Most architects with a social conscience often wonder weather architecture could ever have a positive impact on the lives of people who truly need it. Unfortunately it seems that more often than not, architects devote their time to making life better for those who are wealthy enough to afford it but truly do not need it. Architecture has largely turned into a luxury, accommodating whims instead of addressing problems.
History has also shown that socially conscious architecture often ends up being patronising and largely unsuccessful. The modern movement for example had a humanitarian agenda to begin with. Modernist architects truly believed that they were going to transform society altogether just through design and urban planning. Massive public housing projects were built with new materials and methods followed CIAM* doctrines to the letter in order to turn cities into functional units. Those dreams crashed all too soon as their products, the large-scale housing schemes, ended up deserted, sad or festering with crime for reasons too complicated to analyse here. However no matter the ‘good intentions’ social fragmentation was increased instead of reduced and problems were definitely accentuated instead of solved.
Coming across Article 25 and the work they do in underprivileged communities and areas which are struck by disaster I did wonder initially if this charity’s aim was to patronise them by providing temporary solutions and alleviate their problems in a short term basis. Looking closer into the way that the charity works I realised that they attempt to do the exact opposite. Article 25 experiment on increasing each community’s capacity to support themselves. They suggest solutions to building problems that involve local building materials and methods and educate the inhabitants on how to use them.
Areas that have been struck by earthquake need help in developing building systems resistant to additional seismic activity while keeping the budget low. This combination of high and low technology has been proven in many occasions to be the way of the future. Expert architectural knowledge encompasses traditional tools and methods in a way that can be assimilated by the local community in the future. Additionally by involving women (that traditionally have not been considered eligible for such tasks) in the building process some social problems are addressed as well. However it is necessity that dictates this ‘radical’ suggestion and not the god-complex of any architect that thinks that social problems are solved by design.
It is a fact that scarce resources and difficult circumstances have brought forth the most inspired solutions to practical problems, especially when the experts involved have their priorities straight as far as humanitarianism is concerned.
*International Congress of Modern Architecture. read about it here
Watch a video about Article 25 here
Article 25 website here