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Architectural Activism : Simple & effective responses to building a sustainable world.

Many architects work with aid organisations or by themselves to provide sustainable and positive solutions to ecological and/or social problems. There is strong interest and activity by architects  in the related areas of sustainability, community resilience, social design and activism. Climate change, population growth, war,  poverty, disease and massive human migration shifts have affected some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. Some project examples include safe permanent/temporary shelters, access to basic sanitation and clean water supplies.

Through a travelling exhibition, ‘People Building Better Cities’, that visited my city during September – October 2014, I became aware of other varied architect-led initiatives engaging with disadvantaged communities worldwide. There are many architectural groups (like Community Architects Network) and community led grassroots groups and networks (e.g. ‘Asian Coalition for Housing Rights’) located at many places around the world, all working to address local issues to create resilient, equitable, inclusive and sustainable communities, towns and cities that are variably free of disease, war, poverty, housing shortages, unsanitary water sources, drugs and crime and have adequate waste disposal, education and health facilities, to name a few of the issues that make communities vulnerable.

There appears to be increasing pushback to architecture in which ‘appearance’ or ‘aesthetics’ have been valued over purpose and pressing social requirements, and which has resulted from a lack of consultation with and participation from the affected communities. As concluded in The Environment & Urbanization report:

 ‘The work of community architects in Asia has shown that professionals should stop making all the design decisions and instead, should take on the role of helping translate people’s own ideas for transforming their houses and communities into drawings and models that the wider society can understand.”

An example of an architect who is working on helping his fellow man is Nigerian  architect, Kunlé Adeyemi, who is the principal of NLÉ which is a practice that specifically applies its architecture, design and urbanism practice to rapidly developing cities in developing countries.

Floating primary school: At the waterside slum of Makoko, near Lagos, Nigeria,by Kunlé Adeyemi. The design was conceived following discussions with the local community. Source The Guardian|The Observer Sunday 10 August 2014.

One project that has received broad attention is his prototype, ‘Makoko Floating School’ [Links #1, #2 & #3] in which he attempts to address the physical and social needs of the Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront Community, in the waterside slum of Makoko, near Lagos, Nigeria, who are faced with constant climate change induced pressures of flooding and the problems of building on unstable marshland; (100,000 people in Makoko live in housing that is built on stilts). After talking with the community about these issues he came up with the elegantly simple solution of building a floating primary school using simple technology and community collaboration.

The conceived 3-level structure is basically a timber A-frame 10m high, set on a square 10m x 10m base that is buoyed by a bed of 16 recycled blue 215Litre plastic barrels. This floating structure has a low centre of gravity and is stable enough to support 100 adults even in stormy weather. As it is a floating structure is can adapt to varying water levels and storm surges.

Peak hour : floating school. Source: http://www.nleworks.com

The lower level is purposed as a play area for school pupils (and also as a community space after school hours). The second level is a classroom space (large enough to cater for 60 – 100 pupils), and a workshop is on the 3rd and topmost level. The 200m long building is made up of 16 pyramidal modules that can be joined together. The school was also being used by the community as a social, cultural and economic centre.

Prototype floating structure for the lagoon community of Makoko. Image source: Architecture AU 31Oct 2014

The materials for the base and A-frame were sourced from locally sourced timber and bamboo and the structure was constructed by local builders (thus addressing local sustainability and social employment concerns). The building has also kept to the principles of sustainable development and is designed to reduce its carbon footprint by using renewable energy, recycle organic waste as well as harvesting its own rainwater.

Makoko Floating School : Concept schematic. Source: http://www.nleworks.com

Kunlé Adeyemi is also applying this concept to other areas such as the slums of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where residents are threatened with displacement through government run urban renewal projects. As a solution he hopes that a city of floating homes can be constructed that would provide safe housing for residents while allowing them to remain within their water-based community.

I take my hat off to this architect!

 

 

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