Crit post mortem / by Jedidiah

I had a critique this past Friday.  It is some kind of weird, arcane tradition that happens every month or so in architecture school.  You stand up in front of your classmates, professors, and perhaps a guest critic and present your work.  Afterwards, the professors and guest critics grill you, offer suggestions, or attempt destroy your will to live, depending on their mood and the quality of your work.  Anyways, this one went pretty well I suppose.  I began with a quote from Alejandro Aravena of Elemental that I will reproduce here: “What is really absent in the training of architects...is the learning of how to work with restrictions...

....we need to question the rules of the game, but at the same time, operate within them, because the world isn't going to stay on pause, waiting around for us...

...the challenge for the profession is to position itself alongside those engaged in the broad issues – the everyday questions of development, poverty, security, etc. - and to become involved in these non-specific issues by contributing specific knowledge of the project. This specific knowledge, which is the strategic handling of form, needs to be validated outside its own system of references and our own profession.”

(Ballesteros et al. eds. "The City as a Source of Equity."  Verb Crisis [architecture boogazine].  Barcelona:  Actar, 2008.)

I guess it was meant as a way of justifying my method and domain of work (social architecture, one could say) which was something I felt was necessary.  Either that or I just wanted to provoke a debate.  It certainly achieved the latter - and in the process revealed a lot about the professors and their tightly-held ideologies - but let us not dwell on that right now.  What I want to do is summarize some of the comments that were made by both the professors and the class after my presentation.  Hopefully it will give me a better idea of the direction I need to go at this stage in my project.  I will attempt to break the comments down into coherent themes/headings.

The existing situation and moving towards proposition:

One of the professors would like me to move more in the direction of proposition.  By that, he means try some design ideas and test them out.  Through this I might be able to decide how much of the existing fabric/buildings I will end up using, what parts are redundant, and that kind of thing.  I could also test out some of the self-building ideas I discussed in previous posts.  He suggested that I use detailed plan drawings of the existing condition (such as the one I have started below) to determine the viability of something like the Elemental model.

In this drawing I have started to detail the kind of organization and activities that currently exist at the Centre.  It was suggested that I continue to detail the rest of the building in this way.  I am currently thinking about how that could be used but perhaps in conjunction with a detailed accounting of room sizes and number of occupants, it could be useful in the designing of new spaces.  It might also be helpful to show how the migrants have adapted certain spaces to meet their needs - such as making a space for watching tv and another for selling "qat."  In this way I could design new spaces that facilitate these types of activities (although perhaps not the qat selling).  On the other hand, I do not want to waste too much time detailing a building that I may not use in the end.

I think what the professors were trying to emphasize was that I test out certain ideas - such as self-building - using the existing conditions.  They encouraged me to use the reality of the situation as a constraint in my design propositions.  Action:  Use precisely drawn existing condition to test propositions (such as self-building)

Another suggestion was that I find some way to code/draw the territorial negotiations that exist in the spaces at the MOC.  For example, in the above drawing, there are territories of play (the pool table) and territories of commerce (the tea counter and qat stand).  I should differentiate between fixed territories and negotiable territories and also examine the spaces in between these territories.  Action:  Map, code territories/constraints and the spaces in between

Examining the process of transformation:

I suggested in my abstract that the architecture of my project would deal with the idea of gradual transformation as the Centre must be able to accomodate a fluctuating number of migrants.  There is also the issue of what to do with the migrants that live there now while the Centre undergoes a re-design (as per my project).  The suggestion in my critique was that I deal directly with this process of transformation in my project.  I should decide whether there will be displacement or relocation of migrants during new construction or will they rather stay on site during that process.  It might be useful to come up with a broad-scope architectural strategy that describes these issues.  Action:  Define scope of project, create a timeline for construction and determine where migrants will live during the transformation

I should also focus more on the temporal situation of the Centre and its identity as a transitory space.  I should not forget that the migrants are there for on average 3-5 years and it might be useful to define that situation in some kind of timeline that includes the future expansion of the Centre.  This could also include some kind of accounting for the types of construction and material that will make up the new Centre.  My design will need to accomodate rapid changes of users and this element of temporality/transition should be reflected in the architectural strategies.  What types of materials can be re-used or adapted for new migrants when others leave?  I can imagine some kind of diagram that shows the duration of a migrants life at the centre as well as the construction inputs/outputs that also occur during that time.  This idea needs fleshing out of course.  Action:  Focus on transitory nature of life at the Centre both for the occupants and the resources that will be used in its construction; timeline, material flows; incorporate the sense of duration and temporality into my project; define what is temporary and what is permanent

Additional comments:

Someone wondered how I would asses the efficacy of the building, that, as stated in my abstract, I had managed to "transform the Marsa Open Centre into a healthy, inhabitable place."  I think this was a valid question and one that I have wondered myself.  Ideally, with this kind of project, the design process would be participatory.  I would hold workshops with the users (the migrants and the people that work at the MOC) to brainstorm with them and receive feedback on my own ideas.  In this way, the design would hopefully be more in line with their specific needs since they would be directly involved in the process.  It will not be possible to return to Malta during the design period however.  I have considered the possibility of working with migrants at an accommodation centre in Denmark but that might be a poor substitute for the real thing.  This is something I will continue to think about.