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1.3.2: Critical Reflections on Design and Development
Tuesday, 17/May/2022:
3:30pm - 5:00pm

Session Chair: Brian Sinclair

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Critically Reflecting on Architectural Practice: Exploring Innovative Initiatives for International Development

Farhad Mortezaee, Brian Sinclair

University of Calgary, Canada

Our paper wants to address: What alternatives can/should we advocate in pursuit of global solidarities, decolonization, equity and indeed ‘development’?

Modern society is complex, confronting wicked problems that evade simple solutions. The present paper explores tensions arising from the collisions between colonial posturing, development, equity, + justice. As post-colonial nationalists sought to establish their sovereignty, they understood ‘Modernity’ as timeless, ahistorical and pure from euro-centric cultures, hence their adoption of contemporary architecture and planning as symbolically vital to their paths to progress. Privilege allowed ‘foreign’ modernist architects and urban planners to implement their designs, or have their prototypes copied at serious scales that were not possible in their own home countries.

Our paper investigates how architects’ home locations in the West proffered certain ‘privileges’, leading to the assertion of ‘narrow’ design agendas in the ‘developing world’. In other words, coming from afar awarded status and power that influenced design and planning directions.

The lead author reflects on two spaceframe tent school structures that he designed for marginalized populations in Middle East. Due to pandemic restrictions, travel to the site was impossible -- precipitating reliance on friends and colleagues to build projects with minimal communication with the local population. A short video showcases the tent structures in situ and offers critique. While development should utilize local materials, engage & empower local stakeholders, and deploy local talent, these structures demonstrate how modernity driven by high technology is still the preferred goal to many. These scenarios highlight challenges that surface when there are limited resources available locally, and when small scale development initiatives do not have the means to mobilize local stakeholders. While the paper illustrates unique cases, the authors argue that lessons learned have resonance and applicability more generally.

Rights, Sagacity + The Devil’s Crop: Provocations in an Ethos of Design, Dissolution + Disarray

Brian R. Sinclair1,2

1University of Calgary, Canada; 2sinclairstudio inc., Canada

Madness is pervasive, with few facets of existence untouched and many aspects upended. Peace, order and stability seem far removed from memory as we confront climate, health, economic and social emergencies that uproot values and upheave harmony. Nations grapple with serious troubles, from sustainability and supremacy to pandemics and politics, discovering conventional responses are neither effective nor appropriate. Into the mix arrives polarizations that disrupt, divide and destabilize countries and communities. Grasping said problems, and effectively reading landscapes of unrest, proves daunting and depressing. However, history illustrates that during unfathomable crises viable paths forward warrant innovation, resolve and resilience. Design presents one vehicle to deploy, to positive ends, to navigate beyond present predicaments. The current research operates from a design perspective, arguing creativity and innovation in problem solving proves viable vehicles for reimagining systems/societies. Reassessing values is predicated on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that delineates vital conditions due to all people living on our small planet. To negotiate the turbulent waters of global breakdown and social upheaval, research methods include critical analysis of literature, logical argumentation and case studies, including an annual graduate Architecture Human Rights Studio. An ability to shape one’s character, to be capable of grasping context, and to be equipped to act on wicked challenges, are precursors to rethinking/rebuilding systems gone amuck. Discerning right from wrong seems germane to equations of rights. Arendt (1974) noted “If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer.” The paper examines human rights via higher education, using Architecture as an illustrative case, and proposes a framework for action -- highlighting values, self and world views as timely and essential ingredients for re-designing systems and societies in more suitable, sympathetic and sustainable ways.

Indigeneity, Imagination, Equity + Design: Ethical Space and Complementary Ways of Knowing

Brian R. Sinclair1,2

1University of Calgary, Canada; 2sinclairstudio inc. Canada

Understanding an evermore complicated world, and tackling horrendous problems, proves formidable, thorny and tangled. While design is well-positioned to tackle complexity, recent awareness of alternative ways of seeing raises concerns about narrow perspectives, limited voices and urgency to embrace plurality. In North America, over many centuries, the assumed primacy of ‘newcomers’ aggressively suppressed indigenous knowing. Turtle Island’s First Peoples survived on the land over countless generations, holding reverence for nature and humility around their place in the system. With European arrival synergy was overturned in dramatic and destructive ways. Colonizers’ views concerning man’s dominion over nature, land as commodity, written word as definitive, and science as supreme, countered indigenous traditions. Collision of values, as history painfully illustrates, was irreconcilable and ripe for conflict. Today the planet and its people, regardless of place/predilection, are caught in quagmires of crises. Climate, health, social, and other emergencies underscore unsustainable trajectories of modern civilization. Recent events, including social unrest and a global pandemic, highlight the need to reconsider our interface with the environment and each other. Calls for inclusivity, empathy and open-mindedness underscore urgencies of reconsidering systems and overhauling structures. Understanding, acknowledging and applying indigenous knowledge affords opportunities to broaden toolsets and surmount calamities. The research acutely evaluates prevailing mindsets. Using critical analysis of literature, ethnographic tactics, and case studies, including Architecture studios and community-based projects addressing Aboriginal culture, the paper presents a model for Western Science and Indigenous Knowing to act in unison to problem-seek and problem-solve. Divergent peoples, different cultures and parallel systems need to reside together in Ethical Space. Ethical Space is a vital precursor to progressing conversations and reconciling disparity in seeing, thinking and acting. To realize greater justice, fairness, concordance, and amity, we must urgently design/deploy viable and efficacious strategies for turning around many elements of modern life.

Considering Health + Wellness Beyond Convention: Spirituality, Space and the Critical Case of Sufism

Nooshin Esmaeili1, Brian R. Sinclair2

1School of Architecture, Planning + Landscape (SAPL), University of Calgary, Canada; 2School of Architecture, Planning + Landscape (SAPL), University of Calgary + sinclairstudio inc., Canada

Over recent years the profession of Architecture has faced increasing pressure to attend to matters ahead of bricks and mortar, glass, and steel. While the materials are crucial to success in the design of our spaces and places, they alone are of course insufficient. Architecture is foremost about inhabitation and people -- we craft our buildings to facilitate activities, provide inspiration, instill security, and, most critically, foster wellbeing. Considering pressing global crises, including epidemics and pandemics, architects are now accountable to society in our quest for improved quality of life. To such ends, designers are considering research and evidence that can inform decisions, including across the spectrum of determinants of health. The present paper reviews such elements, and moves beyond the physical, the psychological, and the sociological to critically examine the potential for spiritual space to further health and wellness. Incorporating a literature review that crosses disciplinary boundaries, the research then deploys case study methods to analyze major Sufi Architecture projects, building arguments for linking place-making to holistic health. The case studies examine a range of factors that contribute to transcendence in space, including light, proportion, water, materials, and choreography, illustrating spaces that stir our minds and touch our souls offer positive dimensions to dwelling, healing, and being. Sufism, as a unique form of spiritual practice, considers the interplay of the outer world (including Architecture), and the inner world (body-mind-spirit). Analysis of the extraordinary case studies are shaped into a framework for health + design, providing guidance to architects and environmental designers as they strive to create buildings and landscapes that rise above the pragmatic. In our complex world, where stress and disease are ever-present, the current research serves to illuminate new ways of seeing, thinking, and acting that bring the spiritual more meaningfully into our design strategies and solutions.

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