|The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2023|
[ID:1936] The Anatomy of Community
"Preoccupation with our own interests - our own narrow desires, ambitions, and goals - undermines our ability to be compassionate. Conversely, the more we concern ourselves with providing for others' well-being, the more meaningful our lives become and the happier we ourselves will be."
-the Dalai Lama
Mattresses lie on the sidewalk, studios emerge out of an old production plant, and cranes rise above construction sites. An old Victorian house-turned-coffee shop stands on the edge of a site for a multi-level condominium and across the street from a row of new live/work lofts is a soup kitchen and emergency shelter. A homeless person asks for change, the artist sets up an exhibit and the small business owner comes out to sweep the sidewalk in front of his property. This is East Village, downtown San Diego's old warehouse district.
The human body can be used as a metaphor from which principles to establish strong and viable communities, that are both diverse and unified, can be derived. The body is an intricately balanced system of parts that work together to form a fully functional unit. No part is greater than another, yet each one has a unique identity within the whole. The health of the body depends largely on the support that the members give to each other, and "if one part suffers, the others suffer with it" (1 Cor.12:26 NIV Bible). This is as true for the individual as it is for the family. It also holds true for a community and society as a whole.
A healthy society evolves from the healthy individual: a person who has a sense of identity and purpose, a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves; a person known by himself and by others. It is easy to put our own interests and ambitions above others but "the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!'...those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable." (1 Cor.12:21-23, NIV Bible) When the pursuit of happiness is based solely on the individual, the body becomes fragmented and dysfunctional, leaving an empty and lonely individual. With the pursuit of happiness focused on the well being of others the results are life and fulfillment. A healthy society is a diverse one, for if the whole body were a hand, how would a person see, smell, hear or walk? (1 Cor.12:17, NIV Bible)
Homelessness might be described as a disease to society, in which case it is no more severe than a cough to a sick person. Homelessness maybe one symptom of a much deeper ailment: loneliness. When someone falls down and is alone, who is there to help him up? And if another works day and night but becomes a stranger to his own family, what is the purpose of his effort? Homelessness is a symptom of a dysfunctional body, because in the body, the homeless person has a place that keeps him within the community and provides support so that he can regain his footing
The East Village neighborhood is dotted with the displaced and this is the last of downtown to see redevelopment, but this situation is changing quickly. The city has master-planned this large neighborhood to become a 24-hour community. The plan is not meant to build on the existing character of the area. A ballpark for the San Diego Padres, a new main library, a center for biotech, communications and other technology-based companies, and a grand promenade that will link downtown to the city's largest urban park. They are all meant to transform the neighborhood entirely. In the ballpark area only 12 buildings will remain under the protection of their historic designation. The homeless people will move east and further away from the center of the city. The artist and the small business owner will face increased rent or property taxes, if they don't leave. Even some shelters will relocate as a result of the changes. The new downtown mainly targets the business professionals and tourists. While some affordable housing is being built, the neighborhood-an eclectic mix of artists' live/work lofts, warehouses, Victorian buildings, production plants, and sidewalk mattresses-will become a memory.
The human body includes its physical components, limbs, organs and other parts that enable it to move. It also contains the mind and the spirit, which fills the body with life, intellect, and will. There is the belief that the body, the mind and the spirit have a symbiotic relationship in which they mutually benefit from each other. The word symbiosis comes from the Greek word, sumbiosis that means 'companionship' or 'to live together.' Each one can be seen as intricately tied to the other and virtually impossible to separate without causing damage to the whole. Health and wholeness emerge from this cohesiveness.
Three distinct groups are represented in East Village: First, the homeless, perhaps the most enduring and transient of the three. Second, the business professional, the primary target group for the redevelopment of East Village. And third, the artist, who despite the condition of the neighborhood, made some of the earliest attempts at revitalization.
It is unlikely that anyone would consider the homeless, the artist and the professional to be essentially intertwined, but let's explore the idea. The homeless person is a representation of our need for food, clothing, and shelter -- things that pertain directly to the body. The professional represents our desire for knowledge, order, and understanding -- things that pertain to the pursuits of the mind. The artist represents our search for truth, reality and existence -- things that pertain to the spirit. Each one has something to offer, and each one needs the other.
The Homeless Person:
It is commonly perceived that the homeless are not able to offer much to anyone. They are the ones in need and there is little desire or encouragement for them to stay in their current situation. However, building a relationship with a person who is displaced has its benefits. They remind us of our humanity and our need for each other. So many of us believe that the pursuit of individual freedom and happiness can satisfy us. However, in this pursuit we have lost our concern for each other. If one looks into the background of those on the street, he may find it not so very different from his own. Many have a college or university degree; some have held a prominent position in a company. Some were married with kids; others worked a day job just to pay the bills. Others were simply discouraged and suffered mental illness. Then something happened, abuse of drugs or alcohol, abandonment by a spouse, the loss of a job, the closure of a support home, a disabling accident, or the death of a family member and in some cases the conscious decision to separate oneself from the 'establishment.' And who was there to lift them up and to instill in them a sense of hope?
Many successful transitional shelters and programs are based on the support and involvement of a community of people. This community finds satisfaction in being able to see others succeed. The person, who has been displaced, knows what it is like to have everything stripped away. They understand the value of a friend who will walk with them when their burden becomes too heavy. They understand the value of community. No one is immune to the tragedies of life, and the more one seeks to satisfy himself, the lonelier he will be in the end. The displaced person helps us to see the difference between intimacy and loneliness, abundance and want, community and isolation.
The Business Professional:
Many professionals donate hours of their time to provide the homeless with the services they need. They are able to use their knowledge and skills to take part in the success of others, and are typically seen as the providers. Unfortunately this can easily lead to an attitude in which they appear superior to the others. But they, of the three, are the servants. Without the professionals, shelters might not exist. Programs dealing with drug and alcohol addictions or mental illnesses, would be haphazard and inefficient. A person needs many things in order to get back on his feet and the professional has the knowledge and skill to address these needs. St.Vincent de Paul, a shelter in East Village is considered a one-stop shop for the homeless. Their program includes medical, dental, educational, job placement, housing, childcare and food services. Each service gives an opportunity for interaction and a relationship to grow between the professional and the homeless person. The dentist office celebrates the success of their clients on a brag wall. It contains the before and after pictures of those who have received dentures or other major reconstructive procedures. In the simple use of their skills, professionals are able to restore to their clients self-confidence, increase their chances of obtaining employment, and by engaging in a relationship, learn from them as well.
The artist brings everyone to a level playing field. In Albuquerque, New Mexico art builds community between the homeless, the artist and the business professional and is used as a mechanism to bring about healing and wholeness to individuals and families. ArtStreet, a program of the Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless, was initiated and sponsored by a group of business professionals and community leaders who sought a daytime resource for the homeless located in an art district. What emerged was an open studio and therapy outreach. The open studio operates at specific times throughout the week. Anyone and everyone is welcome: artists, businessmen, students, homeless people, and children. The main requirements are that one must come clean, sober, and for the purpose of creating art. In this setting a profound thing happens: a person walks in the door, demographics are stripped away leaving everyone on equal ground. The businessman can learn from the man on the street, the artist can learn from the businessman and relationships can form in a way that would be impossible elsewhere. The atmosphere is one of creativity, support, action, friendliness, community, success, and growth. Art installations and exhibits are held regularly to increase the awareness of the homeless in the city, and the people involved gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for each other. Art therapy reaches deep into a person's soul. Everyone can benefit from it: the business professional who may not have picked up a crayon or paintbrush in years, the homeless person who is going through an extremely stressful situation, and the artist who has the opportunity to share and mentor others in the art making process.
The body is healthy to the degree that its parts are healthy, just like a community is healthy to the degree that its people are healthy. The architect has responsibilities within this community. He has a responsibility to his client, to provide shelter and spaces that promote a healthy society.
The first thing an architect can do is become knowledgeable about his client, starting with the name, background, interests, likes and dislikes. Knowing someone means being able to walk and identify with him - the person on the mattress, the woman asking for change, and the kid with the scares on his arm. When the architect does this he can begin to shape space for him. The architect has numerous tools and materials at his disposal, and with them he can shape space that not only protects, but also speaks to the spirit and brings life.
As a part of the body, the architect plays a multi-faceted role in the health of the body; in the architect we find the homeless, the professional, and the artist. For the homeless, he provides shelter. As a professional, he organizes the building, follows advances in technology, and makes sure the building functions appropriately. As an artist, he strives to capture the spirit of a place, which in turn has the potential to reach the spirit of a person.
The tattered man calls to me on the street - he asks for change. I think to myself - I am poorer than he is with all the loans in my name. An old lady in a wheelchair smiles as she sits outside the convenience store - she asks for food. I have a yogurt. It's not much, but now it's hers. And then there is the woman with the Garfield doll, and the one who is always in the middle of washing her hair; there is the man who sleeps on the sidewalk right outside my building, and the one who's disappeared. There are shelters for them, they say, but even these will move away. San Diego's East Village is changing, and the demographics will shift. It is for the better, they say, but the displaced will still need a home and support to carry on.
To address the issue of the displaced person, one cannot consider them independent from the rest of society or as the only one in need. One must look at the whole body to assess its condition. The health of the body is dependent on the health and cohesiveness of its parts, and when the parts take the time to support each other, the body will be at its best.
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