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





In your city, how do individual communities demonstrate their presence through the buildings designed to serve that group’s social and cultural needs and endeavors?


discussion and requirements

Throughout history, individual communities within cities have shown their presence through their architecture.  Distinct populations within the urban environment use architecture to facilitate gatherings that affirm their identity as a people and as a way to give their community an urban presence.  In fact, a city's social and economic vitality is derived from what diverse communities contribute - and how these communities, comfortable among their urban neighbors, express themselves openly through buildings and architecture.

As a community, people may build a new structure or repurpose and remodel an existing structure to serve their specific population.  In either case, the chosen location within the city, whether intentional or not, is clearly meant to express and symbolize the community's presence in the diverse urban fabric of the city.  Your design studio most probably reflects a population of mixed parentage, a multitude of different personal histories, and various religious, political, and cultural affiliations. You are now asked to go out of your studio and into your city to investigate and document how these very same differences are reflected in the city’s architecture. 

Find 3 buildings, each of which represents one of your city's unique communities.

  • Provide the background information for the buildings: when built, by whom, for what purpose, and today’s specific use.
  • Describe the most interesting aspects of the buildings in terms of the design and its location within the city.
  • Architecturally, which of these buildings is most interesting to you as a representative of the community that occupies it.  In depth, explain why.

As you are investigating and writing, remember that the context for all of these questions is what is to be learned from the above research and analysis towards a better understanding of the social art of architecture.





By Nezar AlSayyad (2016)

At the heart of all of the main attributes of community is the question of identity.  Of course, the connection between the identity of a people and the form and culture of the architecture and urbanism they produce has been the subject of much research.  Family, ethnicity, religion, language, and history have all been identified as community-constituting elements that are handed down in a process normally referred to as “tradition”. Tradition is based on valuing constraint.  In a technological world of limitless choices, the conflict between the traditional and the modern in the construction of community become unavoidable.  To cast traditional communities as good and modern ones as bad, or vice versa, would be naïve.  As much research has demonstrated, the traditional/modern dialectic is very problematic. Dichotomies such as East vs. West, North vs. South, First World vs. Third World, core vs. periphery, and developed vs. underdeveloped nations may be considered artificial categories.  An approach that takes into account the discursive constitution of communities would recognize that all social groups are constructed in relationship to one another, and that they are produced, represented, and perceived through the ideologies and narratives of situated discourse.

The Mosque and funerary complex of Sultan al-Ahsraf Qansuh al-Ghuri, as portrayed in the nineteenth century by David Roberts in the Bazaar of the Silk Mercer. 

The Mosque and funerary complex of Sultan al-Ahsraf Qansuh al-Ghuri, present day. 


Both images from Cairo: Histories of a City (2013) by Nezar AlSayyad.


The relationship between architecture and community is as old as time itself.  The concept of community itself is very complex. In some languages, the term does not even exist or it simply means “society” or “nation.” Accordingly, the concept embodies different meanings and scales in different cultures. Community may even be contested within the same language, as may be clear from the different definitions of the concept in the Oxford English Dictionary or the American Heritage Dictionary.  A community may be defined as “a group of people who live in the same area” or “a group of people who have the same religion or race” or “a unified body of individuals with common interests.” This gives the term a certain fluidity that may change from place to place.


Hence, if one analyzes the issues of identity in communities and the built environments in the developing world, one must understand the processes by which these identities were violated, ignored, distorted, or stereotyped throughout history, and how they may still be reproduced in today’s context.


Community architecture is the space that exists between the individual architecture of dwellings built by or for individuals to respond to their personal needs or taste on one hand, and national architecture that attempts to represent the nation state at large particularly through its public buildings, on the other hand. It plays a very important role in giving individuals a sense of belonging while at the same time allowing the nation to act as a single unit with a collective culture, history and mission.

Yet it must be recognized that the term community itself can also be hegemonic as it may define who is included and who is excluded from the group. The same attributes that bind communities together, like national origin, race or language, can and have at times been used by a dominant majority against a dominated minority.  In such cases, spatial segregation and community tensions result.

The term “community" has been one of the most frequently used terms over the last 50 years of Architectural and Urban discourse. For decades, "the community" has served as a legitimization tool for architectural theorist from the early modern movement to the current “New Urbanism.” But one should ask: What is the proper definition of community as far as architecture is concerned? Can a “community" impact the design of its own space and the resulting urban form?  What does it mean for communities today to exist in an increasingly globalizing world?  What does it mean for communities in the age of Twitter and Facebook to exist virtually in cyberspace? What is the connection between the virtual communities of social media and the real communities that exist in physical space?

Nezar AlSayyad is a Professor of Architecture, City Planning, Urban Design, and Urban History. He is Faculty Director of the Center for Arab Societies and Environments Studies (CASES), and the co-founder of the International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments (IASTE), a scholarly association concerned with the study of indigenous vernacular and popular built environments around the world. For almost two decades AlSayyad also chaired the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Berkeley leading it to International standing.

Educated as an architect, planner, urban designer and historian, AlSayyad is principally an urbanist whose specialty is the study of cities, their urban spaces, their social practices and their economic realities. As a scholar, AlSayyad has authored and edited several books on colonialism, identity, Islamic architecture, tourism, tradition, urbanism, urban design, urban history, urban informality, and virtuality.




By Barbara Knecht (1995)

A homeless camp in Portland, Oregon, USA  (photo by Christopher Herring).

Nostalgic representations of community intrude into virtually any discussion on the topic of homelessness. Attempts to explain its existence, to fight against solutions, and to condemn its victims invariably incorporate perceptions of community. In this context, community is used to evoke sentimental images of home and neighborhood, and provokes emotional responses and prejudices. It is appropriated for many purposes. Messages tell us homelessness has resulted from the breakdown of family and “community” in America. A vague and unidentified "homeless community" is, in turn, blamed for the destruction of neighborhoods. People embrace these ideas and claim them as reason why formerly homeless people should not be housed in their “community.” On the other hand, when groups of homeless people band together to form makeshift villages – “communities” - in front of City Halls or in public parks, their structures are broken down and the occupants scattered. And yet, when housing is built for homeless people, the design is expected to foster and create a "sense of community" for a potentially disparate group of people who come to be housed there (continue reading).

Barbara Knecht, R.A. is a consultant in New York and Boston where she works on affordable housing and community development projects. She is the Director of Design at the Institute for Human Centered Design, an international nonprofit organization committed to enhancing the experiences of people of all ages and abilities through excellence in design. She is also co-director of the IHP “Cities in the 21st Century” program, a multi disciplinary, comparative, travel-study program for university undergraduates.

Ms. Knecht has worked for the City of New York and numerous not for profit agencies producing several thousand units of affordable housing.  Her work in accessibility and universal design dates back thirty years and has informed all her projects with a human centered design perspective.




“In conserving the heritage of Asia and the Pacific, UNESCO seeks to encourage the role of the private sector and local communities in preserving their cultural heritage. The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation were established in 2000 to recognize and encourage private efforts and public-private initiatives in successfully restoring structures of heritage value in the region.”  Their 2016 nominations closed on April 30 (explore here).





The UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN), “was created in 2004 to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development. The 116 cities which currently make up this network work together towards a common objective: placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level…Joining the network is a longstanding commitment; it must involve a participative process and a forward-looking approach. Cities must present a realistic action plan including specific projects, initiatives or policies to be executed in the next four years to implement the objectives of the Network.” The Network covers seven “creative fields,” one of which is “design” (explore here).


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