Working Lines / Liquid Hierarchies
Distributed architectural and urbanism open office that enquires into new ways of urban practice aiming to create dynamic and collaborative working environments, building a radically open cooperative structure and embracing multiple levels of agency


At the end of the 1990s in Europe, new models of partnership and collaborative work emerged in architecture that challenged the idea of traditional practice associated with the figure of the “master architect” or “starchitect”. As part of a larger movement towards more democratic approaches to design and building, multiple groups sought to challenge the hierarchical and centralised structures that had dominated the architectural field for many years, and to develop more collaborative, participatory, and environmentally responsible practices. These groups were formed mostly by students and young professionals drawing on radical self-organisation and horizontal models. They sought to involve the citizens in the design process, looking that their needs, aspirations, and perspectives were incorporated into the architectural work. This shift towards a more socially engaged approach reflected a broader understanding of architecture’s responsibility and role, moving beyond its sole focus on objects and form.


The Spanish group Zuloark have practiced architecture as a cooperative for more than 20 years, through a constantly evolving structure. Zuloark understand architecture as a relational practice involved in the local and the social, and less interested in the building as an endgame, a stylised object. One of the most important projects of Zuloark is the collective itself, which has been conceived as a living entity: a flexible and hybrid structure that over the years has allowed the practice to grow and survive. They are organised through liquid hierarchies, moving away from the pyramidal system which is encountered in many architecture studios.1Juan Francisco, Fuentes-Lojo, ‘Zuloark Cumple 20 Años y Nos Cuenta Las Claves Para Seguir Vivo’, NEO2, 4 May 2021 <https://www.neo2.com/zuloark/> [accessed 16 November 2022]. All members have different roles in each project, so that decision-making is constantly distributed amongst everyone. Through an internal voting process, every six months different members are responsible for Zuloark’s economy, governance, internal, and external communication. Their overarching ethos revolves around continuous questioning and reconfiguration of their ways of working and relating.

Since their formation, Zuloark has taken a critical stance on the relationship between architecture and ecological breakdown. One of their key focuses is promoting upcycling policies and the reuse of materials when building is absolutely necessary. They prioritise the careful planning of projects, considering the entire life cycle of materials involved, seeking to minimise waste, and ensuring that their projects have the potential to be disassembled and repurposed for other uses in the future.2Megan Townsend, ‘Zuloark: The Rebellious Design Group Creating Jaw-Dropping Spaces – All to Be Recyled’, The Independent <https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/design/zuloark-design-group-recycling-communist-madrid-architects-photos-spain-a8356216.html> [accessed 30 June 2023]. Zuloark’s relational approach leads them to understanding space in multiple ways, from the social to the operational – as shown in their work on Madrid’s open spaces. Together with many local agents and the Regional Federation of Neighbourhood Associations of Madrid (FRAVM) they developed an open platform mapping all the gardens and auxiliary spaces in Madrid, providing visibility, appropriating open green spaces, and recognising neighbourhood initiatives for their valuable contribution to the collective production of the city.

Following Lev Vygotsky’s notion of Zone of Proximal Development, they perceive their work as a platform where individuals can learn and develop new skills with the guidance and support of others. They create an environment where knowledge, expertise, and experiences are shared, allowing team members to learn from each other and collectively push the boundaries of their capabilities.3Zuloark, ‘Life-Work Propositions’, in Making Futures, <https://www.making-futures.com/zuloark-life-work-propositions/> [accessed 16 November 2022].

Zuloark’s approach to architecture seeks to challenge traditional models of decision making and authority which are proven inadequate to address the challenges posed by climate while focusing on the symptoms and not the causes of climate breakdown. Zuloark embraces a democratic and participatory approach while reflecting an architectural practice which is radically open, collaborative, and diverse, embracing conflict, difference, and multiple levels of agency. Their emphasis on participatory decision-making embodies a larger socio-ecological vision, acknowledging the interconnectedness of social, environmental, and economic factors. Such a practical and theoretical approach to architecture aims to create more adaptive and resilient working and built environments.


External links

Inteligencias Colectivas—Open online platform and free database which brings together knowledge about non-standard techniques 

Universal Declaration of urban Rights—construction of an open archive with multiple voices talking about the “Right to the City” 

Los Madriles mapping—a cartography that values the power of critical and active citizenship