The Nineth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2007
Berkeley Prize 2007

Budoor Bukhari Proposal

Collective Deliberation: Rethinking the Role of the Architect

During the winter of 2007 I traveled with the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) to Jabal-Alnoor, one of the seven villages surrounding the Dinder National Park in Southeastern Sudan. When we set foot in the village, I chose to take an investigative walk while the activists representing NBI met with the Village Development Committee (VDC). Recognizing that I was a visitor and enticed by the shiny digital camera I was carrying, two young boys followed me around from a distance. I called them over and gradually more boys joined. After a few minutes of getting to know each other, I found myself following six dusty, curious village kids as they led me to their thatch-built school. As I followed close behind, I continued to reflect on the question Ahmed Magzoub, an educated member of one of the VDCs, had asked me earlier at the village of Mencheleng: “I’m just a layman and of what I have seen and what I know, architecture is all about grand buildings and high-rises clad with glass. You said you have come to study the buildings here, and as you can see, they are very simple, impermanent and constructed of local materials. Can those buildings of ours be referred to as architecture?”

Mr. Magzoub's question challenged me. Since beginning my architectural education in Sudan and continuing it in the United Arab Emirates, I have constantly thought about the potential role of the architect in marginalized communities. As architects we have become alienated and are rarely active in considering and responding to pressing socio-economic problems in today’s complex and rapidly globalizing world. We have not engaged in developing solutions to serious challenges such as forced migration caused by conflict, disaster or development. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and more than half of those are poor. And, while urbanization continues to increase the number of slums in cities in the developing world, Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing the most rapid increase in informal settlements. In Sudan, those affected set up camps and squatters on the fringes of urban centers, only to later be forcibly relocated to areas that lack basic, life-sustaining facilities. According to the Millennium Development Goals indicators, the estimated slum population in urban areas in Sudan was 10,106,860 in 2001, amounting to 85.7% of the urban population. How can our professional practice be redefined to enable us to become active participants in the global move towards building better cities?

There are no easy answers. However, I believe that participation in the People Building Better Cities Conference and Global Studio in Johannesburg this summer would contribute to enhancing my understanding of the issues. Jo’burg, South Africa’s largest city and capital of its wealthiest province Gauteng, is home to more than 3 million. Also known as eGoli, it boasts its position at the heart of the metropolitan region with the largest economy in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, just like many developing countries, the problem of slums prevails.

During the Apartheid Era, many townships were set up to house non-whites in segregated urban residential districts that were emblems of discrimination. The advent of democracy in the early 1990s changed that, but brought with it the challenge of overcrowding and congestion associated with increasing informal settlement. Global Studio will be working in Alexandra and Diepsloot, two of the poorest townships in Johannesburg. They are characterized by inadequate health and welfare services, yet both are townships in transition. As part of massive inner-city renewal, both are being transformed into habitable communities through the joint efforts of the government, the private sector, NGO's and community-based organisations. In spite of their tragic history, Alex and Diepsloot have developed unique characters over the years. Their communities are proud of their history and culture, and strongly tied to their townships despite their poor condition. Through adopting a participatory design process, Global Studio will seek to address the problem of slums in both townships. In collaboration with the communities and local wards, the focus will be on evolving small and localized solutions to some of the problems faced while accommodating difference, and there is much to learn from this process.

Indeed, participatory design processes are essential for addressing today’s urbanization and housing challenges. Just as the residents of Alexandra and Diepsloot are tied to their land, so are the communities living in and around the Dinder National Park in Sudan. Although many of the communities have recently forcibly migrated into the area in search of better livelihoods, they have come to view the park as their home and source of sustenance. If any real progress is to be achieved towards biodiversity conservation and sustainable development, the communities need to be involved in making the decisions that will affect their lives. Therefore, my proposed project was structured around establishing a partnership between design professionals, NGOs and the village communities to develop practical and progressive design solutions that involve collaboration with the local communities. The ultimate goal is to avoid the relegation of the communities to the fringes as a result of the establishment of alienating models of eco-tourism development. Through facilitating the creation of a platform for collective deliberation, the aim is to benefit all parties involved beyond the boundaries of their differences.

The experience of working collaboratively in teams with international students and academicians sharing similar interests and concerns would be extremely rewarding. It will enable me to come to terms with strategies and propositions that can potentially assist in improving peoples’ lives, and will allow me access to the invaluable pool of knowledge and skills that will be developed during the process. The project proposed in the essay will be the topic of my final thesis project research and design for my final year of study beginning Fall 2007. Therefore, the opportunity to be involved in the activities of Global Studio - Johannesburg will directly impact the remaining part of my architectural education by allowing me the opportunity to experience first hand how participatory design processes can be geared towards technical design solutions. Becoming a Berkeley Travel Fellow will allow insight into socially significant practices and provide an opportunity to learn valuable lessons from peers and professionals. This will surely inform a future career in socially responsible architecture.

It is not everyday that one gets such remarkable chance to explore the environs of a city like Johannesburg. Beyond the precautions I would need to take for my safety, I will make the effort to divide the time I have to visit places of interest throughout Jo’burg. The history museums such as the Apartheid Museum and the Hector Pieterson Museum will be must-sees, not forgetting of course the MuseuMAfricA, the Market Theater Complex and other attractions in Newtown, Jozi’s vibrant Cultural Precinct. I would also be very keen on visiting some of the other townships such as historical Soweto to get a broader sense of the housing challenges, and to visit the Nelson Mandela Museum there. Paying a visit to Constitution Hill will be of particular interest, and if possible, I plan to make the trip to the Cradle of Humankind.

As the future architects and planners of the developing world, we should be conscious of prevailing challenges in order to be active participants in positive reform. Unfortunately, the majority of young professionals in Sudan are completely isolated from rewarding involvement in activities and conferences like this. I would be honored to be an African participant representing Sudan for the first time in such a significant international, interdisciplinary forum as a Berkeley Travel Fellow.

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Budoor Bukhari, American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
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