An architect or a designer is often touted as a person who is only accessible to the elite or the privileged. They are considered to be professionals who reiterate aesthetically enhanced volumes for the rich or add fine infrastructure into a public setting for corporate or commercial purposes. However, architecture is beyond that. Architecture has got the ability to affect the mannerisms of how people behave with each other. It has the power to create stories and communities and thus, playing a pivotal role in formulating a culture. It has the power to make a statement on behalf of the people residing in it and using it. Thus, an architect does have the ability to empower its users.

Therefore, here are 5 examples of how architects can empower the people.

1. Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa, Designers-VPUU (Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading)

Khayelitsha, Cape Town in South Africa showcases how a resilient community could be established by using convivial tools of urban design and architecture. Khayelitsha is one of the youngest townships in South Africa built in the 1980s and is an example of how the local authority tried to concentrate the growing Black African population at the periphery of the city. With no economic base or industry, the area started to inculcate extremely high crime rates and very poor hygienic conditions. Thus, it became an ignored and marginalized region of the city of Cape Town.

However, VPUU (Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading) – an organization of architects, urban designers, landscape architects, and community help group representatives -was formed to curb the issues at Khayelitsha. With the help of the existing community help groups, VPUU worked with the people of Khayelitsha and by explicitly using the concepts of Urban Acupuncture and participatory design process, they came up with interventions (creating movement networks, establishing a visual connection through landmarks, activating edges and introducing signage) that were responsive to community needs and well being. As a result of which, the crime rates in the area decreased by 33% and with the improvement in the physical environment, the community began to have better economic opportunities facilitating a better social living.

Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa, Designers-VPUU (Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading) - Sheet1
The Neighbourhood Centre Active Box is Monwabisi Park’s first permanent brick and mortar building©VPUU
Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa, Designers-VPUU (Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading) - Sheet2
The Neighbourhood Centre Active Box is Monwabisi Park’s first permanent brick and mortar building©VPUU
Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa, Designers-VPUU (Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading) - Sheet3
The Neighbourhood Centre Active Box is Monwabisi Park’s first permanent brick and mortar building©VPUU
The Neighbourhood Centre Active Box is Monwabisi Park’s first permanent brick and mortar building©VPUU

2. Tapis Rouge Public Space, Haiti, Designers-Emergent Vernacular Architecture (EVA Studio)

This is an informal public space in Carrefour-Feuilles in Haiti built under the LAMIKA (“A better life in my neighborhood”) program. The design targets to enable a multifunctional public space that could facilitate and encourage social cohesion through a comprehensive approach.

Carrefour-Feuilles suffered extensive damage in the 2010 earthquake along with its many other informal neighborhoods.

This community-oriented public space understands the cultural setting in which it is established in and lets the social relations prosper. Placing community participation and engagement as the crux of the design process, Eva Studio facilitates power to a local community and instills among them a sense of pride, identity, and ownership through this public space.

This public space is a combination of open areas and an open amphitheater, the latter forming the center of this informal plaza. Each step of the amphitheater is articulated very uniquely. One row is engaged by outdoor exercise equipment and seatings while the locally-made blue pavers cover the surface of another one that gives way to terraces of greenery, each with different plants. A row of palm trees planted along the last row obscures storage tanks for the adjacent water distribution station.

The peripheral wall of the site has been renovated by the community and local artists with colorful murals. The designs of the murals are a result of the community engagement workshops where artists discussed the value of art with people from the neighborhood. These made the neighborhood visually more connected, safe, and culturally more interactive.

Tapis Rouge Public Space, Haiti, Designers-Emergent Vernacular Architecture (EVA Studio) - Sheet1
Tapis Rouge public space in an informal neighborhood in Haiti ©Archdaily
Tapis Rouge Public Space, Haiti, Designers-Emergent Vernacular Architecture (EVA Studio) - Sheet2
Tapis Rouge public space in an informal neighborhood in Haiti ©Archdaily
Tapis Rouge Public Space, Haiti, Designers-Emergent Vernacular Architecture (EVA Studio) - Sheet3
Tapis Rouge public space in an informal neighborhood in Haiti ©Archdaily
Tapis Rouge Public Space, Haiti, Designers-Emergent Vernacular Architecture (EVA Studio) - Sheet4
Tapis Rouge public space in an informal neighborhood in Haiti ©Archdaily

3. Villa Verde, Chile, Designers-ELEMENTAL -Alejandro Aravena

When the town of Constitucion in Chile was hit by an earthquake, most of its buildings were torn down to the ground. Villa Verde by the studio ELEMENTAL led by Alejandro Aravena is a result of a master plan created to provide roofs over the heads of people who were displaced as a result of the earthquake. The design consisted of populating the area with “two-story half houses” where the other half was left to be constructed by the residents according to their needs; leaving room to instill in them a sense of pride and ownership after the tragedy. This would enable them to define spaces suitable for themselves rather than being imposed upon by corporate designs.

Villa Verde, Chile, Designers-ELEMENTAL -Alejandro Aravena - Sheet1
Elemental’s Controversial Social Housing ©Archdaily
Villa Verde, Chile, Designers-ELEMENTAL -Alejandro Aravena - Sheet2
Elemental’s Controversial Social Housing ©Archdaily
Villa Verde, Chile, Designers-ELEMENTAL -Alejandro Aravena - Sheet3
Elemental’s Controversial Social Housing ©Archdaily
Villa Verde, Chile, Designers-ELEMENTAL -Alejandro Aravena - Sheet4
Elemental’s Controversial Social Housing ©Archdaily

4. Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation Headquarters, Liverbille, Gabon, Designer-David Adjaye

The Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation’s headquarters in Liverbille in Gabon focuses on women. It encourages entrepreneurship and micro-financing projects for women and families as well as efforts to eradicate poverty in isolated areas of the country.

The new design of the headquarters by David Adjaye allows for an extremely interactive environment with the foundation – something which never happened before. The open nature of the façade and the organization of spaces enables a sense of community, identity, and territoriality. This piece of infrastructure serves as an extremely relatable built space as it wraps in itself many elements of the African Architecture layer after layer. This encourages the people to interact with the place more because of which, the activities of the organization get strengthened all the more; thus, being able to serve the people well.

Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation Headquarters, Liverbille, Gabon, Designer-David Adjaye - Sheet1
Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation Headquarters, Liverbille, Gabon ©Archdaily
Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation Headquarters, Liverbille, Gabon, Designer-David Adjaye - Sheet2
Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation Headquarters, Liverbille, Gabon ©Archdaily

5. Resilient South City, San Francisco, Designers-Hassell Studio

Hassell’s scheme for South San Francisco-an area extremely prone to storms, floods, and earthquakes -is a part is part of the Resilient by Day Bay Area Challenge which is a program that combines the imagination, intellect, and know-how of residents, local authorities and national and international professionals whose brief is to come up with a creative, community-based solution to curb sea level rise, severe storms, flooding, and earthquakes.

Using tools like community engagement, research, and inclusive design process, Hassell was able to map out ways to make this city more studier and alter the area’s real and symbolic separation from water. This is proposed to be achieved by the restoration of public access to these water bodies and creating more parks and open spaces. This approach could make these areas more approachable and enjoyable for the community and reduce the impacts of flooding, build resilience to sea-level rise and yield the native flora and fauna. Changing the way the community interacts with the landscape by the designers could make the community more resilient.

Resilient South City, San Francisco, Designers-Hassell Studio - Sheet1
Resilient South City, San Francisco ©Hassell
Resilient South City, San Francisco, Designers-Hassell Studio - Sheet2
Resilient South City, San Francisco ©Hassell
Resilient South City, San Francisco, Designers-Hassell Studio - Sheet3
Resilient South City, San Francisco ©Hassell

Therefore, to conclude, a designer should never underestimate the power he holds. As an architect, one should know that people make the place what it is. By providing means and resources through design and collaboration can help empower communities and enrich their living conditions. It also will change the perspective through which people perceive the space and one’s role as an architect is to be the facilitator of social innovation by distributing spatial understanding and skills.

Architectural Journalist

Rethinking The Future

Melbourne

For Michelle Thomas, architecture could be described as an afterthought decision of life. However, her fondness for writing has always been innate. A soon to be graduate of Masters of Landscape Architecture from RMIT, Melbourne, she always found writing as the most sincere medium for communication and expression to build a narrative of architecture design.

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