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

[ID:1890] Fear of Walking

Iran

“I exist in life only on the condition that I see.”-Le Corbusier.

To help the injured and aggrieved, we always look for a natural disaster. But sometimes, the disaster is lurking nearby whilst ignored and unnoticed. The nearly 100,000 blind in Iran, 20000 alone who reside in Tehran, are one such example. Although they pick up a natural instinct to make their way through the hazardous routes and walkways, they are still faced with a daily struggle to make it through in the world. It is frightening to think that just to make their way to work every morning, they must find a helping hand or else be stranded, even if their office is the Iranian Blind’s Organization. This office is located in the northern part of Tehran where the passages and streets have a slope of 30%, and are regularly gnawed with holes and pits. And that’s overlooking the fact that the public transportation system lacks any facilities for the disabled. For some, reaching this destination is crucial as they come from poor families without a means of making a living. And the food stamps and weekly allowances provided for them by the organization is a life necessity. This weekly pay allows them to afford everything from clothing, school accessories, and house rent to brail watches. To get there, they must either take a taxi, which can be too expensive to afford, or find an accompaniment.

This all has resulted in an extreme decline in their participation in society – to a point where we can even consider them oppressed. Since many parts of the city are off-limits to them, they feel an extreme sense of loneliness that often leads to depression.

To rectify this, we must first begin by wiping this fear of walking out in society from their minds. We should provide an opportunity for blinds and low sighted people to mingle and mix with ordinary sighted citizens in an appropriate way. And yet, many ordinary individuals do not have a clear idea as how to face the blind and the disabled. What matters is that the blind and disabled should not be considered different. They do not need anything special for survival. What they need is to be treated in a proper way.

In the first step, we should increase the general knowledge of society about their disability by designing special kiosks all around the city. We could have several types of kiosks, which are different in their design and texture according to the level of the project. To reduce the cost of their construction we could apply reused materials. The first type of the kiosk can play an informative rule for both sighted and blind people. Like many other newspaper kiosks around the city, they could distribute everything from brail newspaper, books, and magazines - things other than daily needs of sighted people - to ordinary newspapers and cigarettes.

Aside from these, we should distribute informative brochures about the problems facing blind people in the city and the appropriate behavior that would yield solutions. Now comes the question of who is going to sell or distribute them? A blind person for sure is the best option. There are hundreds of blinds that need to have to hold small jobs. Aside from the money, just to be like other citizens. We are trying to increase the involvement of the blind citizens as much as we can. We are making a social change by social architecture. In this step we are informing both sides. Making sighted citizens aware of the existence of the blinds and their capability in social participation, and giving the blinds a confidence of participation.

In the second step, I would suggest a plan to better the pave ways in the city and to begin with the parts of the city closest to their organization. Although there already exists very limited facilities in some parts of the city, but they are too few and scattered to be of any good use. What makes this simple work unfeasible is the high expenditure of construction material and lack of trained workers. By assumed information distribution among people for sure there will be a huge group of enthusiastic volunteers form ordinary people to architecture students who would even like to fix the mosaics on the floor. We who have been blessed with the gift of sight could diagnose pits and holes on our passageways. By using suitable pavement flooring we are trying to strengthen the “other” eyes that blind people use, namely their footsteps and cane, as well as their powerful sense of hearing and touch.

The mosaics or tiles, which are going to be used, could be made of recycled materials that are currently collected all around the city. These floorings could be different in texture and material street by street.

“Participation is the arena in which people can relearn environmental competence, experience the pleasure of collective work.”(The scope of social architecture-C.Richard Hatch)

Aside from the correction in pave ways,I would like to suggest the improvement of the side plant coverage (vegetation). We all know the advantages of using plants and trees in all urban spaces, other than increasing the air circulation in the streets which already has become a daily struggle with the huge amount of air pollution in Tehran, we are going to make another use of them: to use the smell of these plants for helping blinds to find their way in reaching specific locations according to their needs. It has been proven that the smell of many plants and trees has a specific reflection in the human brain.(Healing Gradens-R.Rawlings) For instance, the smell of rosemary causes a sense of awakening and warning, and the smell of geranium causes a sense of balance and stability in humans. We might use the rosemary in places close to car passing streets just to make people more cautious. In this case, by passing form each shop or space blinds and sighted people could taste a specific smell, which is exclusive for that passage.

We are not designing the city for blinds; we are trying to make them feel the public spaces - even by the smell of a flower or the interrupted shadow of the tree on the sidewall. Each street could have its exclusive flooring and a tiny smell of a flower. We do not want to exclude the natural smells in streets whether they are disgusting or scented. They could be also a key for them to find their way. We are just adding a bit of taste to the street air. Imagine that you are giving an address to someone in another way; “Go straight till you feel the smell of lily! Then turn to the left”.

This could give blinds and sighted citizens a new experience in discovering and exploring their every day repetitive passing ways and spaces. It could be different day by day or season by season. By using this ideas blinds would not need any helping hand for passing through the street at least to reach their organization. Walking through insensible alleys and streets full of pits is transformed into pleasant experience just to reduce their fear of walking.

After pavement and sidewalks corrections in flooring and vegetation, what we aim to do is to build parks and plazas designed for both blinds and sighted people, not only in respect to codes and standards, but also to create a sense and meaning of space that would be tangible for them. A meaning that would encompass their sense of understanding –not ours.

In each level of this project we are trying to extend the confrontation of blinds and sighted step by step. In designing open spaces, which are already few in Tehran, we are following two main goals: To create a calm and reliable public space for blinds, which they presently do not have. And design a space for their social participation beside sighted citizens.

In the first goal architecture could play the main rule. We as a designer would give that space a sense of life and vividness. These open spaces could be from a park or plaza to an empty gap between two buildings. Passing by a street and experiencing different sounds of water on your left or right side. From the stillness of water to the splashing water in a tiny waterfall on your side. People could easily experience this within ten minutes, when they are passing from bookshop 100 steps ahead of the supermarket.

Other than such sensible events, which are taking place next to the sidewalks, I would suggest the usage of the next type of kiosks. This type has an exhibiting rule. They are also different in their material and textures form the informative kiosks. They are at the center of activities. In some of them blinds can sell and exhibit their own and handmade productions such as tactile paintings and sculptures. Some other might sell their cakes, foods…many of these blinds as I said are form poor families who do not have a resource for income. They just need a small sparkle to start shining. Such kiosks can be even designed and decorate by them. They might be a better designers than us!.

We could also create and suggest activities, to take place in these parks and plazas for everybody’s participation. For many, it might be interesting to have a sculpture of their face made by a blind person. You as a sighted might give a blind a chance to touch your body and clothes which he has never had the chance. And the blind give you the chance to diagnose smells and textures of materials by your closed eyes while your are sitting next to him.

Psychologist, Robert white says:” Satisfaction has to be seen as lying in a considerable series of transactions, in a trend of behavior rather than a goal that is achieved.” The two-side participation between groups of unfamiliar citizens is more important than the creation of the park or any other space

In this project we are using the same codes and standards, which are used all around the world, since we are using open spaces that have been created long time ago.What makes these spaces and activities different this time is a new look and perspective towards an underserved population.

We are trying to open a new vision in the definition of conceptual architecture for the blind by making new public and city spaces close to their needs. This project could increase the number of 10000 blinds participation at least in Tehran, the same as ordinary sighted citizens. “The true significance of participation lies in its effect on the participants, not on architecture.” (The scope of social architecture-C.Richard Hatch)

To fulfill the above plan as a team cooperates I would choose Public Architecture organization. Thousands of urban and architectural projects are condemned to fail because of their refusal in using local architects or counselors. For example, in programs of rebuilding houses in south villages in Iran after the war the non-local counselor team from other areas designed a cubic, equipped modular flats for a shepherd family in their village and non of the families accepted to live in them because they used to sleep next to their herd and said ” How could we sleep at night without feeling the breath of our animal?” Therefore after a short time people left this village. A foreign company or organization might have the best programming and plans in all aspects of the project, but what would not be touchable for them is the complete understanding of people’s social and cultural situation. And I think the best option is to participate with a local team(s), Especially in Iran with its complex cultural and social relations and situation. Since this organization has not done any project in Iran it would be necessary for them to make a team with a local designer(s).

The second factor which would result in a stronger partnership is my relative knowledge and information about the project by considering their cultural and level differences. For example, their level differences could affect the project zoning. Reaching this level of information will not be possible just by interviewing them and several talk sessions.

The reason behind many undone projects in Iran is the lack of appropriate leadership and management. I think Public Architecture, with a variety of experiences all over the world, can take on a leadership aside from being the supplier of this project. What I mean by the supplier is that the local designer(s) would design the requested spaces, plant coverage, paving mosaics and especially the kiosks and this organization would help designer(s) build them by teaching them new methods in using different types of materials and vegetation besides their innovative methods in urban design projects.

What encourage me to work with this organization is our same point of view in perception of any problem and the solution, which is reflected in their short introduction in their website.” Architectural beauty isn’t just in the look of things. It’s the expansion of who we are and what value as a community. It’s also in the sound of footfalls on a plaza, the smell of rain on pavement, the warmth of a brick wall in the sun. It’s in the sequence of space we pass through tall and narrow, broad and open, bright, dark, loud, quiet. Public Architecture advocates for places for people with minds and bodies. NOT JUST EYES.”

We don’t want to see the creation of architecture - we want to feel it.

In their viewpoint architecture enables people to speak, to participate and to act. So these descriptions put our goals in the same road.

By reading about their projects I feel the confidence that we can make a good team.

The first one is “The sidewalk plazas” project. In this project they face the need of public space, which is also common in my plan.The benefits that people can have from such thoughtful spaces. "The idea of generous sidewalk and pedestrian-oriented spaces create a variety of outdoor activities and urban amenities." They are also concerned about traffic and transportation problems, which could be common in my suggestive plan.

Also in the third and forth suggested solutions in their image renderings on their website, we could observe their attention to vegetation and landscape issue. We as a team can design amazing pavements considering the passage routes by shifting in the use of trees and plants according to the needs I mentioned.

The other common points in other projects such as” Day labor station” is the design and materials of this station. Such examples are rare in design of the kiosks and stations in Iran. Also using recycled and reused material could be very useful in creating mosaics and tile of the pavement and the structure of the kiosks and many other tools such as benches and exhibition decorations in designing open spaces besides the reduction of cost.

And at the end I would like to say. “I exist in life only on the condition that I feel.”

If you would like to contact this author, please send a request to info@berkeleyprize.org.


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