The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2018
Berkeley Prize 2018

Gunraagh Singh Talwar Proposal

Building across cultures and communities – a lo-fab build with Gambia.

Building across cultures and communities – a lo-fab build with Gambia. In the summer of 2017, while scrolling through social media, I came across an unusual post - “We’re building a low-cost anti-demolition school for 250 students at Yamuna Khadar, Delhi. Come Support!”

I had heard of community involvement through participatory design before but had never seen it put to practice. After all, in my two semesters as a student of architecture, I had only looked up to buildings that were monumental in scale – where the all-powerful architect had saved the day by his powerful strokes on paper and concreted his legacy in time. Back then, I was not aware of how architecture was much more than these archetypical buildings. Back then, I had perceived it only as grand gestures by the preeminent project leader – The Architect.

Modskool had caught my attention because it was different. The project did not seek funding, but volunteers who could collaborate and help manifest a small school for children in the informal settlements of Yamuna Khadar; authorities demolished the previous school due to the legalities behind it. My curiosity led to site, where I was surprised to find several likeminded designers who had also come following the architects’ plea. At ModSkool, the chief architects were no all-knowing maestros who dictated the way everything came together, but facilitators in the creation of an environment that benefitted the whole community. I volunteered here for a couple of days, expending my time and little design expertise on a school that will change the way I thought of architectural design. Manifested bottom up - by the people, and for the people, Modskool was architecture that I truly consider a social art.

The understanding evolved from ModSkool was what I took with me while writing my Berkeley Essay - Social innovations through architecture: Mohalla clinics and Roti Banks in Delhi. Here, I discussed two interventions as products of two different approaches for the same cause – social welfare. The Mohalla Clinic, a planned approach by an organisation in power, and the Roti Bank, a spontaneous approach by two people who took the role of the architect and designed an ingenious solution. The essay deliberated on what architecture needs to evolve to be and challenged the essay question by stating that buildings are not always the solution. It brought into retrospect the need to look up to not just the masters, but also small grassroots initiatives as case studies for design consideration. While concluding, it highlighted the importance of exemplary thought in design and the need of a society-centric process, which I believe in putting to practice as a to-be architect.

Building with Gambia

With the opportunity of the travel fellowship at hand, I want to relive what I had experienced during Modskool. Looking for hands-on volunteer based programs, I encountered Erika Alatalo, a Finnish architect and engineer who is leading ‘Build with Gambia’ - an earth architecture workshop in eastern Gambia from June 2nd to September 30th, 2018. Erika believes in using architecture as a tool for improving lives and engineering comfortable, healthy and long-lasting buildings in different climates. Organised by the Nka foundation, the workshop is an opportunity for me to learn about the practicalities of rammed earth construction, and climate appropriate design while contributing to community development in Gambia.

The goal of the workshop is to build a unit of Kantora Arts Village, a residential vocational training centre for unemployed rural youths. By immersion in the local lifestyle and exploring local traditions, issues and potentials. The team will collaborate to transform the learnings into an earthen school building that is comfortable in the local climate, socially and culturally responsible, and inspiring for the local community. As a IV semester design student, I am sensitised to empathise with my clients and designing buildings for their needs. To my realisation these clients, (though fictitious) have spoken the same language as I do, and belong to a familiar culture and society. I want to challenge myself by getting out of this comfort zone, and realising the needs of real clients, who belong to a different culture, and speak a different language. By overcoming this challenge, I will be able to form a very sound foundation in understanding varying social contexts, an ability that I believe though undermined is essential to every architect.

In very early stages of my architectural education, I came across Michael Murphy’s Ted talk ‘Architecture that’s built to heal’, where the co-founder of MASS design group talked of the Rwandan concept of Ubedehe where the community worked for the community for social welfare. The concept led to the evolution of lo-fab, an ideology with four pillars; hire locally, source regionally, train where you can and most importantly, think about every design decision as an opportunity to invest in the dignity of the places where you serve. I feel that by using the lo-fab technique, the project for the Kantora Arts Village can evolve to be architecture as a social art, and feel that by being an integral part of the program can see how the ideology manifests and engages the society.

The workshop will run in phases from June 2 to September 30, 2018; volunteers can engage for a period of at least two weeks where they can participate in all phases of the construction process including foundation, rammed earth construction, and roofing. I hope to join the workshop for a period of four weeks from June 11 to July 11 through the travel fellowship program, and volunteer for change while immersing myself in a culture very different from mine. I do not wish for my experience in the workshop to be exclusive in the sense that only I benefit from it as a part of the international community. I plan to document my journey and the process through photographs, writings, and sketches that I will be actively posting on social media to engage as many people as I can to inspire not just young designers and architects, but people who form the very meaning of society. I aim to do so with the hope that they pick themselves up and aim for change, even if it is at the grassroots level.

Itinerary June 11, Flight to Banjul from New Delhi June 11-12, Reach Banjul Airport, stay at Banjul, explore local attractions June 13, Commute to Kassi Kunda Village June 13- July 8, Volunteering in the Build with Gambia Workshop July 9, Commute to Banjul July 9-10, Stay at Banjul July 11, Flight to New Delhi from Banjul

Budget (Prices converted from Euro, Indian Rupee, and Gambian Dalasi to US Dollar) Visa USD 160 Round Trip Airfare, DEL- BJL, BJL-DEL (Lufthansa) USD 1517. (as of March 10, 2018) Transportation in Banjul, Banjul to Kassi Kunda Village and back, USD 90 Accommodation and food at Banjul, USD 50 per day, USD 200 Workshop Fees (Donation to project costs). USD 493 Food and dormitory accommodation at USD 98.50 per week. USD 394 Estimated total expenditure. USD 2854 All additional costs shall be borne by me.

Program details Build with Gambia

References 1) Erika Alatalo, Workshop leader. 2) Dr. Saurabh Tewari. Assistant Professor, School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal.

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