The Eleventh Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2009
Berkeley Prize 2009

Hajir Alttahir Proposal

for travel to Article 25 Build, Maputo, Mozambique or Lesotho

“Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services” Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Whilst many strive to achieve such a goal, it is not the reality for every single human being on this earth. My competition essay led me to question the disparity that exists in my home country of Iraq. It has changed over the decades, experiencing sorrow and destruction in recent times yet there is a current air of hope. Iraq is not the only country that rests on a tipping point. It is this point where sustainable architecture/traditional wisdom can be utilised to produce the most socially significant results, improving our communities for the future.

To complement my essay, I have sought a program that will provide an insight into how sustainable and traditional architecture is currently used for community led projects. My essay focused on how we could use traditional wisdom to reinvigorate local communities with the help of organisations such as the UN, local NGOs and design charities. The hope that such projects can create an atmosphere of collaboration and learning between design professionals and communities to expand upon traditional wisdom is what I wish to explore through the fellowship.

Article 25 is a charity within the UK that designs, builds and manages projects across the world. Working alongside aidorganisations, architecture firms, NGOs and communities, they aim to provide better shelter wherever there is need for it. Each project promotes the values of sustainable technologies, participatory planning and the use of local building techniques, labour and materials. Alongside this, local participants are trained to increase the technical skill of the community. The projects vary from action planning in Romania, various children’s units in Africa, seismic resistant housing in Pakistan to the restoration of the ancient buildings of Kabul.

Article 25 has offered me a chance to take part in a challenging project that would immerse me in the process of working with a community. Currently two projects are the most suitable to take part in over the summer, both in Southern Africa. Should I be awarded the fellowship, Article 25 will select the project I will be working on over the summer. The first project is a crèche and training centre for street children in Maputo, Mozambique. Mozambique is still recovering from civil war, famine and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It suffers from a lack of infrastructure and mass urbanisation resulting in informal settlements, namely barrios around the cities. Barrios are transient in nature; this has a led to a breakdown of family structure with many children now roaming the streets. The project aims to produce a children’s day care facility so that working mothers have a safe place to leave their children during the day and a boys’ training centre that will teach local skills to the younger generation such as carpentry and welding. The second project is a Kick 4 Life Centre in Maseru, Lesotho. Lesotho is one of the world’s poorest countries in addition to having one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world. By providing health and educational facilities alongside football pitches, it is hoped that children can play sports as well as learning life skills. Both projects involve working with street children, international architects and a local NGO partner, ensuring their agendas are incorporated in the design process.

This unique opportunity will provide me with a better insight into community led projects. I am particularly interested in the ways we can facilitate community involvement in all project stages, leading to a greater acceptance of design outcomes whilst increasing building use. Before the fieldwork, two weeks will be spent in Article 25’s London office preparing for the project. Planning for fieldwork will be extensively rigorous in order to yield a productive educational experience. After arriving in Africa, I will be involved in consulting with the children and the consultation process of the scheme design with the client and community, incorporating the community agenda into the design. Following the consultation process, I will aid in the design phase by participating with the community and Article 25 to produce models of the proposal. Article 25 has requested that I record this design process for them in physical, video, written and photographic formats. Alongside the design process, local material and building techniques research will be carried out to be incorporated in the design. The historical, cultural and political contexts of the area in addition to the available construction materials are vital parameters for the projects.

As a third year, I am months away from embarking on my practical year out for the Royal Institute of British Architects. The next year will be my first real taste of architecture for actual users rather than the conceptual ones created for design studio. Yet the people I may be designing for during that period have significantly different needs to the ones involved in the Article 25 projects, similarly the design process and constraints will vary. This opportunity would not only be enlightening and inspirational but a beneficial way to transition into the professional aspect of the field of architecture whilst highlighting social needs.

I am aware previous winners of the Fellowship travelled to southern Africa but I believe the project aims will provide a real insight into how design professionals, charities and communities collaborate and learn from each other to design and produce traditionally influenced sustainable architecture. This experience best addresses the ideas I proposed in my essay as to how we can revive traditional wisdom. In addition, concerning their socially orientated outcomes the projects are incredibly deserving.

As a result of my past three years of architectural education, independent reading as well as participating in this year’s Berkeley Prize, I feel an ever-increasing interest in the social art of architecture. Tracking the realisation of such a project is the most beneficial method of continuing a personal exploration of this year’s topic. Working with Article 25 will educate me on not only the traditional wisdom of southern Africa but also the constraints and successes of non-profit design firms committed to building sustainable futures. Out of distinct situations such as these, we can re-examine what we value within our societies - that opportunity to question and learn through practical example will help shape my architectural identity.

As Article 25 have not finalised my project destination, I have included average expenses that I would incur. Expenses will be similar in both projects.


05/08/09 – 19/08/09 Preparation for fieldwork, Article 25 office, London

20/08/09 Depart: Heathrow, London (LHR) 19.00, South African Airways Arrive: Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) 07.20 Depart: Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) 09.40 Arrive: Maputo, Mozambique (MPM) 10.45

22/08/09 – 30/08/09 Community consultation and design 31/08/09 – 04/09/09 Material and architectural research

04/09/09 Depart: Maputo, Mozambique (MPM) 15.55, South African Airways Arrive: Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) 17.05 Depart: Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) 19.50 Arrive: Heathrow, London (LHR) 06.25

Flights: $1,188 Accommodation: $1,400 Other Expenses: $490 Not included in the expenses: travel and accommodation to London during the training and planning period.

Sources: Director of Projects, Robin Cross,

Faculty Referee: Grahame Macdougall, Lecturer

Additional Help and Information

Are you in need of assistance? Please email
Ms. Hajir Alttahir, Manchester School of Architecture, UK; for travel to Article 25 Build, Maputo, Mozambique or Lesotho
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