…charity@ Article 25

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.

All photos taken at the Scott Brownrigg/Article 25 Exhibition

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.

All photos taken at the Scott Brownrigg/Article 25 Exhibition

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.

All photos taken at the Scott Brownrigg/Article 25 Exhibition

*International Congress of Modern Architecture. read about it here

Watch a video about Article 25 here

Article 25 website here

Exhibition at the lobby of International design practice Scott Brownrigg, who recently adopted Article 25 as their charity of the year. see more here

  1. Chesney said:

    I’m afraid this is a very romantic view of what charities like A25 actually do – and can achieve. Most of the above is NGO rhetoric. Little to no ‘capacity building’ or ‘knowledge transfer’ occurs from western ‘fly-by-night’ architects (even when small scale workshops do occur) and all SIA evaluation this far has only proved the failure of upscale due to the ignorance to symbolic modernity assets and value systems that will always greatly overpower any foreign pragmatic ideal towards ‘adaptation’ of the ‘vernacular’.
    There is now even more evidence being cited on the damages ‘humanitarian architecture’ creates by it’s good intentions than the marginal good consequences it brings.
    Suggest you read books like Participation: the new tyranny, Seeing Like a State; how certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed, Crisis Caravan, The Shock Doctrine, Dead Aid etc. etc…and if you really still don’t want to believe it, read any of the numerous findings from leading anthropologists and development practitioners in the field on new imperialism and post-development theory. Or, read Ivan Illich’s speech from 1968 ‘To hell with good intentions’ for a suggestion on where good intentioned are better focussed on. Or, read about how many CBO’s are now telling shelter practitioners to f£££k off and let them do it themselves (Seeds India being the most famous of examples, but I have seen many others in the field). A25 is a consultancy practice that utilises the good volunteering will of UK firms and creates a market for itself in vulnerable and often voiceless nations for it’s own self-fulfilling benefit. If architects in the UK really want to do some good. Do pro bono work at home.
    You should have stuck to your gut instinct. ‘problems were definitely accentuated instead of solved’ and their approach only goes to ‘alleviate their problems in a short term basis’.

  2. Thank you very much Chesney for your very interesting comment. I will most definitely look into all the books/articles you suggest. I agree I was very naive and romantic to write what i did and eventually i realised it. You cannot blame one for wishful thinking, which i guess is the phase to go through before ultimately realising the harsh truth.

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