Why does architecture matter? Do we build for everyone when we create amazing destinations and grand institutions? Why do we constantly put up barriers and restrictions in the name of safety and security? Globalization and rapid urbanization has wrought about a whole new set of situations and problems that requires change in what we build. The rise of mega cities, the ubiquity of smartphones and apps, increasing migration numbers, along with the spread of casual information through social media have all changed our daily lives.
Throughout history, architecture has been used symbolically to represent power and to exert control. This is apparent in the monumental scale of institutional buildings, such as religious structures and government offices. Architecture has also been used as a display of wealth for different cities and countries, as observed in royal palaces and theater houses. Though this has resulted in centuries, if not millennia, of awe-inspiring structures, this trend in architecture has also created a dissociation between the institutions and the people they serve. The “Bilbao” effect has encouraged the public sector to support and push for bigger and splashier buildings that capture the headlines and our collective attention. This focuses the vast majority of development efforts on the visible and empowered. It neglects the underbelly of society who require public services and facilities the most.
Social Architecture in its various forms strives to end this friction and loss of connection by breaking down the institutions, ushering them towards the people—it creates with communities in mind. It is architecture with a social purpose that takes on a scale that is often overlooked by urban planning and politics. It focuses on connecting with people on the ground, engaging the streetscape and activating public spaces.
” We believe that in the pursuit of social architecture, there is room to investigate this stream of thought. “
How would architecture be different if it were done without pre-existing bias and tendencies? What would be the strengths and weaknesses of such a philosophy? Is architecture better served by the pursuit of individual identity or social cohesion?
We seek to identify the opportunities where we can apply our ideas and change how our institutional infrastructure is built. Social architecture proposes to create a network of localized institutions that are inclusive and barrier-free. Through our own projects, we have abstracted three main aspects. These are: engagement, barrier free, and locality. All of which, when successfully achieved, creates architecture that operates in the manner of discovery and exploration, and promotes qualities for a gentle and harmonious pace for societal development.
The entire history of architecture, the relationship between people and places has always been simple. People go to places, visit them, or stay in them. Architecture has always been looking for ways to engage with people. We propose to question this relationship and ask what happens when we flip this around. What happens when places come to the people? How does the architecture suddenly change when this most fundamental of relationships is flipped?
We are living in a world where we are constantly bombarded with entertainment options that fight for our attention. The 24-hour news cycle, the convenience of mobile apps, the creation of ever bigger and flashier entertainment spectacles has drowned out our beloved institutions. Cultural institutions built in the urban model of the 19th and 20th centuries can no longer compete with our newfangled toys. In effect it is a war of convenience fighting for the attention of hyperactive and time-strapped urbanites.
This point stems from the observation of the existing paths people make in their daily routine. As is the secret behind optimization, people try to find the shortest path across all of their activities in a day to maximize time and effort. As a consequence, the institutions which are not in the day schedule of a person because it is out of the way or just takes too much time to reach, get passed up and quickly become irrelevant.
” We propose to bring libraries, museums, and other institutions closer to us. Make these places come to the people by inserting them everywhere into their daily paths. “
Access to a library or museum should be just as convenient as getting your daily cup of coffee from your corner café. Through downsizing and strategic insertion, these micro forms now have the potential reach and stark convenience of a mobile app. These places, though small in nature, become landmarks by their ubiquity and repeated usage. Instead of forcing people to go to the institutions, we bring the institutions to the people. Making them much more convenient and accessible for our daily lives.
Freedom Of Movement
Architecture has always pursued the noble ideal of accessibility. Yet most of our institutions are not designed to serve the growing number of people left out of our increasingly documented and formalized systems. The architecture of our institutions serve to intimidate and inspire awe in a large part of the populace whether on purpose or coincidentally. We are excluding the people who need access to our institutions the most.
This problem exists in almost every nation or state. The increasing number of the undocumented whether they be undocumented migrants, the homeless, wandering refugees, or the urban poor means that more and more people are being excluded. This creates a generational trap that ostracizes people and divides the populace into ever more distant segments. Our institutions, more than anything else, must strive to bring people closer together. They must create awareness and appreciation for everyone and serve the whole of society.
Recall your last visit to a museum and try to consider how many barriers you had to go through to finally get to what you needed. Most of our institutions are fenced off and closed at certain hours or days. You have to go through security, go through registration, and ask for information or assistance. These are 4-6 barriers one has to go through every single time. They are barriers that intimidate from which various people shy away from.
” We seek to remove these barriers. To create completely barrier-free spaces where everyone is welcome. “
Social architecture rejects the climate of fear and segregation that leads us to putting up these barriers. In order to achieve universal access for all, we propose a frictionless system that works on the human scale. We seek to create architecture that is completely open and nonrestrictive.
The earliest libraries in ancient and classical times existed as centers of knowledge or learning. All through the middle ages one had to go on great journeys to seek out knowledge and learning. The invention of the printing press created a revolution in how knowledge was shared through books and brought about great change in society. The American public library system started in the 1800’s created a network of libraries supported by public funds and has been the archetypal library ever since.
The increasing density of our cities and the increasing demands on our transportation networks require us to further refine this library network into localized places and apply them to other public institutions. By integrating these places into a network we further the evolution of information access from books to digital, from digital to online data, from the online data to social networks, from vast social network to a physical web of networked micro institutions tied to local communities and now. This allows us to fight against the spread of fake news and information through authentication by identifying their point of origin or source.
” Instead of monolithic institutions that strain the public’s coffers, we propose to create micro institutions that cost a fraction of that. Social architecture creates a physical mesh of institutions disseminated throughout the modern metropolis. “
The combined effect of multiple units gives a compounding response that allows the institutions to operate at an urban level. Clusters create complex pedestrian interactions around them and streetscapes are enriched. The free flowing movement and gentler footprints become insertive rather than disruptive creating a sustainable and highly adaptive form of urban intervention.