Thursday, May 22, 2008

Control over Future Growth

Homogeneity: same or different?

While the Kambimoto project is extraordinary in the depth, comprehensive nature, executive, and community based approach, one criticism I have is that all the additions are carefully controlled and regulated, and are all the same. One the surface, one could argue that, while it is incremental, it will still end up producing the same, homogenous housing across the entire community. While I certainly spend enough energy railing against homogeneity, in a weird way, this could be a good thing. Communities need diversity, but one of the shortcomings of some earlier projects I visited was the open freedom for people to sell their land, tear their home down, or build newer and bigger ones. In this case, the market takes on a life of its own and the homes end up further stratifying individual communities. When Pamoja Trust was doing the assessment of the Kambimoto community, one of the biggest challenges was striking a cord between renters and structure owners (some of whom owned multiple structures). It is a testament to the success of the focus on the community development that everyone was able to agree on getting the same size plot and initially the same size house. So, in some ways, this homogeneity is a great testament to the strength and cohesive nature of the community. In other ways, it also represents a top down approach that is unable to give people full control over their spaces and homes.

But, it is a very tough issue. How important is it for people to be able to build how they want to, and when does the architect relinquish that control, and what are the consequences of it?

The design team was deliberate in not relinquishing control over how the houses were added onto. Each one of them would be built up in the exact same way, the only thing differing was the timing. The architect described the importance of keeping the material and aesthetic language consistent and different from the shanties that stood on the site before and still surrounded all the new houses. These new houses were very symbolic in their upgrading status. If there were no controls, the fear is that people would just throw up rudimentary additions that would first and foremost be unsightly, and eventually could be unsafe. This, however, could be indicative of the fact that there is a bit too much handleading, while not allowing the community enough design freedom and individualism.

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