The architect as a catalyst
These talks focus on the role of the architect the community and state, by presenting how some of the most influential contemporary architects approach the issue of “design for communities” and how communities themselves experience the everyday life in their cities.
The rapid and massive urbanization of the last century has resulted into a significant change regarding the distribution of the world's population: in 2007, for the first time in history, the number of people living in cities exceeded that of rural settlers (UN-Habitat). The dramatic shift towards city life created an extreme demand for housing and urban space, demand that is expected to increase intensively in the next years. More than 90 percent of this urban growth is taking place in the developing world.
In the same moment, cities themselves proved to be unprepared and poorly planned to host the newcomers and also to face the emerging problems deriving from the high urbanization pace. In many cases, the plans developed to answer the housing demand are based on projects totally detached from the community. Such proposals can be described as ‘architecture of objects’ and ‘urbanism of zoning’, often and tragically leading to social exclusion and spatial segregation.
Back in 2004, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas turned the spotlight on what is now one of the most populous cities in the world: Lagos. The city's population is expected to exceed 24 million in the next 15 years. After having visited the Nigerian capital, the architect in collaboration with the documentary filmmaker Bregtje van der Haak and the filmmaking studio Submarine developed the documentary "Lagos Wide and Close - An interactive journey into an Exploding City".
Planning for the community, without the community
The tremendous urban growth, coupled with the inability of cities to produce quality space for the needs of the new dwellers, resulted in the creation of new neighborhoods which are disconnected from the urban and social fabric. Despite that, as Mike Davis in his book Planet of Slums describes, theses marginalized informal settlements/favelas/ slums or even poor neighborhoods manage to create strong community bonds, a characteristic that in most of the housing or slum-upgrade projects is not taken into account by urban planners. In fact, the most common tactic is based on top-down planning strategies with zero involvement or participation of the community, and therefore excluding it from any decision-making and design processes. There are several examples of large scale social housing projects (that often required the demolition of the organically created settlements and the eviction of their residents) that ended up enhancing spatial and social segregation and were proven to be disastrous for the city’s social cohesion.
A really good example that shows how much participation is needed and demanded from the community is the work done by 'Know Your City':
"Know Your City.TV is an international collective of youth living in slums, learning by doing, and making media for social impact. We share our lives through film, photography, writing, performing arts, radio, and trans-media - building our cities one story at a time. KYC.TV also offers professionally mentored film production services with unique access to our vibrant culture and community in slums and cities across the world."
The Architect as a catalyst
In this context, it appears to be necessary a shift in perspective. Concepts like ‘Community-Centered Design’ or ‘Socially oriented urbanism’ acquire particular importance and significance as a way to effectively orient spatial competencies towards the fulfillment of users’ needs.
The three following world-known architects - Alejandro Aravena, Francis Kéré, and Jan Gehl - rediscuss what should be the role of contemporary designers in the cities of today and tomorrow.
UN-Habitat, Slum Almanac 2015 - 2016
Our World in Data, urbanization data
Mike Davis Planet of Slums 2007
Submarine Channel, Lagos Wide and Close