The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1884] Revitalizing Galt: Celebrating local outsiders by creating local traditions

United Kingdom

The former industrial neighbourhood of Galt suffers from a state of urban decay common to small towns of stagnant economy. Vacant downtown storefronts in vandalized Georgian buildings form an uninviting community for adolescents, whose frustration with a dearth of opportunity finds expression in an alternate culture of delinquency, drug abuse, teen prostitution and pregnancy. Recent revitalization efforts caused an architecture school to reoccupy an abandoned factory building in the main square. As university students arrive in Galt from international and provincial locations, embarking on new studies with zealous ambition, eagerly recreating their own identities within a close-knit campus circle, they walk amongst Galt's street kids with uneasy fascination. Denied the positive peer support which stimulates academic success, here are our otherworldly selves.

Legislative measures evicting problematic youth to shelters in the town's periphery strike a discordant note: isolated from social and cultural contact, how can habits borne of idleness and discontent alleviate? Teen mothers describe hostels as undesirable haven, overcrowded, crime-ridden, some populated by older, alcoholic men, others female-only separating mothers from boy-children. Training programs prove futile, wherein resultant skill-based jobs have insufficient wages and are vulnerable to replacement by technology. Temporary removal to charity shelters achieve little for the 16-24 year old single mothers living in poverty and their children who are especially prone to behavioural and social problems. Influenced by their parent's example, these children easily continue the vicious cycle of academic dropout and poverty.

Galt needs a strategy that values its street youth as an energetic resource with untapped leadership and creative potential. Galt's proactive students and their delinquent counterparts coexist in a unique and promising proximity. To bridge the gap, a new annual tradition, a gala summer night's arts festival, will be organized by collaborating students and local youth to share creative voices while revitalizing and reinstating the community of Galt.

The proposal draws on the power of architecture to encapsulate traditions and tells stories. Galt's architecture students will help local youth communicate personal stories through an artistic medium –musical, dance and dramatic art, film, painting, photography, or inter-media creations. Adolescents searching for self-identity and conformity can find in artistic expression an outlet and a tool for discovering one's own voice.

Prolific vandalism throughout the town evidence the youths' creative energy. It also evinces desires to appropriate public property: having no home of their own, street youth vandalize, trespass and recklessly deprecate public space to mark their moment's possession and control over it. The Arts Festival sanctions artistic freedom to interfere with the space of the street.

As a community event, Galt's Arts Festival naturally occupies its downtown streets. It entails a re-creation of this basic zone of interaction amongst both community inmates and visitors. Currently an unremarkable passage of disrepaired historic buildings outfitted with garishly incongruent fastfood chains, or interrupted by littered brownfields of demolished buildings, Galt presents a dingy external image and offers poor excuses for its own inhabitants to linger. But though pedestrians pace quickly across the dead city by daylight, nocturnally, Galt subversively awakens. Various groups adapt abandoned buildings and their negative spaces for unexpected uses. Fire escape stairs make neighbourly smoking porches, their grated steps casting dappled shadows reminiscent of a trellised veranda. Potholed parking lots pass for skateboarding terrain: spectators gather, alleyway junk furnish the obstacle course. Music pulsates obnoxiously from a party and so too do its drunken denizens, populating and enlivening the sidewalk with unholy shrieks.

This alternative society is well acquainted with the habitable qualities of Galt's deserted streets. The Arts Night will identify and transform these memorable, otherworldly sites and street elements. Within Galt's agenda for redevelopment, it can influence the preservation of meaningful street features against the threat of bulldozing and easy replacement.

Making Galt's Arts Night begins with collective design conception. With guidance from architecture and community art professionals, charettes springboard an overall theme to govern programme and to determine spatial requirements. Subdivided into smaller, mixed teams of 4-6 local youth and student leaders, teams engage in a site selection exercise, each finding and claiming a street space suitable for an assigned festival function: exhibition, performance, dining, or retail venues. Each team will ultimately transform its own space for the festival. The transformation may range from permanent artworks like murals or sculpture, temporary pavilions as performance stages, site-specific installations of sound, light, colour, merchandise sale booths, dining shelter and lounge furniture. Group meetings for comment and discussion encourage cross-team interaction, as do separate feature projects such as drama rehearsals or fundraising sales undertaken by members from various teams. The nuclear team will form strong ties by meeting and collaborating regularly on their location. Furthermore, the process of mapping, imagining possibilities for, and finally creating and leaving a palpable impression on their parcel of land brings about affection for their adopted community space. Social philosopher Simone Weil describes in "The Need for Roots" a gardener who, after tending a garden for a certain time, "feels that the garden belongs to him"[1]; citizens must work on and in their environments to feel a sense of proprietary pride. One of children author L.M. Montgomery's memorable orphan heroines "always felt that if she were allowed to do things for [her surrogate home]... sweep it, dust it, put flowers in it... she would begin to love it."[2] In having the opportunity to care for a place, to change and contribute to its form and function, and to maintain it, one forms an attachment to it. Defiant defacement of Galt's city core can be channeled into stewardship for public property. Permitting the youths of Galt to personalize the street cultivates notions of shared ownership, and consequently, a sense of belonging.

A parallel program is envisioned for younger street kids aged 4-12, including the children of teen parents. Beyond taking proportionate roles in dance, drama, or mural painting, they will also become guardians of a public place. Heritage monuments and the furniture of the streets - benches, lampposts, bus stops - can be beautified by plants. Aided by their parents and student mentors, children will team up to landscape selected plots. The daily routines of watering, weeding, and logging seed growthare meant to introduce regularity into often disruptive, nomadic single-parent family lives. Figuratively and literally, roots will grow and emplace them in the Galt community. This simple responsibility, educational in local history and plant biology, produces a real harvest in a short time. Children can reap the fruits of their labours – vegetables, herbs, or flowers – for sale at the festival, or at weekend farmers' markets as fundraising.

Students and youths produce the festival in its entirety. They design and physically build the space of the festival. They manage the finances, source and gather materials, and advertise the event. As a self-sustainable microbusiness, passed on from one generation of youth to another, the planning and execution of the Arts Festival provides practical opportunities for youth to develop marketing, accountancy, entrepreneurship and leadership skills – skills they will reiterate as they become adult citizens engaging in society. The profitable enterprise accumulates grassroots funds for other social services. Its success can inspire funding for further community development, through grants and sponsorships recognizing youth initiative. The festival also establishes a model process for creating more permanent projects such as housing or education facilities. The quick, tangible results of a festival design-build achieves community spirit and ambition in their own ability to build. This mentality is crucial to the execution of large scale constructions requiring longer time spans.

The essential content of the festival is also furnished by the youths. The Arts Night is designed particuarly to showcase their talent and distinct world view. The premise draws on society's fascination with "the other." Delinquent youths exist outside of its order and accepted social structure. Media portrayals of the homeless are imbued with romance: disdained by civilized society, the homeless seem less human, are animal-like. "Unclean, uncouth, unmaneageable"; encounters with them elicit repulsion and guilt: a sublime sensation of terror at that which cannot be controlled rationally. [3] The slums assume mythic dimensions: the homeless enact the role of underworld beasts that disrupt civilization's perfect peace, their presence a heart-wrenching reminder of everyone's potential to fail. One questions if this noble interest in the destitute is correct: do we give them fair recognition for who they truly are?

The act of examining the abhorred is an enlightening endeavour. Capturing and displaying objects discarded from everyday life is a recurring theme in modern art, sparked by Duchamp's exhibition of a 'pissoir' as meriting artistic attention. That humans derive entertainment from the socially profane has a long lineage of literary precedents: Rabelais's marketplace is animated by the exchange of crass jokes, in Shakespeare's plays foul bantering is woven among the courtly scenes for comic relief. Contemporary art movements like New Realism challenge preconditioned ideals of beauty: through personal explorations of ways to behold and depict reality, artists change waste into visually palatable collages. A "recalibration of our aesthetic meter,"[4] as suggested by socioeconomic development academic Gareth Jones, can bring society to accept the sight of the homeless in its midst.

One weekend in the summer of 2006, Toronto invited its residents on a phantasmic promenade of the industrial laneways behind Queen Street. While energetic teenagers were doled out spray paint to adorn the dark spaces with vibrant grafitti, music and carnival tricks beckoned casual pedestrians to regions they had hitherto never dared to tread. The sojourn was marked with an effervescence unfound in Toronto's regular shops: that of the ingenuity of improvisation. Galt's nightime Arts Festival lurks likewise in socially blackguarded territory and exhibits artifacts of an unconventional urban lifestyle. The festival creates a framework to present and experience reality through the eyes of the dispossessed. Art mediates the pathos of the slums, unheeded by our naked eyes, into portraits that touch our consciousness.

Galt's delinquent youth are an integral part of the community's past and future. The street youth are linked with a decade in the memory of the place. In its metamorphosis into a clean, progressive town, Galt may succumb inadvertantly to the boring uniformity and standardization large corporations encroach on all corners of the globe with. A distinct image helps in differentiating one city from another; a competitive city stands out iconically from its surroudings. Its special youth culture is an asset which can form Galt's district identity. The Arts Festival, celebrating otherworldly stories, makes in Galt a destination to attract and bind visitors. Travelers leave with poignant impressions of their sojourn, while its own people readily identify themselves with their hometown.

A DesignCorps program is ideal for facilitating the critical dialogue between Galt's underprivileged youth and its successful students. DesignCorps matches the technical skills of architecture students to situations where they can improve the everyday reality of a vulnerable population. The Art Festival's employment of its ready supply of human energy and enthusiasm is appropriate to DesignCorps' economy in harnessing local resources. Corresponding to DesignCorp's philosophy, detailed acquaintance and evaluation of the target populations' needs, values and visions will grow out of working together, making shared discoveries and undergoing mutual mentoring.

As itinerant residents of Galt for the duration of their degree, college students working with street youth partake in a rich cultural exchange with their next-door neighbours. Galt's architecture students comprise mainly 18-29 year olds living away from home for the first time. With their ambition for a professional career, students are actively seeking to mould their identities. Their local counterparts are, alongside daily struggles for money, shelter and amusement, also on a quest for self-discovery. Peer interactions mirror one's own self-image. Foucault insightfully describes the use of the mirror in his polemics on "other spaces":

"In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not... a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent... It exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy... I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am."

One defines their own identity by outlining our the differences against another. This contrast and comparison is a vital discourse for individuals as for entire cultures.

Such comparison occurs as human relationships develop. DesignCorps' renowned design-build experiences encourage personal growth. The design process is treated as a forum for learning. In developing housing for Pennsylvanian mushroom workers, DesignCorps held an educational design game with the clients. Given a quantity of beans to represent available resources, mushroom workers played at allocating them until they determined the best possible cohousing configurations. Participation - designing, deciding, and acting - provides technical and social training. The entire undertaking of the Arts Festival is an exercise in the nuances of groupwork. The focus on process exhibits not merely magnamity in giving design to those with little access to it, but encourages democratic participation in making architecture. Everyone's ideas and visions can help shape their physical surroundings. Not only the final product of a constructed building, but the formation of community relationships during design-build is valuable. Designing and building can give youth practical training in, and concrete evidence of social involvement and leadership.

Salient in DesignCorps' method is an utmost emphasis for open group communication. In planning the TUCCA community centre in Alabama, an information bulletin was the first constructed item. This consideration underlines the importance of sharing news, event calendars and concerns both regarding the build and community life. Also of high priority was a picnic pavilion to host regular group meetings while dining: a simple move germane to social bonding. Galt's Arts Festival likewise functions as a communication platform, dedicating a time and place for the homeless to counter social stigma by telling their own stories, and to take part in a communal activity that will bring its participants together with a shared memory.

Social architecture projects frequently refer to vernacular craft or inherent cultural symbols, in order to give designs relevance to an indigenous group. Disconnected as they are from the community, Galt's street children have little sense of such a heritage. Traditions bind people together throughout time: for a displaced and socially shunned population, the Arts Festival is a new, invented new traditions which they can revel in and call their own. It offers meaning and connection the place and community of Galt.

At Galt's Arts Festival, a time and place is dedicated for unrecognized young people to gather in celebration of themselves.

[1] Weil, Simone. The Need for Roots: prelude to a declaration of duties towards mankind. London: Routledge, 2002. pg. 16

[2] Montgomery, L. M. Jane of Lantern Hill. New York: F.A. Stokes, 1937. pg. 147

[3] Desjarlais, Robert R. Shelter Blues: Sanity and Selfhood Among the Homeless. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. pg. 128

[4] Jones, Gareth. "Monsters in the Closet: The Aesthetisation of Poverty and the Slum as Theme Park." Lecture at Arkitekturzentrum Wien.

[5] Foucault, Michel. "Of Other Spaces (1967), Heterotopias." Online. Internet:

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