Informality at the core of reinvention: ExRotaprint (Part 2)

The canteen

The canteen

by Melisa Chávez Moreno and Gert van der Merwe

Part 2 – Informality and Politics

Informality at the Basis

ExRotaprint is a robust model of self-organization. The formal structure in itself is simple, two foundations own the complex and a non-profit operates it and is held accountable to the foundations. However, both its success and, according to Daniela Brahm, the biggest challenge and risk of failure revolved around the group process. Coming into agreement on what the association of renters should pursue and their internal organization structure was a difficult process that certainly left some incompatible interests behind. For this case, the latter was negotiated on an informal basis, it was the result of the relations that were built during the time they all rented space in the former Rotaprint factory and constant negotiations, meetings and clashes of interests. Once the internal agreement was reached, a process of incorporating formal structures, in the form of long term legal binding arrangements, was started with the purpose of guaranteeing the permanence and continuity of the project and use of the facilities.

ExrotaprintExRotaprint illustrates how informality cannot solely form a structure. It is in dialogue with a formal structure in order to guarantee access to key spaces and resources. This brings about the need to establish which formal structures are needed as foundations for a stable condition without over-regulating the organization and thus making it rigid or brittle. In other words, the nature of the formal needs to be understood in tandem with its relation to informality. For this case, on a quotidian basis, informality plays a role in providing stability, and can be seen as a result of the convergence of different people and a multiplicity of backgrounds and occupations, that add pulse to the structure and preserve its living memory. Spatially, the interpersonal interactions are best facilitated by the Canteen, where a concrete space to eat, hang out and meet becomes the driver for informal exchanges between diverse groups of people.

Summer programme for children

Summer programme for children

Conclusion: Politicizing the informal

It is crucial to consider that informality, as a claim to a self-organized access to the city, is a highly political matter. ExRotaprint is an interesting example of an alternative approach toward the reorganization of an individual structure in opposition to the perverse effects of some urban policies and market forces. They reinvented and nurtured it with a novel approach to productive and social processes that clearly claim their discontent with being excluded and swept away by real estate markets and disinterested politicians. Taking this case to a broader spectrum, then it could be argued that informality cannot be disconnected from broader, general processes of planning and policy making. In consequence, informal relations and modes of organization could contribute toward bringing back the politics that have been largely absent from design, planning and policy making. Highlighting such a potential of informality could hopefully counter the proliferation of shapeless and unrewarding urban spaces disconnected from the material life of its residents.

Link to ExRotaprint Website:


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