Nada Nafeh, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada & The American University in Cairo (AUC), Cairo, Egypt
[in]formal Pattern Language: A Guide to Handmade Improvitecture©
Rapid urbanization and its constitution of undirected informal growth, expanding at an unprecedented scale and speed, is becoming one of the greatest urban challenges across the globe. In 2050, 3 billion people, improvising their way through the battle of resources and social justice, are expected to be living in informal areas, a number reaching almost half of the world’s urban population (UN-Habitat, 2015). Moreover, cities increasingly struggle with the growing tension between the juxtaposition of formal and informal urban practices.
In response, [in]formal Pattern Language introduces a new typology: Improvitecture. This hybrid of improvisation, improvement and architecture is proposed as the architecture from, and for, informality and a catalyst for sustainable development. The project aims to propose a process and a guide (www.informalpatternlanguage.com) that empower citizens to take ownership of their built environment and optimize their socio-cultural and economical patterns with sustainable practices.[in]formal Pattern Language (PDF, 9.89 MB) »
The first of four Next Generation prizes in the region went to Heidi van Eeden from South Africa. She is developing new sustainable methods of brickmaking in Soshanguve township, South Africa. The second prize went to Nour Madi, Jad Melki and Ghaith Abi Ghanem from Lebanon. They are investigating ways of rebuilding the war-ravaged city of Aleppo in Syria using the rubble of destroyed buildings. Nada Nafeh from Egypt received the third prize in this category. With her project, she aims to improve living conditions in informal settlements in Cairo. The fourth prize went to Noor Marji of Jordan. She proposes a monumental terraced learning center in Amman, Jordan.Read more »
Revisiting and expanding upon Christopher Alexander’s “Pattern Language,” a method is being proposed to improve living conditions in Cairo’s informal settlements. Merging use patterns and architectural patterns in sustainable ways, a so-called “(in)formal pattern language” is proposed that takes its clues from the existing physical and cultural context. Rather than focusing on architecture’s final form per se, potential transformational procedures for its development are being identified, basically shifting the focus of the architect’s work from the “design of products” to the “design of processes.” The term “improvitecture” is herein introduced to identify an architecture based on both improvisation and improvement. Stakeholders are enticed to take charge of their environment via the deployment of straightforward “patterns” for improving their neighborhood.
The jury admired the intellectual freshness of the author’s analytical approach to Cairo’s poverty-stricken districts. Particularly valued was the notion of an “(in) formal pattern language” that could guide users in improving their environment, a “language” that would not only allow people to take ownership of their specific neighborhood, but one that could also be easily transferred to similar sites in Cairo. Of specific interest is the proposed relation between daily activities and the architectural framework that determines the spaces that people inhabit – the intersection, as it were, between habitus and habitat. While the emphasis on processes was greatly appreciated, the jury nonetheless would like to encourage the author to be equally inventive when engaging in the design of architecture, rather than relying on established prototypical architectural “patterns,” so to speak.
Progress: Reframing the informal and the role of user and architect through Improvitecture
The proposed model mediates between bottom-up efforts and top-down expertise in an open, replicable and transferable way. Expanding architectural practice, the project introduces the Improvitecture model that revolves about discovering and optimizing the potentials of self-organized processes and patterns. It redefines the informal as improvised and transforms citizens into active agents and the architect into a mediator and choreographer of forces. The initiative implies that architects should, in addition to the traditional profile, design the process and replicable tools that empower people to take ownership. It provides a way for architects to insert themselves both as agents and participants in informal communities, a duality allowing them to operate with, for and against a cause.
People: Social inclusion at all stages of the project
Advocating for social and ethical responsibility, the project engages individuals from different backgrounds throughout its life cycle, from mapping patterns, generating tools and designing interventions to constructing prototypes on site and their operation. The main objectives are to empower citizens to take governance over their built environment and encourage crossover networks between different stakeholders.
In the hope of terminating social disparity, the project capitalizes on the power of mapping and an open source website as tools for political transparency, communicating the voices of the vulnerable and uniting bottom-up and top-down data for an unbiased process. Women’s empowerment is achieved through providing opportunities for micro-economies close to their homes and children.
Using the tactics of the (in)formal for Place, Planet and Prosperity
Improvitecture optimizes existing conditions through urban acupuncture without destroying self-organized socio-cultural and economical networks and patterns. Tools and proposals use the same tactics of the (in) formal like compactness, incompleteness, hyper-functionality, urban layering and resource centrality, to reappropriate and blend with the built environment. Interventions are flexible, hybrid and expandable to comply with future informality and long-term adaptability. Proposals incorporate incomplete spaces for future occupants to fill in according to their needs. The project injects urban farming, micro-economies, solar power generation and grey water systems in passive leftover spaces in urban voids, incomplete structures and rooftops to form a network of optimized patterns.See more
The design processes for informal settlements in Cairo is sustainable because it takes a long-term and holistic …
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