Architecture, Community & Social Benefit: Expectations, Needs, Provisions…and Acceptance
Architecture and whatever comes as a result of its application through design and construction is meant for the community. The community is the end-user of the works of architecture and therefore, the preferences, requirements, and culture among other factors of the community determine the nature of architecture. As stated by Fisher (2008), the discussion on the relationship between architecture and community essentially involves formulations concerning two quite different forms of spatial order. The first of these is the manner in which space is organized by the community. This is basically the way in which every community transforms its surroundings through solid objects, boundaries, and differentiated spaces, which are aspects of architecture, into specific patterns of buildings, structures, and settlements that have been known to give a community a specific identify that is unique to them.
The second form of spatial order is more or less easy to identify as the first above, it is the manner in which a society is arranged in space. This arrangement is determined by the society itself and through the arrangement; they deploy themselves in a space in social networks and groups by construction of patterns of avoidance and encounter that are characteristic f the community (Fisher 2008). Ordinarily, these patterns are seen as pure social elements of a community and rightly so because after all, human beings are free and mobile and their activities and interrelationships are commonly viewed comparatively in terms of buildings, transient, and monetary (Bell 2008). However, it is important that these patterns be also seen as spatial phenomena that are part of living out of systems of kinship clans, clubs, work, and play. These patterns are produced on the basis of who lives with who, who meets who, who works where, who does what, and so on.
This essay therefore seeks to explore the relationship between architecture and the community, and the social benefits. This will be done through discussion of the expectations, the needs, and provisions, and the acceptance among other aspects of architecture by the community. This will be achieved through review of relevant literature.
Architecture and the community
While it is true that a community is not just about the physical interactions, it also takes a material form and to effectively understand the social aspects of space and therefore community architecture, then it is important to understand the spatial aspects of the society (Lehrer 2007). The relationship that exists between architecture and behavior is within the wider framework of the association that exist the community and spatial form. Therefore, the community gives architecture behavior, which is unique and specific to a particular community. Chermayeff & Alexander (1966) state that, design strategies that are in architecture are strongly determined by the changes in the community ideas. Any change in architecture is determined by the community.
In recent years two views that are quite dominant and entirely different have crystallized around the relationship that exists between the community and space. One of these is derived from socio-biology and other from ethology. These find their expression very clearly among architectural designer who have to put these views into context through design which is them put up in the form of a building. However, these designer have more recently claimed that human socio-spatial environments are lacking in that they do not represent in entirety the territorial nature of humans and the various groups of his social life, and in particular the heterogeneous urban environment (Hillier & Leaman 1973).
The aim of designing according to Hillier & Leaman (1973) is to create build space that is in line with the desires and preferences of humans. However, for the majority of urban space does not address these territorial needs especially because of the fact that it is done to address land shortage in urban centers and monetary concerns. Interestingly, it is still design that bears the potential to address this problem by adoption of territorial perspectives in design work therefore organize space in a way that puts into consideration and reflect the various levels of human social grouping, needs, expectations, and acceptance. Based on this fact, the importance of space to man can’t be emphasized any further, but in the recent years, the practice of this has been lacking due to the territorial heterogeneity hence an entirely dysfunctional environment.
The community in architecture
According to Newman (1980), the community is the target of the final work of architecture. The community is the end-user of works of architecture. Community architecture is therefore architecture that is done with the end-users talking active participation. This aspect of architecture is common in developed economies where self-help oriented community initiatives take an active role in architecture design (Hillier & Leaman 1973). This form of architecture presents an alternative to the conventional architecture that has a non-participatory role for the end-users and can be tracked back into the 1950s. As argued by Newman (1980), in these self-help groups, the professionals who include architectural designers, engineers, and interior designers did their work by joining hands with the people/community so as to build or improve their environment.
Since the 1950s to date, community architecture had developed in numerous different forms from one region to another in the entire world but the vision has remained common; participation of the public in decision making for issues that affect their environment and therefore their lives. Some of the notable community architecture initiatives are in United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK). Some of the examples of community architecture initiatives in the two countries are the Social Architecture and Advocacy Planning in the US and Community Architecture Movement in the UK (Mayo 1979). According to Katz (1993), the community architecture initiatives in these two countries have been responsible for the eradication of slums in the countries through the Urban Renewal and Slum Clearance programs in the UK and America respectively.
According to Newman (1980) the notion of involving the community in architecture dates back to the 1930s. This was out of the need to respect architectural needs and involving them in making decisions that concern their constructed environment and it was a reaction to the Urban Renewal initiatives in North America as well as the UK (Cubbit 1969). As stated by Cubbit (1969), in the UK, Urban Renewal was as a direct link to the economic boost that was experienced in the post-war years and the intentions of the initiative was to improve the living conditions of the impoverished neighborhoods.
Community requirements; determination and provision
The relationship between community and architecture is more or less the same to that between a product and a customer. For a product, it has to be made as per the needs and preferences of the customers. Likewise and as stated by Fisher (2008), architecture is a determined and influenced by the community. The primary objective of any architecture is to provide shelter. Under this objective, architectural art has been viewed under the perspectives of shelter, protection, and entertainment. However, recently, several other aspects have been included to this view especially with the use of architecture and design for emotional, cultural, and other aspects.
Today, architecture especially in residential space has developed to be very important and therefore, requires a considerable investment. Based on the fact that an individual has to pay for space, whether own or rented, it has become crucial that the space has to posses certain qualities as desired by the user. According to Katz (1993), architecture has to address the needs of the target community, which are primarily determined by culture, and in the current era of paid space, the cost factor. The culture of a community is determined by a number of factors and architecture under the conventional setting is categorized as an element of culture (Cubbit, 1969). However, the traditional architecture of any community is now being influenced by a variety of other aspects that include urban lifestyle and globalization.
Several methods are used in the determination of the various community requirements in architecture. Calthorpe & Fulton (2001) present the idea of advocacy and pluralism in architectural planning as an alternative to the conventional planning which is the duty of government planning agencies. Planning in this case is done by interested groups or simply individuals who do so with the help of professional planners. This method is belied to be good and it works in favor of all the interested parties in particular; the community and the government (Steuteville & Langdon 2009). This method works to provide alternative solutions to the same problem therefore provides alternatives and by such removes the burden from the planning agencies and the professional planners.
Advocacy and pluralism planning provides a process that is highly democratic, unbiased, and brings onboard all the views of the interested parties. According to Talen (2002), this form of architectural planning is highly appropriate in planning for low-income families. These families are in dire need of professional assistance and through pluralism and advocacy planning, they are able to bring on board their needs and have them incorporated in to professional designing. The first case scenario on the use of advocacy planning was by the Architects Renewal Committee in Harlem in New York in 1964 (Katz, 1993).
After these various community requirements have been determined, then it is the work of the professional planners and architectural designers to design plans that incorporate the various aspects provided by the community. According to Talen (2002), the community can be involved through the entire process to the final but often, once the participatory stage has been conducted and the community requirements collected, then these ideas are simply manifested through the build space.
Social benefit for community architecture
Social benefit in community architecture as argued by Talen (2002) is the benefit that is derived from the process and the final built product from the participatory planning process. However, often this will depend on who is talking about it for example, among the political class, social benefit takes a peculiar perspective with the objective being not to necessarily bring out the truth, but rather to gain political millage. Nevertheless, community architecture and the involvement of the end-user in the planning process present some well elaborate social benefits. As argued by Rechtin (1991), social benefit in community participatory architecture constitutes the final product that the community gets to utilize. However, the community is not the only one that gets to enjoy this benefit as all the stakeholders which include the government, locally operating agencies, designers, managers, investors, property owners, and so on all share in one benefit or another.
There are numerous benefits depending on the stakeholder in question but particularly for the end-users the benefits are mainly oriented to utilization of the built space. As argued by Steuteville & Langdon (2009), one of the primary social benefits of community architecture is from the fact that it is a very democratic system of planning and decision-making. As a result, it provides a platform for the community to provide solutions or simply ideas concerning their built environment. These solutions can be for specific problems that have been witnessed due to the existence of a built space that the community didn’t participate in or simply meant to ensure that their requirements for any built space are incorporated in the final architectural product (Talen 2002). The social benefit of this is that the community gets to determine their space therefore; they can identify with the space as well as own it as a result of their input.
With the problem of housing in majority of major urban centers especially in developing countries as well as in cities built under the heteronomous and paternalistic systems, community architecture provides the best and most appropriate solution. Previously, this problem has been striking with no possible solution because of the fact that governments and architectural agencies have solely undertake the initiative to tackle the problem, with the same result over and over, failure to provide suited solutions (Katz 1993). Community architecture due to the broad nature of the participants involved provides numerous alternatives moreover, involving the community makes them own it therefore accept and love the final product.
One of the characteristic social benefits for community architecture is the fact that the community has a say in their space especially in urban or semi-urban communities (Seliger 1997). As a result, the final built space has a number of social amenities that would not have been otherwise included under the investor-oriented conventional autonomous planning system that is geared towards maximized utilization of space for income generation. Some of these amenities include humble walking environment therefore reducing reliance on automobiles within the space which includes fitness and better health for the residents, public gathering spaces within the space therefore increasing communication and interactions between the residents, and better use of land and reduction of sprawling.
In a community with more than one segmentations/grouping, community architecture faces the challenge of bringing the various on board the various ideas and requirements for each group. According to Rechtin (1991), the priorities that can be used to deal address the problem are one, to save what is still in existence within a built space as directed by the community wishes two, have the community members involved in the design process for the new construction and the rehabilitation, and three, have the members of the community involved in decision-making and management of the community architecture project. This is in case of remodeling an already built space that has several groups in it. These grouping according to Chermayeff & Alexander (1966) vary in terms of financial status, culture and tribe, and other social classes for example the elites.
These groups have different architectural requirements and therefore they will require different built spaces (Steuteville & Langdon 2009). For grouping in a single community, the general idea is embrace community architecture but have the environments within the community sectioned as to the different grouping for example, a section with posh spaces for the rich, and some shared amenities like swimming pools for the average residents. The other alternative is having a homogenous space especially for the public shared space but allow individual customization for private space. As argued by Katz (1993), the concept of community architecture is to have the community play an active role in planning the built space therefore; the needs of each individual even in a heterogeneous community can’t be ignored but have to be achieved to the best possible level.
Role that architects can and should play in relation to society – and vice versa
The construction industry has a key role to play in every society especially in the 21st century at the forefront of this are architects who are tasked with the responsibility of planning and designing spaces (Seliger 1997). With the sustainable agenda gaining prominence among others, architects have a role in ensuring that the built space in every society is done as per the requirements and to meet the sustainability goals. The important of the work of any architect is well elaborate in the significance of the built environment which represents a substantial and considerably stable environmental resource. As stated by Hillier & Leaman (1973), many of buildings survive for a long period of time and therefore, can be identified as the principal physical asset in any society.
Based on the fact that the built environment survives for long and is the principal physical assets for a society, it is quite important that the architect of such spaces such ensure that good value is input in the structure to remain relevant for its full life cycle. The architect therefore has a role to ensure that the buildings full life cycle has to be factored into the design and planning process (Calthorpe & Fulton 2001). One of the ways towards achieving this and with the background of community architecture is to ensure that the requirements of the society whether cultural, financial, or protection are factored into the architectural design.
According to Salama (1998), the role of architects changes over time. In the early days of professionalization of the architectural profession, anyone who possessed visualization powers could be used to fulfill the architectural demands of the society. As time passed, experienced became a required in addition to visualization. These two requirements were considered essential for a person to successfully design and space as desired by the owner. Today, the society requires that an architect be well trained, licensed, and experienced to practice as a professional architect. This changing sphere of architect qualification is attached to the role the architect has to play in designing built space. With increased complexities in the work of architecture, any professional in the field is required to be up to the task and currently, being up to the task requires one be trained and qualified.
In the early days or architecture, the architect was simply required to respond to the environment that surrounded him in a manner considered positive and this was done by simply satisfying his own preferences (Salama 1998). As time progressed, the users of space became more involved and took interest in their spaces with the objective being to ensure that space was designed and actually built as per their requirements. This required an architect to be well trained in the various aspects of space designing and how to incorporate the various user requirements into the design. It would therefore be right to state that, it is a role of the architect in society architecture to ensure that they have the skills required in designing space effectively.
Likewise, it is the role of the society to nurture architects because in addition to training, and as stated by Salama (1998), the ultimate work of any architect and artists in general is all about enabling the person to explore his skills intrinsically and democratically. The foundation of every architect is the talent which is simply nurtured and empowered through training; it is therefore the role of the society to accord an architect the space required for their work and the appropriate environment for the completion of their work.
The community is the end-user of the works of architecture and therefore, the preferences, requirements, and culture among other factors of the community determine the nature of architecture. While it is true that a community is not just about the physical interactions, it also takes a material form and to effectively understand the social aspects of space and therefore community architecture, then it is important to understand the spatial aspects of the society. Community in architecture is the user of the final built space. Architecture has to address the needs of the target community, which are primarily determined by culture, and in the current era of paid space, the cost factor. The idea of advocacy and pluralism in architectural planning is an alternative to the conventional planning which is the duty of government planning agencies. Planning in this case is done by interested groups or simply individuals who do so with the help of professional planners. In a community with more than one segmentations/grouping, the general idea is embrace community architecture but have the environments within the community sectioned as to the different grouping. Social benefit in community architecture is the benefit that is derived from the process and the final built product from the participatory planning process. Social benefits are enjoyed by all the stakeholders who include the government, locally operating agencies, designers, managers, investors, and property owners among others. The construction industry has a key role to play in every society especially in the 21st century at the forefront of this are architects who are tasked with the responsibility of planning and designing spaces. Likewise, it is the role of the society to nurture architects.
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