The Nineth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2007
Berkeley Prize 2007

Gabriela Sorda Proposal

A Communal Center for the Neighborhood Los Eucaliptus

Before mankind divided, Africa was the place where we had born. For me, traveling there feels like coming back home. The other strong reason which led me to write this text was to participate at the Global Studio again, because that experience changed radically my approach to social architecture: Instead of just reading what scholars have to say, I started to ask to the people what THEY have to say about their way of living… And I verified that producing projects in agreement with their users is quicker, smarter, funnier and more accurate. Instead of understanding what a “participative processes” is…. I participated; and then I experienced how powerful can be the outcomes of common work… The Global Studio inspired, for instance, the working methods at Los Eucalyptus (the slum where I volunteer and where is settled the project proposed in my essay). But I still have a lot of questions and dudes: we already know the place and the people, we had constructed some urban furniture and we had agreed the construction of the communal house, but we don’t know exactly how to manage it. Reality at Los Eucalyptus changes very fast and we have trouble keeping our aims and following the proposed working methods… Teachings of Global Studio Johannesburg and the related seminar People Building Better Cities (were specialists from all around the word will share their experiences) can help me to figure out some solutions to those difficulties. The Global Studio’s international approach makes possible to compare different ways of approaching design; by learning them, I could amplify the range of possible answers to the housing and urban problems of a slum like Los Eucalyptus. There are also some intrinsic characteristics of the Global Studio that makes it different from other participatory design activities, but they are the very same characteristics that produce difficulties in our work at Los Eucalyptus: As educational projects, they both have the handicap of working with very little time; and as urban projects, both participatory processes can’t count on the legitimacy, the legal tools, and the money that gives you to work for the government. Having a glimpse of how the Global Studio overcomes those difficulties can help me to overcome ours.

In addition, the Global Studio can also complement my education because it has some characteristics that my university has not: - The Global Studio works mixing several disciplines studying the same urban object. Sadly, in my university, we have not Urban Design or Urban Planning as a first degree, and we have not common subjects with the Faculty of Geography or Faculty of Anthropology…. Thus our knowledge of social science’s methods, and our knowledge of the urban scale, is very lousy… - The Global Studio works in very small groups. The University of Buenos Aires offers free education, and we are very proud of it: the free education is one of the reasons why we are 180.000 students, but that is also one of the reasons why we have classes of around 300 persons, and that’s why we work in groups of around 35 persons per teacher….That situation has a lot of advantages, but working in smaller groups, as the Global Studio does, allows you to get deeper ideas in less time, and makes easier to exchange opinions.

Also, there is also a lot to learn from the place: Johannesburg has a lot in common with Buenos Aires: Both are big and young cities, and both suffer from the consequences of quick growth: Migrants had settle were they could, in lands that lacked of any proper infrastructure, and now the city has to sort out the problem. But the public politics adopted by each city to deal with those problems, seem to be different: Buenos Aires has smaller housing programs than Johannesburg, but our programs promote the private property of the land by means of selling the houses constructed by the government. According to the City of Johannesburg’s web page, the biggest housing program there, the council – owned company called “JOSHCO”, rents their houses. The concept of a “government owned company” itself is weird to us…. During the ´90s we had a couple of mixed private / government owned companies, but unlike the company that developed a neighborhood for rich people, the company that tried to develop the neighborhoods where poor people live, wasn’t successful. But those companies’ aims were to develop the whole neighborhood; as far as I know, in Buenos Aires we never adopted any management solution of that kind for social housing…. Do those differences occur because of the different urban context or because of different social contexts? What advantages and disadvantages each model has? How the JOSHCO really works and which (according to the users) are their real results…..? It could be very enriching to think about those matters while in Johannesburg, because in my education as an architect, we just have two courses where we make projects in an urban scale, and we locate those projects in Buenos Aires. Next year I will take one of these courses, and I’m sure that comparison between Buenos Aires and Johannesburg would improve any analysis I could do and share with my studying group.

My main interest in architecture is social housing and slum upgrading. Slum’s localization patterns seem to be very different in Buenos Aires than in Johannesburg: We have a lot of small slums spread around the city, and they have Soweto, a very large city that seems to have a lot of the social characteristic that slums have, but they have security on land tenure. In Argentina, the security on land tenure is a paradigm. Did that security in Soweto make some difference in the quality of life of the dwellers? In Johannesburg, I would spend a lot of my free time visiting Soweto. SOuth WEstern TOwnship, it’s a huge place where live people from all South Africa, talking nine different languages…How do they manage to communicate? For sure Soweto has a vibrant street life. Soweto it’s also very famous because it’s the place where exploded the student’s uprising that started to overthrow the apartheid system. I would love to stroll around the significant places of that fighting, and talk to the old people who can tell me how they lived on those days and how they manage now. Soweto had also a big squatter’s movement; I would like to see their accomplishments. Regarding architecture, Soweto they have very typical housing typologies, like the “matchbox houses”, the “elephant houses” and the “hostels” for migrant workers, and a lot of development project worth to see. Last but not least, I wouldn’t miss the popular Soweto’s “shebeens”, (drinking joints), where I would expect to listen good local music; because the best thing of traveling is learning more than at home, while having fun.

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Gabriela Sorda, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires, Argentina
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