Almost seven kilometers from the green of Uhuru Park in central Nairobi, lies the informal settlement of Kibera. It is an area whose urban character consists of corrugated iron roofs, mud walls, and a complicated network of utility poles. Kibera, at this point in time, is a well-known place. Much has been written and researched on this “city within a city,” from its infrastructural issues to its navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In New Mexico, irrigation channels that have been in continuous operation for three centuries replenish and nourish the wetlands of the American Southwest. These channels are known as Acequias – communally managed water systems built on democratic tradition. Members of the community own water rights, who then elect a three-person team to oversee the channels. In Cairo and Barcelona, Tahrir Square and Plaza de Catalunya have acted as important sites for voicing political dissatisfaction. The Tahrir Square protests of 2011, for instance, resulted in the eventual toppling of an almost 30-year-old government.
There’s the iconic Cenotaph for Newton drawing, the evocative monochrome illustration by Etienne-Louis Boullée. There are the experimental drawings of Lebbeus Woods, evocative urban visions of a distant future. There are also the well-known drawings of Le Corbusier’s utopian Ville Radieuse. Drawing, and in turn architectural visualizations, have always been a useful medium with which to contemplate architectural concepts of the future. It is fascinating to look back at the architectural visualizations of the future done in the past.
It’s a ubiquitous architectural form. An architectural typology that spans centuries and borders, a staple across cultures. The tent. In its simplest form – it’s a shelter, with material draped over a frame of poles. It’s an architectural language that is intrinsically linked to nomadic living. Yurts, for instance, functions as an easily portable dwelling for the Kazakh and Kyrgyz peoples. At the same time, tents have proved a popular stylistic precedent for architects, the lightweight structures of German architect Frei Paul Otto being a case in point. The tent is a complicated architectural language – one that straddles the line between temporary and permanent, and one that also functions as a symbol of wealth and a symbol of scarcity.
The 22nd of March 2022 saw the twenty-ninth commemoration of World Water Day – as a worldwide water crisis continues to leave populations vulnerable. It is an extremely multi-faceted issue. Governance sadly determines water accessibility, with marginalized people disproportionally affected. Urban typologies are another factor. The over-pumping of groundwater sources to meet the water demands of Hanoi, for instance, has resulted in arsenic being drawn into Vietnam’s village wells.
For centuries and centuries we’ve built – and the diversity in our global built environment is a testament to that. The many different cultures around the globe have had different ways of building throughout history, adapting locally found materials to construct their structures. Today, in our globalized present, building materials are transported across the globe far from their origins, a situation that means two buildings on completely opposites sides of the world can be more or less identical.
In the architectural conversations taking place today, sustainability is a key topic of interest. Architecture firms embrace the term as a key part of their design ethos, and architecture schools globally have integrated designing “green” architecture as a core component of their curriculums. This sustainability conversation has also filtered down into more individual actions one can take within their immediate context. Online, for instance, guides abound on how you can make your home more eco-friendly and energy-efficient.
In urban design, suburbs can be a contentious topic. That is in part because the term lends itself to nebulous and ever-changing definitions. In its simplest form, the suburbs are residential communities within commuting distance, located a fair bit away from the heart of metropolitan areas. The American context sees suburbs viewed with some hostility, with racist ‘redlining’ practices a dark legacy to particular suburbs in the country. In a more superficial sense, American suburbs have often been criticised for their uniformity in appearance – portrayed as soulless dwellings absent of a sense of community.
The early 20th century saw the birth of Modernist architecture. It brought with it a central architectural movement that in turn birthed off-shoots of its own. A figure often seen as the defining face of this movement is Le Corbusier, whose 1923 treatise Toward an Architecture was influential to his Modernist contemporaries – a manifesto including the phrase “a house is a machine for living in” where good architecture would have to be intrinsically linked to function and the demands of industry.
A little less than two years after the onset of a global pandemic, inclusion in the architecture profession is unfortunately still a limited conversation. A 2020 survey by the UK’s Architects’ Journal revealed a sobering amount of obstacles for Black architects in the UK, and in the United States, prominent Black practitioners such as Mabel O. Wilson of Studio& have questioned the Eurocentric nature of a large amount of architectural study.