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Posts tagged “environment

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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A “wasted” opportunity?

It’s that time of year when people are placing large unwanted household items (or ”waste”) out in front of their residences in preparation for the annual Brisbane City Council kerbside collection.

Indeed “one person’s waste” can be “another’s treasure” and quite often I spotted people placing a pre-loved set of golf clubs, children’s bike,  or old washing machine in their boot or on the back of a van. Curious as to what was appearing on the kerbs in my immediate neighbourhood, I  scouted around and documented what was being placed in front of people’s homes to see if there was a pattern of disposal occurring.

This is what I found:

KerbsideCollection Oct14-8423KerbsideCollection Oct14-8429 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8431 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8432 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8435KerbsideCollection Oct14-8437KerbsideCollection Oct14-8436 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8439 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8443 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8444 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8451KerbsideCollection Oct14-8450KerbsideCollection Oct14-8457 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8456KerbsideCollection Oct14-8461 KerbsideCollection Oct14-8422Random to organised placement of :

  • Furniture (desks, lounges, couches, indoor chairs garden patio chairs & tables, shelving, drawers, cabinets, TVs, bed mattresses, foam bedding, blankets, cupboards, cushions, light stands, kitchen benchtops, dressers)
  • Timber (structural house framing & weatherboards & VJ’s; toolboxes, doors, windows, glass panes, fence posts, fence palings, garden edging & retaining walls, pallets)
  • Garden equipment (hose reels, hoses, rakes, camping chairs, tarpaulins, gumboots)
  • Metal items (clothes racks, 44-gallon drums, iron trunk, Toolboxes, wire fencing, BBQs,  sheet metal, drain pipes, washing drying racks)
  • Cardboard box and styrofoam box packaging (from electrical goods like computers, stoves, fridges etc)
  • Kids toys (games, play yard equipment like swings basket ball rings and back boards, shell-shaped paddle pools/sandpits, radio controlled cars, table soccer, hula-hoops )
  • Electronic waste / e-waste (computer towers, monitors, & circuit boards, vacuum cleaners, Sound system speakers, oil heaters, faxes, printers, fridge)
  • Sport items (gym equipment, gold clubs & bags, bicycles, boogie board)
  • Plastic (waste and laundry baskets, milk crates, plastic pallets, storage boxes, buckets & pails)
  • Baby equipment ( prams, baby playpen, cot)
  • General household goods (mop, books, video cassettes, CDs, DVDs, photo albums, magazines, CD rack, photo frames, window blinds, suitcases)
  • and many more other items!

In general where items were broken, they could be repaired. Where they were worn, parts could be replaced. Where they were obsolete,thay could re-purposed. If used passed on or reused.

Our council website states what can and can not be placed out for kerbside collection and many of the above items do not comply. I made a telephone enquiry to the council officesto  learn that it that there are several contractors who participate in the kerbside collection who specialise in reclamation of metal waste, furniture, and  household goods (which are cleaned up and resold at Council “Tip Shops” which is heartening) and also white good items (e.g. fridges, washing machines).

However there is a lot of material that still ends up as landfill meaning on many cases that they become a lost resource. Considering that the council has a Towards Zero Waste strategy to reduce waste going to landfill using the waste reduction hierarchy of avoidance>reduce>reuse>recycle>disposal, it is surprising that there is no mention of upcycling, which is the process of converting old or discarded  materials or useless waste products into new materials or products that maintains or increases its value by being more useful, of  better quality, or having a different and more valuable purpose. This is not only an important waste reduction link, but also a critical finite resource consumption-reducing link that is a natural addition to recycling.  Through upcycling, new products are created from waste streams that have a higher value than if they were just disposed to landfill. For example, by reclaiming metals and constructing or refashioning something new from them, obviates the need of mining new metal from the earth thus reducing fuel/energy consumption and environmental impact. Tyres can be refashioned into water buckets, plant pots or sandals!  Creative reuse has become very popular amongst arts & crafts and homeware & gift suppliers. Others are taking this further by using upcycled products with a net-positive design approach.

In fact many of the items listed above would be seen as a resource boon to those living in developing countries where reclamation, re-use, jury-rigging and repurposing mwaste materials can be critical for providing shelter and housing, an income, or reducing urban pollution. For more info see Junkyard Planet and ideas/inspiration here.

So if you no longer have a use for something, don’t throw it, get it repaired, repurpose it, pass it on, recycle it, or upcycle it!

 

 Postscript 6th November 2014

It was disturbing to witness the council refuse truck arrive on the day of the kerbside collection in my street. During the short 30 minutes it took for them to “clean up” the street, I observed the council workers place the kerbside items into the compactor hopper of the garbage truck, hydraulically crush the items to fit into the truck, and then drive off (ultimately to the landfill site to dispose of their load of “rubbish”).

A wasted opportunity… !


A Concrete Clad World

We live in a world that is increasingly being clothed in concrete (or other man-made “garments”… like asphalt, steel, terracotta tiles, cut timber and corrugated iron).

In his book ‘Architecture of Density‘  photographer Michael Wolf displays a masterful visual record of some of the cityscapes we are creating and is perhaps a timely nudge to those who think that urban development is “boundless”.

Wolfpeg-1

His photographic style of follows that of Bernd and Hilla Becher (who are renowned for creating a typology of industrial buildings and structures in a grid-like fashion). Wolf’s visual documentary approach of Hong Kong is formal, and unsettling. He frames his images face-on so that the sky and ground are removed, and you are  confronted with a flat, uncompromising, concrete-dominated, brutalist, and seemingly unpopulated view of only a microcosm of a much larger “mega city”.

His images evoke dystopian scenes from ‘Metropolis‘, Fritz Lang’s 1927 German expressionist epic science-fiction film. After viewing Wolf’s graphically stark images, one is left feeling  somewhat claustrophobically trapped by the weight of the structures pictured. A rising clamour of wanting to be “let out” is furthered by the endless repetition of patterns washing over each page of the book without a view of a clear field or open space in sight – almost like being caught in a hall of mirrors by endlessly repeating images with no obvious avenue of  escape discernable.

The patterning or splashes of colour sometimes break up the monotony of dull painted concrete, but even in themselves appear to be a contrivance exhorting occupants to lead bright happy lives in the “communal hives” they inhabit. The absence of human figures in this work may leave the viewer feeling a little emotionally detached from these relatively cold and implacable subjects, but the odd signs of occupation are present, as evidenced in the form of man-made scaffolding, washing hung out of windows to dry, or  open and half-closed windows inviting us to look in from afar.

The relentless repeating patterns of windows, balconies and towers is similar in effect to that used by Andreas Gursky in his supermarket shop shelf image ’99 Cent’ where product packaging is the recurring pattern unit used to create seemingly endless rows of shelving.

Wolf’s images are not dissimilar to works by other photographic artists who have portrayed the built environment clashing with and supplanting the natural environment. Many popular works were generated through the 1960-1970’s “Topographics Movement” which included the likes of: Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Frank Gohlke, Stephen Shore, Nicholas Nixon  and Henry Wessel. Most of them featured in the seminal 1975 exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” which showed images of the changing landscape and abuse of the earth in a stylistic way that highlighted anonymity in a characterless or deadpan way of documenting the landscape. Their work  influenced many photographers in how they photographed landscapes and although today’s photographers shoot in a visually more contemporary style (e.g. Edward Burtynski & Robert Polidori), there is still an underlying or unspoken premise of a need of human connection with the natural environment amongst the ever-increasing urban sprawl of outer cities areas or within in the confines of continuous urban re-development or renewal within city centres.

Perhaps this why the world is seeing the upsurgence of roof top and vertical gardens in cities, in the imaginative revitalisation of old cityscapes including Vo Trong Nghia’s House for trees project in Bangkok, or community driven greening of abandoned industrial-scapes in Detroit?

Perhaps a re-imagining of how more finite or less expansive populations might live on this planet, having a much improved sustainable ecological footprint, may well be the seeds of transformation that both humanity and the environment really need?