by Juan Pablo Corvalán
1. NO MORE SOCIAL HOUSING
It seems that as soon as the notion of social housing is discarded, the more possibilities for new awareness in favor of appealing living proposals for those whom need it the most could be reached.
It’s no surprise that nowadays nobody wishes to live in a stigmatized area of a city, and social housing has become one, more a “socialist caviar” fixation rather than an effective approach to improve harsh dwelling conditions. Furthermore, most of social housing initiatives lately, especially in the most demanding cases, quickly become unattractive sectors consequently generating segregation, their counter effect: the ghetto. Social housing lost its original meaning. Worst, turn into a burden, it’s “failure” found the declaration for a changing direction in architecture priorities (ref: Jencks postmodernism).
Nevertheless, from socially susceptible areas such as the favellas in Rio de Janeiro to the New York projects, a culture raises from disparity, a will to testify and improve is represented throughout music (samba, hip-hop,…), art (graffiti), celebration (carnival), even fashion and sports (streets wear, skateboard,…).
Is there something to be learned from these stimuli? Could this creative and determinate spirit crossover to architecture and urbanism? Could urban inhabiting dilemmas breed truly innovative architectural thinking?
Can a renovated attitude start a blameless approach in favour of a large number of the world population’s concerns? (ref: un-habitat % people without proper dwelling, services,…)
Is there a meaningful case to study?
2. PREVI AFTERMATH
The result from the Experimental Housing Project in Lima (Previ 1969), as it is today, could be seen as an exemplary case which is worthwhile to review in order to rephrase the will of architects, for example, by replacing “social” with “diverse”, and “housing” with “neighborhood”, we could understand, maybe more in an anthropological vibe rather than architectural fetish way, a successful urban environment open to adaptation, integration and opportunities for mid and low income citizens of the so called third world (which happens to be the larger part of the globe).
As John turner (ref: article reeducating architecture) points out, there’s much to be learned by architects of how people display their living outside the first world. Beyond the paternalistic utopia and the practical indifference. Turner offers a 3 legged stool (ref: habitat article) approach between the local, the private and the public sector to pull off a quality and sustainable living environment in present unsteady conditions.
PREVI, some how, like by accident (ref: supersudaca initial research) is today a joyful neighbourhood. Designed originally by the most committed generation of architects of the past century (ref: idebem), now PREVI is a more or less successfully modified, personalized, parodied, customized and mutated project, this as a consequence of a vital sign of our time, and the almost unrecognizable talent and authorship of the past.
3. OLD SCHOOL EQUALS NEW SCHOOL?
Three noticeable characteristics remain extremely meaningful in PREVI to approach future ventures and designs plans:
Lesson 1: Variety vigor
Typological diversity is good to encourage distinction and identity in an urban environment. With a rich offer, a wide range of people could coexist complementing each other consequently, giving their character to their living milieu and taking care of it as they belonging feeling increases in time.
In PREVI instead of choosing one winning design, all of the units were built5; therefore none the urban schemes was fully applied. However this gave a pluralistic strength leaving space for achievements and errors to evolve. As in living process, biological diverse crossovers generate “hybrid vigor” instead of degenerating endogamy6. Mixing Aldo Van Eyck’s honeycomb layout with Atelier 5 constructive scheme plus Oskar Hansen’s ahead of its time fractal display7, to name a very few of the most underestimated urban inventiveness to date, was both a sacrilege, and master move.
Lesson 2: Blow up folklore.
In dynamic social conditions, everything that can grow grows way beyond imagined. One of PREVI’s competition requirements was the ability of the design to develop in time to accommodate an increasing number of inhabitants and maintain intrinsic spatial quality. It was also strongly suggested to orientate how the residents could expand their dwellings them self. All of the proposals offered seamlessly increasing possibilities in various ways, some more “paternalistic” like Aldo van Eyck’s imposed angled perimeter wall to avoid filling setbacks to ensure natural ventilation and light, other, more “autochthonous” like James Stirling’s propose a spiral growing around a central patio. Yet none of the precautions and measures where enough, the transformation of the units led to an almost total blurring of the original intentions, the now roughly recognizable designs left an unprecedented and unexpected display of rich possibilities, still to be studied and figure out as valuable source for further experiences.
Lesson 3: Programmatic pandemonium.
One the clearest conclusion is that multi-programmatic options mean an opportunity to overcome poverty. Something that was not considered as important concern in none of the proposed dwellings in PREVI. Nonetheless more than 60% suffered programmatic alterations. This entrepreneurship possibilities leads to the most curious deformations and unconventional astuteness arrangements over the primal structures. Specific examples are extremely appealing, almost charming, such as the four story high school implemented in a James Stirling unit, Atelier 5´s prefabricated dwelling turn into a kinder garden, and Maki, Kurokawa and Kikutake’s residences converted to a food strip, namely a shortlist of, more than a hybridization, a full spontaneous generation of new architectural species.
4. SUCCSESFUL FAILURE: A NEW HOPE
PREVI could be regarded as another failure in architecture initiative to bring a quality leaving for those who have the most difficulties to earn one. It was never really done as expected, the process was full of exceptions and problems, none of the designs operated as imagined, genius ideas where misused and architectural form disfigured. Some, more generously, must even argue that it’s a welfare state reminiscent impossible to repeat at the present time.
This must be correct if we think of architecture as a purely static event, a non-modifiable construction incapable of absorbing change and improvement, unable to cope with uncertainty, which leaves no hope in access to architecture to the majority of the inhabitants of planet, paradoxally the most demanding for intelligent conceptions. Therefore, architecture could be seen as an instrument of segregation and division, could this neglecting status tend to a damaging overall effect?
Of course it’s more than absurd to held architecture responsible for all the bad in the world. And quality architecture may be reached without any further social implications. And there’s nothing wrong with it, but does one exclude the other? Could energy be oriented, no only in both, but several agendas? Mix them without guilt?
PREVI offers us a glimpse to another time, where architecture is not only an end in it self, but a medium for a superior objective, an attempt where urban and architecture are one, the unit where a distinctive part of whole in ever evolving geometry, a classical holistic beauty, the seek for the common benefit project.
PREVI means Experimental Housing Project, now we know that it’s more than housing, Can our most innovative thinking and experimental creativity once again focus on worldwide priority issues?
Could the revisit of this glimpse and others open a broader panorama to present architecture experimentation? Where desperate conditions trigger inspiring architecture? It seems that PREVI strikes back.