La MéMé experience of participatory design

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Students protest the classical pastiche designs made for the Medical School (1968) at the University of Louvain/ University agrees to the formation of a student committee/ Students produce a counterproposal by Lucien Kroll who had no ties to the University/ Kroll organises collaborators and students into teams and turns design into an assemblage of disparate political fractions/ Work is done in his studio at a distance from the institution to ensure freedom/ Collaboration becomes “a kind of architectural method acting” accepting every outcome even if it defies prevailing arch conventions (de Graaf)/ Kroll, when denied the participation of le Roy, his preferred gardener, also engages the adjacent community into participating in the landscape component/ For two years this is an harmonious collaboration/ However, University representatives who visit the site oppose the outcome and the budget increase and fire Kroll/ Kroll exposes the contractor for high pricing but is then accused of vandalising the building site during his open call to the neighbouring community/ The building is highly criticised as a “failed experiment” and “less than a sum of its parts” (de Graaf)/ Petitions for the building’s demolition are opposed by massive support (Excerpts from Reinier de Graaf’s book: Four Walls and a Roof)

In a DOMUS article dated back in 2010, Kroll is presented as “icon of democratic architecture”:

Communication through architecture is an eminently political act, Kroll maintains: the architect is the catalyst of a creative process and social dynamic, in respect to which they make their knowledge available for the translation of interpersonal relationships into a suitable space (…) architects must step out of themselves and put themselves in the shoes of future residents.

Full article available here
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Recycling Spaces, Addis-Ababa

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Text taken from the site:

African cities have growth rates of up to 5%; this makes them the fastest growing cities in the world today. Extrapolations show that the urban population in Africa currently doubles every 10 to 15 years. Also Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, is in transformation. Currently the home of approximately four million inhabitants, the city might triple its size within the next 30 years due to the increasing rural to urban migration, as well as natural growth. Already today, Addis Ababa suffers from a housing shortage of estimated 700.000 units. And, according to UN-Habitat, 80% of the existing dwellings are in ‘sub-standard, slum like’ conditions. Thus, in 2004, the government launched a large-scale mass housing program with the ambitious plan to erect 200.000 condominium units within 5 years. To date, 100.000 units were built during the last 7 years, out of which nearly 70,000 are handed over to end users so far. In 2011, the Addis Ababa City Administration announced to redevelop all ‘informal’ and ‘unplanned’ parts of the city until 2020.

Throughout the years, Addis Ababa, informally, developed a sophisticated recycling system in all parts of the city. “Kuré-Yalews” are roaming the streets in small neighborhoods, collecting anything that might still be useable from households. Sharing resources, they rent taxis collectively to transport their goods to Merkato’s “Minalesh Terra”, where different “workshops” immediately start to reuse and transform them. In the course of a few days, these items are returned into the cycle, being sold to the owners of small neighborhood shops as “new” products.

This recycling process is not only the source of income for many families in the city, it also keeps Addis Ababa clean to a certain extend. Most importantly, this cycle also appropriated space for recycling in the city throughout the years, which is now endangered by the current transformation of Ethiopia’s capitol.

The movie “Recycling Spaces” is a cinematic documentary on the use of space allocated to this recycling cycle in Ethiopia’s capital. Based on the daily routine and experiences of one selected Kuré-Yalew, this movie tries to tell a generic experience of thousands of inhabitants in Addis Ababa. Interviews with the Kuré-Yalwes and experts give further insight into the topic.

Link to vimeo site
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Parangolés

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Parangoles concept and form were introduced by Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980)  in an attempt to expose the chaotic web of relations of being-in-the-world. Oiticica worked to transform the “spectator” into a “participant. The colorful, improvised capes/cloaks encourage unpredictable movement that in turn signals the transition from the art-object to the body-subject:

we must be willing to get out of our comfort zones in order to reclaim the physical and symbolic spaces produced by hegemonic forces that attempt to confine relations between our own bodies and the bodies of others

For more on Parangoles click here, here and here

Lessons on urban cooperation

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The other day I was watching a documentary (in Greek) on Berlin’s housing problem. According to the researchers up to 2010, Berlin was one of the European cities with the lowest average rent prizes. However, this condition was dramatically changed in the more recent years as private real estate companies made massive acquisitions of state-owned housing units and then doubled the rent. In fact, people appearing on the doc claimed that it has become impossible for the weaker social groups (refugees, single families, unemployed, students) to rent a descent house.

Today I ran into this great article in Places Magazine that described the successful efforts of a band of artists to turn the Haus der Statistik into affordable housing units. This group of artists had originally formed the Alliance of Threatened Berlin Studio Houses to protect people who could no longer afford their rent from evictions. Yet in the light of the continuous privatization they developed another endeavor; to turn Haus der Statistik, a derelict building near Alexanderplatz into a “gentrification-proof island” and turn it into affordable housing units; studio space for artists and communal space for the public. After several months of research and negotiations with all stakeholders they managed to become official partners in the consortium responsible for bringing their ideas to life.

What started as a mere protest has now become a exemplary public initiative based on people’s massive cooperation. Their systematic approach helped them to establish trust and defend their claims in a way that could work. Very inspiring indeed.

Modernism is dead, long live modernism

I read through the 13 points made by Patrick Schumacher on architectural education. It never seizes to amaze me when nowadays people choose to address a wide public audience in a manifesto-like way. It’s quite alarming that the very structure of the text alludes to the “five points of architecture” by Le Corbusier; an autocratic system of principles that lead to an “hegemonic paradigm,” as Schumacher chooses to call it. I just cannot seem to bring my self to identify with this degree of certainty especially when we all agree to be living in such an uncertain and fluid, post-fordist world. And isn’t it ironic that now of all times, someone should claim to have found a uniform/canonic/normative way of doing architecture?

Schumacher condemns the “anachronistic” way we teach architecture today, and he allocates this anachronism to continuous experimentation. But experimentation in general isn’t the enemy here, is it? After all parametricism is a product of experimentation itself. Perhaps experimentation on form specifically, is anachronistic. Because arch schools have indeed promoted and appraised originality of form for years thus producing practitioners whose only interest lay in impressive yet un-realizable design solutions. And yes, that is perhaps what created this unevenness between academy and practice; the persistence of the value of form. But isn’t this also one of the shortcomings of the extended use of parametricism in some schools and design practices?

So are we really supposed to fully converge to an educational paradigm that has has already cost us part of this void? How about trying to overcome the anachronism by striking to its very core; relieve the students from the burden of originality of form towards an understanding of architecture as in “what it means to be fully human” as Pete Buchanan has eloquently put it.

I can see many schools today struggling to bridge this gap; design build studios, live projects, hands-on workshops and practice-led research studios in sensitive social neighborhoods appear at all continents in an unprecedented rhythm. Isn’t this a way to get over the lack of practical skills or social awareness and relevance that are so much needed to an architect? I have also encountered numerous paradigms (many of which I’ve described in this very blog) of newly formed arch schools that experiment with getting students to work in world renowned practices and actively participate in ongoing projects to gain experience and insights of how arch is actually being produced: talk with clients, organizations; even travel around the world.

And then there is also another issue; if we are to converge, are we seriously supposed to share curriculum between different countries, people, political regimes, economies, cultures? This is where I read convergence and I hear compliance. Because if we are indeed experiencing life as in the continuous process of becoming, are we to think that we all need to reach the same place? Isn’t the beauty of diversity what makes this world so interesting? Isn’t it its complexity that motivates us as how to better understand it?

To introduce a shared paradigm undermines the very meaning of learning especially today when education is becoming all the more open, and people can freely learn from each other. Restricting education to a single core defies the personality of the learners, their peers contribution to their learning and their relation to the rest of the world. Why not set some principles, give them all we can and let them decide who they ultimately choose to be.

ACSA-EAAE Conference Presentation

Re conceptualizing the role of tutors in research-based pedagogy: the tutor(s) as the curriculum

The paper presents the efforts made to experiment with the pedagogical framework and the operational model of a postgraduate urban design studio based on the reconceptualization of the role of tutors. In the model examined here, the curriculum was devised as an open and evolving network of the tutors’ resources and affiliated researchers from within or outside the setting of the academy. This mosaic consisted of different individual research and design practices that are problem-focused and context-specific, communicated directly to students by the very people responsible for their conception and development. Learners were required to investigate the instrumentality of these practices according to their own personal pursuits; to make their own networks of connections, and were even encouraged to create their own personal schemata of design research. In fact, the second major shift of the rethink lay in recognizing learner autonomy and diversity, thus establishing a new operational framework for the two to prosper. An amalgam of interconnected learning spaces provided the conditions necessary for all these networks to co-exist and interact. The paper describes the different aspects of the tutors’ involvement and contributions in the design and implementation of this model, as they assumed a number of roles, but most importantly, as they became learners themselves.

What does a controversy look like?

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/539856/this-is-what-controversies-look-like-in-the-twittersphere/?utm_medium=tr_social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=site_visitor.unpaid.engagement&fbclid=IwAR2x8wdCJNxc5v0aeaPYIAYVJUoOHGPAIz7CPYgL_t8gSWnkvl0U6Wi81Dw

Kiran Garimella and pals at Aalto University in Finland have found a way to spot the characteristics of a controversy in a collection of tweets and distinguish this from a noncontroversial conversation (…) And they think this structure can be spotted by studying various properties of the conversation, such as the network of connections between those involved in a topic; the structure of endorsements, who agrees with whom; and the sentiment of the discussion, whether positive and negative (…) Garimella and co map out the structure of these discussion by looking at the networks of retweets, follows, keywords and combinations of these (…) In all cases, the images clearly show the polarization, or lack of, in the debate.

Full article available here