Intervention in Human Rights has, until now, had very few models in the architecture profession. There are the non-profit organizations and NGO’s. They often focus on structures and spaces that have been decimated by natural disasters or military conflict. Then there is the Forensic Architecture approach which seeks to document exactly what people have undergone in those circumstances. Most architecture activists, however, fall into the first category, focusing on building or re-building.
While these models are very useful, they contain some inherent problems. One is that many of these organizations have predetermined agendas that dictate their intervention. Part of this is driven by the funding cycle: donors are not always inspired by the thought of funding a pig farm, but the idea of a new school designed by a famous architect makes an attractive selling point for new and continuing donors. Too often, however, that results in projects that are disconnected from the actual needs of local populations. Unneeded buildings are a waste of resources, time, money, and labor.
Continue reading the school profile after the break
The work at The School of Architecture and Design (SoA+D) at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT), in Bangkok, Thailand, has a different idea. In conjunction with Centre for Architecture and Human Rights, or CAHR, they begin by asking, what do urban regeneration projects, expressways, and disaster relief have in common? “They all involve engineers, architects and planners and they all result in the displacement of people – typically the poor.”
In fact, according to CAHR, “Development-induced displacement accounts for more forced evictions than all other causes combined,” including displacement from natural disasters, military conflict, and political persecution. People “are [therefore] not seeking a ‘Right to Development’ but often protection from it [italics mine].” He explains that “‘development-induced displacement’ is something I took from the World Bank and it [is] a common euphemism for forced eviction resulting from any form of development – dams, expressways, gentrification, beautification and so on.”
“The problem of rights, exclusion, and growing poverty and powerlessness in the face of development has not gone away,” he continues. “The profession of architecture, despite its pleadings about being apolitical, is in the middle of this battle between the many and the few. There was a brief period in the 60s and early 70s, on the heels of advocacy planners such as Paul Davidoff, when architecture students were pushing for much greater engagement by the profession in the civil rights movement. By the 80s it seemed as if such notions should be relegated to the nostalgia closet along with bell-bottoms and folk music. If that is to change – if the architectural profession is to fight against its history of elitism – it must start in the schools of architecture with an alternative view of the profession.”
KMUTT provides students training in this alternative view. There, students learn how to re-think and re-define architecture in terms that transcend aesthetics, building, and design to encompass social concepts such Cultural Rights, Land Rights, Worker’ Rights, Forced Evictions, and Right to Access. Issues including poverty, healthcare, and education are all integral to this approach. Specifically, in collaboration with Professor Bristol and CAHR, KMUTT offers yearly electives and a “Community Design” studio, “which begins with the Habitat Agenda and then works with a specific vulnerable community in applying that agenda. This is done through participatory exercises in alternative planning.”
One such SOAD studio project was to design and construct a portable community space and school for migrant construction workers and their children in the Lad Prao area of Bangkok. Even more exciting, within a year, KMUTT will be incorporating an entire Community Design Program track in its architecture school.
Tuition and fees
So what are the details in attending this school? Degrees on offer include both B.Arch and M.Arch. The tuition is 50,000 Baht/year which equals €1260.77 Euro or $1628.67 US, while the school estimates that living expenses and accommodations will add another €7564.62 Euro or $9771.99 US . For anyone who has enquired into schools either in North America or Europe, this is an absolute bargain. The classes are taught in English and a minimum TOEFL score of 550 is required. Application requirements also includes a portfolio, two letters of recommendation, and a high school transcript for the B.Arch. For the M.Arch, or M.Sc in Design Planning one needs a B.A. or B.S. GPA of 2.75 or better. There are also scholarships and fellowships available for students who have proven a track record of excellence.
The program at KMUTT is truly innovative and unique in its vision of Human Rights and architecture and one hopes that their model will be replicated by other architecture schools.