Learning From The Master #21 Alejandro Aravena

On last Saturday 18 March 2017 at OMAH, two of our volunteers, Fiera and Pandu have shared their understandings about Alejandro Aravena in a Learning from the Master session. He had been appointed Pritzker Prize 2016 and Director Currator for Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 . An interesting discussion took place in the attempt in reading his architectural works based on participatory. Here are the conclusions:

[1] Elemental shared the participatory design rules of Monroy Housing ;
A. Communication of restriction
Instead of simply asking the families how they would like their homes to be, Elemental thought what was professionally responsible to do was to communicate the framework of restrictions that limited their options. At the risk of sacrificing the hope and enthusiasm of the community, Elemental intended to be very transparent and tried from the beginning to make them an active part of the project instead of the mere receivers of benefits. That seemed to be the best way to avoid false expectations and give consistency to project decisions.
B. Joint decisions
Once families had the proper information and were aware of the constraints, Elemental were interested in the families making the key decisions. To design is to prefer; in the context of social housing, to prefer one thing means that one must necessarily sacrifice something else. They understood residents’ participation as a process in which the families took on the role of associates, establishing priorities of what was crucial and what could be done later, with all the rights and duties that collaboration implies.
C. Directional participation
This means that information and communication didn’t have to flow only from top to down

[2] There are some processes in commencing participatory design, starting from Project Socialization. Continued by Eviction- Survey- Dismantling,Temporary Camp,participative Work Meeting, The Initial Workshop, Site Visit, Expansion Workshop, Façade Workshop, The “Minga” Workshop, Space Workshop, collective, Construction and Occupancy Of the Houses. The process couldn’t be simple but not complicated as well. Aravena emphasized solution rather than physical output. He tried to educate the residents how to build the ownership by doing workshop and collaboration in making decision. So, the result could be as two way hands.

[3] When Aravena had been appointed as Pritzker Prize 2016. Patrick Schumacher responded that he respected [what] Alejandro Aravena was doing and his ‘half a good house’ developments were an intelligent response. But Schumacher thought those were not the frontier where architecture and urban design participate in advancing the next stage of our global high-density urban civilization.
Through the title ‘reporting from the front’ Aravena as curator director emphasized a question that hanged in the air at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale (2016) “How do we want to live in the future?”. It seemed to tackle Schumacher’s lines. Aravena had used over 90 tons of waste generated by the Venice Art Biennale 2015 to create two introductory rooms (Opening Hall) for Biennale 2016 as metaphor through his “cloud mosquitoes defeating rhinoceros.”.

Aravena re-mentioned frontiers for explaining the theme “Reporting from The Front”. In his explanation, he told that there are several battles that need to be won and several frontiers that need to be expanded in order to improve the quality of the built environment and consequently people’s quality of life. But unlike military wars where nobody wins, it will make a difference in winning those battles and expanding those frontiers. In here, Battles and frontiers were used as metaphors; Battles were overcoming tasks or challenges. Frontiers were persons who take the tasks initiative or challenge, in order to make difference. So, the report wouldn’t be a mere denounce or complaint nor a harangue or an inspirational locker room speech. It described the importance of taking initiative or acting on something for improvement, compared to just knowing the needs.

Aravena saw himself as providing a social service rather than only designing buildings that are aesthetically-pleasing. Aravena said, “We called it Participatory Design”. However, is the participatory design might be applied effectively only for community to bring nearer the gap between architecture and civil society?

See you on the next Bittersweet Memories session, on Saturday, 25 March 2017, 10.00AM. Tan Tjiang Ay will share his experience in Architecture.

Let’s learn and be inspired!

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