The Nineteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2017
Berkeley Prize 2017

[ID:1886] A Communal Center for the Neighborhood Los Eucaliptus

Argentina

WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

Actually, Los Eucalyptus is not a neighborhood: it's a slum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but the students who work there since last April (2 month after people started occupying the land), we decided to call it “neighborhood” in order to propose the inhabitants to produce a neighborhood, not a slum. We also asked to the dwellers to name their place, in order to think themselves as a community: the name "Los Eucalyptus" was decided because of the trees once planted, when the place was a public park.

Today a few trees keep standing, because people sawed them for different porpouses: to build bridges to cross the ditch that goes through the neighbor; to use them as fuel to cook and get warm; and to lift the houses for protection of the flood. The local government didn't provide those services because the dwellers lacked the ownership of the land.

Once public, the land today belongs to the son of a local politician, but he is willing to sale it back to the state, because now he can’t sell it into the market: Los Eucalyptus stand in a low land, and there is a new law that forbids dividing low lands in plots, in order to prevent to enter into the market lands that can be flooded. As he doesn’t want to afford the costs of filling the soil, he hopes the government expropiates and fills the land in belhaf of the dwellers, and pays him for the land. Meantime, the low level of the land is being filled each day by the neighbours to be able to go out from their houses in the rainy days: The dwellers gave to each other the telephone number of a company that collect waste material from buildings demolitions, that company prefers to leave the rubbish at Los Eucalyptus than at the dump, where it should have to pay a tax for doing that.

The sharing of the waste companie´s telephone number, was the seed of an information net that fortify the community feeling. That happens because unity is a traditional method for surviving among poor: The best organized dwellers were not the better educated, less poor Argentinean neighbors; but the less educated, poorer Paraguayan and Bolivian neighbors: They were the firsts to dig a communal hole for collecting water. After a while, the neighbors created a housing cooperative that, assisted by us, adapted the plots in order to give an exit to a proper street to every house; took care that streets had a minimum width to let the ambulances to drive in; and obtained to be part of a social housing plan.

PROGRAMS, PROBLEMS.

Actually, in Los Eucalyptus they don't need houses, because dwellers - which usually work as building workers - transformed already their shacks into proper houses; but the social housing plan guarantees them the ownership of the land.

What Los Eucalyptus needs, as every neighborhood, is institutions, in order to be a proper neighborhood and not just a housing complex, but the housing plan that the neighbours got doesn't provide places for institutions.

Even if the 73 % of the housing problems in Argentina are not the lack of house but the lack of ownership of the land, urban services and community’s places; still most of the housing programs build new housing complexes instead of developing the existing slums. The few programs that deal with the problems at the existing slums they don’t work together, although the problems are all connected: unemployment brings poorness, poornes brings lack of ownership of the land, lack of ownership brings lack of public services, lack of public services brings health and educational problems, health and educational problems brings unemployment, unemployment brings violence and drugs.

This absurdity happens because those programs are not centralized: The new paradigm of a non central state’s administration was useful to resolve the lack of regional solutions that central administrated programs had; but the new programs haven’t enough legal power or funds to act in the holistic way that this complex problems need.

By the other side, the backing up of central state forced people to look for solutions by themselves, instead of hopelessly waiting for the state, or hopelessly trying to gain enough money to buy their houses in the market. People started to take their destinies in their own hands.

BOTTOM - UP SOLUTIONS.

People started to remember the ancient communal methods of production and formed the housing cooperative. Today, the cooperative is relived of the housing problem, but the community still has a lot of necessities; the cooperative could try to solve them by developing the participative processes that started to flourish.

The biggest social problem in Los Eucalyptus is unemployment: The 75% of women dwellers have not a job. A place for work training and creation of small entrepreneur business could raise their quality of life, especially of the 40% of single mother's families. Thus any entrepreneurship to be developed should be thought as women managed. They are able to do it: As they are at home connected with their neighbors, they had become the motor of the community’s linkage: today the 80% of cooperative’s delegates are women.

The 25% of the settlement's population subsist selling to recycling companies, garbage picked at the garbage dump that stand in front of the settlement. Garbage picking is the most important way of earning money at the settlement, but they earn just $0, 30 (U$D 0, 10) each kilogram of paper, or $ 0, 55 (U$D 0, 18) each kilogram of metal. In Argentina, to overcome the surviving level of life and to get to the poorness level of life, people need to earn at least $490 (U$D 163); to overcome the poorness level of life and to get into the middle class, you need $ 910 (U$D 303). Garbage picking takes a lot of time, because in Argentina we are not used to sort the garbage, then the pickers have to sort it by themselves.

The garbage picker’s earnings could be improved if they start organizing: there are several cases in Buenos Aires were garbage pickers settled working cooperatives, creating their own recycling companies to sell directly to the industries the recycled materials, and that way earning more money; one of those companies they even export iron to Europe.

But if we raise our expectations, we can think even bigger: Garbage can be used as raw material to produce different things, for example, construction materials. By selling them, dwellers could earn more money by adding value to their work: Instead of selling raw materials, they could sell industrial products, which are better valued at the market.

The work force in Los Eucalyptus is ideal for that task, not just because of their experience as building workers, but also because of their experience in building with recycled materials: when they settled down, the first shacks were made of recycled garbage. This experience taught them which materials can be structural materials (picked wood, wood structures of pallets), which materials are waterproof (plastic sheets, plastic bags), and which materials can be used as walls or roofs (sheet metal, wood).

But to convert these recycled materials into industrial materials, they should keep their structural, resistant, and shape properties during all the production: Laboratory test are needed in order to find a normalized method of production. Actually, in our university there is a research centre, called Centre of Experimental Production, which does that: They develop new construction materials using recycled garbage. We had contact them to give a free practical and theoretical seminar to Los Eucalyptus dwellers, and they are willing to do it, the problem is that dwellers haven’t got the money to travel to the university, and teachers haven’t got a proper working place at Los Eucalyptus, because the cooperative lacks of a communal house.

Up to now, cooperative members used to meet under a tree, but now that the news of the housing plan for dwellers were spread, it's very difficult to keep that plot away of being occupied. Besides that, the lack of an enclosed place makes impossible to hold an assembly in rainy or cold days, to store things, to open a children’s community dinning room, to have a classroom for adult’s job-training, or to have a working place. That’s why it’s so important to build up a communal house.

FOUNDING FUNDS.

One of the biggest problems for this kind of project is the lack of funds. There are the traditional ways of funding:

1. The state: The community center’s construction can be funded by the government program called “PROMEBA” (Program for neighborhood’s improvement), that allows to build community’s spaces, but this program only work on places where the dwellers are owners of the land. If the government promises of giving the social housing plan to the dwellers are real (which may happen because this year there are elections in Argentina – so a lot of money it’s going into social plans-), then, the dwellers would have the ownership of the land and would be able to get into the PROMEBA. By the other side, they depend on political decisions that they don’t control to build the communal center.

2. Private funding: Another way to fund the construction of the community center could be to ask for their leftovers to the construction companies … instead of throwing them. They could avoid taxes by giving donations to a local NGO as the housing cooperative. If the cooperative choose this funding method the problem could be to raise the money to hire the trucks, to load and move the materials to Los Eucalyptus. This funding method has, over the PROMEBA program, the advantage of letting dwellers and architecture’s students to be involved in the design of the communal center (way impossible if we deal with the state, because they have their own design teams). By the other side, this way of funding have the problem of tying us to design with de donated materials that we could get, with the danger of designing a Frankenstein building that not satisfy the cooperative’s needs; also, we don’t have enough legal tools, neither the time to ask for donations.

PROBLEM + PROBLEM = SOLUTION

Thus, the traditional ways of funding don’t suit our desires or possibilities. Besides that, they are methods of production that either relay in the state to give all the solutions, or either hope for the good will of individuals. Both solutions leave dwellers powerless and they are top - to - bottom solutions. We have to find a horizontal method of working that leaves some space of decision for dwellers, for example, about the construction system: The best way of constructing the communal centre is to do it with the same recycled construction materials that the cooperative would produce to sell. That way, dwellers can practice in the production of the construction materials, they can try how this new system works, and the communal center can be a 1:1 scale model of the possibilities of this new materials. Potential clients could see a working recycled building, and students involved in the construction could learn a not traditional construction system that can be used and spread by them. Maybe those students could be, when they’ll become architects, clients of the cooperative.

If cooperative’s members produce the materials and construct the communal centre by themselves, they don’t need outside funding. After that, cooperative’s costs should be covered by their own earnings. But for making possible this process, we need the help of the NGO Basic Initiative.

LET´S GET TPGHETHER

The NGO Basic Initiative is ideal for collaborating in this project because they already constructed similar architectural programs: A communal library, a health centre, and so on, thus they have the experience to deal with a group of people as a client - which is far more difficult than dealing with an individual client.

They also have the experience of working in Latin America, thus they have an understanding of the way of life and thinking of the people around here.

Their environmental approach is necessary to be able to find solutions trough design in a place full of physical environmental problems. Their experience of working with non traditional construction’s materials proves that they are open minded to produce a construction system with the recycling ideas that the Centre of Experimental Production had developed, but never could use in a complete building.

Basic Initiative takes Americans architecture’s students to help in the design and the construction of the projects they undertake, those human resources could be very useful because we need as many hands as possible. The exchange of different knowledge between Americans and Argentinean students could be very enriching: the American students can learn from the knowledge of the place of the Argentineans, and the Argentineans can learn from the enthusiasm and pragmatism of the Americans.

Last but not least, the prestige of an international NGO could help us to raise funds at the local government or another institution, to pay to Los Eucalyptus dwellers the bus tickets to go to the university, where they could hold the recycling course; and to rent a working place close to Los Eucalyptus for producing the first construction materials.

WEAVING THE NETWORKS.

This idea of creating a public building as a catalyst of social needs, building able to improve the quality of life of the people by the induction of other improvements, is known as urban acupuncture.

The management model here presented, lays on the idea of joining the concept of urban acupuncture with the concept of participative design, and the concept of networking.

The Bauhaus had taught us their successful management model: To join the state, the industry and the education, in order to improve the level of life of all the society; but we needed to expand and adapt that model to the complex needs of our time and place. Here and now, we need the collaboration of the state, the universities, the NGOs, and the people by themselves, to create the industry that could satisfy dweller’s aims by networking.

In this case, the state, represented by the local government, could collaborate with funds or a provisory working place; the university of Buenos Aires, through the Secretary of Community Actions, could collaborate with their student’s team and through the Center of Experimental Production, could collaborate with their know – how on production of recycled building materials; the NGO Basic Initiative could collaborate with their student’s team and with their know-how on team work and alternative methods of construction; the NGO Housing Cooperative of Los Eucalyptus, and the rest of Los Eucalyptus dwellers, could collaborate with their working capacity to stock raw materials, their construction knowledge, and their field knowledge.

Networking creates community, and the only way for a community to have a good quality of life is letting to all their members to have a good quality of life, because injustice brings resentment, and resentment brings violence that spreads on the whole society. We are all tied, so let’s make our bounds to caress us.

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