“We grapple with the paradox that tomorrow is not promised, but we make plans anyway.”
-Lin Manuel Miranda
The recent years have marked an inflection of catastrophic events – the pandemic, environmental peril afflicted by climate change, the gradual fall of the GDP, and disruption in the global economy; gender, racial, religious discrimination causing civil unrest. The disbalance caused by any one of the factors will have a significant impact on the rest. The basic notion of architecture is assumed to be dealing with the built environment, the interventions, and the consequences.
The role of social conscience in architecture is to cater to the needs of creating a healthy and equitable environment for everything that exists – the humans, the land, the vegetation, the water, and other organisms that exist. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) also took the initiative to add social conscience into its LEED rating system through SEED, thus including humanity into the sustainable design concept.
Art and Architecture as a Social Change
Many artistic movements were initiated against social injustice and inequity. The idea of art is not just to exhibit the creative mind of an artist but to portray the realities of society that go unnoticed. Art exposes the truth that we see but we fear accepting. It creates an awareness among the community to identify the issues, whereas the architecture is the social conscience of the process that comes next, resolving and proposing the solutions to the problems identified. Art is a cultural tool to humanize and actualize emotions, and grievances and architectural interventions transform them into tangible forms that inculcate those emotions in the inhabitants and the users. Art enables visionary thinking inspiring us to action and architectural design is the action.
Architecture as a Social Responsibility
The issues of poverty, inequality, hunger, segregation, increasing population, urban sprawling, can be solved by effective design solutions. Architects have a social responsibility to create a balance between dreams and reality, objectivity, and subjectivity. More and more crowds migrate towards the urban areas from the rural because of the availability of the facilities that they lack. This increases the pressure on the manufacturing and production industries, land, housing, lack of employment opportunities generating more numbers of slums and people falling below the poverty line. The proposition is such to create available resources to the place where people are migrating to whereas the social conscience of an architect should to holistically develop for the rural as well as the urban community in their own respective space in whatever infrastructure is lacking.
Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean architect, considering the local community needs of low-incoming housing for the people on the lower strata of society in terms of means, proposed a “half-good-house” which has fully functional spaces yet unfinished so that the occupants can improve and make changes according to their lifestyle and when they have the means. The concept introduces a sense of belonging within the inhabitants and the potential to rise above the poverty line. The blueprints are available for free online for use. The gesture of social conscience and the desire of uplifting the standard of living for the less fortunate can solve the issue on a global level.
Architecture of Engagement
The Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform, a pan-African participatory design initiative, created a mobile workshop in an area that was considered a toxic e-waste dump. Few students from an architectural background realized the potential of the site and transformed it from toxic to habitable for recycling, making, trading. Thus, making it into an open-air manufactory-cum-laboratory, using local materials from the scrapyard, to produce something useful.
It also provided learning and trading opportunities for the local people and uplifting their standard of living. The social conscience in architecture is not only focusing on the housing needs but also how to bring a community together and to instill a sense of belonging within them. The architect can build or create spaces, it is the work of the community to keep it habitable. The architecture of engagement leads to the exchange of wisdom between different groups of the society paving a method of creation where everyone works as a team and builds with their own hands.
Architecture of Environmental Responsibility
The interdependency of humans and natural resources and the imbalance in nature created by human activities would worsen the situation in the coming future if proper strategies are not adopted and implemented. The idea of sustainability is making its way in every discipline. Many have the notion that switching towards sustainability may prove to be expensive, unaware of the sustainable strategies that are not only efficient but also cost-effective. It is observed that a built environment generates more emissions than the transport industry. Many architects with a social conscience find solutions to reduce the emissions generated to counter its effect on the climate. The passive and traditional strategies of building sciences are sustainable and if they are taken care of at the beginning of a design process, then half the issue will already be resolved. The orientation of the building, passive cooling techniques, promoting natural ventilation through openings at the right location, can be some of the factors that dictate the efficiency of design.
Ashok B. Lall designed Butterflies Resilience Centre, a temporary house for the street kids in New Delhi. The social conscience of the architect pushes him towards the sustainable techniques of construction which were implemented in the project. The extracted soil from the basement was used as a primary material for the construction of walls. Second-hand-store bought doors and windows, recycled construction debris used for short-span filler slabs, use of courtyard for enhancing the building performance, and the micro-climate of the interior space. The techniques not only set a paradigm for ease of construction but also provide a sustainable, cost-efficient, and eco-friendly approach to buildings.
Architecture needs a social conscience to create a balance, to create an equitable space for all the elements that comprise a community, to address the local needs of the community, to promote the architecture of belonging, and to humanize design. The socially responsible architecture reflects sincerity and intentions, to create a better tomorrow, to create a better world. It aims to enhance the quality of living and to improve the functionality of the spaces. Architects work in pursuit of the benefits of the community. Architects do not just design buildings, they shape lives.