by Almas SadiqueAug 31, 2023
Resilience–the capacity to withstand, to adapt–is a notion that merits attention, especially in the wake of global upheaval. Climate crises, the pandemic and political unrest have brought into sharp focus that we live in an unequal world, where these issues affect marginalised and poor communities more than anyone else. In this vein, architecture and design have the capacity to foster ‘viable community life’ by responding to today’s climatic and social challenges and envisioning a more equitable future. Underscoring this responsibility, the Union Internationale des Architectes (UIA) acknowledges “Architecture for Resilient Communities” as its theme for World Architecture Day this year.
In tandem with the United Nations’ annual celebration of World Habitat Day, which revolves around the notion of “Resilient urban economies” this year, the UIA aims to spotlight discussions to “encourage territorial and urban planning concepts and policies that enable architects to develop innovative solutions” for communities that will inevitably have to live through a tumultuous future.
Per most projections, it is predicted that by 2050, 70 percent of the global population will live in cities. The future of many countries, especially in the Global South, will be determined by the economic strength of their urban areas. To sustain growth and recovery, the world will need cities that can absorb, recover, and prepare for future economic shocks. Thus, this year, World Habitat Day focuses on the vital role that cities play in ‘recovery after crises’, and reflects on the current state of our habitats. The theme invites us to dwell on our collective and individual power in shaping the future of our cities and towns, and how we can live in harmony with each other and our natural landscape.
STIR presents a curated selection of architectural and urban design projects of varying scales and typologies, based on this year’s theme, to demonstrate how the current discourse and practices of vernacular architecture, adaptive reuse, and regeneration envision the years to come.
Part of an initiative spearheaded by the NGO AHAH, the project aimed to rebuild schools in the Ica region in Peru that remained unreconstructed since the 2007 earthquake. A nursery school situated in the arid stretch between the Peruvian city of Ica and Paracas, the design conceived by Estudio Copla in collaboration with AMAO studio involved the direct participation of local communities. The school design, responsive not only to its climate but also to its local culture, aimed to redefine concepts of education, community learning, and knowledge sharing. “Working on a limited budget we sought to create a clean minimalistic design, highlighting the beauty of the zero-kilometre materials used in construction,” elaborates Betsaids Curto Reyes of Spanish architecture firm Estudio Copla. Focusing on local techniques and bringing the community into the design, the school demonstrates how architecture can bring about positive change within communities while being mindful of the environment.
2. Floating Bamboo Houses by H&P Architects
The Mekong delta region is one of the worst flood-affected regions in Vietnam annually. As per a 2020 Ministry of National Resources and Environment (MoNRE) report, an 80-cm rise in the sea level could potentially leave 32 percent of the Mekong Delta permanently flooded. As a result, the people living here have had to adapt to the dire conditions, which may also prove futile in view of worsening climatic conditions. A residential design model that supports river-based livelihoods has thus been proposed by Vietnamese architecture studio, H&P Architects, addressing the escalating issue of flooding. The ‘Floating Bamboo Houses’ has two models: one of which is a stilt house and the other a floating structure. Taking cues from the Rong style of construction, which is a type of communal house found in the villages of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, solid core bamboo held together with latches and ties reveals the structure’s pitched shell. The homes, part of a larger scheme envisioned by the studio, are expected to have floating playing grounds, vegetable-growing rafts, and fish-rearing areas allowing local communities to be housed affordably and durably.
3. Living Breakwaters by SCAPE
New York, USA
Living Breakwaters—a green infrastructure project that combines artificial and natural elements–was designed by New York-based multidisciplinary practice SCAPE. Winner of the 2023 Obel Awards, the project comprises nearly 2,400 linear feet of biodiverse breakwaters, shaped like small tide pools built from stone and ecologically enhanced concrete, along the southern shore of Staten Island. These structures have been placed at strategic locations to calm the tides, reduce erosion, and revive the onshore beaches. To account for the marine life in the bay, “reef ridges” and “reef streets” have been provided. The project, which will be completed next year, was developed by SCAPE for Rebuild by Design—a design competition led by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) after Superstorm Sandy. Oysters act as ‘collaborators’ in the design to form an artificial reef that protects the shore. Kate Orff, founder of SCAPE elaborated, “There are moments where you see the obvious sculpting of a reef street or the synthetic curve of a manufactured tide pool, but over time, these things will blur into a hybrid of constructed and natural forms coming together. […] We have to think about design at a holistic, planetary scale, and think about mending the fabric of life on earth.”
4. Perpetual Spring by Obra Architects
Seoul, South Korea
Perpetual Spring was a temporary architectural pavilion commissioned by the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul in South Korea, aimed to act as a public space highlighting the issues facing urban life now and in the future. It was a featured work in the centennial exhibition Architecture and Heritage: Unearthing Future with the objective of awakening public consciousness to the potential of social activism and political agency in resolving the myriad problems that society faces today.
The prototype, now scheduled for further development and reopening, in a model urban agritech community, was proposed as a 'climate-correcting machine,' conceived to be an artificially controlled greenhouse machine. Creating an ‘ideal’ climate inside, the visitors were introduced into an artificially set comfort zone within the exhibition space, where audio-visual displays provided information about real-time climatic and environmental data—on a global scale. “A work of optimism”, the pavilion embodies the notion that the world does not have to end in disaster. All humanity needs to do is “organise to take rational care of the planet.”
5. Zero Carbon Cultural Centre by Yasmeen Lari
Built by the local people along with architect Yasmeen Lari's Heritage Foundation of Pakistan, the Zero Carbon Cultural Centre in Makli is encased in decorative bamboo screens. The bamboo architecture of the hangar-like centre serves as a community centre and social space for people living in poor and marginalised communities in the town. It was designed with the intention of hosting hands-on skill building workshops for the local communities.
Embodying the philosophy of “barefoot social architecture” (BASA), the use of bamboo–a renewable and highly durable material–allowed the organization to work with local artisans. Talking to STIR in an exclusive interview, Lari explained the genesis of BASA, which is rooted in the understanding of the architecture’s ecological impact. "Barefoot is a common sight in our rural areas. It demonstrates the harshness of life but it has its benefits—you are able to tread softly on earth and grow up using the planet’s resources with care,” she explains on her approach to building. The pavilion, made up of prefabricated bamboo panels, was completed in 10 weeks and has become a valuable resource for all in the community.
6. The Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre by Rizvi Hassan
The Rohingyas, having had to flee their entire life and homelands in Myanmar, have long suffered an identity crisis, leading to a loss of their well-being. Addressing this, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh set about establishing the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre (RCMC) with architect Rizvi Hassan at the helm.
The Bangladesh-based designer talked to STIR about the unique proposal and construction process for the centre. “At the start of this project, I was offered extensive documentation of works of various Rohingya artisans who built architectural models of structures that existed in Myanmar. The resources recorded the information on what sort of villages they had, and the kind of bamboo patterns they were using. This documentation was also handed to me to use in the design process,” he explains. The unassuming structure–organized around four courts and constructed primarily in bamboo–was envisioned as an icon for the community, preserving their heritage while emphasising on resilience in form and material expression.
7. Mayfield Park by Studio Egret West
Manchester, United Kingdom
The 6.5-acre park, the first green space in Manchester’s city centre in 100 years, was designed by London-based multidisciplinary practice, Studio Egret West. The redevelopment scheme for Mayfield is part of a larger development plan for the region conceived by a joint venture between developer LandsecU+I and the Mayfield Partnership.
Building on the heritage of the erstwhile centre of the Industrial Revolution, Studio Egret West’s design consciously retains, restores and reuses elements from the site. Victorian hogback beams were converted into bridges, all materials used in the landscape design were locally sourced, and any new elements such as the children’s play area were designed to reflect the industrial structures. A crucial aspect in the regeneration process was uncovering the previously culverted river Medlock that ran through Mayfield.
The river is meant to become an important asset for the park, turning it into a biodiverse habitat. Different plant arrangements, planting beds, and grasslands were interspersed to create distinct pockets within the park. The sustainable design keeps in mind changing climatic conditions while finalising the planting scheme. Restoring nature to urban centres and rewilding former industrial sites, the park demonstrates how design can serve as an anchor for communities while ensuring the revival of natural landscapes.
Kéré Architecture’s project for the Kamwokya Community Centre is an embodiment of the relationship between the built environment and the city. Located in a dense neighbourhood, the facility includes a multipurpose building, community hall, gathering space, multisports field, and other amenities; aiming to uplift the community by providing them with necessary functional spaces. Relating to the culture, history, and essence of the region, the architects chose to present the building as an extension of its context and not as a new addition. While doing so, it invites the users to take part in the growth of the building and encourages the architecture to resonate with the community.
The architect, Francis Kéré added, “Beyond its practical function, the project aims to transform the community by becoming a source of inspiration and pride that in turn can create a sense of agency and ownership.” The centre which was developed as the result of a partnership between the local non-profit Kamwokya Christian Caring Community, which works internationally on projects aiming at improving the lives of marginalised communities abides by Kéré’s thoughts of “architecture is a wake-up call”. Kéré elucidated on this ideology and his view of architecture as a form of care in an exclusive conversation with STIR.
9. Dhajji cabin by North
Rahul Bhushan’s practice, North works to adapt indigenous techniques of the Himalayan region to contemporary architectural forms and needs. A prototype of the Himachal-based collective’s philosophy of building was the Dhajji cabin, built on the studio’s campus. Emphasising the use of local materials, the designers worked with kaarigars (craftsmen) in the region to give ‘wood a new life’. Talking about his alternative practice of vernacular construction in an interview with STIR, Bhushan elaborates, “These craftsmen are an integral part of our design team. They work from our studio space and often guide interns. Together they collaborate on planning various projects. For instance, if we had to build a cantilever somewhere, I might propose a design approach, but the ideas are frequently generated collectively.”
The Dhajji cabin right on the main campus showcases how old wood and stone can be skilfully repurposed with minimal impact on the environment. The ‘carbon negative’ design “aims to make a positive impact not just through [architecture] but also on the lives of those involved in the project.”