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.
The comic strip, la bande dessinée, the graphic novel. These are all part of a medium with an intrinsic connection to architectural storytelling. It’s a medium that has long been used to fantasise and speculate on possible architectural futures, or in a less spectacular context, used as a device to simply show the perspectival journey through an architectural project. When the comic strip meshes fiction with architectural imagination, however, it’s not only the speculation on future architectural scenarios that takes place. It’s also the recording and the critiquing of the urban conditions of either our contemporary cities or the cities of the past.
The built environment we inhabit can be hostile, both on an individual architectural scale and in a wider urban context. Homeless people, for instance, are dissuaded from resting on public benches by the menacing presence of spikes and other forms of exclusionary design. From a global lens, we see the impact that borders have amidst anti-immigration hostility, imposingly exemplified by the Melilla border fence on the Morocco-Spain border. This “hostility” can be found in a large number of settlements around the world, settlements that have been formed as a result of organic migration or settlements predicated on control – like company towns.
Cities are growing, and they are growing upwards. This is far from just being a contemporary phenomenon of course – for more than a century, high-rises have been an integral part of urban settlements worldwide. This growing of cities encompasses a complex web of processes – advancements in transport links, urbanisation, and migration to mention a few. This growth of cities, however, is all too often linked with governmental failure to adequately support all facets of the urban population. Informal settlements are then born – people carving out spaces for themselves to live amidst a lack of state support.
Across the globe, museums function as cultural landmarks – spaces of significance that quite often become defining symbols of a city’s architectural landscape. Historical examples such as the Museum de Fundatie in the Netherlands and The Louvre Museum in France continue to attract millions of visitors, with contemporary architectural interventions to them redefining their spatial contribution to their local context.