Architecture is often considered a reflection of society at a given time as it is inextricably linked to and influenced by the surrounding social, economic and political landscape. Although architecture is inherently a physical activity, its impact goes far beyond the physical realm. Within those four walls lie an endless array of opportunities. Opportunities to heal old wounds, to forgive, celebrate, reflect, and relax.
Ultimately, architecture is a tool that can be used for good or bad. It could be used to build a building that undermines health and wellbeing, or a sustainable oasis that reflects the diverse needs of a community. Most importantly, architecture can be used as a medium for social change. In this article, we'll look at two examples of how architects are using their skills to enhance human life and enact social change.
Abrahamic House in Abu Dhabi by Adjaye Associates
The Abrahamic Family House is an unprecedented collection of a church, mosque and synagogue. The name itself beautifully encapsulates the shared values and historic ties the three distinct religions have to Abraham.
There is no need for introductions when it comes to conflicts and contention between religions. Throughout history, there have been unfathomable atrocities stemming from hate between religions. Countless innocent lives were lost and irreversible pain and damage were felt throughout. Brief periods of peace are overthrown by waves of terror in a cycle that has been going on for centuries.
The revolutionary project, whilst appreciative of the complexities of interfaith dialogues, seeks to provide a platform for the nurturing of religious exchange, nurturing values of peace, coexistence and acceptance across religions and cultures. Each building provides spaces for worship and the observation of religious services. Connecting these spaces is a common ground for the unaffiliated and the good-willed to come together as a unified whole in the pursuit of harmony.
The building form consists of three cubes representative of the three religions, sitting atop a plinth. They are all oriented differently, respecting the similarities and differences among religions. Hopefully, this project will help dissolve preconceptions and encourage the collective celebration of history and identity and contribute to a more peaceful future.
Floating schools of Bangladesh by Mohammed Rezwan
To ensure a flood doesn’t stop education in the low lying areas of Bangladesh, Architect Rezwan, founder of a non-profit organisation called Shidhulai Sawanirvar Sangstha, designed floating schools that help impart education in rural communities. To confront the uncertainty of the situation, Rezwan designed self-reliant solar-powered boats which include a library, space for laptops, batteries and solar lamps.
The non-profit floating infrastructure doesn’t stop at schools. It also runs floating medical clinics and a playground that doubles as a library on the river. To protect the buildings from the monsoon, the roofs and sides of the buildings are usually covered with woven bamboo. Remarkably, Shidhulai has created a socially and physically sustainable supplement to the lost amenities on land.
Each community presents a unique set of challenges, and while community-engaged architecture has the potential to inspire social change, it can only happen with the thoughtful and collaborative participation of architects. These community and society shaping buildings must be developed out of a deep understanding of the people or preferably with those people.
This task isn’t exclusive to the upper echelons of the architecture industry. Rather, the power lies in the emerging generation. By adopting this frame of mind from the outset and employing strategies around affordable housing, social equity, sustainable living, and green infrastructure, we can significantly impact communities and the world at large for generations to come. Through collaborating with other architects and the community to leverage projects that deliver a deep and sustained social benefit, the architecture and urban planning industry can progress forward and benefit from a sense of personal accountability.
We must reframe our perceptions of the buildings we produce as a living entity that profoundly impacts people's lives. In this day and age, we need to look beyond providing the basic need for shelter. Instead, we need to work towards providing a higher quality outcome based on values of coexistence, equality, sustainability and prosperity for all.