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By : Editorial

INTRODUCTION Aside from the general anxieties (Vidler, A. 2000) inherent in modern competitive liberal capitalist democracies beset by climate change, war and tsunami, those surrounding the availability of domestic and public space, beset by uncertainty around land, shelter, drinking water and sanitation rights, are some of the most distressing for those affected. The belief structures invested in our day to day way of living, which give us meaning and identity, are not necessarily the same as either those currently in power, at local or national level, or even as those (in a polyglot/heterogeneous society) of our neighbours. As the social and technical environment changes ever more rapidly, usually without those affected having any control over the process, then belief systems are challenged and individuals and families turn to those around them in similar circumstances to re-build the physical landscape in which they live as well as to re-make rules to live by. Societies and cultures in transition will move to resistance, accommodation, flight or a combination of all three. In this process, when the structures of the old are most in question, the young and energetic within the community often have the most to say, and consequently the most impact on what should be done. What tools do these young people have to envision alternative viable and sustainable futures? The anxieties and sensitivities inherent in this process of rapid change are not just implicit, they are made manifest in the spatial and sensory practice of everyday life. What sort of infrastructure would best support the re-making of familiar and convivial surroundings? A sense of well-being is also generated in the very act and practice of making our own and each others immediate domestic environment: a very therapeutic and life-affirming activity, capable of enhancing social cohesion and crucial for the renewal of individual self confidence. If architecture, architectural ideas and architectural understanding are not to be left solely as the preserve of the aesthetic elite and the commercial paymaster then I would argue that constructing an architecture of rapid cultural and technical change for situations of scarce resources should perhaps be a primary focus of the profession. Certainly, if the energy and commitment of young architects cannot be turned to understanding the way that this rich and fascinating process impacts on their subject and their skills then society as a whole will be left woefully unprepared and physically and psychologically impoverished. If this were to be the case then architecture as a profession would continue to become increasingly irrelevant to the vast majority of the world's population. On the other hand if understanding, willingness to learn and become involved can be fostered; then, in the hands of a new generation of young architects, the skills of imagination and representation, experimentation and small scale, bottom-up, project based, reflective practice can be made a powerful tool of optimistic endeavour for host communities and help to facilitate their move into a confident engagement with their new circumstances. This issue of Open House International contains papers from authors all of whom have been through some form of architectural training and who are now putting that to good use making sense of and acting in the world of the everyday beset by unpredictable events and unfamiliar situations. Whilst studying or working with host communities they have developed participatory methods of investigation and creative inspiration. They have seen first hand the need 'to think global, act local' (Stephen, W.(ed) 2004 ) and discovered new insights and working methods. Suzanne Hall uses a narrative method to draw out the unique from within the everyday and compares and contrasts this with the 'official' record to map the socio-spatial dynamic of the Walworth Road in south London. In this way she shows how location within the city together with the scale of the street and neighbourhood interact with race, class and ethnicity over time in a continual process of transformation. This transformation is not necessarily always a linear process of movement towards greater security and prosperity, latched on to with nostalgia by romantics dreaming of past vernacular traditions. Communities once formed because of a shared purpose to counter adversity through mutual self help are threatened by cataclysmic (for them) world events, whether natural or political, beyond their control. Ines Weizman, in a startling paper, challenges many western pre-conceptions of the relationship between modern architecture and community. She shows how, in the former East Germany, the Soviet model of a modernist housing estate was able to harness the community in a collective endeavour to finish homes and engender a sense of ownership. She then goes on to document how the energies of the community turned from active participation to resistance when Germany was re-unified, the economy was liberalized and land ownership was vested in large remote corporations. The expensive refurbishment of empty or under-occupied badly serviced older tenements was preferred to the continued occupation of good quality modern housing by organized groups of established tenants. Cities were shrinking and the market was perceived to demand 'vernaculariised' city dwellings. Just as the shrinking cities phenomenon within the former East Germany was the consequence of economic migration following re-unification, other large scale events such as war, famine and tsunami generate population movement largely beyond the control of the people affected. This in turn brings new settlements, new settlement patterns and issues of a choice between alienation and integration with the already established local indigenous populations. Since 2003, in Chad, refugees fleeing across the border from fighting in the neighbouring Central African Republic have been housed in camps administered by the United Nations and supported by many well known non-governmental international relief organisations. Manuel Hertz takes us through preliminary attempts to isolate the first camp from the local population who were often less well provided for than the refugees themselves in terms of public facilities such as education and healthcare, not to mention water and sanitation. He then goes on to show how attitudes have changed over time so that welfare provision in new camps are becoming the motor for welfare and infrastructural provision in the small towns and villages surrounding the camps. The local economy has expanded with the influx of aid and its attendant international workers. Local building methods are changing to include the materials of and building types brought in by these aid agencies. So a temporary response to emergency has become permanently entrenched, suiting government, NGO and refugee alike. An evolving landscape of new architectural infrastructure has been established as a replacement for strategic political settlement: an irreversible process of continuous change not a temporary blip on pre-conceived notions of normality. Increasingly, architectural skills are being employed in working with communities experiencing such rapid changes, employing the limited resources immediately available and generating more from within the community and elsewhere. Dyfed Aubrey has spent two years working for the NGO GOAL in Sri Lanka after the Asian tsunami of December 2004. His first hand account of the dynamic interplay between strategic location and community involvement shows how, in the wake of disaster, a whole range of different responses are required. The provision of transitional shelters or permanent homes, standardised plans or those specifically tailored to beneficiary requirements depended on financial and time constraints which changed regularly during the post recovery period. John Norton and Guillaume Chantry of Development Workshop, working over a much longer period, have evolved a robust, ambitious and successful response to the regular typhoons which strike the exposed coast of Vietnam and travel inland destroying homes, schools and hospitals throughout the country. In the past many traditional homes had built-in structural redundancy allowing them to withstand the onslaught. More recently, so called transitional houses have been built by families with meager resources who have neglected to include this safety margin. As a result the family investment is reduced to nothing with the first strong wind. Working with both local communities and government, setting up training programmes and easy loan schemes, DW has shown how with just a little extra funding and careful construction detailing, homes can be sustained and the family's investment assured. As the sum of knowledge, understanding and experience generated by committed individuals and NGOs working with communities in transition has been accumulated over recent years, the creative and educational potential of such unfamiliar but real situations has become apparent. A number of small architectural practices and design studios within schools of architecture have found that this field of endeavour offers a rich vein of meaningful, creative potential. Their working methods include working from first principles and looking at the unique within the everyday whilst holding back from standardised prejudged outcomes. In addition there is a gradual recogni tion that the creative process of reflection through making can itself be a tool for sustaining communities, families and individuals. Working with Public Works, a collaborative art and architecture practice, Torange Khonsari describes in her paper how the discipline of Public Art has developed ideas of participation intellectually as a creative design technique whilst in the profession of Architecture it has simply been regarded as a service to inform the design process and invite acceptance by the community of the results. Public Works initiates participatory exercises with users in space to provide the raw material for design. Khonsari shows how the space within which the exercises are carried out (and by extension all space inhabited by humans), because it is generated by use, is constantly changing. With her architecture students Mel Dodd has begun to develop a digital mapping tool to show graphically and interactively how people use public space, how they attach importance to the different parts, inform one another about this and generate narratives which sustain meaning in space for the community. Dodd has harnessed the energy of her students to represent in images what was only previously written. She has enabled the recording of a plethora of visual narratives of individuals within the community and by using lowcost democratic mapping techniques she is able to tap into similar digital story telling projects worldwide. By welcoming time's driver she rejects the need for consensus in the design of public space, preferring to encourage and make explicit the endless series of space expanding special performances taking place within it regardless of conscious design input. The good will and unfailing energy of young people both within transitional communities and in the architectural profession itself is a tonic to the system. School children and young adults are usually the keenest to involve themselves in new and unfamiliar ways and novel technologies; to express their views directly and get involved. In a new initiative by architecture students within the UK, but with links to a growing international network, Architects sans Frontieres (ASF) was formed a few years ago with a humanitarian agenda to help, through education and good working practices, improve the lives of the poorest people. Hanne van den Berg describes in her paper how participants on the ASF-UK 2006 summer school at the Eden Centre constructed their own shelters in a simulated context to study vulnerability and risk. She shows how some of the main lessons learned from this experience were perhaps the least expected. Participants found that working together as simulated families created a sense of shared ownership of the finished structure and that even when working with similar materials under the same time constraints different families produced radically different shelters. The link between the creative involvement in constructing the special (rather than the standardised) and the confident construction of group identity was clearly made. The work and thinking within architectural studios at Cambridge and London Metropolitan Universities are both represented by papers in this issue. Nick Ray's contribution reviews ideas generated by his work with the EU Asia-link funded group of studios from Europe and India. He is mindful of the need within architectural practice for both social purpose and the provision of a sustainable built environment in a wide range of situations quite unfamiliar to most architects. He shows how the studio system, unique to architectural education, is a sound basis for students to learn from these unfamiliar situations and make meaningful contributions through reflective practice. In attempting to realise student schemes generated in India through engagement with community using local means augmented by external contributions, Diploma Unit 6 at London Metropolitan University have so far been frustrated by the twin stumbling blocks of land ownership and permission to build. Nevertheless at the time of writing students are working on site with live water and sanitation schemes in Agra with the local community, CURE (the Indian facilitating NGO) and a member of staff from the TVB School of Habitat Studies (Delhi). They are focusing on the crafting of the loose fit between standardised sanitary products and the spaces of everyday life. They are giving spatial dimensions to changing technical and cultural imperatives and making them special to individual occupiers: sowing the seeds of change for both private and public spatial identity within the neighbourhood. The purpose of this issue of OHI, coming soon after the launch of the MA Architecture of Rapid Change and Scarce Resources (ARCSR) at London Metropolitan University, is to begin to examine the extent and depth of the subject. Incorporating, as it does, the application of architectural design and practice at the community scale to the technical and cultural dimensions of continuity and change, the field to be covered by an ARCSR is clearly much broader than we have been able to actually cover this time. The subject of appropriate loose-fit technologies, the role of vernacular traditions, sustainable design at the local level and the role and function of NGOs and their relationship to the Humanitarian Agenda, for example, have all barely been touched upon in this issue. However, the intention, I hope, is clear: to establish a discourse around reflective grass roots architectural endeavour which combines creative intellectual rigour with critical practice and, whilst looking to the immediate cultural and physical context for project resources, to situate this endeavour at the heart of the whirlpool of change; with the individuals, families and communities most affected.
MM 8th August 2007

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