When cities grow, fuelled by an expanding population, housing becomes an essential component of the urban character of a metropolis. Across the world, housing experiments have been propagated by governments and states, with mixed results, and undoubtedly mixed opinions. The Soviet-era housing estates of Central and Eastern Europe are particularly interesting in that regard. These mass housing projects have been dismissed as eyesores and viewed as unimaginative monolithic structures. The legacy of these developments, however, is a lot more complicated than that.
BA (Hons) Architecture Graduate from the University of Kent and Junior Collaborator at ArchDaily. Born and raised in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; interested in housing, urbanism, heritage - and how we live in our cities.
Almost seven kilometers from the green of Uhuru Park in central Nairobi, lies the informal settlement of Kibera. It is an area whose urban character consists of corrugated iron roofs, mud walls, and a complicated network of utility poles. Kibera, at this point in time, is a well-known place. Much has been written and researched on this “city within a city,” from its infrastructural issues to its navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In New Mexico, irrigation channels that have been in continuous operation for three centuries replenish and nourish the wetlands of the American Southwest. These channels are known as Acequias – communally managed water systems built on democratic tradition. Members of the community own water rights, who then elect a three-person team to oversee the channels. In Cairo and Barcelona, Tahrir Square and Plaza de Catalunya have acted as important sites for voicing political dissatisfaction. The Tahrir Square protests of 2011, for instance, resulted in the eventual toppling of an almost 30-year-old government.
It’s a ubiquitous architectural form. An architectural typology that spans centuries and borders, a staple across cultures. The tent. In its simplest form – it’s a shelter, with material draped over a frame of poles. It’s an architectural language that is intrinsically linked to nomadic living. Yurts, for instance, functions as an easily portable dwelling for the Kazakh and Kyrgyz peoples. At the same time, tents have proved a popular stylistic precedent for architects, the lightweight structures of German architect Frei Paul Otto being a case in point. The tent is a complicated architectural language – one that straddles the line between temporary and permanent, and one that also functions as a symbol of wealth and a symbol of scarcity.
The 22nd of March 2022 saw the twenty-ninth commemoration of World Water Day – as a worldwide water crisis continues to leave populations vulnerable. It is an extremely multi-faceted issue. Governance sadly determines water accessibility, with marginalized people disproportionally affected. Urban typologies are another factor. The over-pumping of groundwater sources to meet the water demands of Hanoi, for instance, has resulted in arsenic being drawn into Vietnam’s village wells.
For centuries and centuries we’ve built – and the diversity in our global built environment is a testament to that. The many different cultures around the globe have had different ways of building throughout history, adapting locally found materials to construct their structures. Today, in our globalized present, building materials are transported across the globe far from their origins, a situation that means two buildings on completely opposites sides of the world can be more or less identical.
The comic strip, la bande dessinée, the graphic novel. These are all part of a medium with an intrinsic connection to architectural storytelling. It’s a medium that has long been used to fantasise and speculate on possible architectural futures, or in a less spectacular context, used as a device to simply show the perspectival journey through an architectural project. When the comic strip meshes fiction with architectural imagination, however, it’s not only the speculation on future architectural scenarios that takes place. It’s also the recording and the critiquing of the urban conditions of either our contemporary cities or the cities of the past.
The built environment we inhabit can be hostile, both on an individual architectural scale and in a wider urban context. Homeless people, for instance, are dissuaded from resting on public benches by the menacing presence of spikes and other forms of exclusionary design. From a global lens, we see the impact that borders have amidst anti-immigration hostility, imposingly exemplified by the Melilla border fence on the Morocco-Spain border. This “hostility” can be found in a large number of settlements around the world, settlements that have been formed as a result of organic migration or settlements predicated on control – like company towns.
Cities are growing, and they are growing upwards. This is far from just being a contemporary phenomenon of course – for more than a century, high-rises have been an integral part of urban settlements worldwide. This growing of cities encompasses a complex web of processes – advancements in transport links, urbanisation, and migration to mention a few. This growth of cities, however, is all too often linked with governmental failure to adequately support all facets of the urban population. Informal settlements are then born – people carving out spaces for themselves to live amidst a lack of state support.
Across the globe, museums function as cultural landmarks – spaces of significance that quite often become defining symbols of a city’s architectural landscape. Historical examples such as the Museum de Fundatie in the Netherlands and The Louvre Museum in France continue to attract millions of visitors, with contemporary architectural interventions to them redefining their spatial contribution to their local context.