Proposal for Moving our Research Forward

We agree our proposal will be a provocation (what if?) rather than conclusive instructions for practice (this is how it is). When posing the question this way, we seem to agree that the potential for new frameworks involves channeling a diverse set of organizations (of various scales, compositions, funding sources) to maximize effectiveness through cooperation. Additionally, we talked about focusing on a particular geographic area(s) to add depth to our research.

After giving this more thought, I am proposing a slightly modified direction. Taking into account our resources (in terms of time/expertise), I think we should consider how we can be most effective with our work. The prior post about Mumbai highlights the complexity of the issues we are engaging. It is difficult to speculate on how the specifics of slum redevelopment in Mumbai (or any other city) are transferable across cities, nations, continents. Essentially, they may be too specific to be meaningful at the larger scale – nevermind the effort required to do a truly effective case-study or find a novel collaboration between two organizations.

Despite this, there are certain paradigms present in the Mumbai example that are transferable or have value in the fact that they are distinct from practices in other contexts. I propose that we operate more at the level of paradigm rather than nitty gritty. More after the break…

We argue that to work effectively in this context, architects must first understand its scope. As such, our challenge is to present and diagram the scope of slums and methods/mechanisms for working within them. I propose that we establish a superstructure for categorizing types of slums, types of action within slums, and the entities that carry out that action. Tentatively, I am calling these Places of Action(WHERE), Types of Action(WHY), and Bodies of Action(HOW). Hypothetically, architects can work anywhere within this spectrum and by outlining the whole spectrum, we free ourselves from making a value judgment concerning the architect’s role – should it be service or profit? I don’t believe that it is our responsibility to predetermine that, but instead to unpack the scope of this new territory of work and expose the cracks that are open to architects.

Here is a start at establishing the superstructure, within which we can infill more finely tuned categories. At the moment, they have a polar nature, but I think we can fill in the middle to produce a fluid spectrum. For instance, there is a lot of grey area between investment and aid, we can begin to infill that. Think of a political spectrum. As we fill these in, we can use a specific examples we have come across for each notch in the spectrum.

Context/Places of Action: Muture Slums v. Emerging Slums
Where the question of slums in Lagos is one of rapid growth, the problem in Brazil and Mumbai (evidently) is one of transitioning slum populations/land into the formalized city. Is this transition done on an investment basis or aid basis? Is it coordinated by local government institutions or outside organizations? Seems to me that these require a both/and answer.

Paradigm/Types of Action: Investment v. Aid
Concurrent with the distinction between muture v. emerging slums is the concept of investment v. aid. In the case of muture slums, the market sees the potential for investment (often at the expense of the slum community). In the case of Dharavi in Mumbai, the project is profit-driven – an investment. Its approach and potential for success is debatable, but worth our attention. In emerging slums a paradigm of aid is more prevelant – financial resources committed to basic needs of health and safety.

Mechanisms/Bodies of Action: Internal v. External
Both paradigms – investment and aid – can take one of two forms: internal bodies operating locally within the immediate context, or external bodies which operate outside a particular locality. The Slum Redevelopment Authority in Mumbai is internal while the UN is external. Countries such as India and Brazil are organizationally/financially sophisticated enough to operate internal bodies. This is not always the case in areas of Africa, where resources and organizational stability are absent, leaving external organizations as the only capable bodies of action.

Mechanisms/Bodies of Action II: Knowledge v. Money
this one is a late addition… we can edit these as we go, suggestions are appreciated…
Distinguishing between organizations that contribute knowledge v those that contribute financial resources. Again, there is a whole spectrum of both/and in the middle.


One response to “Proposal for Moving our Research Forward

  1. Noel, thanks for updating and proposing the new framework/structure. This is a really productive step forward for a number of reasons, not the least of which, is that data collection on particular instances (of slum dwelling) is neither a strength of architecture, nor a novel approach (we’ve seen countless studies by UN Habitat and others to that extent). As we’ve said several times in this course, the real opportunities of architect begin in the formulation of the program document- I think this framework serves as a precursor to a new type of program document for the development of slums.

    In other words, “conext,” “paradigms,” and “mechanisms” can serve as the proverbial ‘kit of parts’- ways to interpret slum conditions systematically in order to break down specific situations into more generic problems (with histories of similarly categorized and measured responses). I think that the next step would be to propose links between these categories: not necessarily specific cause/effect relationships, but rather identify certain sets of conditions (Context type A, Paradigm type B, Mechanism type C) that are more or less favorable for architectural intervention. Maybe this is a matrix of some sort.

    I think it is critical to come to a decision, for the purposes of this project, on what we mean by “practice.” Right now, I think we have identified a concern in the world, and have been thinking about it in terms of solutions. Noel has a proposed a step forward which translates the issue into systems of interchangable parts. If we stop here, we are proposing that “practice” is, to us, a sort of sociological taxonomy.

    So my question is: Do we think of practice as a proactive intervention? If so, how? (In this case, how does not mean specific action, but types of actions…)


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