Girona’s Shore

Maintenance as Architecture
Making strategic connections to steward an emergent masterplan based around creative partnerships, pilot projects, and minimal resource consumption. Generating collective knowledge and sense of ownership, whilst redesigning systems of value and the architects’ role in long-term projects


The conventional idea that an architectural or landscape “project” creates a new building or space that replaces another relies on a resource-intensive and short-termist model of action. Local governments often struggle to secure funding for ongoing work whose timeframe outruns the ephemerality of such projects. Finding alternative ways of working that value local economies and communities and re-value that which usually falls outside the definition of capitalist economic activity is paramount.  


This was the challenge undertaken in Girona, Spain. With no initial budget, Girona’s Shore project evolved through a collaboration between Girona’s “Brigada Municipal” (maintenance workers) and the architects Estudi Martí Franch (EMF). The architects saw their role less as creators with egos and aesthetic identities, and more as “strategic connectors”, facilitating processes of co-design and collaborative maintenance. Drawing primarily on the landscape architect Gilles Clement’s concept of Garden in Motion—a principle of landscape management with the aim “to do as much as possible for and as little as possible against”1Gilles Clement, Le jardin en mouvement (Paris: Pandora Editions, 1991).—the project develops a form of designing with both the capacities of living systems (including ecological succession), and the organisational structures of the city administration. The project is, in this sense, a form of stewardship. 

Informed by both surveys and what EMF call participatory “walkshops”, Girona’s Shore was initially realised through two pilot projects: sketches in the land which “aimed to test the procedures and methods for repeating such projects around the perimeters of the city”2Martí Franch, “Drawing on Site: Girona’s Shores”, Journal of Landscape Architecture, 13.2 (2018), pp. 56-73. <> and, from these tests, the development of a masterplan. The project as a whole emerges from cumulative and networked interventions, where the knowledge gained during one feeds into the next. EMF describe this as an inversion of the conventional structure of master planning. 

Resource use is intentionally limited in the project; spatial conditions are generated through cultivation, instead of demolition and creation of the new. EMF describe their aim as cultivating a “green, open conurbation” that uses the edges of the city as dynamic and multifunctional green infrastructure, combining social infrastructure with ecology and biodiversity.3‘GIRONA’S SHORE. THE FRAMEWORK PROJECT’, Estudi Martí Franch <> [accessed 22 April 2022]. By doing as little as possible, but “trying to do everything well” and acting in a way which “demonstrates that a place is cared for, and is worth caring for”, the project maximises the benefit from minimum use of resources.4Ibid. In these aspects, Girona’s Shore is not finite but operates as an ongoing production of space and knowledge. By giving responsibility to Girona’s municipal maintenance brigades for caring for Girona’s Shore, the project intervenes in labour structures that often disempower workers, offering the brigades vital roles in producing and reproducing a landscape, as well as social bonds, knowledge, and citizenship. 

By foregrounding the accumulation of knowledge and biodiversity over time, rather than the production of new stuff, the project inverts not only a conventional design process, but also notions of value. Rather than appearing in a rush of capital expenditure and resource extraction, the project emerges through deep involvement and experimental practice. Such an investment and reconfiguration of value requires new forms of architect-client relationships. As part of this shift, for example, EMF now encourage clients to engage in longer-term contracts and projects that value maintenance and strategic connections above material construction.5Alex Breedon and Liam Mouritz, “Lo-fi landscapes: Estudi Martí Franch”, Landscape Architecture Australia, 175 (2022), pp. 37-41. In this shift, and encapsulated at Girona’s Shore, spatial transformation becomes a social project, embedded in and executed through the relationship between society and space.


External links

Maintenance Artpractice developed by Mierle Laderman Ukeles to foreground the massive amount of work that goes on in the background of things (often done by women), but which is rarely celebrated