Architecture is often understood as being the art and craft of designing buildings and constructing them. It, however, performs functions more complex than merely enclosing space in a meaningful form. The architecture of a place is a reflection of society and the progress of civilization. Architecture is a function of the social, political, and economic conditions of the society and as such affects each of them equally reciprocally. The effect it has can be positive or negative depending on how it is utilized and the objectives it limits itself to. It is a constant work in progress and architects around the world are constantly engaged in extending the means of design to alleviate or eliminate social inequities prevalent in society. There is a rising awareness with regards to such elements that architecture can help reduce through design interventions. 

Here’s a look at 10 such social evils prevalent in the society that architecture can and must eradicate:

1. Gender Disparity

It is a proven fact that the gender disparity and prejudices present in society at large have translated in real tangible ways onto the physical environment we inhabit. Architecture can be a very potent tool in this scenario to lessen this gap and provide more gender-equal spaces. By enhancing equal distribution of facilities meant for all genders, making spaces safer for use by women, accommodating specific needs of all genders into the design, and ensuring proper lighting of spaces are some of the strategies that could be adopted.

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Frauen-Werk-Stadt (Women-Work-City) designed by women in Vienna has specially designed flexible layouts to incorporate specific requirements such as pram storage on each level, wider stairwells, flexible interior layouts, low height of the building ensuring eyes on the street.©www.theguardian.com
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Frauen-Werk-Stadt (Women-Work-City) designed by women in Vienna has specially designed flexible layouts to incorporate specific requirements such as pram storage on each level, wider stairwells, flexible interior layouts, low height of the building ensuring eyes on the street.©www.theguardian.com

2. Inequitable access

The accessibility of spaces is one of the most fundamental design objectives. The design should not by any means exclude any group of people based on their physical disability, gender, age, class, or caste. The importance of barrier-free design has only just acquired the required amount of attention and due consideration in the field of design. This needs to extend to the creation of more all-inclusive spaces in the future.

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This street designed by architect Prasanna Desai at Aundh, Pune, Maharashtra provides a good case for equal access with special attention given to the requirements of disabled people. ©punemirror.indiatimes.com

3. Class-based segregation of basic amenities

There is an increasing tendency seen today of strict segregation of public spaces based on class-specific groups. The lines between private and public are becoming more rigid, a marked reduction is seen in the development of quality public spaces for all, and privatization of public spaces through sheer economic and political clout has been generalized. This leaves a large section of the population deprived of basic amenities such as public parks, playgrounds, and other public spaces. Simple design interventions such as the creation of barrier-free democratic spaces and mixed-use development patterns can be adopted in this case.

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During the 1990’s plans to build an elevated highway called the Inner Ring Expressway was scrapped in favor of Enrique Penalosa’s 45-kilometer greenway that now connects low-income neighborhoods to the downtown, and includes a mass-transit system that revolutionized bus rapid transit and carries 1.8 million people, and over 300 kilometers of bike lanes. ©intermediatelandscapes.wordpress.com

4. Illicit social threats – providing safer spaces

Architecture can by way of simple design changes instill a higher sense of safety in neighborhoods thus avoiding/reducing the occurrence of criminal incidences. Design considerations such as ensuring eyes on the street by distributing activities in neighborhoods that ensure footfall at different times of the day, creating strong ground connections for buildings adjacent to streets rather than closing off access behind large imposing compound walls gives a sense of safety, creating compound walls that allow for visual connections making streets and sidewalks more open and lastly, providing proper lighting design can make a massive difference in the experience of a street or a public space.

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New York City Street on Earth Day ©Flickr

5. Public defecation/urination

It is an unfortunate circumstance that we still live in a world that has failed to create sufficient awareness of the health hazards of public defecation. Not only is it a nuisance to the environment but it is unconducive to the health of the poor themselves. The need to inculcate better systems and provide long term sustainable models of public utilities such as toilets is very crucial. The need to provide enough facilities that would cater to all is urgent. The design can help encourage their regular usage.

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The CEPT Research and Development Foundation worked with the local municipal authority and some private consultants to provide a complete solution for solid waste management and sewage treatment at Wai in Maharashtra to make the city free from open defecation ©pas.org.in

6. Squatter settlements

Squatter settlements have been a permanent and frequently surfacing issue in most cities in India. The reasons for their existence are manifold and usually tied with social, economic, and political conditions in society. However, while the debates for housing solutions may continue, the reality of their existence is undeniable. There needs to be a policy level intervention that discourages the appropriation of public land for such settlements, to provide sustainable and affordable housing solutions to accommodate the people living in these settlements and give them a sense of ownership and belongingness in society.

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The Vietnam Urban Upgrading Project has helped to provide housing solutions to the various scattered urban poor in cities like Ho Chi Minh. ©borgenproject.org

7. Congested living environments

As cities grow denser and more populated, the need for breathing spaces increases while the availability of land decreases. It is, however, giving rise to dense neighborhoods where people live amidst a sea of towering concrete jungles. This seriously affects the quality of life, mental well-being of people, and their lifespan. Strict policies need to be implemented and followed to provide proportional and well-designed open public spaces at every neighborhood level.

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Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore designed by the RMJM Group makes a striking example highlighting the importance of nature with the overall well-being of people ©www.go-gba.org

8. Disorder and indiscipline in living habitats

The society and its architecture largely mirror each other in terms of their qualities. A haphazard growth of a neighborhood results in a disorderly environment. People do not feel a sense of belonging to their neighborhood and therefore don’t feel the necessity to maintain it properly. Their lack of interest results in utter disregard and indiscipline for the common places which eventually fall into total disrepair. The design of a neighborhood should incorporate the needs of the residents giving them a sense of belonging, provide a gradual transition from private to public, and even make small provisions in design (tactical) to regulate disciplined usage.

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(Before)The Himatnagar Canal Front Development project has transformed a deteriorating resource into a useful orderly public space ©www.hcp.co.in
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(After)The Himatnagar Canal Front Development project has transformed a deteriorating resource into a useful orderly public space ©www.hcp.co.in

9. Unhygienic living conditions 

Open drains, improper drainage and sewage conditions, inefficient systems for waste disposal, and lack of a system for waste treatment or waste segregation have all been recurring issues that seriously affect the living conditions in any settlement. There needs to be an intervention to inculcate sustainable solutions for these problems at the level of design of every individual unit. There needs to be a close-ended system planned and implemented to ensure the accountability of its usage. 

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The Tham Tuong Canal in Can Tho City was dredged and renovated, turning from a heavily polluted canal into a clean and green waterway ©www.worldbank.org

10. A decrease in pedestrian activity

City-planning today gives more emphasis on vehicular movement and encourages design to be more inclined towards it. This, however, has resulted in a host of other problems such as increasing levels of pollution – air and noise, lack of interaction amongst people with their surroundings, lesser physical activity in people resulting in increased health issues and chaotic urban life. It is important to design and plan neighborhoods to encourage pedestrian activity. The design of streets and sidewalks as well can be a point of attraction for people to want to walk and as such, enough consideration needs to be given to the same by architects and urban designers.

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This street designed by Oasis Architects at J.M.Road, Pune, Maharashtra has created lively useful spaces for the use of pedestrians ©www.hindustantimes.com
Chaitali Patil
Author

Chaitali is an architect from Pune who’s passionate about history and theory of architecture, urban history and architectural heritage. Travelling and writing are her method of learning and engaging. She strongly believes that writing and research are crucial for academia as well as the practice.

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