How to reduce poverty? Fix homes

How to reduce poverty? Fix homes

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Arkki an architecture school for children

Arkki an architecture school for children

Arkki is an interesting non profit, the first school in Finland specialising in providing after school architectural and environmental eduction for children and young adults.

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The weekly architectural clubs are tailored for each age range. 4-6 year olds learn about architecture, nature, light, colours and shapes through play and imaginative projects like model making. 7-14 year olds explore issues like ecology and sustainability as well as cultural history and the impact of tradition in design. They also analyse the spatial experience and use their senses to experiment with space.

As they get old the topics become more complex, by the time they reach the 14-18 year old age group they explore design problems from small scale like designing door handles to the larger designing houses and city planning. They also learn about architectural history and contemporary architecture.

Around 500 children between the age of 4-19 participate in the courses on a long term bases. They also run short term courses every year.

They use a range of methods including models, 1:1 scale, using their senses to experience architecture and digital tools. Play is essential as it is the way children explore the world and learn natural, so a playful approach allows the kids to use their imagination, intelligence and experiment.

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Find out more on their website arkki.net

Learning from Denise Scott Brown

Learning from Denise Scott Brown

Denise Scott Brown

Urban Planner and Architect, Denise Scott Brown became one of my heroes last summer after reading an interview with her on Gizmo Web.  There was so much to learn from even this interview.


On communication in architecture. I particularly found in interesting her examination of the way architects look at the ‘masses’ and how instead we should understand that society is made up of many subgroups with individuals being part of several of these groups.


“Social scientists in America now would say that we cannot usefully talk about the masses, that we need to consider the subgroups that form large populations, that even the commercial discussion of «markets» and «market segments» is better than rhetoric on the masses. And mention of the word in our profession usually carries the corollary «We the architects know the real needs of the little people». The same goes for the “mass media”. Modern means of communication permit messages to be targeted to families, women, men, young people, intellectuals, non-intellectuals, poker players, football fans, philatelists, entomologists – there are million ways to cut the media pie. And one individual can belong to several groups. I may hold certain opinions as a woman, others as an architect, and yet others as a planner. To fulfill these roles I must internalize conflicts among them. How could it be otherwise? And should it be otherwise? When people harbour no internal conflicts they become one-dimensional and may become ideologues. That can be dangerous. Conflicts within the individual may be a valuable protection against extremism, against the possibility of another Hitler or Mussolini. …. if communication is one of the functions of architecture, then we architects must understand the hierarchies of messages and the forms of communication that should co-exist, at certain locations and within different building types from a city hall to a suburban house.

 

Denise Scott Brown spent time learning from fields outside architecture and urbanism. I feel like that is what I am doing at the moment, learning about other ways of doing and it is fascinating to see how her experiences influenced her work and approach.


DSB: I was at that time searching for new methods of analysis and synthesis “outside” architecture – that could help architects break from their narrowly architecture-centric views. I found useful thought and techniques in urban sociology, systems thinking, Pop Art, Mannerism, and the area of land economics called Regional Science – to name a few. Even in the 1960s computers played an important role. After War World II American social scientists and planners tried to adapt war-time computer techniques to research on cities.


Denise on on exploring and analysing cities.

“Learning from” studies to date have appropriated only limited facets of our LLV and LLT material and techniques, and the research studio’s role within an overall education plan has not been thought through. Therefore it’s hardly surprising that architects today use urban research information for sculptural purposes – city mapping, for example, as an aid to discovering cool new forms. They ignore the relationships these maps reveal. And they miss the powerful resources offered by mapping that shows how social and economic conditions distribute “on the ground” . Architects need such information to achieve what they have long desired: ability to design what Aldo van Eyck called «the physical counterform to social form», what the Smithsons called «active socioplastics».


This is where I got the name of my blog, I love the thought of active socioplastics, the relationship between physical forms and social and economic behaviours? On people?


Her essay “Sexism and the star system” is a fantastic womens experience in architecture. Although written over 20 yrs ago in 1989, it still rings true.

DSB: «So you’re the wife! Are you an architect too?» was a question asked me throughout my career at VSBA and up to today. And I have answered, pointing to Bob: «No, he’s the “architect too”! I am an architect». However this is a problem of being married to a guru, not the one faced by young women as they progress in the field.

SM: At that time women’s rights were at the center of social debate. Today I perceive a new social problem, which is the struggle between generations. In Italy the phenomena is most relevant, it seems that young architects have trouble to take over the previous generation, as there is a sort of “resistance”. What do you think about it?

DSB: There is always a generation problem, and it exists at both ends – I have been at each. But do you believe there is no longer a women’s problem? You’re right – but only in the sense that there never was one. It was always a men’s and women’s problem! And I believe it exists today as strongly as ever. You have not yet perceived it, because as a young architect you are accorded the greatest equality that you will ever know. It gets worse as you proceed, and when it does, you’ll find it is a strong problem. And sadly, because you don’t have a feminist awareness, you’ll think it’s your fault.
Although women start out in practice equal with men, complications set in when they must juggle child-rearing and practice, just at the point in their professional development when seniority brings responsibilities for project management and the need for one hundred percent participation in the studio. Then even if you are brighter than they, the men will go further than you, and you will think: «There’s something wrong with me!»

There are other reasons why men receive preference over women when both reach “the glass ceiling”. And there are reasons – too many to consider here – why architects don’t make gurus of women. And another theory is sometimes offered women: «You have power in your own sphere. Look at the power of the Spice Girls. Why must you compete with men?» This is the age old power of seduction. But where has it got us? As an old feminist recently said: «If the Spice Girls really had power, Dick Cheney, would wear a tutu»!

Denise Scott Brown is an inspiration 🙂

8 things I learned from Architecture School

8 things I learned from Architecture School

Architecture school is definitely an experience like no other. I ended up going to 3 schools, in London, Glasgow and Vienna. A mix of traditional universities and arts schools, each with it’s own approach. Architecture students were the same everywhere working all day and sometimes night, the studio’s buzzing with chat and creativity. I ended up making some life long friends and learning a lot not only about design but about an approach to life. Here are some great things I learned from architecture school.

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1. Presentation is important

Not only how you talk about your work but also how you visually depict it. We live in a highly visual age and if you can explain your idea visually it makes a huge impact. I also found that how you talk about your work makes a difference to how it’s perceived. It’s about having confidence in your ideas and work.

2. There is no correct answer

There are of course some things that you see that make no sense but good design is highly subjective, it takes for every to realise this but with creative courses like architecture there is no right answer. We all bring our own perspective that is formed by our experiences. This can be hard to see sometimes because each school has their own way of thinking about design, be it contextual, theoretical, narrative based or technical.

3. Choose your heroes carefully

every school has the people or offices they reference constantly and you absorb them by osmosis. The internet also make it easy to spend time swiping through beautiful photographs of buildings but a photograph cannot tell you as much as actually visiting the building can do.

4. Failure is part of learning

I failed second year and at the time it felt like the worst thing, however it ended up being a fantastic opportunity to take time away from intense study, explore what I wanted to do and even earn some money. I ended up learning so much in that time.

5. Fear is stifling

Some architecture schools seem to think they need to put the fear of God in students. Separate the wheat from the chaff, e.t.c e.tc, but I truly believe that fear is the biggest killer of creativity. It causes people to play it safe it afraid to take risks in case they “fail.” But failing is a step to succeeding.

6. How to do late nights

This is definitely one of the first things you learn at architecture, how to stay up all working all night. Especially around final deadlines and reviews. You end up sleeping in the studio and drinking a lot of energy drinks. It’s almost a badge of honour for architecture students and even working architects.

7. To have a life outside of the studio

I found that doing things outside of the studio gave me so much balance and perspective. I took salsa classes, joined the fashion society and took classes in other departments when I could. It was a tough one because architecture students like medical students often stick with people from their course and the intense hours make it almost impossible to do anything outside the course.

8. Don’t wait for permission

It took me till my final year, when I decided to do my final project on a slum in Lagos, Nigeria. I was on exchange in Vienna and the thesis tutor asked us to say the first project that came to our head when we thought about what we wanted to do. It was so refreshing to learn to just go for it, trust my instincts and not worry about how it’d end up. It was amazing.

Here’s a great post on Archi-ninja of the 10 things they don’t teach you in architecture school.

Image via realstarchitectssleeparound.tumblr.com/

Zabeleen: building on waste

Zabeleen: building on waste

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Zabeleen is a community in Egypt that shows how people can self organise to manage their own waste. At first glance it can seem like a chaotic place ewith the community living in what looks like a garbage dump. But a deeper look reveals well organised and highly effective waste management system for Cairo.

Cairo like many cities around the world is going through a massive urbanisation with governments struggling to keep up with infrastructure developments. What has developed in Zabeleen is a decentralised, participatory and low tech approach to Cairo’s waste management which also provides a livelihood for the community. They have been collecting and recycling Cairo’s waste for over 70 years without little acknowledgement from the state or secure land tenure.

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Cairo’s waste management system is a mix of formal and informal systems. They governments policy since the early 2000’s has been a focus on privatisation, limiting their involvement and involving citizens in the cost of paying for the services. Local authorities manage the solid waste collection and contracts are aware to private companies for the collection and transfer of waste. Composting is mostly managed by the formal sector whilst recycling is managed by the informal sector.

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The Wahiya and Zabeleen are the two cultural groups that manage the informal waste system. The Wahiya are Moslem migrants from the Western Desert oasis of Dakla, who arrived in Cairo about 100 years ago and entered into contracts to receive a monthly fee for collecting and disposing of waste. The Zabeleen arrived in the 1930/40s in search of employment and discovered they could make a living by renting garbage routes from the Wahiya.
Their system of waste collection has ended up being both more efficient than the state run or private systems and has provided employment for many people. However the community and their livelihoods are under threat as the government seeks to encourage privatisation of its waste service.

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The community live in makeshift structures on the west and northern fringes of the city. They process more that 6000 tonnes of garbage a day, recycling 85% of them through micro enterprises. The waste is sorted into 16 categories like tin, glass, rags and plastic which can be sold. Organic waste is fed to the pigs they breed. The pigs are central to the their livelihood strategy and come from the rural tradition of owning a pig yard. Every family owns one, usually adjacent to the sleeping quarters, and they use this space to sort and store domestic waste. The meat from the pigs is then sold to hotels for good profit. This creates a cyclical economy where the waste activities generate further employment for people in other neighbourhoods.

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The settlements have continued to grow over the years. Growing vertically in a sort of haphazard manner. The flat roof terraces are increasingly being used to sort garbage and rear the pigs, creating a colourful messy aesthetic. This highly localised method of recycling has a low carbon footprint, reducing the need for transportation, landfilling and compaction. Their recycling system is cited as one of the best in the world with the highest material recovery at 30% of the total waste generated. It is a high efficient system reducing the demand for transport, collection and disposal as the scale and organic shape of informal settlements are not designed for large removal trucks.

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Zabeleen is an interesting example of how communities can develop appropriate and local methods of successfully managing their urban spaces and it would be a great shame to see this thriving ecosystem impacted as the governments privatisation of waste disposal threatens to do.