You have to admit that architects are a powerful influence on our experience of the environment. The buildings they dream up are meant to make it easy for us to live, work, play, and move through the world. But sometimes their projects end up creating awkward, useless, or wasted space. Who can build on these failures? We found a few independent architects who seem to have the know-how. By inventing low-impact solutions to design problems, they might just end up transforming the field of architecture.
These activists use design as a way to reverse or rethink the status quo. It’s a question of taking responsibility. They want architects to think more deeply about the outcome of their design decisions. According to 1:1 studio, architects are rarely held accountable for structures that underserve or neglect their intended purpose. To bring this issue to light, the Lithuanian firm presented an experimental workshop that required participants to consider consequences. The assignment was to design and build a floating object that would take the students on a two-day adventure along the biggest river in the country. Participants soon discovered that even the smallest structural design problem could have a direct impact on their journey, threaten their safety, and even pose a risk to their lives.
As cities evolve, super high-rises are becoming a norm. In Hong Kong, constructing enormous buildings at hyper speed has resulted in some serious wasted space. The city is home to the longest outdoor covered escalator on the earth. Built into this necessary infrastructure is a massive amount of unused space. Daydreamers Design proposes a solution with their sustainable living center, a variegated platform of used plastic crates that creates a community gathering space. The collective’s vision? That this flexible modular design would encourage public interaction and also serve as a means to collect recycling.
On a more modest scale, Dutch designer Thor ter Kulve transforms park seating with simple materials. For the Future Stars exhibition at London’s Aram Gallery, Kulve imagined the Parkbench Bubble, a bench-shelter-charging station. Also, MARS architects seem to have perfected their idea of a Water Bench. Born of an environmental design challenge in Mumbai, the bench serves as both seating and a reservoir for storm water. These constructions hint at the vital role of small community-conscious remedies.
Bow House, designed by Stéphane Malka, is a temporary shelter inspired by the song “The World is Yours,” by Nas. The French architect crosses the line between public and private space for the common good. Designing a small house of scaffolding that’s an extension of a building facade, he created a residence for nomads. He offers temporary shelter for anyone who passes by. Constructed of used doors and windows, the building envelope could easily be replicated. Is his insertion of dwellings in the negative space between existing buildings an invasive or inventive gesture?
It seems that any domain might become a laboratory for these activist architects. Importantly, each of these experiments fills a real void in the dialogue about architectural responsibility. Architects that activate the in-between, uncertain spaces are suggesting that we rethink the agency of design. Why not optimize the use of nooks and crannies to provide for the have-nots and enhance our urban environment?