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Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture, Samir Kassir Square, Beirut, 2004 The square in central Beirut is designed around

two ancient Ficus (g) trees that have withstood the test of time and witnessed all that has passed before them.

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Farrokh Derakhshani
ABIDJAN JUNE 2012

Appropriating, Reclaiming and Inventing Identity Through Architecture


Local received knowledge once ensured buildings had a strong connection with their environment and the surrounding community. With rapid urbanisation and the professionalisation of design and construction, architects working internationally with a nely attuned sensibility to place and context have been able to take up the baton and take the opportunity to develop notions of locality and identity. For the last two decades, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture has been recognising the contribution of design teams that have been responsible for producing exceptional architecture for Islamic communities worldwide. Here, the award schemes director, Farrokh Derakshani, denes some key treatments of identity in architecture.

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The notion of identity has become a major focus of discussion. It is a topic of debate for architectural gatherings and events across the world. A concern for cultural distinctiveness is intense in societies that are undergoing rapid urbanisation and is equally acute in rural areas that are experiencing a similar state of ux. Architecture is at the frontline of this debate, because it has a physical impact on the social environment. This issue is even more sensitive in rapidly changing societies where those that create the built environment become responsible for the failed aspirations of the wider community. Since the beginning of the 20th century, a yearned-for space of harmony, often encountered in the historic urban and architectural fabric, has been perceived to have been threatened by an emerging space of chaos. The speed of transformation in society has led to a disjoint: shifts in tastes and values have introduced new forms of commercial and retail structures, and yet it has proved difcult to provide coherent urban and public spaces at the same rate. In the past, traditional spaces of harmony were conceived by those who built according to their own values for themselves. These spaces were developed from received architectural and cultural knowledge. The 20th century also brought into play other inuences, especially from the new post-colonial administrations and

Since the beginning of the 20th century, a yearned-for space of harmony, often encountered in the historic urban and architectural fabric, has been perceived to have been threatened by an emerging space of chaos.

Anna Heringer and Eike Roswag, School in Rudrapur Dinajpur, Bangladesh, 2005 Hand-built in only four months by local craftsmen, pupils, parents and teachers together with experts from Germany and Austria, the school employed traditional methods and materials of construction, adapting them in new ways to create lightlled spaces for learning.

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Westernised government systems, as well as international professionals such as architects, engineers and planners, in the creation and alteration of the built environment: entities that have built according to their own values for others. But today, as migration and interaction with other cultures creates new values and aspirations, planning and design professionals with a carefully attuned sensibility to place and context have new and sometimes surprising opportunities to develop notions of locality and identity. Globalisation is often regarded as the enemy of a harmoniously attuned local architecture, rather than an integral part of its current reality. The general trend from the most remote rural village to the biggest megacity is for societies to become more complex through communication and movement. They constantly build new layers of knowledge and consciousness, and display a growing awareness of others. This has led to an increasing need to revisit the term local. The concept of local in the context of the built environment needs to be redened. It is in a state of constant ux. Locally built structures do not have to be by implication static in their use of materials or technology. Nostalgia and historicism often give the false impression that good local architecture requires us to freeze in some celebratory fashion a moment in the

evolutionary process of our cities and villages. Societies cannot afford to stay timeless like an alpine village or small medieval town, which exist solely as tourist attractions. In most parts of the world, time is the main driver of change, constantly shifting everyday local conditions and adding new layers of social, economic and environmental complexity. Despite all this focus on identity in architecture, the concept remains elusive. Today more than ever, the same material, the same technology and especially the same architectural education, are at the disposal of architects around the world. How can multiple layers of identity be located within architecture? How can the architecture of each society become the true representation of its complexity? The rst thing that one has to agree is that when one talks about multiple layers of identity, one must take an inclusive approach, rather than an exclusive approach to represent the plurality of our societies. Reclaiming the Local Through their function, the architecture of institutional buildings can become a role model in the creation of a new local identity. The careful borrowing of elements from rich architectural traditions and their skilful reuse in re-creating the new local is exemplied by Turgut Cansever and Ertur Yener

Today more than ever, the same material, the same technology and especially the same architectural education, are at the disposal of architects around the world.

Grameen Bank Housing Programme, Bangalore, Bangladesh, 1984 This cooperative housing scheme in Bangalore not only supplies the basic housing modules for individuals to build their own homes, but also small personal loans. As well as providing hundreds of thousands of much-needed houses, it has enabled a participatory process at a local level.

Turgut Cansever and Ertur Yener, Turkish Historical Society, Ankara, 1966 Organised around a sky-lit centralised courtyard, which is redolent of historical Ottoman architecture, this building was a conscious attempt on behalf of the architects to produce a distinctly Turkish modern architecture in a city that since the 1920s had become characterised by rather bland Modernism.

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in their library and conference centre for the Turkish Historical Society in Ankara (1966). This building has a central atrium that reects the formal organisation of Ottoman madrasas and functions as a protected extension of the urban space. Modern and traditional building materials are juxtaposed. A handbuilt village school in Rudrapur, Bangladesh (2005), designed by Anna Heringer and Eike Roswag, for instance, employs a seemingly wholly traditional construction of earth and bamboo, but introduces the technical advances of a damp-proof course, adding a brick foundation and mixing straw into the loam. In both cases, the two buildings represent the new local, re-created through architecture. A large proportion of our built environment is formed from residential buildings. In the postwar period, housing schemes were built all over the world, as top-down standardised and rapid affordable architectural solutions that were not surprisingly perceived as anti-local. By considering place-specic realities as the basis for dealing with large projects, new local identities can ourish, reversing this process. This is epitomised, for instance, by the establishment of micro-banks in remote rural locations. These have been able to capture local shifts and engage with the needs of small businesses. An architectural example is demonstrated by the Grameen Bank Housing Programme in Bangladesh. By providing loans for a self-build housing

programme, the organisation has been able to implement positive change, alleviating a severe housing problem. Since 1984, some 700,000 houses have been built through this programme, a good example of empowering people through local architecture. Inventing New Identities Newly changing societies whether or not they have complex architectural traditions need strong, place-specic buildings that can represent them globally. Occasionally these buildings can invent an identity and a sense of belonging. Patrick Dujarric, a French architect/ethnographer, was inspired by the rich non-architectural cultural heritage of West Africa. With the construction of the Alliance franco-sngalaise in Kaolack, Senegal (1994), he created a centre most relevant to the culture of the place, inventing a new local identity in the process. By using colourful patterns on PVC pipes as decorative elements, walls and pavements, based on years of research on local heritage, and using building materials and technology only available in this place, he introduced a daring building cheered by the Senegalese. In the arid African Sahara, Italian Fabrizio Carola designed and built a hospital in the remote city of Kaedi in Mauritania, for ADAUA, a group working on appropriate architecture for Africa. Here he introduced brick as a new material and a new technology. The success of this project lies in

In the globalised world of today, even in the most remote rural areas of the world, one should not be afraid of losing local architectural identity or shifting its focus.

Patrick Dujarric, Alliance franco-sngalaise, Kaolack, Senegal, 1994 This cultural centre synthesises traditional patterns in an entirely new way, reintegrating art into the very structure of architecture.

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the creation of a new approach to the conventional hospital plan. Contemporary advances in medicine were adapted and combined with the Mauritanians traditional, participatory, family-centred methods of care and healing. This was combined with the introduction of new methods for the production of bricks, and their use in innovative construction forms, inventing a new architectural identity for a specic place. Appropriating the Local Besides those projects where the architects have had an active role in re-creating an identity or inventing a new identity, there are occasions where public and users reinterpret projects in a manner that is different to that which the clients and architect had in mind; where people nd other merits in the architecture they have received. These projects are sometimes accepted as an integral part of the new cultural identity of a place, and become proudly local. Users appropriate the project, and its identity becomes a symbol of their aspirations. In the cosmopolitan and previously war-torn city of Beirut, the Square Four Public Gardens, designed by Vladimir Djurovic Landscape Architecture (2004), provide a contemporary contemplative space on the edge of the citys nancial district. The insertion of wellconceived public spaces is a natural necessity for new urban redevelopments. But what makes this place different is how it

has been appropriated by the public, who noticed the special qualities of this urban space. They named it Samir Kassir Square, immediately after the rallies that followed the assassination of this famous journalist, instead of valorising the more prominent places of the city. In the globalised world of today, even in the most remote rural areas of the world, one should not be afraid of losing local architectural identity or shifting its focus. Instead, one should be aware that it is possible to add value to the evolutionary process of ever-changing identities; rather than becoming xated on the notion of a single identity for our subtly changing societies. The schizophrenic attitude that aims only to establish contrasting cultural identity between the other for example, between East and West should give way to an understanding of how best architects can sensitively understand the ephemeral and ever-changing built environment using globally available tools: technology, material and resources from which to construct and invent the appropriate local. 2

Fabrizio Carola, Kaedi Regional Hospital, Mauritania, 1992 Using local craftsman and materials, the architects developed a structural vocabulary of handmade brick for this hospital, with its distinctive domes and vaulted corridors, which was highly innovative while seemingly traditional.

Text 2012 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Images: pp 26-7 Li Xiaodong; pp 28-9 AKAA/Geraldine Burneel; p 30 AKAA/ BKS Inan; p 31(l) AKAA/Suha zkan; p 31(r) AKAA/Christopher Little; p 32 AKAA/Kamran Adle; p 33 AKAA/Courtesy of Architect

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