Al Jazeera is to broadcast a series of films focusing on ‘radical architects’ from Brazil, Nigeria, Pakistan, Spain, Israel/Palestine and Vietnam
The series – entitled ‘Rebel Architecture’ – focuses on architects using design to ‘confront’ urban, environmental and social problems in their communities.
Dan Davies, producer of the series, said: ‘We couldn’t help noticing that despite all the problems afflicting humanity, many of which architecture uniquely has the ability to assist and even solve, most of the mainstream and architectural press celebrates the aesthetics of huge iconic projects, marvelling at insanely complicated ways to fold giant sheets of metal.’
He added: ‘As we face issues from floods and natural disasters to an explosion of urban populations, soaring inequality and displacement through conflict, architecture seems wholly absent. So we wanted to look beyond the discussion of the aesthetics of “star-chitecture” and see what architects outside the mainsteam are doing.’
The six-part series begins with a film documenting the work of Spanish architect Santiago Cirugeda, who uses his knowledge of planning law to ‘occupy’ abandoned properties and to build structures on unused land.
The series also follows Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari who designs disaster relief shelters and Eyal Weizman, professor of spatial and visual cultures at Goldsmiths University, who explores the way the built environment is used as an instrument of occupation in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In Vietnam, the series follows Vo Trong Nghia, who counters the government’s construction of glass and steel buildings with projects that focus on open spaces and sustainable design, while in Nigeria, Kunlé Adeyemi has designed floating buildings to solve issues of flooding and overcrowding.
The final episode explores Rocinha, the largest favela in Brazil, where builder Ricardo de Oliveira, and Luis Toledo, the masterplanner of the favela, confront new challenges as Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup and Olympic Games comes closer.
‘The rebel architects have to push boundaries, but they must also look beyond their own buildings,’ said Davies. ‘They start by looking at the wider context in which they live - be it Spain hit by the financial crisis, or Pakistan ravaged by floods - and work out how they can change the status quo with architecture.’
Episode 1 - ‘Guerilla Architect’: Santiago Cirugeda
Spanish architect Santiago Cirugeda works to reclaim urban spaces for the public in a country where 500,000 new buildings lie empty due to the effects of the recession. Using his knowledge of urban planning legislation, Cirugeda enables community building on ‘occupied’ land.
Cirugeda believes that contemporary architecture has lost sight of its social responsibilities through its obsession with the aesthetic and his buildings are usually fast-build, mobile structures made from recycled materials which serve a social function. The film follows Cirugeda as he takes on local authorities in order to try and save an abandoned cement factory and turn it into a cultural centre.
‘People tell me my architecture is ugly. Interesting - but ugly. But I say - who doesn’t have an ugly friend?’
Episode 2 - ‘A Traditional Future’: Yasmeen Lari
Pakistani architect Yasmeen Lari has helped to build over 36,000 disaster relief shelters for people hit by floods and earthquakes, shunning the weak, mass-produced housing provided by relief agencies and instead using vernacular techniques and local materials that are simple enough for affected people to construct themselves.
The film sees Lari help villagers after an earthquake in the Balochistan region and returning to the Sindh region to see how homes she created there survived the latest floods.
‘When we train as architects, we’re taught that architecture is like God because you create things. As a result, your ego is inflated. You think no one else can do what you’re doing. Now my work is something else. It’s another world I am working in.’
Episode 3 - ‘The Architecture of Violence’: Eyal Weizman
In this film, Eyal Weizman explores the central role of architecture to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, where walls, roads, terraces, settlements and surveillance measures are designed to ensure the separation of two peoples.
Weizman also discusses his latest project, Forensic Architecture, which utilises new architectural and visual technologies to use a building’s military wounds as evidence for the investigation of war crimes.
‘When so much is being built, when so much violence is being enacted through architecture, it’s not more building that is needed here, but a different approach for architecture.’
Episode 4 - ‘Greening the City’: Vo Trong Nghia
Although Vietnam’s authorities are keen to promote growth and development, this has often been at the expense of the environment. Vo Trong Nghia’s buildings incorporate greenery and design elements such as natural air flow ventilation instead of costly air conditioning.
The film follows Nghia as he tries to find support for a vertical farming city, while also trying to implement low-cost housing for those hit by Vietnam’s housing crisis.
‘Green architecture helps people live harmoniously with nature and elevates human life by embracing the powers of the sun. If the current way of thinking does not change, sooner or later citizens will actually live in concrete jungles.’
Episode 5 - ‘Working on Water’: Kunlé Adeyemi
Kunlé Adeyemi has pioneered floating buildings to tackle problems of flooding that affect thousands of residents in Nigeria and other African coastal cities. Despite designing low-cost and easy-to-construct prototypes for floating buildings, Adeyemi still struggles to convince authorities to adopt his design.
The film also follows the architect’s plans to create a floating radio station for residents in Port Hartcourt, an area the government is keen to redevelop with a multi-billion dollar plan which will displace current residents.
‘I am constantly inspired by solutions we discover in everyday life in the world’s developing cities’
Episode 6 - ‘The Pedreiro and the Master Planner’: Ricardo de Oliveira and Luis Toledo
Ricardo de Oliveira has no formal training, but has built over 100 houses in Rocinha, Brazil’s largest favela, including his own house. The film follows de Oliveira as he is affected by the government’s favela ‘pacification’ programme in the run-up to Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup and Olympic Games.
‘A foreign architect would not get into this hole and dig. He would hire someone or would hire machines. But here in the favela, we are hands on.’
Luis Toledo is the architect behind the government’s master plan for the regeneration of Rocinha, and has long worked on favela urbanisation. As Rio’s higher profile attracts an influx of urban planners and NGOs, the threat of gentrification can be seen in the government’s keenness to construct a cable car system over the favela while many residents remain without access to education or healthcare.
‘In Rio De Janeiro, where there is a super-rich and super-poor population, the relationship between the favelas and the “tarmac” defines what the city is.’
Rebel Architecture will begin on Monday 18 August, with each episode broadcast on Al Jazeera eight times during the week of transmission:
Mon: 23.30 (BST, premiere); Tue: 10.30; Wed: 04.30; Thu: 17.30; Fri: 20.30; Sat: 15.30; Sun: 05.30; Mon: 09.30.
For more details visit: www.aljazeera.com/programmes/rebelarchitecture