It is the month of October, in the year 2014. At a Ted X Event organised in Midatlantic, a confident Liz Ogbu, humbly introduces herself as an Architect. 

Admitting to having read and watched the Fountainhead, she talks about some of the Architects’ common questions. The rest of the talk focuses on what Liz Ogbu does differently from the other architects we know today. Rather than sticking to designing buildings, Ogbu extends her practice beyond the limitations of structure. She proudly addresses herself as someone who creates “Opportunities for Impact.”

TedTalk for Architects Why I'm an architect that designs for social impact, not buildings by Liz Ogbu
Liz Ogbu ©Women Talk Design

While introducing this new discipline of unconventional architectural practice, she discloses the integral elements that constitute and define the term. 

According to Liz Ogbu, any person training in a field of expertise is called an “Expert Citizen” and must contribute to the society or community by sharing his/her share of knowledge in making lives and conditions better for the citizens. Only then can one transcend being referred to as an “Expert Citizen” to a “Citizen Expert”. To address the problems faced by a given group of people and devise a solution, Ogbu states that it is integral for such “Expert Citizens” to listen to the issues and most importantly, have a deep understanding of people, their needs and aspiration. 

Narrating the story of a Mama Sama, the talk further develops a narrative about the problem women face in rural regions of Tanzania and the measures adopted by the organisation with which Liz Ogbu was associated to alleviate the crisis. It is rather commendable that the speaker was able to identify with the requirements, necessities, and desires of the people under study and very abjectly present it to draw a larger crowd’s attention. Be it air pollution or safety, the entire talk, through its 12-minute run-time, stresses the fact that an Architect, or any professional for that matter, cannot choose to be oblivious to the issues faced by a world devoid of even the most basic requirements in today’s time. It is time that a planet is created where the hard skills of design positively impact and recuperate humanity’s soft skills. 

Another story draws the listener’s attention to an unheard part of modern society- the Day Labourers. While unfolding their ordeal, Liz Ogbu invokes and generates awareness about some aspects of culture required but has been dealing with invisibility for the past decades. She also emphasises involving clients to be a part of design decisions and being the ‘co-designers’ in the endeavour. It nips future issues in the bud and allows users to engage in a process that would lead to creating a structure that would embody their aspirations—thereby creating a positive social impact.

In my opinion, Liz Ogbu gave her viewers some food for thought. While encouraging radical thinking and service for the community, she single-handedly unleashes stories of several lives locked in cages of anonymity and ignorance. The prospect of making things better through design by solving problems is not new-, but the initiative and efforts in the said direction are lacking, even today. Acting as a catalyst for change, she calls for collective understanding and action. Innovation is essential, but social repair is the need of the hour. Nothing restricts one to extend sustainable design and spatial innovation to global urban environments. The inculcation of this thought proves the stance of an aware citizen, with responsibility for his/her fellow human beings. 

However, most importantly, Liz Ogbu accelerates the realisation- that not every architectural endeavour be seen as a design exercise. Sometimes, individual decisions taken by designers may just be an opportunity for transformation. To be called permanent or temporary is only validated by time. And so does this same principle apply to structures. With due time, something quick can be transformed into an eternal existence. 

The need to think differently and view designing for humanity is the basic theme explored in the talk. Liz Ogbu, through her vocal pleads and descriptive cases, urges to step out of conventionality, listen more, grasp unheard stories and combine emotions to create a more humane environment where impossibilities are made achievable. It drives the viewers to change and procure a better today and tomorrow for generations to come. 

 

Author

Siddhi Hindalkar, currently an architecture student, is a sci-fi junkie. Believing the unbelievable is her secret forte. Not much of a talker, she considers reading and listening to stories as her only means of escape. She likes to believe that a place can narrate a million tales and all one has to do- is lend an ear!

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