The Thirteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2011
Berkeley Prize 2011

Preeti Talwai Proposal

The InFORMal: Designing to Celebrate the Places Less Examined

Background: Through my Berkeley Prize essay, the aspect of “Valuing the Sacred” that I identified was the use of public, communal space, People's Park, as a sacred gathering spot for Berkeley’s homeless population. Through this exploration, I engaged with the dichotomies of formal and informal spaces, the evolution of public space, and adaptation of urban space by disenfranchised user groups. By exploring sacred space from a nontraditional stance instead of as an official religious typology, I developed a unique design lens that I now wish to carry forth in this Design Fellowship Competition. The adviser for this competition will be Professor Andrew Shanken, Associate Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley.

Through my contest, I want students to analyze informal uses of space by disenfranchised social groups, grappling with the socioeconomic, political issues surrounding these unique areas. Deeper theoretical points are to: (1) probe the architect’s role in designing for community and educating the public (2) question the formalization of space, and (3) consider how design may privilege or harm sectors of society. Resulting designs can raise awareness for the disenfranchised while recasting overlooked spaces as valuable and sacred.

Students would work either individually or in teams of up to 3 on a design problem. Because collaboration is a significant component of any successful architectural venture, leading to multifaceted solutions, students will be encouraged to work in groups. However, because the intimate and personal connections that are embedded in an individual’s experience of a space are also indispensable, I would provide this option as well.

  • Students would be presented with the following competition prompt: Prompt: Choose a public space in your city that is used informally by a socially disenfranchised group. How has this group adapted a specific part of the built environment in interesting and unexpected ways to fit their needs? Are ideas of public and private space conflated through transgression of space? What are the historic, economic, sociocultural, political and psychological influences and consequences of these adaptations? Examining your space through the lens of these and other important considerations, decide a unique design strategy to be applied that will suit the needs of the informal users, and will empower or enfranchise them. Consider issues surrounding architectural formalization – will your strategy structurally intervene to address the cause of disenfranchisement, or will it instead celebrate and accentuate the informal use of space? How is the strategy politically or economically charged, as well as physically and socially integrated? Most importantly, how is the character of the space maintained by incorporating its informal inhabitants into the design process?

    Stage 1: Research and Proposal Research the space and its inhabitants in various ways (observation, user interviews, archival research, etc.) and submit a 500-700 word proposal addressing the following:

  • Description of your chosen space, its uses, background, and informal, disenfranchised inhabitants.
  • Reasons for choosing this space, why it is worthy of study, and its social or architectural context.
  • Brief of your design strategy for the site and what influence it will have on the physical and social aspects of the space. Specifically, provide justifications for either formalizing or accentuating the informality of your space.
  • 5 photographs of the site: Your proposal must meet the following additional criteria:
  • Documentation of specific methods that were employed to research the space (interviews, questionnaire, video, photography, etc) attached as an appendix.
  • Scheme for incorporating and empowering users through the design process, providing them a genuine outlet for participation. Are the users educated somehow through this participatory journey? Are they involved in the construction or political aspects? In this first stage, focus on the larger social issues, users’ needs, and considerations of how the role of the architect can be reconfigured from the traditional top-down model of planning.

    Stage 2: Finalists, Design Implementation From the initial proposal pool, the jury will select the top 20 percent of entries as finalists. They will go on to the more detailed design stage of the project, planning all aspects of the physical implementation of the design as well as community involvement and any other logistics that are part of their project.

    Finalists will submit the following:

  • 700-1000 word statement including: -Details about how the first phase of the project informed the final design strategy -Details about the physical implementation of the project. Is it an architectural formalization, an accentuation of existing space, or will it be realized through other media like social events, activism, or political lobbying? -Scheduled outline for the implementation of the project, how and when the community will be involved. -Explanation of why your strategy is a unique and successful approach for enfranchising and empowering your user group. What are the social benefits of your plan?
  • A maximum of two 36” x 72” design boards, catered to the community’s public eye, detailing the design strategy. Because of the diverse approaches that this competition encourages, there are no strict requirements for the boards’ content. However, you are suggested to include drawings, diagrams and renderings of the design, at a clearly indicated scale. Incorporate other non-design parts of your strategy as appropriate, ensuring that your vision can be clearly grasped by the public.
Photographs of a physical model (optional).

Judging: The entries will be judged on the following criteria -How compelling are the chosen space, user group, and approach, and how well does the proposal/ design examine informal uses of space? -How much potential do the proposal/ design have to be developed and ultimately carried out in a community? -How thoroughly do the research methodologies probe the needs of the user group and the area’s larger contextual issues? -How well does the scheme incorporate the disenfranchised users into the design process?

Awards: First place - $1000; Second place - $750, Third Place - $500

Jury: With their agreement, I would invite the following faculty to judge this competition: 1. Andrew Shanken, Associate Professor of Architecture, UC Berkeley (also the advisor) 2. Margaret Crawford, Professor of Architecture, UC Berkeley 3. Ananya Roy, Professor of City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley

Publicity: The competition would be publicized throughout UC Berkeley via listservs and fliers, and in classes and at events. San Francisco’s many design firms, especially those interested in architectural activism, would also be notified either electronically or personally. In addition, the assistance of Berkeley professors would be requested in contacting other universities’ architecture departments to widen the prospective applicant pool. Professionals’ support might be sparked by several incentives. Firstly, the collection of entries could create an encyclopedia of overlooked areas, specifically since high-budget urban architecture often wins attention over more vernacular structures in the Bay Area. Also, by addressing the universal issues of informality and disenfranchisement, entries might spark interdisciplinary interest in new social issues and user groups. As both the urban fabric and architectural professions evolve rapidly, this competition would enable both students and professionals to redefine their social roles.

Documentation: All participants will register for the competition and upload their work on a website, with an identification number to preserve anonymity. The work, numbers and locations of participants will be archived for the Berkeley Prize. In addition, judges will be requested to write a brief overall reflection on the judging process for both stages of the competition.

Schedule: Mid-April to May 2011 – Widespread publicity for the competition will take place. May 2011 – Competition will be launched on its own website. Early August 2011 – Stage 1 Proposals Due. Mid-September 2011 – Finalists announced. Mid-November 2011 – Stage 2 Designs Due. Late December 2011 – Winners Announced.

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