RADICAL RECONSTRUCTIONS AND EXPERIMENTAL PEDAGOGIES IN THE MAXIMUM CITY
Temple University + International Design Clinic (UNITED STATES)
In the summer of 2008, a team of art, architecture, and design students hailing from eight universities, six disciplines, and two continents traveled to Mumbai, India where they redesigned schools for children living on construction sites of that city. During this six-week project, this diverse, multi-national team would work side-by-side with people who spoke a different language, had different customs, and carried different values in order to discover how their unique talents might sensitively uncover new potential within undervalued materials and indigenous methods of working. This team would then work closely with the members of our host community to develop these techniques into a new vision of education that could address all scales of this work, including issues related to curricular development, furniture design, architecture, landscape and urban design. Over the next few years, our international non-profit partners will use this work to redesign all of their health and education centers, potentially allowing the efforts of our team to directly impact the lives of the 10,000 children living in the informal settlements who are served by this organization.
To function well here, our team had to create work that would function as a coalescing activity – small-scale acts of instigation that would bring together many systems, publics and spheres. Or, to paraphrase Claude Levi-Strauss, by our craftsmanship, we had to build materials objects that would also become “objects of knowledge” that would create an ongoing dialogue between the tailors, scholars, day laborers, students, artists, and construction laborers who would inevitably be responsible for the work (Levi-Strauss, 1966). Of course, our team could not hope to fully develop this dialogical relationship during our brief time abroad. Therefore, we focused our efforts upon creating several clear, concise and compelling acts of instigation that would prompt a healthy evolution of existing conditions and bring about the “unpredictable regenerations” described by author Lebbeus Woods (Woods, 1997). Here, the value of the products created lay not in their quality as isolated acts, but in their promise as progenitors of future evolution.
The resulting proposals, which included a $2 water filter, a portable earth wall and a school mounted on an autorickshaw, represented not a single project, but an infrastructure through which many projects might be realized over time by a myriad of publics. Eschewing simplistic binary understandings of insider/outsider, expert/novice, etc, in favor of more nuanced perspectives the work was neither a replication of existing local methods nor an imposition of foreign solutions. Rather, it was a synthesis of both traditions – a hybrid address that will allow our international partners to possess and evolve the given strategy in a meaningful way. In the process, our unlikely band of colleagues also uncovered a new professional methodology – one that could help us articulate a much more sensitive, humane, and sustainable response to the world around us.
In deference to this approach, this paper will use the writings of thinkers and makers, academics and novices, students and guerrillas to describe and analyze this work, in terms of the understanding, the physical proposal and the methodology that served to clarify both.