Can Architecture Cause Social Uplift?

Architecture has always existed for fulfilling the basic needs of shelter. It lives as a dream in eyes of everyone, be it rich or poor.

Architecture has always existed for fulfilling the basic needs of the shelter. It lives as a dream in the eyes of everyone, be it rich or poor. However, the ratio between urban and rural architecture has remained skewed since ages.

India, for instance, is emerging in creating concrete jungles with very less focus towards the social effects of architecture. The questions one seeks an answer to this, why is visionary architecture so rare and seems to serve very few people? Why only urban? Why not rural resilience?

Architects can play a significant role in improving the well-being of communities. Along with being creators as activists, philanthropists and heroes, they need to work towards raising public awareness of critical social and environmental issues. An architectural education facilitates the development of critical thinking abilities, which can be applied to solving problems and addressing situations beyond design.

The Flag Bearers


Ningbo Museum in Zhejiang province, China

Architects can play a vital role in making communities more liveable.  This brilliant opportunity for design in the social space is picking up pace now. The capacity to scale offered by digital technology is enabling numerous social-impact projects to finally make sense. They can contact numerous individuals, all the more successfully, more quantifiably. The pressures of globalisation in a connected world are also fuelling the drive toward social-impact–focused work, along with the visibility of how old ways of handling social problems have failed. The technology space has embraced approaches that make social-impact projects manageable and measurable. Designers who are deeply curious to learn about what is effective at scale can find very fertile ground in governmental, philanthropic, and healthcare domains.

The Barefoot College, Tilonia, Rajasthan is a project nurtured and founded by Bunker Roy in 1972. Built by the poor for the poor, in the last 40 years, the college is educating women to be solar power engineers and spreading awareness in terms of sanitation, healthcare, water, green cover, etc. With one step at a time, the college now empowers the communities at the global level with the geographic focus on least developed countries by teaching and training solar engineers, innovators and educators who return to their villages to bring light to their communities. In such cases, the architecture goes beyond subjective realities. The building becomes a living organism which breathes life within itself.

The prestigious Pritzker Prize 2018 award winner Ar Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, constructed the Aranya Low-Cost Housing in 1989 in the city of Indore, India. The housing accommodates over 80,000 individuals. It features modest one-room units to spacious houses, to provide space to people with varied incomes. The housing is maintained, developed and helped in construction by the residents increasing the sense of ownership amongst the people.

Not to forget, the Ningbo Museum by the recent Pritzker winner Wang Shu. It was constructed in 2008, in the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province, China. Over 30 villages were situated in this area and on having demolished the same; this huge museum was made for the residents who were the original inhabitants, so that they could keep some memories. The museum was constructed using a traditional technique called wapan, in which multiple elements of different sizes are packed together to create a stable structure.

It is through such projects can we understand how architecture can have a social impact. The structural poverty in industrialised countries, like ours adds to the realisation that the current economic model is unable to cope up with the demographic changes happening in different regions of the world. By 2050, India will have 1.7 billion people, being the most populated country with extremely marginalised gaps between different strata of people.

MASS Architecture is a non-profit architectural firm based in Boston, Poughkeepsie and Kigali. The firm propagates to research, build and advocate for architecture that promotes justice and human dignity. The firm works on projects which are mission-aligned and serve the public. To test an idea, one must communicate to the public and architecture is an organic process that lives, dies, changes and evolves. Communities and entire societies must build a social capital constituted by cohesion, cultural identity and discipline; these are essential for our peaceful collective survival. Such capital can, itself be depleted by inequality, unemployment, insecurity. This is an age of architecture to empower communities and architects are the catalysts to make a difference and make it count.

To all the young architects, you are the change.

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