Social Infrastructure in times of Precarity.
In Spring 2020, this class began with a discussion around the role of social infrastructures in creating resilient communities. Social infrastructures gather unrelated people together in third spaces and encourage development of what Nick Granovetter calls “weak ties.” The power and impact of strong social infrastructures are felt after disasters — resilient communities formed around empathy, mutual aid, and a sense of sharing assists everyone overcome the difficult impact and after-effects of disasters. Students were also introduced to human-centered design and the social, cultural, psychological, physiological, neurological, and environmental aspects of architectural design. As part of their assignments students examined libraries and grocery stores that served as social infrastructures.
Then, suddenly and unfortunately, we found ourselves in the middle of a disaster. We experienced the social, economic, and material results of the COVID2019 pandemic.
We restructured the course entirely. The second half of this course invited students to lead us into new ways of thinking about architecture of public spaces, social infrastructure, and design itself. Our new syllabus focused on repercussions, ethical fall outs, and architectural possibilities of the current crisis. We approached this project as scholars, and more importantly, as leaders.
Quarantined in their homes due to the pandemic, many reexamined their familiar domestic spaces. Others pondered buildings they had started to study before the crisis hit us. But in each case, they saw architecture differently; they experienced their familiar environments in unfamiliar ways; they reconsidered the implications of terms such as accessibility, inclusive design, or user-experience in news ways. Their point of view had changed as they lived through a "new normal."
We used this moment as a learning prompt and evaluated our existing knowledge of social infrastructure and human behavior? Pixstori is an innovative application that allows users to share their thoughts and stories to a wider audience. According to the creators of this platform, "PixStori lets people slow down and reflect on their pictures and then record their thoughts and feelings in short focused segments that are easy to classify and retrieve." We experimented with the immense potential of innovative storytelling and classroom learning using this platform. The pixstori application allowed Arch 302 students to take images of a micro space and speak to that image in details. It allowed them to be reflective, focused, and critical.
Students had a choice to rethink the built environment by entering an international design ideas-competition. Pandemic Architecture is an international ideas-competition curated by the Design Ambassador for ARCHISEARCH.gr. The student entries attempt "to open up a dialogue and create a think tank," about the future of our everyday built environment.
What is the scope of this current crisis?
United Nations, defines disasters as “a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society, which involve widespread human, material, economic or environmental impacts that exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources.” Disaster management is how we deal with the human, material, economic or environmental impacts of said disaster, it is the process of how we “prepare for, respond to and learn from the effects of major failures.” Although everyone is at risk, disasters impact vulnerable people most. Eric Klinenberg describes the need for social distancing during our current crisis as “social recession.” Here he argues, “A lot of my work is premised on the idea that extreme situations like the one we’re in now allow us to see conditions that are always present but difficult to perceive…We’re going to learn a lot about who we are and what we value in the next few months.” In other words, moments of crisis are also transformative moments when we see our worlds, priorities, and actions more clearly and critically.
Students had a choice to participate in a design competition to respond to the current crisis. According to the competition call, "Pandemic Architecture Competition attempts to open up a dialogue and create a think tank, looking for ideas from the architectural and design community about the future of the living, the workspace, the public space and the tourism industry. Urbanists, architects, designers, students, artists, performers and authors are invited to submit their ideas on Pandemic Architecture. Proposals should be based on a realistic situation or on science fiction and should focus on territorial and urban development projects or architectural and interior design."
For further details see here. Selected competition entries are showcased in this section.