John McAslan discussed his practice’s pro-bono work in Haiti, Delhi and Malawi during a Royal Society of Arts lecture last week in London. Reports Dami Lapite
The John McAslan + Partners chairman and founder started by addressing the housing shortage in Haiti, and praised the ‘ginger bread’ houses of Haiti’s heritage, moving on to discuss his work rebuilding homes in Port au Prince after the earthquake at the start of this year.
The city’s reconstruction included rebuilding the ‘Iron Market’ – a cultural, historical and architectural landmark – which the practice tackled using locally sourced craftspeople and reclaimed materials.
McAslan then moved to discuss the practice’s projects in India and Africa. In India, the company has collaborated with Arup Engineers on the development of the Indian Institute of Advanced Nursing (IIAN) which is dedicated to the training of nurses for the care of HIV/AIDS patients in Delhi.
He also talked about his work building community schools in Malawi. Working with the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative and Arup, as many as ten McAslan schools have been built, each at a cost of $25,000 and accommodating up to 150 children.
The new build facilities are a ‘vast improvement’ from the concrete-built schools in both quality and environmental performance terms, claimed the architect. The design refered back to ‘traditional ideas’ and fundamental principles of natural light and ventilation, articulation and hierarchy, he claimed.
The schools also provide breakout spaces and a kitchen for the parents allowing them further engagement with community.
He concluded: ‘Effective design leads to community benefit, leading to improved lives’. He said he views projects as the ‘beginning of an end in itself rather than the end’.
McAslan argued that architecture’s physical, social and political factors all need to be unison in order to build in a practical and humane way.
‘We can’t do projects in isolation, the government needs to be involved or else it’s a wasted endeavour,’ he said.
A debate flared about whether challenges faced in these projects were similar to the challenges in faced in the UK, where funding for new schools and high quality low cost housing has been hit by government spending cuts. Audience members asked whether overseas low cost building principles could be applied in the UK.