After independence, the colonized regions spent the upcoming decades transitioning from a globalized economy integrated into the British empire to an independent entity trying to create their own identity and catch up with the Global North in terms of capital and development. In this era of rapid growth and development, the need for architects and skilled labor was more relevant than ever. The accelerated growth of population combined with the rate of urbanization called for the need for infrastructure required for healthy living.
Owing to industrialization and colonization, the relationship between the maker and the object becomes complex. The need to preserve and continue the tradition and culture of the built form and the knowledge passed on by the forefathers is prevalent. Moreover, the possibility of incorporating the technology and techniques of the North can help bring the proficiency the South desires.
However, to be able to bridge the gap between the knowledge imparted from an external body and the knowledge existing amongst the local labor force, it is important to understand the relationships between the builder and the various stakeholders. Depending on the relationship between the stakeholders- client, architect, manufacturer, the contractor- and the contextual need, the approach of the building practice varies.
According to Duccio Alfredo Turin, building practice approaches are categorized into four broad categories:
- One-off approach: This is when not only the product but the process and training are unique and tailor-made to the client’s requirements.
- Component approach: The manufacturer takes on a prominent position and the parts or modules are standardized for ease of construction.
- Model approach: The contractor takes on a prominent role to overlook the construction process. In this, the final product or the method of constructing it is standardized.
- Process approach: By creating a team involving the various stakeholders, is a more coherent and collaborative approach.
L.D. Museum of Indology, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
This was Doshi’s first public building after his time at Corbusier’s office. Therefore, he used not only his spatial knowledge but also introduced concrete as a material. The institute is one of the first examples of precast concrete members. (Wilson, 2017)
Reinforced concrete was a new technology at the time and took a lot of effort on the part of the architect to train the labor force the skill of pouring concrete with equipment not designed for the task. Due to the combination of both precast and concrete cast in-situ, the amount of skilled labor needed was reduced and the workers learned the use of concrete on site.
As Doshi points out, Indians are known for their ingenuity in using materials for multiple tasks. Hence, concrete was not used as concrete was truly meant to be used. He changed the detailing type to be similar to that of wood since it was a language the laborers were fluent in. (Wilson, 2017)
Doshi, not only applied his understanding of the structure, but also applied his knowledge of the culture, climate, and skills of the Indian workers to his ordering system. For example, there is a concrete screen wall on the southern facade that follows the repetitive pattern of the structure beyond and yet has no structural or climatic importance. Its existence seems unnecessary except for a definition of space at the edge of the patio.
Doshi used this to be a scaffolding during the construction process, knowing that construction waste and skill of construction was not a luxury he could depend on.
Community Library, Ambepussa, Sri Lanka
Following the years of the civil war, the construction of the Community Library in Ambepussa intended to train soldiers with the help of the local communities, to equip them with a skill set for post-military life.
This not only provides the soldiers with employment opportunities but also caters to the scarcity of skilled labor force in Sri Lanka. The workers are also given a certificate after their training which would help them gain further employment opportunities. (Pathiraja, 2021)
The soldiers, having served for their country are already able-bodied individuals that are respected in the community. Hence, the architect merely provided them with a platform, i.e. the site, to train under the local skilled labor force. In turn, the use of unskilled workers through suitable up-skilling strategies, the immediate labor expenditure is reduced and could result in a financial advantage over alternative products and processes, with the added socio-cultural benefit of society.
The design was hence made flexible, adaptable, and robust, which would allow for workmanship errors. In this approach, the process and components are standardized in accordance with the local skill-set, and the involvement of the workforce in the early stages is imperative.
Labor training vs task complexity is laid out to predict the errors that might occur and further simplify the construction process. The entire construction process was analyzed along with the skill set it requires, and a detailed task plan with modules, components, and sample labor gang required was laid out.
Local construction techniques like rammed earth wall were used which were known by the local labor force and is a skill set that the soldiers could attain which was widely used in Sri Lanka and could provide further employment opportunities. (Pathiraja, 2021)
Ilima Primary School, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Africa
In many countries in Africa, the role of an architect is a fairly new concept that was acknowledged by rapid urbanization. MASS Design Group is an external body that is trying to accelerate this growth and development by training individuals to become architects and establish their role and importance in space making in the context. Hence, bridging the communication gap between the project team and the community is necessary.
MASS implemented a building process called LoFab or Locally Fabricated. Through this, they develop strategies to engage the builders on-site and the greater community. They held meetings with various stakeholders involved throughout the design and construction process. They also created employment opportunities by hiring 120 locals, 20% of whom were women.
Due to the language barrier and the lack of training, there have been instances in the past where the communication gap, in terms of language and inability to read drawings, led to improper construction sequencing that led to the malfunction of the structural system which further led to significant cost implications and redesigning. Through workshops with builders, they were able to empower them to interpret drawings which allowed for a more collaborative building process. (Medium., 2021)
MASS approaches design in a collaborative manner with the community not only creating a sense of ownership amongst the community but also providing them with the skill set required to further maintain the school.
Looking at the example of the L.D. Museum of Indology, Doshi follows the component approach and designs keeping in mind the knowledge of the local labor force, and introduces precast elements as a standard component to work with. Whereas, in the Ambepussa Community Library, Milinda Pathiraja approaches the project through the model approach by standardizing the skills, labor force, and the processes involved throughout the making.
The above two examples were of architects that gained knowledge from elsewhere and then came back to their country of origin where they could relate to the culture and traditions of the locals. However, MASS Design Group, being an external entity that attempts to understand and empower the local culture and tradition, takes on the process approach. By involving the community through every stage of their design they aim for a holistic and community-integrated output.
With the L.D. Museum, Doshi takes it upon himself to introduce new technology, i.e. concrete, among the workers, in an attempt to impart and spread the knowledge he gained from his time with Le Corbusier. Milinda Pathiraja aimed to tackle the gap between the high rate of unemployment and the dire need for a skilled workforce, by making his buildings to be grounds for training. MASS takes on a different approach to tackle the needs of the people by directly providing infrastructure like schools that would help the community. Moreover, they use this platform as a way to educate more individuals to pursue and give a renewed definition to the role of an architect.
In all the three building practices, there is a larger intent with a socio-cultural cause that brings to light the communication barrier between the architect and the labor the importance of bridging that gap. Looking at these approaches laid out by Turin and understanding the architect’s role through these case studies, it can be inferred that the model and component approaches are subsets of the process approach.
While they all try to involve the various stakeholders, the process approach integrates all parties involved throughout the design process and the resultant is a participatory approach which if implemented in the other approaches would not only provide employment opportunities, or introduce new material, but could achieve all of the above to make it a more integrated and holistic product.
The role of an architect as a binder is not an isolated strategy but has a larger impact on empowering the stakeholders. Ironically, this strategy of treating the process of building as a training ground for the workforce equips them with the skills needed to be able to operate without the architect as a binder and for them to themselves take charge of the development of their nation.
Medium. 2021. Breaking the Communication Barrier Between Architects and Builders Across Cultures. [online] Available at: <https://medium.com/autodesk-university/breaking-the-communication-barrier-between-architects-and-builders-across-cultures-d106faa02af8> [Accessed 1 June 2021].
Pathiraja, M., 2021. Procurement Strategy as Means of Capacity Building in Sri Lanka: Architecture, Design and Labour Training. [online] Irbnet.de. Available at: <https://www.irbnet.de/daten/iconda/CIB_DC24259.pdf> [Accessed 1 June 2021].
Wilson, A., 2017. Institute of Indology,Ahmedabad. [online] Issuu. Available at: <https://issuu.com/alexwilson09/docs/indology_study> [Accessed 1 June 2021].