Since times immemorial, the traditional function of the Architectural industry has been to provide a roof over our heads. Designers have tried to innovate over this idea through generations. However, with the changing scenarios, as the society stopped discriminating against the wants from their needs, it gave birth to high maintenance architecture. This kind of architecture was for the neo-rich and designers started catering specifically to the high-end section of the society. On the flip side of the coin lies what is essentially a rebellion. It is a movement on the rise which now activists around the world are calling Guerrilla Architecture.
The spurt or downfall in the economy of a country directly affects the real estate and the building industry. Economic resurgence brings building construction to a standstill. With benefactors moving out, urban fabrics around the cities are left to revel in their decays. These frames abandoned by the neo-rich are contrary to the pictures of those who cannot afford the land or resources to even build a basic habitable space.
This is where the guerrilla architectural activists come in. They follow a new philosophy that brings about a reform in the way architects participate in the process of shaping society. Their principle design approach is to revitalize urban decays and abandoned lands with limited resources to help alter the lifestyle of the people. They put the people at the center of their build and rebel against the government policies. With good intentions at heart, their activities may still sometimes be illegal.
In a documentary series released by Al Jazeera, a Spanish architect based in Seville, Santiago Cirugeda, runs a firm that believes in building for the society using repurposed materials and very little funding. He is seen involving the community in the construction process to create collaborative spaces by redesigning abandoned buildings. He defines guerrilla architecture as the ‘built jurisprudence’ for the century with participatory projects rising out of the economic crisis. Some works by his firm include The Big Top (cultural center), Portable Home in Barcelona, or revamping an old abandoned cement factory in Los Santos de Maimone.
The guerrilla design reform movement has been a cry of hope for people suffering from several problems such as economic crisis, authoritarian town planning, and widespread unemployment. It is a ray of sunshine for all those who the State does not support and who are willing to take on the job, outside the grid of rules and regulations to build for themselves. It is that voice of insurrection and civic mobilization that speaks of a logical transformation of marginalized buildings.
The guerrilla architecture activists follow an open and public approach to building. As a tool for societal reform, they engage the community in the building process. They hijack disused spaces to create sustainable designs for the entire community. These may be done in the form of pop-up designs that are easily dismantlable or portable homes. Since the resources are limited, the materials are often parasitic. Such that the designs can be reinvented later. There is excessive use of pre-fabricated modules in the construction rather than concrete masonry.
Guerrilla architecture is supposed to be a rapid way of putting dejected spaces to use, thus it has altered the latest definition of contemporary architecture. Today, to design is to dismantle and rebuild. All social collective designs reek of reinvention at their core to fight off the municipal laws or lack of funding.
The art of guerrilla architecture is a high-risk job! The designer has to take on civil, administrative, and criminal liability for self-building in areas where it is not legalized. It also modifies the role of the architect. To turn his vision into reality, there is much more work involved on-site, in taking impromptu decisions rather than finalizing drawings in the comforts of his office. At the same time, there is not enough money involved. It is hard for architects to make ends meet. These sets of designers cater to those in need by putting themselves in danger.
With so many drawbacks, what then pulls people to this anarchical approach? It is the unhindered freedom to creatively express oneself and utilize the limited resources that are pulling young architects to this form of collective-building. By building on the edge of the law, there are opportunities to experiment and take on different approaches. It is a challenge for the dauntless.
Guerrilla architecture is a movement that has kept sustainability at its crux in the whole process of re-branding. It has led to the creation of several affordable hacks for housing and has created an open platform to reverse forgotten resources into new contexts. However, this also makes us consider whether self-building will eliminate the middlemen between the user and the architect? If DIY hacks and portable housing solutions will be the new trend? Most importantly, in the middle of another pandemic, will guerrilla architecture be the beacon of hope, to facilitate the easy construction of pop-up hospitals or refugee camps?
As Robert Goodman, an Architecture professor at M.I.T argues in his book, ‘After the Planners’, that conventional planning was often used as “a mask of rationality, efficiency, and science” to help maintain the status quo, and how participatory programs often helped maintain this mask by “allowing the poor to administer their own state of dependency.”, we are forced to question whether guerrilla architecture is ensuring the continuation of the biased economic structure?
For now, we can only admire these criminal works of arts as those that rethink and redefine beauty in the ramshackle of the dejected built heritage and hope that the creations’ echoes can bring about a reform in the society.