Violent cities result from social and economic inequality, which also affects the urban landscape and the way we live. In honor of International Cities Day, we have selected a series of projects to reflect on non-violent ways of using public space.
In the 1970s, in Berkeley, California, a group of disability rights activists called the Rolling Quads began dismantling curbs and improvising sidewalk ramps, demanding access for wheelchair users. But what people did not expect was that wheelchair users would not be the only ones to benefit from the intervention. Soon, pedestrians with baby strollers, heavy suitcases or simply with reduced mobility started using the ramps. Likewise, a gender-inclusive city works better for everyone. A city where all gender minorities of different ages and abilities can move around easily and safely, participate fully in the workforce and public life, live healthy, sociable and active lives, is a city that improves everyone's lives.
Earlier this year, I witnessed an intriguing situation. I followed, via an architect friend, the negotiation for the contracting of an architectural project for a single family home. The land owner, a public school teacher, sought professional help to build her dream home, estimated at about 60 square meters. It was a challenging terrain, with specific cutouts and a very steep topography that was compensated by the view of the city. The limited budget and the owner's history indicated that this would be the seaside version of the famous Vila Matilde House by Terra e Tuma.
Many of us agree that design is still not considered for everyone. That is why we must ask ourselves what is truly democratic in the matters of design - in order to define our vision toward a more just society. From the perspective of architecture and urbanism, we can look at this democratization from different angles, including citizens in participatory processes, in order to find answers to our constant search to improve habitability and accessibility.
A public program fulfills several functions that, in addition to improving the social dynamics of the surroundings, can be an important factor in increasing the feeling of belonging, the offer of jobs and services, and the quality of life in the area. Therefore, after presenting popular housing projects developed in Brazilian communities, we searched for cultural equipment that occupy rural and urban areas that are less privileged in terms of infrastructure.
Architecture has long been a profession in aesthetic apartheid. The profession’s favored aesthetic, Modernism, has relegated all other “styles” to marginalized insignificance in laud, teaching and publication. The last generation has seen those following an aesthetic deemed “traditional” create an entirely separate system of schools, awards and publication.
“Architecture does not change anything. It’s always on the side of the wealthy.” With these words, Oscar Niemeyer referred to architecture as being a privilege mostly destined to the upper class – a statement that has historically proven to be true, even as some would like to deny it. Today, only 2% of all houses around the world are designed by architects. This is largely due to the fact that, to the average consumer, architect-designed homes continue to be perceived as expensive and esoteric products available only to this select few; a luxury that many cannot fathom to afford, especially as housing prices rise. Ultimately, this makes good design inaccessible for certain segments, forcing them to settle for precarious living conditions in standardized spaces that fail to take their needs into account (that is, if they even have access to housing).
Built environments are a reflection of the social order and dynamic ideals of society. Neighborhoods and cities are cultural relics shaped by diverse communities, some of whose voices are heard louder than others. In the past few decades, Indian metropolitans have been booming with urbanization. Holding cities back from being Utopian hubs of growth is spatial inequality. The residential segregation that patterns the cities of India can be understood through the caste system. The issue, however, is largely intersectional. Forces rooted in class, religion, and gender also structure the country's social landscape.
In 2016, Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena announced that his firm, ELEMENTAL, had released the rights to four of their social housing projects, and all documents would be uploaded to their website for public use. Aravena’s goal was to start a movement in which architects would work together to tackle the world’s challenges around housing shortages and affordability, especially with increased migration. The shared drawing sets and a description of the project’s principles provide architects with the necessary documentation for building a low-cost home, encouraging designers to do the same with their work, contractors to assist in building these homes, and governments to shift their thinking of how they can approach mass urbanization. Six years later, how has the concept of open-source architecture progressed, and how has it impacted the architectural profession ever since?
On a clear fall day in 2005, a group of friends and collaborators from the art collective Rebar commandeered an 8-foot-wide by 20-foot-long metered parking space in downtown San Francisco. This two-hour guerilla art installation evolved into Park(ing) Day, a global public art and design activism event that has been celebrated every year since. In 2009, Rebar and other design studios were approached by the City of San Francisco to prototype a more permanent version of Park(ing) Day. In response, we created one of the world’s first parklets in San Francisco (we called our version walklet), and through the diligent efforts of Andres Power in the Mayor’s Office and City Planning, San Francisco’s pioneering parklet program was born.