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What does it take??

10 February 2010 No Comment

The last lecture(SGT) brought to us, three individuals, each dealing with specific aspects of sustainability and how they strategize culture, perspectives, participation and personal aims. We had Helena Sandman from Hollmen Reuter Sandman Architects, Peter Kuria of Shalin Ry and Mika Sharp of Nokia Siemens Networks.

So I will go in the order of presenters!

Helena Sandman

Women’s Centre, Senegal

I would think she(her firm) is quiet well-known in circles here and this is the second lecture of hers I am attending. Great story of a project called ‘Women’s Center’ and there seems to be a tag of development projects attached to it. All her projects had the same theme- projects stemming out of desperate need. From start to finish, the projects dived into the socio-economic issues of the area and provided not just a space for the people(not ‘community’, which I will explain later), but also a mobilisation of ownership, labour and skills. I wondered about how would three Finnish women manage to grasp the ‘locality’ within their short few trips- the context is so different from everything they do know. But their studies of the vernacular architecture, perhaps, provided them the professional insight they needed.

The adoption of a user-centric design approach to the problem assisted in fostering a relationship between the eventual owners/users and the built form.

Helena spoke of architecture being a tool to mitigate poverty- which I felt was a bit naïve because all architecture does is give the space- walls with a roof, it does not control who has a right to it, whether it is inclusive. Can the drama of voids and built form be a tool to mitigate poverty?

No, I don’t think so… it’s not architecture that mitigates poverty but people…which was something Mika Sharp mentioned as well.

Peter Kuria

Participatory 3d mapping, Kenya

I met Peter on the day of the first lecture of SGT, and we casually spoke about India and Africa- development and globalisation. But I really didn’t expect a fireball from his presentation. He did speak about his project and the motives or aspirations of Shalin. I thought that the ecological mapping seemed quiet relevant to Africa, which I feel if people are not aware of what they have, they will be plundered all over again. It’s already happening silently. But what probably hit me hard was a couple of things.

a. Internet is a shitty way to communicate

It’s quiet a scary thing to hear for a net junkie. But I can see what he means, that so much is lost in translation or perhaps a better word, transmission. It’s perhaps to email a questionnaire to keep the topic focussed and simple.

b. NGOs are all about the money

Well, to be fair- they get a lot of stuff going but they are motivated by collection of funds. So one needs to be careful on dealing with way too many of them. When one is engaged with technical projects, it is less prone to corruption.

c. Communities don’t exist

Woooaaa…imagine hearing that- it shocked a lot of us into silence…as an architect, we keep raving and ranting about doing this and that for the community- the greater common good. The greater common good does not exist in poverty, it is based on wealth- if one looks at the welfare states. But the idea of community is tricky when it comes to African spaces. And I can see why- one has way too many issues to deal with and cannot look at the problems of your neighbour. So Peter stressed on motivating individuals, providing a common goal and maybe, you can get some level of communal action.

Mika Sharp

Networking rural areas of Pakistan

This seems to be the take of Nokia’s foray into socio-economic projects- networking rural villages and towns in the developing world. What I could keep hearing from him in so many different words was the need to listen and respect the locals. You can’t just go into someone’s town and tell them what to do. And he also stresses you need to make sure your solving a problem- else, everything you do, will not be successful. Being from such a big corporate head, you need the guy at the top to be involved- which I believe is true as it also helps to generate interest and involvement. I liked what he said about ideas- if they are no good, there will be no resistance.

I don’t know if it felt good to hear it but it definitely resonated a lot with me when he bluntly stated that-

Poverty is political not technical or a business model

I wondered if it could a big jibe at this whole foray into the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ business. Does it make sense to call the largest economic-group of the world ‘bottom’? Do they gain their status just because they live below 1$ a day? Maybe if you put them on the top, you might actually see them. ;P

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