The beginning of a School of Thought…
Having our own studio space is something we have wanted to have for a while. Using other centres and spaces required adapting and restricting ourselves. However, although getting here has been quite the journey – especially considering the hours spent day and night developing ideas and making them practical, we are at an interesting place. The design competition gave us plenty of new thoughts and ideas architecturally, but also the way Paraa will develop its working process and position itself between research, training, design and planning. We are not proposing radical shifts in design thinking, but instead, focusing on a pragmatic alternative.
The student design competition adds a new dimension to how we perceive Paraa to function and operate. We realised from the beginning the importance of introducing methods and theory that align with the way we believe architecture should be practiced.
Students were given a simple task – to renovate an existing centre for pavement dwellers with a low-cost and practical solution – for the Amrao Manush project ran by Sajida Foundation. The students were asked to come up with design ideas for 4 centres in Dhaka. Over the week we gave them access to the sites, to its users, to the management and senior management and spent the time discussing the importance of engagement in the design process, especially the role of participation and reflexive practice, speaking to an anthropologist and psychologist along with feedback from architect Hasibul Kabir. Focusing, ultimately though, on the fact that they are architecture students and this is a design challenge. Some groups had become fixated on developing or making recommendations; others had developed neat, innovative design solutions to recurring problems.
During the final presentations, what impressed me was the variety of proposals despite the limitations of the sites. We had an amazing group of people in the jury, which included users, senior management and management along with guest architects, young and old. This variety of perspectives gives us hope that this particular space we are creating within Paraa is going to be an exciting addition to the work we are already doing. Pushing boundaries and having a critical reflexive arm forces us to stop and evaluate the successes and failures of any project, but also its impact on our personal growth and how it shapes our practice. Having guest speakers and architects collaborate with us, without the rigidity of an institutional frame is also a learning. We can test a model that works for us, before scaling up the process.
Each group was given 8 minutes to present, with 10 minutes for feedback from the jury board. Conversation points to note were the brilliance of some of the group interventions, from detailing of washing lines for drying clothes, taking into consideration the social well being of the pavement dwellers as well as the critical thoughts to reconsider from the users. The dynamic between architect, user, management team was fascinating to observe. Having a space where this takes place for us is an amazing achievement.
Outside of the university classroom, looking at real issues that could be improved through better design or planning is something we feel students will cherish and much of the feedback has been the ability for the students to play a meaningful role in this aspect. What does that mean? What is the importance then of the architecture school in this process? Are we proposing to suggest alternate methods of learning and thinking, that shapes and develops young practitioners, along with the opportunity to engage better with the world that we live in. Does that mean we are proposing that schools are not preparing students for the reality that exists? perhaps a suggestion is that it prepares students for the market, to compete for jobs, but its not developing architects. As architects and planners, visioning and building plans for the future is a pre-requisite, what we want to encourage as a design and research studio then is the importance of connecting those visions and plans with a critical understanding of the world(s) we inhabit.
The next phase of this design charrette is to develop detailed technical plans and budgets for each site, so there will be working groups focusing on this, produce a design publication of all the groups works along with Amrao Manush programme recommendations. It is an ongoing process that will require involvement from different groups and we hope the students that have participated have taken away valuable lessons.
There will be an exhibition in the Paraa Studio of the groups works from the 15th February until 26th February. The winner will then be announced and awarded a prize. Keep those dates free, pop into our studio and lets have a conversation about what we are doing.
We want to thank everybody that has helped to pull this design charrette together, especially to the users of the centres for giving the students time and space to develop ideas.
REFLECTIONS FROM NIBIR
I loved the ideas they came up with and the way they have managed to present their ideas. Their enthusiasm amazed me. The way they have linked architecture with the community is quite impressive.The feedback from the beneficiaries was something I found very significant of this whole process.