Report From Winner
Hadas Rix, The Technion, Israel
Hadas Rix is a senior student in the architecture and urban planning faculty at the Israeli Institute of Technology, (also known as the Technion ), located in Haifa, Israel. In 2004, Hadas joined the Israeli Chamber of Icomos and took part in the Jewish heritage sites preservation mission to Moravia. She has a strong interest in public participation in planning and in ecological and environmental design.
Winning the Berkeley prize travel fellowship provided me with an amazing opportunity to broaden my knowledge of social architecture. Interacting with the community in Istanbul, with lecturers and fellow students and taking part in the various programs of the UIA congress, all contributed to this significant experience. Social architecture ideas, conceptions and projects already existing in different parts of the world provided me with a bank of new initiatives to accomplish in my home country. My original research objectives were to:
1. Discover the main problems facing the integration between slum areas and the rest of the city.
2. Investigate the urban spaces in slums, discover how the inhabitants' social needs are provided and to define how these spaces refer to the urban system of the metropolis.
3. Explore new tools and technologies of developing source-efficient dwellings; Examine size, shape, energy and time-efficient factors in creating sustainable infrastructure conditions for the urban poor.
4. Search synthesis possibilities for complementary fusion between social programs and architectural projects in order to promote the slum population.
5. Establish an international student thinking group for further brainstorming and research that will continue after the congress is over.
Soon after arriving I realized that some of my objectives should be narrowed down in order to achieve a more focused, intensive research. My research focused mainly on discovering the potential of the public urban space and the social role it plays in the inhabitants' lives. My original intention to search for synthesis possibilities for complementary fusion between social programs and architectural projects was considered as an additional layer while an urban space system strategy was being developed. My ambition to explore new tools and technologies of developing source-efficient dwellings seemed unreasonable considering the time frame given. Other participants in the GS (Global Studio) came up with interesting new ideas working on the tools and technologies design scale.
My stay in Istanbul lasted almost three weeks. The first week was dedicated to meeting the city, meeting the GS members- tutors and fellow students, and meeting the people of Zeyrek. The second week was devoted mainly to intensive work in the Istanbul Technical University's studios, kindly designated for this purpose. In the third week I took part in the PBBC (People Building Better Cities) program, which ran simultaneously with the UIA congress activities.
On my first day in Istanbul I felt an urge to get to know the city: smell its scents, experience its spaces and meet its people. I started walking from the new town center in Taksim Square. Walking down Istiklall Ave. from Taksim square, one can experience an intense flourishing sense of what city life is all about; locals, tourists, women, men and children fill the street twenty-four hours a day. Passing by the music shops and chatting with the gem merchants near the Galata tower, I enjoyed the Mediterranean atmosphere and it reminded me of home. I continued walking across the Ataturk Bridge, passing above the famous Golden horn where the fishermen were earning their daily share. Moving on through Ataturk Boulevard, I crossed the street to climb the steeping alleys leading to Zeyrek. Stepping into Zeyrek left me with the impression that a transparent bubble is defining the neighborhood from all its surroundings. An amazing number of children spend their time playing in the streets and in the vacant lots, owning the public space, while mothers sit in porches, watching the outsiders passing by. Statistics show that 55% of the families in Zeyrek have more than 5 people and 40% have more than 7 . I passed through the market place under the famous aqueduct and crossed the street on my way to the old quarter of Sultan Ahmed. Visiting the famous Sulimanya mosque and enjoying the smells of the spices bazaar completed my first visit, linking the new city center, the golden horn, Zeyrek and the old city center through a continuous perspective space frame.
Zeyrek seems to be an unfulfilled potential of a beautiful lively neighborhood; it is not linked to the city spine, thus preventing its inhabitants from enjoying the interaction with the rest of the city. In the GS, we started to work in small groups and after, all 60 participants joined to form five groups sharing main fields of design and planning interests. All the groups dealt with certain planning issues in Zeyrek. Our group was called "Strategies which Address the Whole Site". We started by defining the internal and external borders of Zeyrek and mapping all the potential empty lots and spaces for interventions. We discovered a historical heritage route passing through Zeyrek, linking the old city center with the golden horn and defining Zeyrek as a gateway to historical Istanbul. The route was created as a basic spine on which various potential activities developed by the fellow groups could take place. During our stay, Hakan Oskasikci and Saija Hollmen both tutors at the GS, initiated a meeting between FSWW (Foundation for the Support of Women's Work) - an NGO active in Turkey, representing the women in Zeyrek, and GS students. The women in the community have expressed a strong interest in gaining sewing and tailoring skills. Some actual measures have been taken to encourage further development for the people in Zeyrek instead of allowing Gentrification to occur by inviting external tourism to come into Zeyrek.
While presenting our ideas we were criticized for our ambition to create a systematic flexible route through the neighborhood, referred to as a top-down way of looking at the site. Our group dealt with the site at a large scale and the interesting question that arose from this discussion was: Does social architecture exist only in small scale? In terms of large scales, what is social architecture all about? Isn't developing a strategy our responsibility as social architects and planners, trying to provide the people with better opportunities? One could not plan a whole city structure based on a woman sitting on a porch! This romanticized way of looking at things had to be thoroughly examined and thought over. Sergio Palleroni- a lecturer at the PBBC program referred to knowledge as responsibility and not as power. I truly believe in that definition. A series of small interventions with the community without a specific aim is irresponsible in this case.
Asking several teachers in the GS my question, I was provided with a range of different answers; PG Raman said, "There have never been plans in urban scale which were socially successful, but failures have been plenty. We plan in smaller scales to make small mistakes, planning in larger scales leads to bigger mistakes". Sam Akkach claimed, "In terms of what is happening right now (in city planning), it is only top-down planning. Historically this is not the way towns and cities were built...we have arrived to the point where we are questioning the whole process in which the city of today immerges.", The Turkish tutor Erhan Acar suggested that " planning in bigger scales requires a multidisciplinary approach. The cities are not one master's toy- start by first planning your own house, and from that point never look from a high point of view". A special discourse arose from this question, leading to different interesting ideas emerging from different points of view and backgrounds. The discussion confronted the architectural discipline with a contradiction I believe should be answered.
I believe we have reached the time where social architecture is redefining itself. We cannot observe this matter anymore from the same angle as the Independence group and Team 10 did fifty years ago. Van Eyck said," We need thousands and thousands of architects to think less about 'architecture', money, or the cities of the year 2000, and more about their trade as architects. Let them work tied by a leg so that they cannot stray too far from the earth in which they have their roots or from the men they know best. Let them always clutch a firm foundation based on dedication, good will and honor." Much of this perception is still very true; however, the question is what exactly the trade of the architect is? While Van Eyck designed his famous school allowing different ways and uses of space, the new perception asks what the children's needs are. Perhaps considering a public library or a playground in the first place could be a better idea than a school…
Peter and Alison Smithson spoke about ads serving as an ethical source of inspiration to their work. They planned for the people but they were the planners. The new social approach claims a new sewing workshop; a new educational system and creating job opportunities is the inspiration for new planning, but the spaces themselves should be created by the people. The architects' role has perhaps changed, we are no longer supposed to design the building but instead design the process in which it is being built.
It is not a coincidence that working groups such as Team 10 and the Independent group did not work alone. The GS encouraged students to work together in groups and share their ideas, and I found this very appropriate. The formation of new kinds of groups and communities are feasible today thanks to the Internet, the global economy and communication systems. A community of this kind is now being formed by the GS participants. Erhan Acar said that "planning in bigger scales requires a multidisciplinary approach." A group consisting of 12 students is thus a good place to start. However, designing with students from varied disciplines should be the next step.
The PBBC was formed and arranged by Pietro Garau and Prof. Anna Rubbo from the University of Sydney. It presented The Millennium Project and different socially interesting projects already existing in various countries. Pietro Garau and Gabriella Carolini wrote the UN Millennium report. The report recommends that the urban poor should be at the center of all development processes affecting their lives, and that much can be achieved by improving the interaction between them and human settlement professionals. The project in Zeyrek was part of a bigger concept called 'A Home in the City', also included in the UN Millennium Project. The PBBC forum was a stimulating experience, a stage for extraordinary initiatives presenting social architecture and planning issues throughout the world.
The short sessions in the PBBC provided us with a glimpse into some of the work being done throughout the world, thus contributing all attendees with an excellent bank of new ideas that we all feel committed to fulfill in our own countries. David Week presented an impressive project that he is running in Ache where 15,000 houses have been built over past 18 months, starting shortly after the tsunami disaster occurred. David Week described the process of community planning and distinguished it from the normal process in which projects are normally planned. Week has presented other works in Lao PDR and East Timor, all involving the community in a very intensive and direct manner and providing the people with the instructions and the small budget needed to build their own houses, schools and other facilities. Peter Rich presented a heritage museum he designed in a slum area in Alexandria, Johannesburg. The project was designed for the community to tell their story through the visit.
Sergio Palleroni presented a fascinating program that he established in the USA, providing students with the opportunity to design and build projects in the Yaqui Valley, Mexico. The students are committed to a process lasting two years during their studies. The process includes discussions with the community, professional training, executing the project and keeping contact with the community after completion. The program mainly aims to attain cultural, ecological and economical sustainability through the process and, of course, its educational value is extremely important. Don Alexander presented the ICSC- the International Center for Sustainable Cities, the networks and project Sites and its main achievements.
The forum gathered for a future directions meeting after the PBBC program was over. New ideas and objectives were suggested for the next global studio. Creating a social organization within the community as the first step for intervention, establishing a common database for future ideas and projects were suggested among a series of ideas for future actions. Shelly Arnstein and Ram Eisenberg have collected some of the lessons derived from the studio. I would like to join Shelly Arnstein's observation who wrote, "Much of my learning from this experience has been consolidated within the PBBC lectures. Unfortunately they have been rushed and structured in a way which did not encourage detailed or extended discussions." Other interesting observations were, "We did not ask the right questions. For example, we never asked who the people of influence were, and who the agents of change in the neighborhood were... meeting with opinion leaders- must be from the very beginning. They need to own the project"
The UIA congress itself was an enormous scale event with only a few issues relating directly to my research. Shigeru Ban presented some of his recent interesting work including temporal dwellings for refugees that he designed. Peter Eisenman made a strong argument about architecture and the social role it should play. He argued that the age of the spectacular is about to end and that social value is about to determine the new era to come. The superstar architects will move aside allowing a new kind of architecture to evolve. The only weak point in his arguement is that he did not actually say what kind of a new architecture this might be. What is it going to look like? And how will we recognize it when we meet it? So there are still plenty of matters to be cleared up.
Sitting tranquilly under the Platanus trees, drinking our last bitter Turkish tea, I was having a quiet farewell conversation with my Australian roommate. We were sitting in the sunken garden within the Sulimania mosque site, the same garden I glimpsed at during the very first day of my visit. The magnificent space with its perfect dimensions- about 8 meters below ground level and around 10 * 15 meters box-shaped space, the simple light-structured furniture and the ambiguous shadows that the trees create in space completed the quiet peaceful atmosphere. I could not help but visit Sulimania again and see if it is as perfect as my first impression was. After visiting about a dozen mosques during my stay I wanted to check if it is still my favorite space. Sulimania's space is made in the exact proportions a man feels comfortable with - not a tiny creature as I felt in Hagia Sofia, and not a king at his castle as I felt in Topkapi palace. Mimar Sinan designed Sulimania with a respect for our scale and size, and this is what makes it a good public space. Undoubtedly, the architect who will achieve Mimar Sinans' qualities of space with the moral ethics described above will follow a straight path to the architecture we are all looking for.
The new conception of social architecture is making its first steps. The collection of various works already existing reveals a real change in the definition of social architecture. In the new era of transatlantic communication and economy systems, social architecture in bigger scales needs to be challenged. Multidisciplinary approach combined with funds allocated to the community has proved to have good results concerning the satisfaction, responsibility and ownership people feel. Questions regarding strategy development and its social role in city scales still need to be clarified. The esthetic aspect and its relationship with the moral and ethical ones are yet to be defined. Lack of budget seems to be a safe shelter while avoiding these issues rather than taking responsibility and admitting that this is a part of our profession. The discourse does not have clear-cut answers to all of these aspects and this is what makes it a lively one. As long as we do not have all the answers we still have a motivation to keep on working.
1 Aakkar, Muge lecture #3 GS, Statistical Data
2 Smithon, Alison and Team 10. Team 10 Primer. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1968.
3 Banham, Reyner. The New Brutalism: Ethics or Aesthetic? Documents of Modern Architecture: New York Reinholds Pub. Corp. 1966: 61-75
4 Garau Pietro , Sclar D. Elliott & Carolini Y. Gabriella Recognizing the urban poor as active agents of development, A Home in the CityMillenium Project: Earthscan Pub. UK and USA, 2005 ; 23-34