vision of sustainability. The program is based on service learning, a teaching method that Professor Sergio Palleroni has been developing for the last three decades. In architecture, service learning has a long tradition based a closer engagement of the issues of site and client, both of which can become abstracted by the academic process of teaching design within the isolation of the university.

Demographically, Los Piletones consists of approximately 4,000 people, composed of a nearly 100% immigrant population from Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay. Compared to Buenos Aires proper, the average age in Los Piletones is significantly younger, with 26% percent of the population falling between the ages of 16 and 29. The community experiences both a low literacy rate, and a high rate of unemployment.

After nearly 15 years of incremental squatting, the Los Piletones community will finally be granted permanent legal residence. However, the land continues to lack basic services such as sewage and potable water. Electricity is illegally routed to houses. The community has been characterized by poverty, underemployment, drug abuse and disenfranchisement. The community, however, has continued to organize socially and economically in the form of sports and traditional production of food and goods.

In the context of the larger project, the interventions for Margarita Barrientos Foundation were intended to provide the community with a vision of the real change that a participatory planning process could offer. Design-build projects familiarize the larger community with the team’s presence, as well as to engage them in proactive conversations about the future--to which residents might not otherwise have been open.

The 2012 session overhauled the electrical system for the foundation facilities, designed and outfitted a 780 sq.ft. children’s library, and provided new lighting fixtures and easily replicable furniture prototypes.

The 2012 built project provided holistic, functional improvement to the overcrowded, under-equipped facilities of the expanding childcare services administered by the foundation.

Increasing the capacity of educational services to over 80 children between ages of 1-4, the improved 2860 sq. ft. childcare center empowers more mothers to earn income for their families, as well as providing a more stimulating environment for early learning and interaction. The design provides urgently needed lighting, ventilation, teaching surfaces, and flexible storage systems. New nesting tables and a storage partition wall double the multi-tasking capacity of limited square-footage. Three murals activate the previously obscured entrance to the facilities, outdoor play court, and multi-purpose room. The de-facto nap room was transformed into a comfortable, nurturing dream space to make a lasting impression on children's imaginations.

While basic success is defined by the ability of the final spaces to serve the needs expressed by the teaching staff in a cost-effective, durable manner, goals are extended to include the facilitation of new or enriched teaching opportunities in the realm of creativity and sustainability. Next, the project should show measurable improvement in environmental health & well-being through improved light levels, ventilation, and ease of sanitary upkeep. Moreover, the project should represent both the center and the larger master-planning process in a positive light, increasing visibility of a strong existing asset and opening doors to community discourse about future neighborhood development.

Learn More about Basic Initiative's Argentina Program