The term anthropology is composed of the ancient Greek word “anthropos = human being” and “logos = speech, knowledge, teaching”. The semantics of the term indicates its meaning. Anthropology seeks to explore knowledge about the human being in all its forms. Since this science is about solving a highly holistic task, it is subdivided into different subgroups and scientific foci.
The scientific subgroup called ethnography is concerned with the study of social and cultural human-environment relations. Understanding culture as a social construct is based on the consensus in the patterns of thought and behaviour of a society.
According to this understanding, a society’s culture is to be equated with its way of life and the respective world view. The human being is a socially and culturally shaped construct, which structures its social action based on cognitive experiences.
“We create collective spaces to connect urban actors.”
In the design phase of urban planners, it is essential to analyse the social conditions to create functionally adaptive and comfortable spaces. This mediation of the individual actors’ needs is always linked to a holistic self-understanding of the built environment’s influence on people. In a social age in which community work and participatory involvement are becoming increasingly present in communes or cooperatives, the task of architects is changing increasingly towards that of interdisciplinary mediators.
With the aim of “increasing the sense of place and sustainability in master planning, urban development and related challenges”, Hélène Veiga Gomas found the studio H+V/G. The Portuguese researcher pursues a PhD in Urban Anthropology, teaches social sciences at the Architecture School of Paris Marquis and mediates cultural projects based on community engagement with the studio.
The studio’s working method is divided into three steps: First, the focus is on ethnographic assessment, which goes hand in hand with community involvement and local presence. Next, research is based on empirical data and a design combining analysis and synthesis is attempted. As a last essential step, the studio understands the exchange of knowledge and the inclusion of all actors in feedback.
Here are 5 projects by H+V/G:
1. Escuta – Multimedia, Lisbon, 2018/2019
The social interventions that arise in growing cities, such as Lisbon, in urban development have a particular impact on the weaker members of the community. An intervention plan consisting of a variety of bottom-up projects is designed to help achieve inclusion and improve life quality.
First, three main categories were defined: Ageing, Cultural Diversity and Rentability. Escuta serves as a channel of communication both in the auditory medium in Escuta Radio and as an exhibition medium through Escuta Gallery. This creates a platform for consuming information but at the same time encourages participation via the provision of information.
This three-year project has made a significant contribution: on the one hand, thematically, and in the sense of processing the materials and selecting media to communicate the aspects learned. The use of appropriate media for research is essential.
In communicating the learned aspects, it is worthwhile to try out contemporary media, such as interviews, musical installations, podcasts to name a few.
2. Matrioshka, Research – Paris, 2016/2017
This project addresses an essential unresolved feature of design and architecture, the user-centered critical elaboration of innovative design. Matrioshka is a spatial installation, mobile and sustainable, that generates a hybrid learning hub. The task of H+V/G Studio was to critically question the functionality and acceptance of this installation by the user groups.
This was done in a one-year survey “based on qualitative (observation, interviews and photography) and quantitative research (online survey)”. This important contribution counteracts the lack of critical engagement with design after its implementation.
3. Everything we hear… – Curating, Lisbon, 2014
“… And Many Things We Don’t.”As part of the first edition of the Lisbon Festival of Anthropology, Cinema and Art in 2014, a pop-up exhibition was designed with seven artists and three experts to explore the audible landscape of a city. With this approach, human perception’s auditory aspect is simultaneously explored in research and artistic way.
The exhibition medium also offers a platform to raise awareness “to question the role of sound as matter and immersive media, the pieces interconnect narratives situated between exterior and interior, political and intimate, memory and presence.”
4. Companhia Limitada – Photography, Lisbon, 2013
This photographic examination focuses on an isolated population group in Lisbon, that of the elderly and disabled. Without the intention of staging, the residents are accompanied in their daily lives, and thus, capturing a real-time image.
The respective home was then chosen as the platform of performance, thus revising the actor and spectator’s definition and introducing another form and availability of art representation.
5. Intendente’ (s) – Exhibition, Lisbon, 2012
This project serves as an example of how to do tangible participatory work. Intendant is a newly renovated city square in Lisbon that recent years’ gentrification has very much exposed. To counteract the “patronising” way of designers and, at the same time, draw attention to them, 15 residents were equipped with a disposable camera. They were asked to take photos on their daily routes, all during the construction period of the renovated square.
Afterwards, the participants were asked to comment on their photographs. The aspects that emerged through the interviews pointed to a discrepancy between the planned and as-is perception of spaces; and a difference in pre emphasis. In several exhibitions, this real-life snapshot of local people’s perception was given space for expression and thus allowed to be heard.
“All our projects start with the implementation of a creative ethnography and ends up with the sharing of the anthropological insights.”
These five exemplary projects demonstrate the studio’s innovative approach to research. Summing up the essence of ethnographic architecture in this studio’s example, the actors put people and their lives at the centre of her work.
Using various media, the city’s residents are repurposed as a resource, knowledge sharing is encouraged, and a common goal is created based on the consensus of city improvement.