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CAN Co-Creation: Reflection

LuisaMiranda Morel5 September 2016

In July 2016, the 4th Community Architects Network (CAN) Regional Workshop brought together community action practitioners from countries all over South East Asia. The first day was spent in Bangkok, Thailand, introducing the participants to the work done and challenges faced by CAN members in Thailand, China and India. The following five days were spent in groups – each focusing on a different sector of city development, for example the transport group, which I was part of – doing fieldwork alongside local communities in Chumsang City of Nakornsawan Province, Thailand.

 

Today is just about listening

 

“Today is just about listening,” we were told. That was how we started our fieldwork on the 16th of July. Focusing our attention on understanding the local communities of Chumsang, listening to their ideas, concerns and how they wished their city to be in the future. This was a challenge, particularly as most of us had spent the first two days of the workshop meeting and exchanging with many different people from Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia. So by the time we arrived in Chumsang, my mind was already full of questions and ideas. I was excited and a little rushed to quickly understand the context of Chumsang, considering we had very few days to do so and then to, somehow, ‘co-create’ something.

 

Co-Creation was the theme of the workshop. It was described in the introductory programme as the “co-creation and design between man and nature through a process of understanding and respect”. Understood in this way, co-creation was very representative of the dynamics and needs of Chumsang. Like other similarly sized cities in Thailand, Chumsang faces many concerns related to its natural resources and landscapes, the loss of its cultural traditions, the changing dynamics of migration in its young and old populations and as a result the increasing day to day challenges in making the city livable, sustainable and lively.

Mapping people’s routes to the community hall

Mapping people’s routes to the community hall

Following this theme, the workshop in general had a loose structure that allowed space for conversations to evolve, take different directions and reveal those elements that were not immediately obvious about the city and its people. At first this way of working felt uncertain, unfamiliar and risky but as we were immersed in to the fieldwork, the friendly people and the excitement of it all, it became easier to go with the flow and allow our ideas and projects to develop in a very organic way.

 

Our behinds were burning but our faces were bright

 

As the transport and cycling group, we happily spent a lot of time on our bicycles, visiting the city and using any excuse to get on the saddle. By the end of the first day, it was harder to walk straight and our faces were quite pink from the sun, but it was through these rides around the city that we found inspiration to work. We even wrote a song!

One of the cycling groups meet at 6 a.m. every morning to ride around the city

One of the cycling groups meet at 6 a.m. every morning to ride around the city

Within the transport group, I felt very connected to my colleagues, not only by being part of CAN, which encouraged us to work together but also through our other interests, in my case cycling. In other cases, photography, culture, music, heritage and ecology brought people together to share ideas on making the city. These elements, represented through our different interests and hobbies, are also an important part of what makes cities vibrant and CAN Co-Create seemed to build on this synergy very well. It took a wholesome perspective toward community architecture and in this case, for the first time, at the scale of the city. I think this was one of its greatest strengths.

Gathering the cycling groups at the community hall

Gathering the cycling groups at the community hall

In this way, the opportunity that CAN workshops bring about by generating attention, bringing in professionals and practitioners from many contexts to work with local communities and catalyze change not only focused on one arm of city development but many. We established groups that addressed housing, mobility, politics, environment, culture, health and one that emphasized the connectivity and cohesion between these different elements at the level of the city. The workshop also became an opportunity for the mayor to come face to face with the energy of the city’s people, their desires and motivations and to engage in direct conversation with them about their different ideas for the future of Chumsang.

 

At the same time, this transversal approach also brought many communities to work together. We worked with two cycling groups, a group of elderly, the old market community, young school children, communities that were to be relocated and communities that had already been housed. Initially, it seemed that these different groups had their own motivations for participating in the workshop. However, at the end of each day, as we reviewed our progress and our findings, the work gradually demonstrated how intricately connected these different motivations and processes really were.

Policies group presenting outcomes: Chumsang’s journey

Policies group presenting outcomes: Chumsang’s journey

 

Although some groups progressed quicker than others during the five days of fieldwork, reviewing, changing and even starting over a couple of times; the level of involvement from community groups in the presentation of the outcomes, on the last day, was moving. It showed that these processes of participation intrigued people and invited them to feel part of something greater.

 

So although lengthy and sometimes frustrating, the time it took to build, validate and present ideas with communities, seemed to generate a collective sense of a ‘Community of Chumsang’. In a way, the notion of ‘co-creation’ really materialized through this challenging and timely process. Toward the end of the workshop, I increasingly noticed that people built on these connections and worked with them, moving around the room, between different groups, sharing information and presenting ideas in sync with each other.

Combining activities, processes and project ideas on the same ‘master plan’ for Chumsang

Combining activities, processes and project ideas on the same ‘master plan’ for Chumsang

Sharing is where everything starts

 

There were many things about the CAN workshop that motivated me but it is what happens after the workshops, which I find the most significant. How the transformative process that CAN workshops initiate, by bringing so many minds together in one place, can ripple out into a series of waves of transformation in other places; How those of us who attend the CAN workshop can carry our experiences and through them, diffuse the energy of CAN into existing and new networks. After the workshop I was left with this intrigue, excited to see what happens next.

 

The workshop produced Facebook groups [CAN Co-Create Chumsaeng City & Unsung Stories of Chumsaeng); brought cycling movements together to carry out a collective ride throughout the city with the support of the police; created brochures to promote tourism, made a song and proposed many other small achievable projects that the local communities could carry on after the workshop. I see these outcomes as small actions and tools that are practical and achievable in the short term but which have the potential to keep co-creation running by “people’s process”, as we like to say, in the long-run. If people follow up and use them.

 

Leader of ‘The Old Tigers’ cycles with other groups, as we invite people to join and advocate for cycle lane markings, cycle routes for tourists and greater safety for children and elderly who use bycicles

Leader of ‘The Old Tigers’ cycles with other groups, as we invite people to join and advocate for cycle lane markings, cycle routes for tourists and greater safety for children and elderly who use bycicles

A month later, I am visiting some of the CAN members in Vietnam. They have been great hosts, showing me around and teaching me about the beautiful city of Hanoi.

 

“Sharing is where everything starts” says Houng, one of my hosts and also a CAN member. Being back in conversations about community practices reminds me of my intrigue, what happens after the workshop? How does the transformative process of CAN Co-Create continue?

 

Still excited from the experience, I’ve noticed some signs that suggest the transformative process is still running. The actions that we took and the ‘web’ of tools that we began to create seem to have given the ‘network’ a potential to catalyze this process. Believing it all the more as I listen, discuss and exchange with people who, despite having returned to their busy lives, are still talking about visiting Chumsang again, strengthening the CAN network in Vietnam and even about extending the scope of the existing one.

 

 

[Video]

CAN Co-Create Workshop Teaser Video – Final Video will be published in October

 


Luisa is an alumni of the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU. Currently she is working in Manila, Philippines as a beneficiary of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme.

Transformation in a Time of Transition: Engaging with People-driven Upgrading Strategies in Cambodia

GiovannaAstolfo26 May 2015

In the last 20 days students from the MSc BUDD have been engaging with people driven upgrading processes in Cambodia as part of the annual action oriented design research fieldtrip project.

Working closely with local communities, in collaboration with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction (MLMUPC) and the Community Architect Network (CAN) and supported by the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), BUDD students, along with 22 local students from 7 different Universities, developed design strategies for city wide upgrading and inclusive urban design, starting from a socio spatial full immersion in three informal communities in Phnom Penh and Kompong Thom.

Image: Striking contrast of Global Phnom Penh, between elite towns, vernacular wooden architecture and poor houses. The desire for growth and economic development passes through urbanisation, land exploitation, eviction and relocation (©Ana Puhac; Rui Geng; Camillo Boano; Alex Pixley)

Image: Striking contrast of Global Phnom Penh, between elite towns, vernacular wooden architecture and poor houses. The desire for growth and economic development passes through urbanisation, land exploitation, eviction and relocation (©Ana Puhac; Rui Geng; Camillo Boano; Alex Pixley)

Two of the three sites share similar challenges, even though one is located in a mostly urbanised area in the periphery of Phnom Penh (Chbar Ampov District), while the other is located in the Province of Kompong Thom, 160 km far from the capital city, in a mostly rural part of the country.

Poor though cohesive communities are here facing the perpetual lack of land tenure – one of the many by-products of the murderous urbicidal past of the country – and basic services (water, sanitation, waste management..); on top of that, seasonal flooding worsens the already precarious conditions in urban and rural Cambodia weakening the relationship between environment and people. But local people’s knowledge and technology, their inexhaustible inventiveness and resilience, their ability in organising and building, proves once more to be strong enough to imagine, design and plan a different future.

Image: Beoung Chuck Meanchey Thmey II community in Phnom Penh is a cohesive community willing to pursue land negotiations and start a process of upgrading. In order to do so, detailed house mapping and reflections on accessibility were experimented, along with alternative layouts including landfill and housing on stilts (©Camillo Boano)

Image: Beoung Chuck Meanchey Thmey II community in Phnom Penh is a cohesive community willing to pursue land negotiations and start a process of upgrading. In order to do so, detailed house mapping and reflections on accessibility were experimented, along with alternative layouts including landfill and housing on stilts (©Camillo Boano)

The third site, Anlong Kngan community, has been even more challenging, given the large scale (it is in fact formed by nine communities for a total of 500 households), the extremely contested and conflictive context (a relocation site in the periphery of the city, today a densely inhabited area with high pressure over land) and lack of cohesion in the communities. The Anlong case is paradigmatic as it represents a common feature in the urban production of Cambodia: massive settlements generated ad hoc from forced evictions and acts of emptying the centre of the city paired to the use of peripheral land to relocate informal populations, toward building the image of a ‘charming’, globalised and competitive city.

Anlong Kngan combined the perverse failure of the relocation system in Phnom Penh with another example of the resilience of the Khmer people and their ability to work out the worst condition, resist unjust urban dynamics, reclaiming the right to shape, built and inhabit the city.

Image: Water supply by re‐using plastic bottles; coping mechanisms for floods (©Vishaka Jha); techniques to capture insects for daily consumption (©Giovanna Astolfo)

Image: Water supply by re‐using plastic bottles; coping mechanisms for floods (©Vishaka Jha); techniques to capture insects for daily consumption (©Giovanna Astolfo)

The Kompong Thom community is formed by 30 households and lives in unhealthy and unsafe conditions above a polluted canal. Houses are built on stilts echoing the traditional vernacular wooden architecture ubiquitous in rural Cambodia. During the rainy season, the water of the canal reaches the floor level of the houses worsening the living condition of the residents.

In light of the vulnerability of the area and taking advantage of the lack of land tenure of the residents, the municipality is willing to relocate the community in a site 70 km far away causing the disruption of their livelihood. However, the small city does not show evidence of a possible pattern of growth or urban development that can explain the relocation or make sense of such pressure over land. Also, it is unclear how imminent the threat of eviction could be.

Image: mapping of the community settled above the canal (©Giovanna Astolfo); raised access to the houses; possible land for relocation identified by the community (©BUDD students)

Image: mapping of the community settled above the canal (©Giovanna Astolfo); raised access to the houses; possible land for relocation identified by the community (©BUDD students)

Nevertheless, the community urges to envision alternative scenarios as tools to expand the room for manoeuvre with the local authority, to catalyse attention, gain visibility, mobilise other communities and reach a level of autonomy. Helped by a pro-poor oriented Municipality, the BUDD developed and tested several proposals for on-site upgrading (domestic space, shared spaces and infrastructures), re-blocking and relocation to another land of choice.

Image: Imagining living spaces: the dream house activity; co‐producing alternative futures: relocation versus on site upgrading (©BUDD students)

Image: Imagining living spaces: the dream house activity; co‐producing alternative futures: relocation versus on site upgrading (©BUDD students)

The group of students worked along with community members to jointly develop a strategy to be presented to the local authority first, and, after further refinement, to the vice Governor in Phnom Penh.

It is of crucial importance that the first presentation is led by the community, in order to capitalise on the unique opportunity for urban poor communities to share their story and upgrading aspirations directly with local authority. Similarly, the aim of the second presentation is to facilitate the institutional recognition of the presence of such enormous capital in each communities.

Image: moments of the learning process in Kompong Thom. Dream house exercise and community driven presentation of the strategies to the local authority. The dream house is a collective activity that involves the co‐creation of 3d models of incremental housing unit at 1:50 scale with plastiline removable furniture. (©BUDD students; Giovanna Astolfo)

Image: moments of the learning process in Kompong Thom. Dream house exercise and community driven presentation of the strategies to the local authority. The dream house is a collective activity that involves the co‐creation of 3d models of incremental housing unit at 1:50 scale with plastiline removable furniture. (©BUDD students; Giovanna Astolfo)

Image: Learning from the Province. Visit to upgraded community that are already part of the network (©Giovanna Astolfo)

Image: Learning from the Province. Visit to upgraded community that are already part of the network (©Giovanna Astolfo)

Anlong is a peri-urban site for relocated people, where the government allocated empty land for victims of (deliberate) fire in the more central zone. Fast forward 15 years, the communities have transformed the empty land without infrastructure and services in a dense lively urban space.

Four of the nine communities not included in the relocation process, are illegally occupying part of the land. The site is therefore two times a locus of contestation, for being a relocation site and for being a squatted relocation site.

Image: Anlong Kgan settlement (©Camillo Boano; BUDD students)

Image: Anlong Kgan settlement (©Camillo Boano; BUDD students)

Great effort was put by the students in disentangling the complex dynamic of resettlement as a mechanism repeatedly present in the system of the city and in unpacking the conflicting agendas of different actors.

The proposed interventions aim at the incremental occupation and densification of the site (sensitive reblocking), the activation of self-sufficient mechanism and growth of the site as a self sufficient city, at strengthening the interdependency of the communities settled in the site, and at increase the rootedness and sense of belonging.

Image: unpacking Anlong Kgan settlement development (©BUDD students)

Image: unpacking Anlong Kgan settlement development (©BUDD students)

The three sites despite local specificity share similar features related to the uncertain institutional and legal framework for the urban poor’s access to land in the new course of the National Housing Policy implementation; even when present, laws and regulations on land and housing are rarely fulfilled.

The collaboration between BUDD students, Staff and representatives of the recently established General Department of Housing (GDH) as part of the Ministry of Land Management (MLMUPC), has been an attempt to catalyse attention to people driven processes in the production of the city and attentive participatory methodologies.

Image: collaborative settings (©Fiona; Belen Desmaison)

Image: collaborative settings (©Fiona; Belen Desmaison)

Since reliable data and maps, when existing, are difficult to gather or deliberately hidden or simply not recognised as forms of knowledge, a cross cutting underlying common goal of the fieldwork in each site has been the co-production of knowledge, including settlement profiling, enumeration, mapping, and participatory design activities, at the point that it is difficult to say who contributed more: the community, the Khmer students or the BUDDies.

Image: co‐production of knowledge(©Giorgio Talocci)

Image: co‐production of knowledge (©Giorgio Talocci)

Finally, a common trait of the work has been the constant learning attitude, inspired by the humble, no-hero work of CAN and ACHR. Such attitude is central and constantly reasserted in their approach: learning from the people, learning from urban reality, learning from each other, learning by doing.

If once Giancarlo de Carlo said that architecture is too important to be left to architects, maybe there is a greater role for Community architects?


Giovanna Astolfo is a lecturer on the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development, she recently joined students on overseas fieldwork in Cambodia. This is the second year that the MSc BUDD has visited Cambodia, continuing a collaboration with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights that previously saw the programme conduct overseas fieldwork in Thailand in 2011-13. This year’s cohort of BUDD students will present the outcomes of their research on Wednesday 27 May 2015.

Settlement Planning and Design: Experiences from Mandaue City, Cebu

JessicaMamo28 April 2015

1. Heading image_Completed landfilling on site_web

The Philippine Alliance has been an active agent in Mandaue City since 2000. Their work is primarily focused on two large sites, involving a large number of communities, each one at a different stage of settlement upgrading. The team collaborate with Local Government Units (LGU) to address the housing gaps within the city by adopting a sustainable citywide approach which benefits both the low-income groups, as well as the city’s vision of development.

This post explains the approach that has been adopted for the upgrading of the 6.5 Relocation Site in Paknaan, one of the two prominent sites where the Alliance is active in Mandaue City.

The relocation site is situated in Barangay Paknaan, on the periphery of Mandaue City, and covers an area of 6.5 hectares. Originally a mangrove area, the site was chosen to accommodate 1,200 families, organised into 12 Homeowner Associations (HOA). These families are being relocated from along Mahiga Creek in central Mandaue City, as part of the River Rehabilitation Program, after the area was devastated by flooding in January 2011.

Although the site was still a mangrove area, families started living in Paknaan in October 2011. Today, 465 families who were allocated a plot of land have moved on site, some building permanent housing, whilst others simply rebuilding houses out of light recycled materials.

Informal developments on site (left); Construction of permanent housing development, overseen by TAMPEI (right)

Informal developments on site (left); Construction of permanent housing development, overseen by TAMPEI (right)

10 out of the 12 HOAs are part of the Homeless Peoples Federation (HPFPI) and collaborate with the Alliance, particularly with regards to organising communities to save, enabling them to finance the construction of their new homes, or pay monthly amortizations for loan repayments. TAMPEI, the technical support unit to the Alliance, have provided assistance in the planning, design and construction stages of the upgrading process.

The Role of Homeowner Associations

The strong role of the HOA is interesting to note. In order for a family to be eligible for an upgrading or relocation programme, they must first form part of a HOA which is registered by the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board. This requirement has driven communities to get organised and collaborate closely with one another, creating close-knit communities which take pride in the recognition they receive as a registered HOA.

This contrasts greatly with the situation in some other countries, for example the communities I encountered during fieldwork in Cambodia with the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development last year. The particular settlement we were working with in Battambang faced particular concerns regarding community mobilisation and organisation. As a students group, we were constantly challenging the concept of referring to the residents as a community since they did not actually work as a single unit, and found it difficult to support each other. Therefore, the requirement of forming part of a duly registered association acts as a form of mobilisation for residents to really act as a community.

The HOA is an important representation for community members, as a form of formal identification within the City.

The HOA is an important representation for community members, as a form of formal identification within the City.

Land Acquisition and Financial Support

One of the most important elements of slum upgrading is the acquisition of land, which allows families to have security of tenure, whether they are being relocated, or able to upgrade on site. Without the constant threat of eviction, families are able to invest in their homes by building permanent structures. To be able to do so, families need the financial support to buy the land, as well as to pay for the construction of the house and site development. This support either takes the form of the savings program run by the Federation, or loans.

An important stakeholder is the Social Housing Finance Corporation (SHFC). SHFC is mandated by the President of the Philippines, and aims to provide shelter solutions to organised, urban poor communities. It was created to lead in developing and administering social housing programmes, such as the Community Mortgage Program (CMP), which is currently being implemented in Paknaan. The CMP is a loan system, targeting residents of informal settlements, that aims to finance the lot purchase, site development and house construction, which will be repaid over 25 years.

By far the most encouraging approach that has been adopted in Mandaue City is the housing construction through personal savings. Some families, mobilised and organised by HPFPI, have been able to limit their loan from SHFC to the lot purchase, and finance the construction of their homes through their own personal savings.

The construction of their houses, which began in September 2014, was dependent on the capacity of the families to save a fixed amount per month to keep up with the rolling costs of construction since no capital was initially available for the project, other than the money they put aside.

In March 2015, 5 units were completed, with another 8 units still under construction. Out of the original 23, 10 families struggled to meet the monthly target, which means that the construction of their units has been delayed. However, these families have shown that persistence can challenge the notion of charity and free housing.

Ongoing construction of 23 housing units, funded by beneficiary families (left); 41 housing units were completed in 2013, funded by the SDI 7-Cities Programme

Ongoing construction of 23 housing units, funded by beneficiary families (left); 41 housing units were completed in 2013, funded by the SDI 7-Cities Programme

Housing and Service Provision

There are two approaches to the housing development, depending on the affordability of the family in question. If the family is able to cover the full expenses or monthly loan repayments, then the family may proceed to construct the full housing unit. If families are unable to take the full loan amount, they may instead opt to construct them incrementally – however, this second option has never actually been implemented.

Very often, residents aspire to apply for the complete rather than the incremental option, even though they probably cannot afford the loan repayments. This results in families being rejected from taking the larger loan, and therefore actually being unable to build any form of permanent housing.

As part of the TAMPEI team in Mandaue City, I have worked on the design of new housing units that cost less than the original low-cost row house design and are therefore a viable option for a greater number of families, without resorting to the incremental construction. So far, five alternative housing units have been developed, two of which are illustrated in the images below.

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6

Service provision and site development in Paknaan is still lacking, particularly with regards to sanitation services. Through the initiative of one particularly active HOA called SMASH, two communal toilet blocks will be built soon. Through the collaboration between TAMPEI and SMASH, the design proposal and community management system were developed.

7

By far the biggest challenges that we have faced throughout the developments of the Paknaan relocation site have been due to the large number of stakeholders that are involved in the project… surely a common issue when approaching citywide upgrading!

Shortcomings and delays have been caused by both the communities, some of whom have been unable to keep up with their required savings, as well as the local government units, who have promised more than they can deliver with regards to the site development. However, it is only through close collaboration by actors across various levels that such large-scale projects can be implemented, and have a significant impact on the wellbeing of the city’s urban poor.


Jessica is an architect and has recently completed the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU. Currently, she is working in the Philippines, as part of the DPU-ACHR joint internship programme. Her interests lie primarily in community-led upgrading, particularly with regards to housing and service provision.

“Social Design” creeps into the mainstream: Is it here to stay and in what way?

William NHunter19 March 2012

If the two recent exhibitions held in New York are part of any confirming indication that a legitimate shift in socially responsive architecture and design has indeed arrived, then it is by time the professional and academic community at large begin engaging in a critical discourse in relation to the practices and products of this movement. The Museum of Modern Art’s Small Scale, Big Change: New Architectures of Social Engagement and the Cooper Hewitt-produced Design with the Other 90%: CITIES at the United Nations highlighted an array of projects, practices, designers, and organizations that are seemingly appearing and operating outside the usual mainstream avenues of delivery. Likewise the recently published Spatial Agency project led by Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till attempts to uncover another way of doing architecture, one that eschews the image of architect as individual hero, replacing it with an idea of architect as agent, acting and collaborating with, and on behalf of, others. These happenings represent a larger buzz gripping architectural reporting and discourse.

MoMA’s Small Scale, Big Change exhibit (image by provisions)

Cooper Hewitt / United Nations Design for the Other 90% (image by James Emery)

For all the merit and overdue satisfaction of this exposure and coverage, significant questions should be raised in regards to the resulting implications on mainstream and outsider practices as well as the perception of them. Without a doubt, MoMA by its very nature and established status is targeting architects, enthusiasts and an interested, arguably cultured public. The content is tightly edited, brief, intimate, and yet richly displayed through large format pictures, drawings, and models which is no departure from how the majority of architectural projects are processed, delivered and curated, accompanied by no less than a visually abundant streamlined website. If this is indeed a representation of a different kind of architecture, a different kind of practice, it may require a rethinking of the message. This is not meant to be a critique of the show in of itself, but rather a general determining point.  The exhibition catalogue would lead one to believe that these projects entailed a challenging re-assessment of approach and process, based on geographical situation, cultural protocol, and/or the characters of end users. These are not or at least are not meant to be perceived as typical projects. In fact the website claims that:

“These projects have been selected from an increasingly large number of similar initiatives around the world because they exemplify the degree to which architects can orchestrate change, prioritizing work that has social impact but also balances very real concerns of cost, program, and aesthetics. They succeed in providing communities not only with physical spaces but with opportunities for self-determination and an enhanced sense of identity. As a result, these architects are both designers of buildings and moderators of change. Their integrative methodologies could serve as models for the profession at large”

There is again no argument that the projects represented are operating in some different parallel to mainstream practices, some more than others. Though perhaps more unsettling is the fact that there are only eleven projects and half of them are coming from the tried and tested likes of Rural Studio (Auburn University), Elemental, and Urban Think Tank, entities which also all show up in the Cooper Hewitt’s UN-based exhibit. The exhibition at the UN is part of a larger and broader initiative and arguably more thorough in terms of data and information, but also in many cases still offers an objectified aestheticizing of the subject(s). While the details of the chosen few are not necessary here, the point to be made is that darlings of social design are emerging and beginning to monopolize the conversation in the same manner that so-called starchitects garnered all our attention over the last decade or so. It is not a case of judgement on the part of these established names and practices, but more a general caution on the criticality of who comes to represent this new movement towards socially responsive architecture and design. Furthermore, is it even necessary to put a name behind a work in the same heroic manner as before? What are the consequences if this happens? A possible co-opting of the outsider activists and true agency of architecture by the object-driven mentality of the mainstream protocols is a threat to pure potential.

METI-Handmade School, Bangladesh by Anna Heringer and Eike Roswag (image by Anna Heringer)

Medellin Metro Cable (image by Omar Uran)

The Spatial Agency project, publication, and database also sheds light on practices and people, whether of historical significance or emerging interest and whether by holistic studio vision or one off project, that are concerned as they enter into socially embedded networks, in which the consequences of architecture are of much more significance than the objects of architecture. On the list exists some of the same figures and names already mentioned in the other exhibitions as well as some suspect crossover practices, usually championed for their avant garde responses to architectural problems. Now, debating lists may very well be a waste of precious time, though the effect of such lists is without much doubt. The choices made by editors and curators and then the act of publicising them as brass is problematic on the one hand because it limits the field and on the other because it assumes both internally within the profession and externally in public that those practices and individuals are doing something genuinely different. It implies that they are thinking and acting differently. And in a subconscious way one could or would assume that they are taught differently.

Elemental’s profile on the Spatial Agency online database (image by William Hunter)

Architectural production is a process, and though this process may have become saturated as an ideology, working in less-formalized arenas or situations has its own unique challenges. These situations require new skillsets, qualitative social understanding, and more importantly, new perceptions of what it means to be a practitioner. The role of professional must be internally rethought and if not, it is far reaching that someone should claim that they have the capacity to operate in these contested urbanisms. Architecture and design most certainly has a responsibility to re-establish its worth in future development, in formalized Western settings and especially in more informal settings of the Global South. But this repositioning needs to be led by individuals who are critically and ethically up to the task.

If the buzz surrounding social design and the staging of major exhibitions and research projects are actually confirming that a true paradigm shift is happening within architecture, design, and their related disciplines, we must be aware of what it means to practice differently. The fact is that when practitioners enter into different and unfamiliar arenas, the political landscape of design changes. This change as well as the individuals they work for and with has a huge impact on the methodology of practice. If the differences are not acknowledged and the same approach unfolds, the results will be misdirected and unintentionally non-productive for those individuals they serve. In addition, if the representations and viral publicising of this movement is lazily glorified sans the critical rigor they deserve, then the larger cause of shifting an agency for practice will be lost.