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Chatting with Joan Batlle (Barcelona) allows us to look over decades of collaboration between Urbidermis and Batlleiroig. That same conversation also serves to look at the current and future challenges facing the urban and landscape design sector and for him to offer us a brief summary of his vision of quality design.

Joan receives us in the offices of Batlleiroig. He is a partner in the firm, as well as an architect, landscape designer, the R&D director and landscape vice-director. An expert with years of experience, a passion for city design and keenly aware of the impact this has on people’s lives. But when we ask him about the collaborative history with Urbidermis, he admits that “just the other day I was asking about that, because I said: ‘That’s been going on almost since I was born’. And I asked the senior partners. Joan Roig and Enric Batlle.”

Small wonder. The history between Batlleiroig and Urbidermis goes back several decades. To the design of a street lamp. The classic Vía Láctea, which has become just one of the symbols of the hugely successful collaboration between both firms. The reason? Joan is in no doubt: “One thing that is very positive is talking directly with them. You can ask them their opinion. Have that moment when you exchange “a couple of words” which really add value. […] It goes beyond a closed catalogue”.

Joan Batlle: “In such a changing environment, the key is constant conversation”

Parc Central

Parc Central

Sant Cugat del Vallès, Spain

For Joan, the key to success is based on conversation. On that sensitivity that allows you to understand what is really needed for each project and be adaptable enough to provide an appropriate response. He tells us that having that flexibility in such a changing environment is a privilege. Finding that today in the market is not so simple.

He sees it as an invitation to constant conversation, between collaborators, between professionals and, why not, between different disciplines. For Joan, these conversations will always eventually pool the wisdom and knowledge of other people who will undoubtedly have more knowledge and experience in another area.

Knowing how to read where society is heading

Part of the constant conversation that Joan is talking about is about sitting down and listening. Not just to other sector professionals. But also to what surrounds us.

That dialogue consists in paying attention to our environment and knowing how to understand what society’s real needs are. “It’s not about forcing anything, but rather just understanding what is happening. That’s the best way of making a city”.

This awareness and concern for their surroundings, for what is happening around them, has led Batlleiroig to adopt a natural approach to facing today’s challenges. Because issues as diverse as connectivity or sensitivity to nature, have led them to “make modifications in our designs. To rise to the challenges of the future with flexibility”.

Interview with Joan Batlle | Urbidermis and Batlleiroig

Lights that respect the natural cycles of fauna and flora and even urban furniture that enables users to connect to the Internet. All these innovations are nothing more than the fruit of open and constructive conversations about what people really need and how this should be addressed from a design perspective.

For Joan, that is what sets them apart from other companies: “We need to be quicker in reading where society is leading us.” And that way of working is really what marks the difference. Because although design can be copied, a company’s philosophy is something that comes deep from within.

Going out into nature

Of all the conversations that we were forced into as a result of the pandemic, Joan highlights the need for all citizens to go out into nature. And that is precisely one of Batlleiroig’s main working areas.

The relationship between the city and the rural world, for Joan, is another example of our society setting the pace for change. Where does the city reach, how do we want to use the rural environment or even what is truly necessary urbanistically speaking. All these debates must be guided by the course set by our surroundings.

“There is a need to know how to do what is fair and necessary. To give greater prominence to outdoor space so it becomes richer, with fewer elements but applied intelligently.”

Finestrelles planning

Finestrelles planning

Esplugues de Llobregat, Spain

Let’s take Barcelona’s Blue Ways as an example. 140 kilometres of paths for cyclists and walkers along the banks of the Llobregat river. A project in which there are practically no street lamps, no benches, no litter bins and not even any water fountains. A project that places the conservation of the local nature and its use at the centre of the conversation. Something entirely unthinkable 20 years ago, but which today is a reality.

For Joan, all these conversations are necessary and some of them remain to be had. “From a technical viewpoint, it is hard to understand why rainwater is still being directed towards the sewers, that it’s not being used to water areas of greenery and, ultimately, make cities more liveable. Society talks about the negative effects of the heat island and yet, contradictorily, we continue to overlook the natural management of water in our cities”.

The need for real and constructive conversations about the city model we want is clear. Without politicising the issue, from a technical standpoint. “It’s not about romanticising a type of city, but rather realising that this is what society is asking for and that we have to provide a response.”

Interview with Joan Batlle | Urbidermis and Batlleiroig

Looking for the positive impact of design

Like most people who work in design, urban planning and landscape architecture, Joan also believes in their power to transform. “What we need to do is avoid being negative […] but rather seek out positive elements that help people to change”.

He talks about the uses of space. About paying attention to people in order to understand their needs when it comes to interacting with our surroundings. It is the designer’s responsibility to seek out those uses that have been unthinkable in cities until now.

“I love to imagine small scenes, environments. And often, when we install a bench, we accompany it with two chairs. For conversation. So that these can generate more conversations”, he tells us.

Before our conversation comes to an end, we ask him what he feels when he sees the uses he’d imagined for his designs made real. Children playing, families out strolling or even the improvised terrace of an ice cream parlour. Often, the transformative impact of a space goes beyond what he’d imagined and that “gives you a sense of recognition”. Recognition after each project of all that listening and flexibility.

Rambla de la Girada
Rambla de la Girada

Rambla de la Girada

Vilafranca del Penedès, Spain

Rambla de la Girada – Vilafranca del Penedès

For Joan, this project “is a project that goes beyond explaining the collaboration with Urbidermis, it explains far more than that”. Such as the importance of having conversations about rainwater management, how we use public spaces or the amount of vegetation we want around us. The final aim is to generate environments that improve living conditions in cities. In our streets and parks.

This project is an example of the constant conversation between Batlleiroig and Urbidermis, specifically with the Projects Department. A conversation that focuses on listening to the real needs of society and finding tailormade solutions.

“In the end it went from just a normal street to being a park in the middle of the city, a green thoroughfare”. That impact is what Joan talks about throughout the interview. About the importance of creating spaces that add value to people’s lives and generate positive experiences with their surroundings.

After all, that is what urban and landscape design is all about. Fostering quality interactions, conversations with the environment. “You imagine that something is happening here. That things could happen. […] Public space is like a series of small living rooms from lots of homes.”

Joan Batlle

Landscape designer, architect, R&D director and deputy landscape director at Batlleiroig
Joan Batlle