Page 1

Tracing Public Space: A participatory approach to transform public spaces in low-income communities by Ana Cristina Vargas Bachelor of Architecture Universidad Central de Venezuela, 2010



Š 2014 Ana Cristina Vargas. All rights reserved. The author hereby grants to MIT permission to reproduce and to distribute publicly paper and electronic copies of this document in whole or in part in any medium now known or hereafter created.

Signature of Author: _____________________________________________________________________________ Department of Architecture May 22, 2014 Certified by: ____________________________________________________________________________________ Miho Mazereeuw Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urbanism Accepted by: ___________________________________________________________________________________ Takihiko Nagakura Associate Professor of Design and Computation Chair of the Department Committee on Graduate Students

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

TRACING PUBLIC SPACE A participatory approach to transform public spaces in low-income communities Ana Cristina Vargas SMArchS (Architecture and Urbanism)

Thesis Committee Thesis Supervisor:

Miho Mazereeuw, MArch, MLA

Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urbanism Readers:

Michael Dennis, BArch Professor of Architecture Reinhard Goethert, MArch PhD Principal Research Associate Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space


A participatory approach to transform public spaces in low-income communities By Ana Cristina Vargas Submitted to the Department of Architecture on May, 22nd 2014 in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Architecture Studies

Abstract Rapid urban growth has challenged our traditional planning methods. It has been a driver for the increase of overcrowded informal settlements in major cities of the developing world, which shelter one third of the world population. Lack of infrastructure, open spaces, and unsafe structures challenge the livelihoods of their citizens. Consequently, over the last fifty years, governments have addressed this issue in different ways, from eradicating informal settlements and building new housing, to retrofitting the existing conditions with infrastructure and public spaces through slum rehabilitation. Accepting the idea of working with existing developments to improve the status quo, architects, planners, artists and activists in general have relied on participatory planning and community engagement to improve urban conditions by addressing underlying local needs through small-scale interventions.

Thesis Supervisor: Miho Mazereeuw, MArch, MLA Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urbanism

This thesis introduces a new methodology to study, create awareness and inspire future leaders, children, to take action to transform public spaces in high-density informal settlements. It proposes a multi scalar bottom-up analysis, with innovative tools of representation and design to address the challenges of community public spaces. The ‘Tracing Public Space’ method has been developed through fieldwork in India, Venezuela and the USA. The method is based in observation, representation and design using a ‘toolkit’ that enables a two-way learning process between the designer as an ‘outsider’ and children as ‘insiders’. Ana Cristina Vargas


The thesis is focused on fieldwork done in the Malvani Transit Camp in Mumbai where over forty years of informal and permanent growth the existence of open shared courtyards is threatened. These small-scale open spaces are crucial for communities, and particularly for the women and children who are their main users. Tracing Public Space becomes a vehicle to sensitize the community to protect courtyards from encroachments and promote an inclusive and adaptive use of shared space.


Tracing Public Space


Ana Cristina Vargas is an architect and researcher. A graduate
of Universidad Central de Venezuela she is currently enrolled in the
SMArchS program in the Architecture and Urbanism Department at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her work at MIT has been focused on partipatory processes to address contemporary public space in low-income communities and incremental housing research. Ana has worked as architect in both Venezuela, India and the United States. She collaborated with several Indian institutions in Mumbai to implement design workshops in slums. Currently a fellow at the TATA Center for Technology, Ana is researching on incremental housing strategies for the Indian context. Her thesis, Tracing Public Space proposes a bottom-up approach to transform public spaces in low-income communities by empowering children.

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space


I am deeply grateful and will be forever indebted to each and every person who helped, guided, nurtured and encouraged me on this amazing journey. Thanks to the unique city of Mumbai and my Indian friends who made me feel like a local while embracing their culture: Teach for India Fellows: Swapneel Rane and Zafar Bhatri who coached me on how to effectively teach with their constant example. My Mumbai brother Kairav Shroff for sharing his loving family and personal views on Public Spaces in Mumbai. My friend Shivani Shedde, because with her unlimited patience constantly supported me during the Malvani workshops as well as for the never-ending conversations debating architecture and urbanism during the endless rickshaw drives. My beloved friend Nupoor Monani for showing me Mumbai through the eyes of an architect My dear Kira Intrator, who taught me the basics of how to survive and navigate Mumbai being a foreigner girl. Rafique Sir and Anwar from Rahee Foundation who made it possible to work in Malvani and shared their space and community network. Dilip Shekdar, for sharing his vast experience working for the government and his insightful stories on housing and urbanization in India.

Ana Cristina Vargas


Thanks to the generous institutions that made the Tracing Public Space workshops possible and to every kid who participated with enthusiasm and creativity in the workshops. The joy that they experienced while playing a key part of this project made it all more significant. Special thanks to the Malvani team: Shagufta, Teena, Mohini, Shaheen, Sharmin, Imran, Adil, Noor, Noorudin and Yusef. Thanks to MISTI India for giving me the opportunity to travel to Mumbai the first time, and to the Tata Center for Technology and Design who allowed me to embrace the Indian culture and travel consecutively to India. My deep appreciation to my MIT friends, who made it with me through every step of the way and gave me the much needed support to keep going, listening with patience my long stories and procuring critical advice to my ideas. Special thanks to: Mariam AbdelAzim, for her trusted friendship, patience, morning talks (who made every day a happy day) and sharing meals while discussing our parallel lives in countries that even though are a worlds apart share a common ground in their plight for true democracy. Phebe Dudek for her wise observations and her unconditional friendship, Dicle Uzunyayla for always seeing my brighter side and bringing happiness with her smile to the studio, Augustina Gonzalez- Cid for her friendship, her wonderful company while following me around my Malvani adventures and helping me frame the ideas for this thesis thorough our long conversations in my native Spanish. Thanks to Marilyn Levine, who was crucial in helping me translate my feelings and thoughts into words. Thanks to those professors whose passion for teaching transformed my way of thinking: Larry Vale, Anne Spirn, Julian Beinart and Fred Salvucci. 10

Tracing Public Space

Special thanks to Professor Antoni Muntadas for his wise advice and for teaching me in his very unique way of ‘learning by doing’ while opening my eyes to the world of art. The most heartfelt thanks to my thesis committee for bringing in their very own expertise and guidance throughout my thesis: My Advisor, Miho Mazereeuw who has been an invaluable mentor through my two years at MIT, for helping me push myself to my limits and supporting me through my adventures, My readers, Michael Dennis for patiently teaching me the most important lessons about urban design and to Prof. Reinhard Goethert for inspiring me to keep on learning about how to transform the world from the bottom-up. Thanks to the educational institutions that formed me academically and made it possible for me to make it to MIT and embark on the most nourishing journey of my life: Academia Merici for teaching me the value of Service through the motto “Serviam” and Universidad Central de Venezuela for making a reality my passion for architecture, design and urbanism. Thanks to the School of Architecture and Planning for giving me the opportunity to be part of the wonderful world of MIT Thanks to my family that encouraged my curiosity, etched the word perseverance in my brain and instilled hard work to be able to follow my dreams and materialize them. Thanks to Andrés Schloeter, for inspiring me every day with his genuine commitment to the public service and his passion to help those in need; but more importantly, for always believing in me.

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

TRACING PUBLIC SPACE A participatory approach to transform public spaces in low-income communities Ana Cristina Vargas SMArchS (Architecture and Urbanism)

Ana Cristina Vargas


Unless otherwise indicated, images, diagrams and drawings included in this thesis have been created by the author


Tracing Public Space

Table of Contents Introduction 17

Part I: SETTING THE CONTEXT Observation, Participation and Bottom-Up Urbanism 1.1 Setting the Context 23 1.2. Existing Practice 37

Part II: BUILDING THE METHOD Tracing Public Space a Kinetic Process

2.1. Summer Workshops: Jamaica Plain, Boston 51 Petare, Carcas 53 Ranwar, Mumbai 56 Mulund, Mumbai 57 Colaba, Mumbai 58

2.2. The Malvani Case Study: Finding the Place 63 Reading the Place 74 Tracing its Public Spaces 81 Advocating the Place 87 Re-Imagining the Place 89 Designing for the Place 93 Prototyping for the Place 97 Transforming Public Space 105

Part III:A REPLICABLE METHOD Formalizing an organic process

3.1. A Replicable Method: Finding and Defining the Place 112 Reading the Place 114 Tracing its Public Spaces 116 Advocating the Place 123 Re-Imagining the Place 124 Designing for the Place 125 Prototyping for the Place 126 Transforming Public Space 127

Conclusion: Towards a New Urban Pedagogy 129 Bibliography 133 Appendix 137 Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space


We are living an era of rapid urban growth; it is the time to question how we are planning, building and settling into cities. Two hundred years ago only 2% of the world population was urbanized, in the 1950’s 30% of the world was living in cities. Today, 53% of the world is urbanized, and this number is expected to keep rising1. This historical circumstance calls for architects; urban designers and planners to become aware and act upon the social and physical consequences of rapid urbanization given that 33% of urban citizens are settled in slums2 living in poor urban conditions3. Can there be a transformative process that allows that 33% of city dwellers become part of the informal city? Some governments choose to evict slums and build new housing towers that can substitute them. The problem is that by demolishing this dense areas they also take away community forms of livelihoods, which are one of the biggest assets of slum dwellers. These places keep the wheels of the city turning with their informal economy based on small entrepreneurs or by housing the lower working class of the city. More significantly, as a consequence of living close 1 2 3

Sinha, Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources, 8. Burdett et al., Living in the Endless City, 13. “It is almost certain that slum dwellers increased substantially

during the 1990’s. It is further projected that in the next 30 years, the global number of slums dwellers will increase to about 2 billion, if no firm and concrete action is taken.”United Nations Human Settlements Programme, The Challenge of Slums, xxv. Ana Cristina Vargas


Introduction together under modest conditions, strong bonds are made between neighbors in order to survive. Other governments take into account the importance of this type of environment and choose to work with their communities to upgrade them by providing infrastructure and open spaces. In either case: either designing a new housing strategy or trying to retrofit slums, as urban designers we need to urgently understand them physically, in terms of their urban form and socially in terms of community dynamics. Most of all, we need to give them the opportunity to become the main agents of their own process of change. Building on the importance of empowering communities, this thesis proposes the Tracing Public Space method, which is grounded in the fact that community force is the biggest asset of people living in slums and that public space is the place that brings community together. Therefore, it aims to investigate and develop a participatory process that addresses the urban scale and the small scale design by teaching children to use tools that help them build skills on observation, planning and design. The first part of this thesis focuses on understanding the need to reconsider our traditional planning methods as well as gives us an overview of community engagement practices through participatory processes. For over sixty years planners, activists and designers have emphatically advocated for the need to engage urban communities in participatory process to understand them. More recently, young architects and designers believe in participatory design or building as a way to achieve sustainable change. Moreover, the second part of this thesis is the core of the Tracing Public Space methodology by focusing on case studies that contributed to develop it. First, it introduces the initial research to understand how people see and understand public spaces. It describes the first 5 workshops, with over 50 children and six institutions conducted during the summer of 2013 in Boston, Caracas and Mumbai. These workshops were built on the need for participation to transform public spaces. It also helped develop the methodology further and move from observation to representation, design and demonstration. It emphasizes the need to develop the methodology fully in one place 18

Tracing Public Space

Introduction to be able to write about it. For this case, the site was chosen trying to address two topics simultaneously: informal grown sites (slum) and new urban plan development. The case study selection was based in the awareness that public spaces need to be advocated in old or new developments. In organic and informally developed slums, public spaces are scarce. Therefore, when urban designers are commissioned to develop a new urban plan they would include open shared spaces. These spaces can also disappear overtime because of the informal growth and lack of governance. For example, Malvani in Mumbai, looks like a slum (and fits into the local definition of slums) but was settled using an urban plan where public spaces have been encroached. Forty years ago, Malvani was developed as a transit camp to relocate slum dwellers from the city center to the suburbs. There was a division of the land into urban blocks within a grid, with shared courtyards and services. Overtime, their public spaces started to blur out because of encroachments, lack of maintenance and lack of governance. Consequently, the process narrated in the second part of this thesis is about how the Tracing Public Space methodology was used to advocate, claim ownership and transform these public spaces In Malvani. The last part (III) of this thesis is a preliminary step to formulate a strategy that can be replicated as the Tracing Public Space Method. It can be read as a series of steps to engage with communities or as hands-on tactics for participatory processes. Overall, it is a summary of lessons and ideas that aims to inspire future designers to embark on similar research. The steps described in this method need to be developed with the three main agents of change: community represented by children on the belief that if they change the way they see their community early on, they can make change happen further off; a local institution (school or non-for-profit) which can facilitate the process over time and make it sustainable; and the architect or urban designer as a temporary facilitator of the process. Even though the process follows a general agenda, it is kinetic in the sense that each step validates the next step. Also, every step uses Ana Cristina Vargas



a toolkit that is left in the community so that the process can be repeated by the institution or even better by the children themselves. The main steps of the process are the following: 1. Finding and Defining the Place: researching and defining the place where the process is developed and defining the agents of the process. 2. Reading the Place: walk around, take notes, sketch diagrams, talk to people, take pictures and try to understand some of the internal dynamics to be able to define a research question and the spatial limits of the study. 3. Tracing the Space (Observation): using photography, mapping and measuring to register the public spaces, create awareness to the broader community and start a discussion about possible transformations. 4. Advocating the Space (Questioning): doing individual surveys and contrasting the children’s findings about public space with the opinions of adults within the community. 5. Re-Imagining the Space: mapping the edge of the space to think spatially. Detailing what is happening around the space and how does it affect the use of the space. 6. Designing the Space: design components and spatial interventions that could help transform the space. They must be a result from the findings of the previous steps. 7. Prototyping for the Space: demonstrating how change can happen. It is primarily a pedagogical step to materialize ideas in the real space and transform the way the children perceive change. 8. Transforming the Place: developing with the community a longterm transformation process.


Finally it describes the importance that to transform public space it needs to be owned, inclusive and democratic. It is about understanding as a designer that more than a project it is about conceiving a process. Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Part I

SETTING THE CONTEXT Observation, Participation and Bottom-Up Urbanism “ You need to channel the desire for change in the right direction; you need to use the despair and suffering to build hope, and you need to learn how to divert the concerns that breed terror to creating peace and wealth. You need to get involved. Otherwise, how can you live with yourself?� 1 1

Ana Cristina Vargas

Soto, The Other Path, sec. preface xxxvii.


“City Lights” Data courtesy Marc Imhoff of NASA GSFC and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA NGDC. Image by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon, NASA GSFC.`


Tracing Public Space

Setting the Context

With uncontrolled urban growth challenging our traditional planning methods, informal settlements in major cities of the developing world -which shelter one third of the world’s population- lack infrastructure, open spaces and safe living environments. Consequently, over the last fifty years, governments have attempted to address this issue in different ways, from eradicating informal settlements and building new housing, to retrofitting the existing conditions through slum rehabilitation. Accepting the idea of working with existing developments to improve the status quo, architects, planners, artists and activists in general have relied on participatory planning and community engagement to improve urban conditions by addressing underlying local needs through small-scale interventions. The success of peoplecentered approaches has been to demonstrate that only through community empowerment we can achieve sustainable urban transformation that can help to reduce urban poverty. We are living in the era of rapid urban growth; it is the time to question how we are planning, building and settling in cities. Two hundred years ago only 2% of the world population was urbanized, in the 1950’s 30% of the world was living in cities. Today, 53% of the world is urbanized, and this number is expected to keep rising 2 . This historical circumstance calls for architects, urban designers and planners to become aware and act upon the social and 2

Sinha, Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources,

8. Ana Cristina Vargas


33% of city dwellers live in slums


Tracing Public Space


Setting the Context physical consequences of rapid urbanization given that 33% of urban citizens are settled in slums3 living in poor urban conditions4. Slum can be an ambiguous term, it has different connotations around the world, and because some of them are negative it is usually avoided in academia. Its substitutes vary according to the country: favelas in Brazil, kampongs in Malaysia and Indonesia, bidonvilles francophone counties, barrios in Venezuela, villas miseria in Argentina, campamentos in Chile and so on5. At the same time, in architecture it is usually talked about ‘informal settlements’, which refers to their unplanned organic development, which is not always true about slums. Therefore, we can refer to Cities Alliance definition from 1999: “Slums are neglected parts of cities where housing and living conditions are appallingly poor. Slums range from high-density, squalid central city tenements to spontaneous squatter settlements without legal recognition or rights, sprawling at the edge of cities. Slums have various names, favelas, kampungs, bidonvilles, tugurios, yet share the same miserable living conditions.” The caveat is that ‘miserable living conditions’ as well as the definition of ‘poor’ vary considerably in different parts of the world. In India, miserable living conditions are characterized by lack of sanitation and access to clean water that threaten the lives of millions of children. On the other hand in Venezuela, unleashed crime endangers lives of innocent people

Lack of Sanitation

Lack of Infrastructure

Lack of Open Spaces


Burdett et al., Living in the Endless City, 13.


“It is almost certain that slum dwellers increased substantially

during the 1990’s. It is further projected that in the next 30 years, the global number of slums dwellers will increase to about 2 billion, if no firm and concrete action is taken.”United Nations Human Settlements Programme, The Challenge of Slums, xxv. 5

“Informal squatter settlements and slums occur in many coun-

tries around the world, and different cultures use different words to describe these precarious settlements. Some terms are used by authorities, others by the community. Terms change, evolve over time, as do attitudes” Smith, Design with the Other 90%, 22. Ana Cristina Vargas


Setting the Context


Tracing Public Space

Setting the Context due to armed mafias settled in slums6. Some of the common inadequate conditions that threaten people living in slums are: they lack tenure of land7 which limits their access to credits and jobs; the land where they settle is unsafe (polluted or dangerous) which threatens their survival upon natural disasters; their houses are build as temporary shelters that become houses overtime and most likely lack structural integrity; they are build without an urban plan, which leads to contested spaces without access to natural light, ventilation or open spaces; they become easily overcrowded because they offer low-cost and affordable housing; they lack access to basic infrastructure such as water, electricity and transportation, and finally their lives are threatened by diseases, high levels of crime and social exclusion. These conditions vary according to the context and to the stage


When working in Petare, one of the community leaders guiding

me through the slum mentioned casually how a stray bullet had killed his nice in a very nice small plaza last weekend. 7

Some slums are settled illegally by squatting on public land led

by ‘slumlords’, others are developed, as temporary camps were people are given a plot of land to build their own. For more details on the relationship between tenure and type of settlement read Davis, Planet of Slums, chap. 2.�

Housing Development in Mumbai Ana Cristina Vargas


Setting the Context of the settlement 8. To address housing shortage in urban areas and uncontrolled informal housing (as a result of rapid urbanization) governments built mass public housing to increase the available housing and prevent slums or to relocate the people living in evicted slums. In India the government as developed the strategy of slum redevelopment, which is taken forward by the Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA). They are based in the idea that slums cannot remain either because they are settled in unsafe land or because the land is of important real estate value. Therefore, when a majority of the settlers agree, a developer can buy the land and redevelop it by building high-rise safe housing towers that maximize the use of the land9. The trade off is cross-subsidy: the original settlers receive free new apartments and the developers are able to sell the rest of the apartments at market value. The government oversees and approves the re-development plans but does not pay directly to improve the living conditions of the poor. They give additional development benefits to the private 8

John F. Turner details the different stages of squatting, how

people set priorities by choosing different trade-offs for the quality of life. Turner, Housing Priorities, Settlement Patterns, and Urban Development in Modernizing Countries, 354 9

This process is called “land sharing� and has been implemented

in Thailand and Cambodia

Informal Housing after Housing Blocks in Caracas 30

Tracing Public Space

Setting the Context sector and guarantee improvement of living conditions for the original slum dwellers. The problem is that this type of solution ends up destroying an urban fabric that usually involves more than houses: shops, small factories, schools, clinics and religious institutions10. Therefore, with the physical buildings it also washes away community forms of livelihoods, which is one of the biggest assets of slum dwellers. At the same time, new massive highrise housing does not allow incremental housing growth. Being able to build your house over time allows families to include small business as part of their homes, which becomes essential for their livelihoods. At the same time, the individual characterization produced by self-build houses, the cultural diversity and richness in slums is lost. All of this eventually forces people to go back to slums. For example, in Venezuela, during the dictatorship of Marcos Perez Jimenez in the 1950’s, as part of his modernization plans for Caracas, he built massive urban blocks with open spaces in the ground floor. Eventually, these open spaces were filled with informal houses. Evicting slums and providing new housing requires an understanding of the tradeoffs and priorities that slum-dwellers have. What keeps slums growing and existing despite the attempts 10

In India, temples cannot be demolished; therefore they are

used as a strategy to start an informal house or the secure the land around them.

Cablecar “San Agustín”, Caracas Ana Cristina Vargas


Setting the Context

Medellin “Social Urbanism” Moravia

of governments to eliminate them is that they offer low-cost and affordable housing. At the same time, they keep the wheels of the city turning with their informal economy based on small entrepreneurs or by housing the lower working class in the city. More crucially, as a consequence of living close together under modest conditions, strong bonds between neighbors are made in order to survive. The strongest asset of slum dwellers is the community force that they build over time. It is their capacity to share resources and spaces to adapt to circumstances that threaten them daily. With an understanding of slums as an essential part of the city, a counterpart to slum eviction is to upgrade them. This idea was codified as part of the “Cities Without Slums” action plan developed by the Cities Alliance in July 1999 as a global strategy to improve the living conditions of the urban poor. They defined Slum Upgrading as physical, social, economic, organizational and environmental improvements undertaken cooperatively and locally among citizens, community groups, businesses and local authorities. Some of the actions that they include are: providing basic infrastructure, mitigation of environmental hazards, providing incentives for community management and maintenance, constructing community facilities, regularizing security of tenure (considered the key element), relocation for residents dislocated by improvements and support programs and building social


Tracing Public Space

capital and the institutional framework 11.

Setting the Context

Some of the more successful examples of slum upgrading have been accomplished in South America. In Medellin and Rio de Janeiro, the local governments have been able to transform unsafe and inaccessible favelas into exemplary neighborhoods that have become touristic sites. One of their strategies is to innovate by introducing transportation infrastructure: cable cars, escalators or funiculars as a way to connect the city. Their urban intervention includes facilities that support the livelihoods of the people and are introduced as seamlessly as possible by using an urban ‘acupuncture’ strategy. In South Africa, the township of Khayelitsha (Western Cape) as gone through an exemplary upgrading process. The process led by a local NGO introduced community centers and sports relying on the community to maintain them. These practices are an example that informally settled neighborhoods when provided with equal physical and organization structures between them and the formal city can accomplish urban transformation. Slum evictions to provide new housing and slum upgrading have two things in common: they are top-down dependent and they involve large investments that most of the time is not feasible. At the same time, their success overtime depends on community involvement as a two-fold strategy: to understand the specific 11

Cities Alliance, Cities Alliance Cities without Slums., 2.

Community Work, Malvani. Mumbai Ana Cristina Vargas


Public Space is the place that brings community together


Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas


Setting the Context defines planning as “social change process that depends on the participation of citizens and groups, both for the effectiveness of its results and the achievement of its objectives.(…) Planning, furthermore, is an activity in which the purpose is not only to solve a problem but also to seek acceptance and implementation of the solution. (…) Requires three ways of thinking: understanding past and present, imagine the future and achieving the future.13 The method proposed in this thesis will not limit itself to participatory planning, but broaden to participatory observation, design and building. New grassroots art and participatory projects have been emerging recently and they have been successful in having a strong impact in communities on a small scale with a small budget. The importance of this new practices that range from community engagement through participatory planning to “tactical urbanism”14 and even participatory design shed some light on the alternative of designing from the ground-up. The following sections will introduce participatory processes as a tool for observation, mapping, planning, design and building. These practices suggest creative strategies to develop sustainable transformation in low-income communities.


Burke, A Participatory Approach to Urban Planning, 16.


Tactical Urbanism refers to small actions in urban contexts

that can have big impact, the Museum of Modern Art is preparing a “workshop and exhibition that will consider how emergent forms of tactical urbanism can respond to alterations in the nature of public space, housing, mobility, spatial justice, environmental conditions, and other major issues in near-future urban contexts.” Gadanho, Pedro “Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities” MoMA PS1, last modified November 6, 2013 out/2013/11/06/uneven-growth-tactical-urbanisms-for-expanding36


Tracing Public Space

Existing Practices

“Looking at cities can give a special pleasure, however commonplace the sight might be. Like a piece of architecture, the city is a construction in space, but not a vast scale, a thing perceived only in the course of long spans of time. (…) At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the sequence of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences” 15 Being aware of where we stand is the first step in a process of engaging and getting to know a place. When engaging in a participatory process the first step is to detach oneself from pre conceived ideas of the place, at the same time the community as agent of change needs to observe what seems familiar to them from a different perspective. It is a matter of being aware of where you stand, how your position influences your observations and how you represent them. This chapter will look briefly at three important references that have inspired the observation phase of this methodology: Prof. Anne W. Spirn as a reference to using photography as tool to ‘sense the place’, William H. Whyte as a reference for detailed direct observation and Kevin Lynch as reference for building the image of the city through cognitive mapping.

15 Lynch, The Image of the City, 1. Ana Cristina Vargas


1. Photography as Inquiry, Anne W. Spirn The artist James Turrell works with light and sky to design-sky spacesapertures in ceiling and walls (…) to frame the view of the sky, offering an experience of the sky alone. An artist cannot shape the sky, but Turrell shapes perception.”16

Prof. Anne Spirn teaches “Sensing Place: Photography as an Inquiry” every fall semester. This class offers students an opportunity to use the camera as tool to be sensible to the environment and to express their ideas or discoveries of urban or natural landscapes. The first week of the class requires that each student engage in registering light. The method consists on keeping a diary on light and how it changes throughout the day. The idea of writing about what we see is actually forcing you to observe it. Beyond the task of writing it makes you aware of the different colors, the shadows and the movement. Creating this awareness of your environment then helps you become a better photographer. Becoming a better photographer is becoming a better observer. Having been part of this class helped me develop the “framing tool” of the “Tracing the Space” step of this process. 16


Spirn, The Language of Landscape, 142.

Tracing Public Space

2. Direct Observation, William Whyte In 1970, William Whyte started the Street Life Project in New York City to study why some public spaces (parks, playgrounds and informal recreation areas) were working well and others did not work, they were empty. He developed a first-hand observation methodology, using time-lapse filming to analyze how people used space in an urban context. In 1961 New York City had passed a zoning resolution that incentivized builders to provide open spaces in exchange for additional commercial floor17. By 1972, every office building had its own open plaza that added to 20 acres of public space in one of the most expensive real states in the world18. Nonetheless, the Street Life Project team discovered that some of these open spaces were actually empty. This realization, let them to question Manhattan’s plazas and ask the rec urring question of why some worked better than others. The value of their observations was to acknowledge what was really happening in these spaces and confronting their own preconceptions. They questioned and analyzed all the physical components of the space; most importantly they questioned the multiples uses and adaptions that people made to the architects design. Through videos, presentations, images and drawings they faced city officials, community, builders and managers to convince them of the new guidelines for the design of open spaces based on field observation. In 1975 a zoning amendment with Whyte’s guidelines to the design of open spaces was passed19.


“Movable Chairs” in New York

“In 1961 New York City enacted a zoning resolution that gave

developers a floor-area bonus for providing plaza space. For each square foot of plaza space, the builder was allowed 10 feet of additional commercial floor area. The requirement of the plazas was that they be accessible to the public at all times. That, as it turned out, was about all they were”Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, 112. 18

Ibid., 14.


For details on this guidelines refer to: Ibid., 112–120.

Ana Cristina Vargas


Existing Practice One of the most significant observations and eventually zoning guidelines was the need for movable chairs in public spaces. They explained that social distance is a “subtle measure” and set distances between people do not work for everyone. Consequently seats need to be flexible, “movable”. After more than forty years the movable chair concept is still all over the city: from Times Square, Metropolitan Museum to Bryant Park.

The Institute for Infinitely Small Things: “The City Formerly Known as Cambridge”



William Whyte’s success was to demonstrate that detailed observation is a tool to confront hypothesis with real facts through observation. The amazing result of such process was to revise zoning law in New York City and further influence city planners, urban designers and architects all over the world.

3. Mapping Kevin Lynch used cognitive mapping, as a tool to research and develop his concept of “City Image”. He asked people to draw map of the neighborhoods and then analyzed the landmarks that where creating the urban “legibility” for the person. The Smithson’s “Cambridge Walks” suggested walking trails around Cambridge curated by them and Richard Long drew lines in the ground to evidence where he had walked and photographed them.

“Problems of Boston Image” Lynch, The Image of the City, 24


Tracing Public Space

Existing Practice Catherine D’Ignazio with the Institute for Infinitelly Small things developed “The Map of a City Formerly Known as Cambridge” where they told neighbors to rename Cambridge Streets to what they considered a more accurate name. All this practices share the common belief that maps allow us to draw an abstraction of the city that allows to become aware of our presence and perceive it differently.

Existing Practice II: Participatory Planning and Design Participatory Planning has been part of the field for half a decade. People like Jane Jacobs and John F C Turner have advocated for the need to understand the city and its people to make any significant decisions. Some governments have implemented participatory process as common practice and even policy. Urbanists, artists and architects have been dedicating their lives to this type of practice. But recently, young architects have join this “cause” and are pushing it to the limits, emphasizing the need for actions. Some of the people and practices that have inspired this process are summarized in the following timeline. The graphic is divided in the different types of participation and locates “Tracing Public Space” as a summary of all of them.

Participatory Building Process in Bangladesh by Anna Heringer. Hertzberger, The Future of Architecture, 27

Ana Cristina Vargas

“Participatory Design of Playground in Egypt” Capresi Learn, Move, Play, Ground, 129 41

Existing Practice




theory practice










R. GOETHE 1980




observe 1976






design, make before





Tracing Public Space















G. DUARTE 2008


C. D’IGNAZIO 1990’s






















Ana Cristina Vargas








Tracing Public Space

Part II

BUILDING THE METHOD Tracing Public Space a Kinetic Process “This way of telling the story is one version among possible versions. After all, every telling represents a way of seeing. We see from where we stand; and why would we look unless we care about how the story comes out?”1


Peattie, Planning, Rethinking Ciudad Guayana, 5.

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space


Tracing Public Space a Kinetic Process

This chapter is built on the experience of case studies, and lessons from testing a method and refining it through its iterations in different contexts. I have called it a kinetic process because it depends in the action to determine the following steps. The first part of this chapter is dedicated to the first Tracing Public Space workshops based on observation, which helped me define the scope of the process as well as to raise important questions about informality and public space. The second part is dedicated to the main case study, Malvani, where I had the opportunity to test the complete method. The most important lesson from implementing the workshop in the field was to acquire the understanding that giving people the opportunity to imagine and think differently about their city is the most important step to transform it. Therefore, this process is based in setting the framework for children to learn about their own communities and transform them through active participation. One of the most important things I learned throughout the workshops was to accept my role as an outsider, as a temporary facilitator of a process that could only be sustained by the community. It is crucial to acknowledge that different socio cultural background or language barriers that imply a distant to a given community. The importance of understanding this is to be aware of my role and limitations. As outsiders, we have the advantage of looking at cities from a different view than its insiders. We are not overwhelmed by the complex socio political conflicts of a place. We Ana Cristina Vargas


might see opportunities in places where locals only see problems. At the same time, we need to understand that as outsiders, we will only have an impact if it fits into the socio political dynamics of the place. The reason is because, at the end, we leave, and the change we tried to make will need to sustain itself from within the community. It is crucial to understand that there are two main agents of change: the community (represented by children in this case) and the local institutions (non-profit organizations or schools). Our outsider role is not only that of an architect coming in to tell the inhabitants of community what they can improve. It is about combining architecture and teaching skills to trigger their curiosity and to make them question themselves and figure out how they can improve their condition.








Jamaica Plain

MUMBAI Mulud Malwani Colaba Ranwar

Tracing Public Space

2.1. Previous work: Summer workshops

Summer Workshops

This section narrates the story of the first Tracing Public Space workshops. The first one was done as a project for Antoni Muntada’s class Seminar on Public Space and Public Art during the spring semester of 2013 in Jamaica Plain, Boston. The second took place for two weeks in June 2013 in Petare, Caracas. The other four workshops where possible by a MISTI grant2 that allowed me to spend the summer doing research in Mumbai from June to August 2013. These workshops gave me the confidence to experiment with my process and believe that there was a possibility to do bottom-up approaches to improve urban conditions in low-income communities. At the same time, it facilitated me the process of building a network of people and institutions that could help me carry out my research. It also gave me the opportunity to visit different kind of settlements that later allowed me to choose one site to develop the process further. Most importantly, the summer workshops made me question the scope of my work. They helped me define which kind of settlements to address as well as question what I meant by informal settlements. Having the opportunity to travel between India and Venezuela allowed me to develop my own understanding of slums across different cultures and how the definition of ‘public’ varies 2 MISTI stands for MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives, which is MIT’s international education program to connect MIT students with fully funded internship, research and teaching opportunities abroad. Ana Cristina Vargas


Summer Workshops according to the place. Public Space is understood differently across cultures, but a common issue is the ownership of the public space. In India, housing and small business encroaches on the public space and claim ownership. In Venezuela it’s about criminal gangs that take over some public spaces and make them dangerous. Who takes responsibility over public spaces, when there is no formal authority to take care of them? In the formal city, public spaces are taken care mostly by government authorities using public money. In other cases, private companies might own a public space and take care of it, such as the example of New York’s open ground plazas mentioned in chapter 1. The problem rises when there is no institution responsible for public spaces. The community needs to acknowledge the existence of public spaces and claim ownership for the common good. The following short narratives explain the five workshops that helped me explore how people define public space, which can be the role of the community by acknowledging public spaces (trace public spaces) and which kinds of ownership they could generate.


Tracing Public Space

Summer Workshops 2.1.1. Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA (USA)

Length: Every Friday during March and April, 2013 Partner Institution: The Urbano Project, Stella McGreggor Participants: Brandon, Imani, Jasmine, Janeil, Lissi, Nadia, Rene and Tucker. The first workshop was developed with the guidance of Prof. Antoni Muntadas for his Public Space/Public Art Seminar at MIT’s Art, Culture, and Technology (ACT) program. Working with The Urbano Project in Jamaica Plain was a unique opportunity. This art institution, led by Stella McGregor, empowers teenagers to have a voice in their communities through art projects.

Tracing Public Spaces

Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood surrounded by the Emerald Necklace3 and divided by the MBTA’s Orange Line, is going through a gentrification process that raised a few questions in the workshop: Through this process, are public spaces losing their cultural identities? How can we potentially reconnect isolated parts of the neighborhood by tracing these spaces?

3 The Emerald Necklace is a system of parks designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted at the end of the eighteen hundreds that extends as a chain through Boston and Brookline. It was originally built to clean the marshlands of Back Bay. The Jamaica Pond in Jamaica Plain is part of the park.

Workshop Exhibit

Ana Cristina Vargas

Setting Stencial for Mural Map


Summer Workshops Jamaica Plain has a rich cultural background revealed through the participating children’s photographs of murals, shops, and restaurants. The open spaces and public parks that this neighborhood offers are simultaneously beautiful and diverse. Jamaica Pond, the Arboretum, the Southwest Corridor, and the Zoo provide the neighborhood and the city with a beautiful landscape and more than enough open spaces for leisure activities. “Laundromat” by Tucker


Making the Collective Map 52

A recurrent idea throughout this workshop was the premise that public spaces are places such as streets and plazas where everyone has unrestricted access. However, there are other spaces with limited access hours like Laundromats that can serve as public places and offer opportunities to socialize with neighbors. This idea raised a question: do we need to rethink the way we design Laundromats so they are better fitted for social interaction while people do laundry? This workshop helped me understand that everyone has unique personal stories and a sense of ownership about public spaces they visit frequently. To develop this sense of ownership, a personal history with these places typically presents itself through continuous visits that build personal perception and understanding of them. Throughout the workshop, participants rediscovered their public spaces in their neighborhood.

Workshop Team Tracing Public Space

Summer Workshops

2.1.2 .Petare, Caracas (Venezuela)

Length: Six sessions in June, 2013 Partner institution: Alcaldia de Sucre (Municipal Government) Participants: Alexandra, Angie, Juan Manuel, Luis, Oriana, Yorako and Gabriel Violence dominates the public life in this slum; can we reclaim open spaces to build a larger network of safe public spaces? Is it enough to identify opportunities for public spaces or we need to design and build them? Petare is known to be one of the largest slums in Latin America. Located in the eastern edge of Caracas, it is said to house more than a million people. Tracing Public Space workshop focused on the northern area of the informal settlement where houses are set in very steep hillsides that overlooks the city. Over the last four years the Municipal Government has been developing new small parks, plazas, and boulevards in this area. By working with the local government, the workshop focused on recognizing those new public spaces and mapping possible connections between

Petare, Caracas

Petare Workshop Team

Ana Cristina Vargas


Summer Workshops them to reveal sites that potentially provide opportunities to build more public spaces. One of the most interesting outcomes was to see how children perceive and represent unsafe areas as in the case of Juan Manuel’s cognitive mapping. He explains: “This is a map I made up, it might exist as it is here. The green areas are where I feel safe. I have free access. The green line is where I usually walk. This is my house. I labeled it with my name. The yellow line is the road that I occasionally pass by. The shops are places marked in green outside. These are places where I usually shop. The blue roads are the ones that I never use. The areas marked in black are where

Juan Manuel’s Map 54

Tracing Public Space

Summer Workshops there is a lot of violence and they are unsafe. You see, around my school there are shootings when you least expect it. In that case we cover ourselves under our desks… They should put police presence. That might make this area more ‘green’. Not all of it because thieves are hard to catch. They should fix the hospital a bit… They are building houses there now. When they are done, I will make a new map tracing this one and include the new construction. Maps are never the same. Cities always change.” As we progressed on our journey, the children began to connect their different neighborhoods to each other. One child participant would guide us through the streets around his house and stop, not knowing where to go next. At that moment, another one would say, “I know where we are, just around the corner from my place!” They constantly switched their roles as leaders of our walking trail depending on our location. At the end of the workshop, we managed to create an exhibition and invited the city mayor who asked the children to choose one of the photographed sites as a potential place to create a new public space, which they gladly did. The question is: how can we follow up on the workshop and actually transform it into a new

Juan Manuel explaining his work Ana Cristina Vargas


Summer Workshops

3. Ranwar, Mumbai (India)

Length: Two weeks in July, 2013 Partner institution: The Bus Ride, Zamir Basrai (MIT alumnus) Participants: Alice, Julian, Judith and Michael. Ranwar is a former small agricultural village off Waroda Road in Bandra whose architecture and urban design belong to the Portuguese colonial period. Ranwar’s urban charm can be attributed to its humanistic urban scale and its picturesque vernacular homes in the form of bungalows with balconies and outdoor staircases that facilitate interactions between the private space of the house and the street. As a predominantly catholic community, Ranwar features small public squares ideal for regular religious festivities. One of the most interesting places is Waroda road, which recently has received new investments by the creative young population that started a positive transformation aimed at attracting new enthusiastic crowds to support the preservation of Ranwar’s urban charm. Our partner for this workshop is the Bus Ride, a local architecture office who has been working on an urban analysis of the area and its larger context: the suburb of Bandra. The goal of this workshop was to document the vernacular stories about main public spaces and share them with the rest of the community by exhibiting the work through photography, maps, and written material. There were three recurring themes of this workshop: public space as space of worship, stories behind architectural details, and traditional urban design threatened by contemporary interventions. Public spaces in Ranwar seem to be carved out of the built form producing a smooth spatial sequence between streets and public squares. This spatial continuity allows community gatherings that involve praying by the various grottos or walking around in a procession. In this small settlement, all the participants seemed to know the dwellers of each individual house, previous generations that have lived there, as well as houses that were destroyed to make way for new multi-story developments, which seemingly was one of the most worrisome issues in the community. It was not so much for nostalgic reasons as it is the fear of losing a strong community life and identity.


Tracing Public Space

4. Mulund, Mumbai (India)

Length: One day in July, 2013 Partner: The Ball Project, Prajakt Patil Participants: Rakesh, Kirti, Renu, Remy, Sheetal and Vika Is there space for ‘public space’ in a temporary squat settlement? Which are the public priorities for a community that is in constant movement and also in precarious urban conditions?

Summer Workshops

For this workshop, we worked with Prajakt Patil, an architect and photographer working in Mumbai who leads a small organization (the Ball Project) with fellow activists Rupali and Rohit. They teach “life skills through sports” by visiting every Sunday afternoon, a community of garbage pickers in Mulund, one of Mumbai’s largest garbage dumping grounds. In this community, children are taught to classify waste early in life, and therefore, end up choosing work over school, despite being given free uniforms and school utensils. Considering the fact that children have little free time here, we organized a one afternoon session of Tracing Public Space. We took eight cardboard cameras, eight digital cameras, chalk, and one printer. We explained how to use the cameras to take pictures that showed the spaces and things they liked about their community. For about an hour, they went around and took pictures. We asked them to limit their photos to five pictures only, forcing them to think and choose their shots carefully. Afterwards, we printed a selection of the best pictures and shared them with the rest of the community.

Ana Cristina Vargas


Summer Workshops 5. Colaba, Mumbai (India)

Length: Two weeks in August, 2013 Partner institutions: Urban Design Research Institute and My Dream Colaba A neighborhood surrounded by water where few people can enjoy it, could we claim open spaces as public spaces? Colaba, located in the southern tip of Mumbai, has a combination of parks, shopping areas, landmarks, and expensive real estates while simultaneously serving as home for old mill workers housing (chawls4) and informal settlements. For this workshop I collaborated with The Urban Design Research Institute and My Dream Colaba, two organizations that are working on a proposal to redevelop Colaba’s public spaces. We organized a workshop that focused on identifying Colaba’s main public spaces, possible spaces to reclaim, and one walking trail that could include most of them. With the help of local schools, eight children were chosen to participate in a two-week long workshop where they learned about photography and mapping. One of the best things about the workshop was looking at open spaces that had a sea view. Although Colaba is a peninsula mostly surrounded by water, opportunities to look at it are scarce. One of the most beautiful places is Sasoon Docks, where most of the children had never been and which has restricted access. Another amazing view was inside one of the fishermen’s village, where a rectangular plaza serves as a football or cricket field with benches looking over the water. We also looked at pedestrian connectivity in the area and learned that Colaba could be more walker-friendly. There are two


4 Chawls are a specific housing typology developed in Mumbai to house workers in one-room apartments sharing corridors and toilets. Even though some of these buildings are very old, they are not demolished because of their excellent locations in the city center and the fact that thanks to the Rent Control Act 1947 that allows the tenants to pay very small prices to stay there. Tracing Public Space

main streets that go north-south but few east-west connections. Therefore, we identified two pedestrian-friendly small alleys that connect them. Children participants proposed various types of use for these alleys and together we made three poster fabric maps where we embroidered possible walking trails. We made an exhibition at an art gallery and showed the photographs and maps. We also offered maps for visitors to trace our walking trail and traverse through it themselves. Through this exhibition, several residents were surprised to discover places they had never visited.

Ana Cristina Vargas

Summer Workshops



Tracing Public Space

Google Earth: Malvani Transit Camp, Mumbai

2.2. A Kinetic Process: Malvani as a case study This section narrates the Tracing Public Space process as developed for Malvani Transit Camp (Mumbai) and executed during two workshops in January and March 2014. This narrative starts by explaining how Malvani was chosen as a site to develop this process and explains how each step was developed to expose those activities that were more successful to build the method. It demonstrates how the process was kinetic and even ‘informal’. Nonetheless, in this narrative the reader will find many stories that can help raise questions for similar places and reflect on alternatives process.

Ana Cristina Vargas



Exp ress




es tern








er nd





Hig hw ay





M U M B A I ' S S L U M S M A P -1





Dahisar Station



Express Highway




Sanjay Gandhi National Park Thane District





Culvem Village



Essel World

Lokmanya Tilak Rd Borivali Station





Borivli West

Borivli East



Manori Beach

Sanjay Gandhi National Park Charko


W es tern


pre ss

Kandivali Station


Malad Marve Rd






Aksa Beach

Malad West

Barve IIT Powai

Masaheb Minatai Thackrey Udyan












Vile Parle Station


i Rd.







Juhu Tara

ve Bar SG Ghatkopar West


Marg J.B Rd





Bh Cap ag t.P at sin P R d gh Rd

Cuffe Parade


iN abha Nan

US Club Golf Course





M.G Rd

press v Mar



Rd kar bed

Trombay Koliwada Drying Yard

Antop Hill

Bab Dr.

llo Rd


Ballard Estate


Hutatma Chowk


Gateway of India Gateway Promenade


V.N Pura


F (N)

arg Wadala Station



Trombay Corridor Rd

Marg Se na



Rafi Ahmed Kidwal Pal Rd


Sewri Station

Sewri Fort


F (S) Sewri

Reay Rd Station


Masjid Station

Carnaic Bridge

Horniman Circle

Brabourne Stadium

Nariman Point


Churchgate Station

Sion Koliwada




B.P.T Docks


Dockyard Rd Station


Y.M Rd

C.S.T. Station

Sir J.J Rd

.B N.S

Wankhede Stadium

V.N Rd



Marine Lines

Marine Lines st Station cess Prin


P. K. Das “Map of Slums in Mumbai”


Pal Mar

Sir J.J Rd



M.A Marg



Sandhurst Rd. Station

S.V.P. Rd.

an Rehm


ar .J M


L Ja





sM arg




Marine Drive

Navy Nagar


Masjid Bandar

Churni Rd. Station



S.V.P. Rd.

Opera House

Girgaon Beach

S.B.D Marg



Mar Rd

Byculla Station

R.B Marg

S.P . ar Rd shw herWalke


Cotton Green Station

Nath rister

Maulana Azad


Grant Rd Station Grant Rd

Kemp's Corner



Rd hale Gok



ar bedk aheb Am Dr. Babas


arg M uji ur eG San Rd.

Marg A.N Dr.


Peddar Rd




Chichpokli Station

Mumbai Central Station Boman Behram Mar


Mankhurd Station

Guru Tegbahadurnagar Station





Wellingdon Sports Club


eb Am

arg rM arka aw rS Vee arg tM Bapa

NM Joshi Marg


Rd. sant


Dr. Annie Be



Malabar Hill

N.M.J Marg

Mahalakshmi Station g dya Mar rao Kha


i Rd


Lady Jamshedj

k Sea Lin Face


Wor li







Lal Baug

Haji Ali Promenade Pedder Road

Pedder Road




Dadar East


Haji Ali


Sion Hillock Fort



Parel Station

Curry Rd Station

Lower Parel Station


Govandi Station Marg Bombay Presidency Golf Club

Matunga Station

Dadar EasternT ilak Station

Dadar West

G (S) Lower Parel



J.B Mar

Anushakti Nagar

G (N)

Elphinstone Rd Station





avi M

To N

Chembur Station

Sion Station








Matunga Rd Station

Dadar Western Station


Worli Promenade


Prabhadevi Beach


Worli Fort




Dadar Beach

k Rd


Mahim Station




B.D.P Rd

Mahim Fort


Chunabhatti Station

Kala Killa

Mahim Beach

Lands End Bandra Fort

Fish Drying Yard






Tilaknagar Station


Bandra Kurla Complex

Bandra Station


Kurla Station


Chembur Sewri

B R Ambedkar Rd


Lokmanya Tilak Terminal





Band Stand Promenade


S G Barve


Bandra East MIG Club

Chimbai Koliwada


Kole Kalyan University

Bandra Terminus

Perry Rd


Vidyavihar Station

Santacruz East


Bandra West



Western Express Highway

S.V. Rd

Vitthalbhai Patel Rd

Khar Station


u Rd.

l Nehr



Thane Creek



Ghatkopar Station

r link

Santacruz Station

Santacruz West



Sahar Airport

n Exp




Vikhroli Station



Juhu Beach




Juhu Airport

Koli Housing



Andheri East

Nehru Rd



Vile Parle East

Hanuman Rd

Vile Parle West

Khar Danda Koliwada C. D. Rd Fishing Yard







S G Barve

hi Rd.


Marol Maros

. rd

caves Rd .R



Juhu Koliwada



Kanjurmarg Station rg

A.S Ma

Andheri East





t rd






Andheri Flyove


as Gilbert Hill Andheri


Fishing Yard



Powai Lake



Mulund Station

Mulund East

rn Ex

S.V. rd


rd Airport Tele-communication



va Andheri West


Arabian Sea

d Lin k

N.D.Z Jogeshwari East





Juhu Beach

Carter Rd Promenade


To Airoli




Jogeshwari Station


Versova Beach


Aarey Milk Colony

Western Expresss Highway



Bhandup Station

New link rd


Madh Fort

Vihar Lake

S.V. rd

Jogeshwari West



To Thane MU

S G Barve Marg


Goregaon East

Western Express

New link rd

Madh village


Forest Area


Drying yards


Film City


Mhad Beach



S.V. Rd

Goregaon Link




Mulund West


Erangal Beach



Goregaon Station

Goregaon West

Bhati Koliwada

K Vaidya





aon Mulund Link Rd



Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Gen A




Tulsi Lake

Western Express Highway

Malad Station


INS Hamla



way High press

Kandivli West

rn Ex Easte

Link Rd


p Rd

Hig hw



B.P.T Docks











MUMBAI'S POPULATION (as per 2011 census) SLUM- DWELLERS POPULATION (as per 2011 census)

12.43 mn 06.53 mn

100.00% 52.50%

Not to scale. Various reservations are as per the Development Plan. Population figures are aprroximate. This map to be read together with 'Mumbai's Slums Map -2 D.P. Reservations'


Comprehensive mapping of the slums of Mumbai has been carried out by P.K.Das & Associates, Planners & Architects. Various land use reservations on slums land as per Development Plan of Mumbai has been identified. Preparation and publication for the first time of such a comprehensive 'Mumbai's Slums Map' is for the purpose of Re-Visioning Mumbai with an integrated Slums redevelopment and affordable housing alternative. Shortage of land for affordable housing can be addressed by reserving all slum occupied land for affordable housing. It is necessary to undertake the preparation of a comprehensive master plan for slum redevelopment and affordable housing, based on town planning principles. Similarly, planning on ward basis should be the way forward for the preparation of the master plan. Increased government role in planning, project management, administration, finance along with price control is inevitable. The 'Mumbai's Slums Map' is a starting point of such an endeavor. Limitations and Assumptions : This map has been prepared upon a comparative study of the Development Plan and the google maps. Calculation of Slums area and other areas are based on this map. Gaothans and Fishing villages (Koliwadas) do not have a separate reservation in the Development plan. The demarcation between Gaothans / Koliwadas and their extended slums is not achieved. References: For the preparation of the Slums Map, we have relied upon Google maps and referred to the Development Plan 1991 prepared by the MCGM. First publication - August 2011. Prepared and Published by P. K. Das & Associates , Planners, Architects and Designers, 'Sankalp', 5th floor, Plot No 1040, Off Sayani Road, Prabhadevi, Mumbai 400025. Email - / Website -

Tracing Public Space

2.2.1. Finding the Place

Malvani as a case study

Finding Malvani helped me realize how important it is to understand the topic of study on a given context to define the scope of our research. Going to India for the first time, I realized that I did not understand the complexity of the social and physical differences between slums in Mumbai. Having read some literature on the topic, I still did not understand the different types of poor settlements until I had the opportunity to visit them myself. Moreover, the need to partner with a local institution to gain access to a specific slum and guarantee sustainability of the workshops was critical. I started my summer in Mumbai looking for ‘interesting slums’ to study public spaces, which could be the same as coming to Boston and saying you are looking for ‘interesting suburbs’. What we each define as interesting can be completely different, and in a megacity where the typology you are looking for is where half of the population lives, it is even harder. The Mumbai Metropolitan Area houses over 20 million people. It is estimated that 60% of them live in slums5. In 2011, P. K. Das and Associates published a map of Mumbai showing the 42.8 square kilometers of land occupied by slums (8.7% of Mumbai land)6. The places identified in this map have different urban growth patterns, infrastructure and sanitary problems, social organization structures, tenure differences (legal or illegal) and political conflicts. Therefore, actually that 60% includes people living in a variety of poor urban settlements that range from fishing and agricultural villages, transit camps, informal housing, encroachments and squatting areas7.

5 Kelly Shannon and Janina Gosseye, Reclaiming (the Urbanism Of) Mumbai (Amsterdam: SUN Academia, 2009), 38. 6 P. K. Das and Associates, last modified August 2011, 7 Collective Research Initiatives Trust (CRIT) published in July 2010 a paper titled: “TYPOLOGIES and BEYOND Slum Settlement Studies in Mumbai” where they argue for avoiding the use of the world ‘slums’ and refere to settlements, given the diverse cultural and physical ocuupations. (“Slum Studies,” CRIT, accessed May 18, 2014, initiatives/housing/slum-studies/). Ana Cristina Vargas


Go through kinetic process that depends on each step to validate the next step.

process models

d m

measure space

The community

critic + fantasize

observe + register

discuss + make temporary fieldbook intervention

exhibit + share

Designer + his toolbox


advocate public spaces

cameras + maps process data

Tracing Public Space

discuss ideas

design models

fill in if needed

urban strategy

do it yourself

inform and feedback

discuss + temporary demonstrate intervention


adapt and replicate

prototype an idea

provide framework Design pieces + make rules

Ana Cristina Vargas

supervice + redesign


Malvani as a case study

Zafar ‘s class at Eliah Sarwat High School in Malvani

Main Open Ground

Next Page: Malvani Street, Malvani Courtyard 66

Given time constraints, it was not possible to visit all the slums mapped. Nonetheless, the summer research helped me build a network of people and organizations that showed me different types of settlements in Mumbai, allowing me to create and helped me build my own understanding of slums. This process let me understand that the transit camp or resettlement colony offered a very unique urban situation to research on public spaces. Since the 1970’s, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) has been building Transit Camps in Mumbai to temporarily house evicted slum dwellers from the city center into the suburbs. In their website they published a list of transit camps that at the moment house 18,600 people8. These camps, in the beginning, consisted on giving each family a plot of land with access to basic shared infrastructure so that they could build their own house as a temporary shelter9. Even though, these places are strategically created to eliminate slums, many of them have become permanent and grow informally to become slums overtime. Having the opportunity to develop the Tracing Public Space method in a transit camp from the 1970’s offered me the possibility to understand two issues at the same time: first, how to improve public spaces in existing slums, and second, how to design public spaces within an urban plan that will grow incrementally. Therefore, after six weeks in Mumbai, I went to Elia Sarwat High School, an Urdu-Enlish private School in Malvani Transit Camp to meet Teach for India Fellow Zafar who described Malvani as “a slum that looked like a miniature version of Manhattan”. As soon as I started to walk around the place I could easily read the original urban plan: a grid structure and plot subdivision. Nonetheless, after forty years of informal growth, it looks like a slum. The “Maharashtra Slum Areas (Improvement, Clearance And Redevelopment) Act,

8 Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority, May 2014, 9 More recently, the transit camps are build as high rise buildings to occupy less amount of land.

Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study



* *


FINDING THE PLACE: MUMBAI WHERE: Malvani Transit Camp PARTNERS: Teach for India fellows and Rahee Foundation.


Ana Cristina Vargas

11,710,000 people living in the city 19,280,000 people living in the metropolitan area 45,021 density



Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas


Malvani as a case study

Urban Block

Neighborhood 1971” 10 definition of slum fits Malvani in terms of: “overcrowding, lack of ventilation, light or sanitation facilities”. However, beyond trying to determine which are the characteristics that can help us catalogue Malvani as a slum, it is important to acknowledge that those characteristics are attributed to informal growth. Urban plans evolve, informal dynamics take over so how can we retrofit them for slum upgrading or conceive them making informal growth part of the design?

“The Nala” at Malvani Transit Camp


10 (4) Declaration of Slum Areas: 1[(1) Where the Competent Authority is satisfied that(a) any area is or may be a source of danger to the health, safety or convenience of the public of that area or of its neighborhood, by reason of the area having inadequate or no basic amenities, or being in sanitary, squalid, overcrowded or otherwise; or (b) the buildings in any area, used or intended to be used for human habitation are (i) in any respect, unfit for human habitation; or (ii) by reasons of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of streets, lack of ventilation, light or sanitation facilities or any combination of these factors, detrimental to the health, safety or convenience of the public of that area, the Competent Authority may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare such area to be a slum area Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas


Malvani as a case study Malvani is located in Malad, a suburb in northwest Mumbai. There are mainly three different low-income settlements in this area: an organic informally settled slum, a site and service project (developed by the World Bank and the Bombay Urban Development Project in the 1990’s) and a Transit Camp, which became the site for the workshop. At the same time there are some smaller housing developments with one-story houses built by Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA). Malvani Transit Camp, was developed to relocate people living in the slums in the area of Haji Ali in downtown Mumbai. Each family was given a small plot of land of 18sqm to build their own temporary house and had access to shared open space, public toilet and water. The temporary site was located beside Malad Creek, on a landfill area that was divided in 96 blocks with small roads, three public open grounds and a hospital (show map). Each block approximately measures 60 by 60 meters and is equipped with basic infrastructure: electricity, water supply, and an open courtyard with two public toilet buildings (see urban block in next page). This grid city is divided in to two parts by a smaller creek called ‘The Nala’. Every street has a small bridge that goes across to connect the two parts of the settlement and they are named Old Collector’s Compound (northern area) and New Collector’s Compound (southern area). These names go back to the original owners of the land who collected taxes.


Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study



“Malvani” Typical Urban Block Over more than forty years, it has developed into a dense and compact settlement. It is now a vibrant mix-income community that has all the basic utilities a city needs: schools, mosques, temples, churches, shops, medical facilities, open grounds and markets. Sadly, critical sanitary conditions as well as lack of maintenance of

its infrastructure threaten the livelihoods of its community. (e.g. a remaining creek has been filled with waste instead of water, show image)

The first visit to Malvani allowed me to do a short Tracing Public Space workshop with Zafar’s class, which were kids between 7 and 11 years old. This experience gave me a better idea of the neighborhood and allowed me to get a better understanding of the original urban layout and its organic development. Also it was the start of relationship with the teachers and the children that lead into meeting Mr. Rafique Ansari one of the children’s father and founder of Rahee Foundation a local NGO focused on empowering children through sports. After presenting my proposed workshop methodology to Rafique Sir, we defined how to build a team for the workshop. The first part of the workshop would take six days combining small lectures and fieldwork. The classroom sessions would be done in the second floor of the Ansari family house, which served as bedroom during the night and classroom during the day. Our team would be a group of boys and girls from Swapneel’s class at Elia Sarwat High School and Rahee Foundation between the ages of 11 to 16. Ana Cristina Vargas


2.2.2 Reading the Place The first time I walked through Malvani, I was impressed by the combination of a rigid urban grid and the flexibility and variety their dwellers had managed to develop on it after forty years. The small and dense scale that made it look like a miniature chaotic version of Manhattan, as described by Zafar, delighted me. The tragic amount of garbage, the dark black open drainages in the streets and smells where overwhelming. But most of all I was deeply surprise to discover a pocket of peace and tranquility in the small courtyard spaces within each urban block. This first visit made me want to learn more about the place. Before I could reach an understanding of the main socio-political conflicts, their relationship to the urban plan and the lack of governance, I first had to walk through Malvani, interview locals and look at my photographs numerous times. During my first informal interviews, I was impressed by how people had contradictory views of the current conditions and future of the place. On one hand, some considered it an ideal neighborhood because of the wide offer of services and amenities at a walkable distance. On the other hand, people have the opportunity to build their house within a small plot of land and over time transform the house, from a small one bedroom to a three-story house with a shop or small business on the ground floor. From several interviews, it seems that the only regulation to build a second floor is to use Diagrams of encroachments

Encroachments on pathways


Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study

Original Courtyard

Encroached Courtyard steel structure (a third floor is not allowed but many people built it anyway). The reason being is the temporary condition of the site. Even though, some families have been living over 40 years in this place, they do not hold tenure of the land were they settled. The government can ask to relocate them anytime. In this case, they can recycle their steel structure somewhere else. Despite the uncertainty of not owning the land, the everyday lifestyle in Malvani seems to be worth it for the community life they have. People know their neighbors well and have relatives living close by which creates a strong community relationship. This lifestyle is possible because plots are very small and close to each other, within 60 meters you can walk through 36 shops, restaurants and small industries. Nonetheless, the size of the plot also limits the Ana Cristina Vargas


Malvani as a case study height of the houses, which causes people to encroach on the open spaces to increase the floor area of their house (diagrams of encroachment). By encroaching on small pathways or courtyards, they reduce the possibilities of natural light and ventilation for themselves and their neighbors. Some people have managed to buy their neighbor’s house and build on larger houses to share with extended family. Malvani Hospital

In the case of Malvani, one consequence of flexible urban layout is the lack of respect to the thin line between public and private space. This lack of control over the public spaces, creates a sense of chaos for some neighbors, who would prefer to have the place demolished and instead have the government build new high-rise housing. They consider that the density and the sanitary conditions are terrible and can only be solved starting all over again. But this is not the only solution to the existing situation. Incremental housing has been a successful housing strategy in different parts of the developing world since the nineteen eighties. The most successful examples are those where the urban plan and the socio-political structure have been shaped to work together. Such is the case of a close by housing development: Charkop11. In this case, each group of houses is organized physically and institutionally in a cluster with one common open space and Cooperative Society that functions as a common institution to look after their open spaces. This close example made me question which other way could we help the community to realize the importance of protecting the open spaces from further encroachments. This became the main research question of the workshop. To take this further, we needed to do a further analysis of the existing courtyards in relationship with the urban plan. Once I had understood the urban structure of the place and how it related to a larger socio-political issue, I narrowed the scope of our work to the open courtyards: the intermediate spaces between domestic life and public space. These courtyards


11 A Site and Services development by the World Bank in the eighties as part of the Bombay Urban Development Project. Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study serve as backyards to approximately one hundred houses and accommodate activities such as laundry, artisanal work, children’s play, and even small business (recycling industries, farms, etc.) They are fully used for diverse type of activities throughout the day; this makes them contested spaces. These spaces are mostly used by women and children, who ironically are the people with less voice within the community. Lastly, they repeat themselves in more than a hundred blocks in Malvani, therefore any decision we make for one could be applicable to many more, In other words, it could be a scalable transformation. In the case of Malvani, because it was formally settled in terms of having and original urban plan, we could do the exercise of drawing its general rules ignoring the details to have an abstraction of its urban design, locate its public spaces and define the scope of the workshop. Only by taking time to read the place and understand its specific urban condition, we can get past those first impressions that overwhelm us and confuse our understanding of the place and develop a have a clear idea of which can be our specific role as facilitators of the process. Then, we can proceed to trace the public spaces.

Ana Cristina Vargas




Children from the Community

Shagufta, 11

Sharmin, 12

Sheene, 16

Teena, 10

Yusef, 14

Imran, 12

Adil , 14

Mohini, 12

Noorudin, 13

Noor, 16


Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study



Local NGO

Architect/ Designer

Local Schools

Temporary facilitator

Rahee Foundation

Mr. Rafi Anwar RAHEE Foundation RAHEE Foundation

Ana Cristina Vargas

Swapneel Teach for India

Ana MIT Graduate Student



Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study

2.2.3. Tracing its Public Spaces The Malvani workshop was focused on the courtyards as public space. Consequently, the first part was about using photography, mapping and measuring how people occupy space in every courtyard in Malvani. This workshop took place over a week in January 2014. The goal of this first part of the process was to develop an understanding of what was happening in these courtyards, what could be better and what were the things that the community enjoyed the most. Simultaneously, it was important to emphasize that this courtyards are in risk of disappearing. Slowly, private encroachment has taken over these public spaces and in some cases they don’t exist anymore.

Rafique Sir House

The workshop meetings took place at Rahee Foundation, the team was formed by five girls (Monihi, Teena, Shagufta, Shaheen and Sharmin) and four boys (Adil, Noorudin, Imran and Yusef). All of them spoke English, which was crucial for communication. Therefore, I conducted the workshop in English but was supported by Mr. Rafi’s nephew Anwar and Prof. Swapneel. During that first session, each participant received a toolkit consisting of: one blank tote bag, one stencil of the general plan of Malvani (grid structure), one camera frame, one digital camera12, 12 The digital cameras used in Tracing Public Space workshops were donated by different members of the MIT Community for the first workshop during the Spring semester 2013. Ana Cristina Vargas

Rahee Foundation Office 81

Malvani as a case study one pen, and one blank notebook. Additional to this toolkit, they shared the following: one smart phone with Fulcrum App13 that allowed us to collect geo located data of each courtyard and measuring tape. All this tools were necessary to help them build different skills individually and through active participation.

Urban Block Diagram on the floor

Noorudin using Fulcrum App

Before using the tools, we talked about Malvani. I made a diagram on the floor of the room of the urban structure of typical blocks to explain that each block has an open space around the public toilets that we would call courtyard. We talked about the different public spaces in Malvani: streets, alleys open grounds and shops. Each one of them made a cognitive map of their urban block. The idea was to identify the most important features of their block. This allowed me to see also which elements are recognizable and build their set of references in their block. Then, they use the Malwani stencil to draw the block map on their bags, identify each block with its corresponding number and stich a star or color the block where they lived. For homework, they had to observe the courtyard within their block and write the imaginary picture composition they saw through their camera frame. This exercise helps them observe closely before using the real digital camera. The next two days we walked through every Malvani block. During this long walks we observed what was happening. The children took turns using the phone to register the different types of courtyards according to how the toilets where arranged and also which courtyards were completely encroached. We also measured the space to start thinking how much spaces is required to play different games. For example, for skipping it seemed that 1.90m by 1.00m was just right. These activities allowed them to visit places in their neighborhood they had never visited before. It also helped them to observe the differences between courtyards and value those places that remained un-encroached. During the fourth session, I brought a large canvas with Malvani Urban Plan, using the data collected with the app they all drew

13 Measuring and Drawing Space


Fulcrum is an app that allows you to create a customized survey that you can take on the field even without access to internet and fill and save the geographic location. Then you can open it on GIS and can easily visualize the data. Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study

Using the “Framing Tool� to practice Photography Composition

Skipping required area 1.90 x .90 m

Playing barbies required area 1.90 x .90 m

Measuring the Space Needed to Skip

Ana Cristina Vargas


Malvani as a case study on the map to show the block typologies and the courtyards that had been fully encroached. At the same time, they divided into pairs to visit a set of blocks to photograph and take notes. Dividing the work, allowed us to collect individual perspectives of public space. The combination of making one collective map and taking pictures allowed them to visualize an overview of the neighborhood and detach themselves from their individual reality.

‘In the Making’ Collective Map

The fifth session, we printed their images and discussed what was happening in the public spaces. We chose three blocks to study further. I taught them how to draw a façade following a template with little dots and this helped them make a drawing of the edge of the block and edge of the courtyard (show example). The idea was that these drawings would help me make a model of the Malwani block. In reality, this exercise was too hard for the younger kids and it was refined into a foam block model in the following steps. For the last session, we organized all the materials in a small exhibit in the courtyard of block number 8, where Rahee Foundation is located. The kids went around an invited as many people as possible from other blocks, in a few minutes women, men and children gathered curious to see their work. They explained their findings to the community and each one of the participants explained at least one of their pictures. It was a very nice moment because the children felt empowered to explain their knowledge of their own community.

Photography Exhibit

Next Page: Collective Map 84

Photography Exhibit Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas




vehicle parking

wedding tent


clothes drying







What People Do in Courtyards


Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study

2.2.4. Advocating the Place After the first part of the workshop in January, I came back to MIT to compile the data collected, plan the next steps and develop the new tools14. I composed a fieldbook as a summary of the findings from the first phase, which includes images, map and questions that rose from their work and our discussions. This book serves as their guidebook to summarize their knowledge from the first workshop. Also, I 3D printed a series of 1:500 scale models of the type of urban blocks in Malvani, I called them the miniature typology. This miniatures serve as a tool that beyond representing a spatial configuration specific to the place, they establish a new communication channel. They allow the Malvani neighbor to relate his spatial experience to a broader relationship with his community. It also helps define ownership of the spaces by showing all the houses that surround the courtyards. It helps the children explain why the courtyards are precious and threatened and the different typologies. Then it’s easier to start a conversation on how to preserve them. The second part of the workshop took 9 days during my Spring Break vacation in March. The steps that followed were developed during this time. The first day of the workshop it was wonderful to see the children again, they came back with their tote bags and notebooks from the first phase and eager to keep on learning. The 14 During the Spring semester I also took the Teaching Certificate program Ana Cristina Vargas

Courtyard Types 87

Malvani as a case study

first thing I did was lay down the miniature typologies on the floor and ask them to choose which one resembled the block where they live. It was fascinating to see how fast they recognized the spatial configuration of their courtyard. Then, we started to build the knowledge through a conversation on what are public spaces, what makes the courtyards public common good and what was happening there. I emphasized to them that it was not a matter of determining what activities were right or wrong to do in this space but instead it was about understanding what was happening, why it was happening and thinking how it could be different. I also asked if there were words that I had used in the field book that they did not understand. They mentioned: tracing, design and toolkit. This made me reflect on the importance of being cautious with my own vocabulary and making sure they really understand what I am taking about. Once it is understood that the typologies repeat themselves, we chose three urban blocks to do further study. We chose them because they all had different spatial configuration and well located in different areas of the neighborhood. The second day of the workshop, we divided the class into three groups and chose three different blocks to visit and survey 12 houses on each block. The field book and the miniature typologies allowed the children to interview the community not only through words and questions but also by using visual tools that helped them explain the need to preserve the open spaces. This permitted them to start a conversation about their opinion, ideas and thoughts for the space. The key findings from this process were three: the need to maintain the courtyards clean without garbage, the importance of keeping the space as empty as possible to allow for flexibility of uses and the fact that 75% of the people interviewed said they would be eager to help make their courtyard better. This first one-to-one conversation between the children and adults form the community helped them better understand how they all see the space differently and have different priorities about what they should do in the space.


Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study

2.2.5. Reimagining the Place On the third day of the workshop we started to map the space of the courtyard and brainstorm on ideas to improve the current conditions. By improving I meant making it more democratic and inclusive. How could most neighbors benefit from this space accepting its current condition? The tools for this exercises were: stencil with house arrangement in urban block, foam blocks of three different sizes (1 story house, 2 story house and 3 story house), cardboard board and a catalog of doors, trees, stairs and windows as paper cut-outs from their field notebook. The first exercise was to make a three-dimensional mapping of the space, represented in a 1:100 model of the open space. The idea of this exercise is to help them understand which are the elements that define the edge of the space and which kind of transformation we could do in each of them according to their spatial characteristics. The children split into groups of three. The first thing they did was to re visit the selected courtyard (Plots 8, 61 and OCC 14). Once in the space, they observed the space and wrote on their field book how many floors each of the houses around the courtyard had. Then, draw an arrow where the house entrance is located, lines

Ana Cristina Vargas


Malvani as a case study

for stairs and write ‘w’ for windows15. Once the information was collected, they returned to the workshop space. There, they were given the pieces to assemble their courtyard in a three-dimensional model. First, locating the foam blocks according to the height of the houses understanding that the houses build the walls of the open space. Then, they cut out windows, doors and stairs from their field book and glued them to the foam blocks giving more detail to the enclosure of the space. They also located the public toilets according to their position in the space. The main goal of this exercise is to understand that the edge between the houses –private space- and the courtyards – public space- which in this context is especially unclear. This initial model allowed them to brainstorm how they could translate the needs and desires expressed by the community into concrete objects in space and how they could fit given the existing surroundings. Some of the most interesting ideas that came up where: 1. The need for a gate: the girls working in the largest courtyard considered that the entrance to the space needed to be controlled given that the space was precious and as they see it,vv it belongs


15 This exercise was an improved version of the unsuccessful façade drawing exercise from the first workshop in January. Tracing Public Space

to the people who dwell around it16. 2. Making a garden as a place to study, play and breath fresh air. In their observations they ‘mapped’ a chimney from a small factory inside the block and expressed their concern over pollution and the need for vegetation. 3. Hanging cloth between house terraces instead of on the ground 16 When we presented ideas to the community they explained that to enclose the space they would need to create a Cooperative Society. This social institution required government permission and it is a complicated process because they do not own the land. Ana Cristina Vargas


Malvani as a case study

floor to enable small open spaces to be used fully. They came up with an idea of providing a pulley so people could easily pull their clothes from their house terrace. 4. The most recurring topic was to provide ‘dustbins’ as a response to dirty courtyards as well as get together to clean them. Nonetheless, this topic generated a debate between the children about how they could convince the neighbors to clean and who would take the garbage. One idea that came up was the idea of starting composting bins to process organic waste and make compost for the garden plants. The idea of thinking of the space as production space for its own maintenance is crucial in this phase. This process is not about convincing Municipal Government to come to the courtyard and pick up the waste. Similarly, it does not make sense to provide dustbins unless someone is in charged of them. It is about asking who takes ownership of the space and how they can benefit from managing it. 5. Making a slide for children and other games as a response of Shagufta’s inquire from the first day when she asked if we could make it snow in one of the courtyards because children in Malvani could not go to Kashmir to experience sliding in the snow. Therefore, we talked about slides as an alternative to snow. This step of the process was important to transcend the children’s understanding from the urban scale to the architecture scale. Consequently, it helped them to move from reading, observing and mapping to proposing new ideas for the courtyards.


Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study

2.2.6. Designing the Place Reimagining the Space allowed children to come up with physical ideas to transform the public spaces through management and by introducing new objects in the space. The second exercise proposed to think in more detail of the objects that when placed in the space could help them accomplish those ideas. For this exercise, I designed a toolbox with laser cut pieces of cardboard that could be joined in multiple ways without the need to use glue. Like a Lego type of toolbox they were able to assemble different designs easily and fast. The toolbox includes: cardboard pieces, string, straws and a plastic surface for water collection. The goal of these flexible pieces was to allow them to think how they could conceive the objects for the space by making multiple models (scale 1:10m). As a designer, I established a module that I knew it could work to make certain furniture designs but I left it open so that they could come up with different ideas to assemble it and they did. Some of the most interesting designs that came up where: 1. A badminton net that could be stored inside a bench when not in use. 2. A playing combo made of a slide and swing combo. 3. A seesaw 4. All sorts of seating arrangements Ana Cristina Vargas


Malvani as a case study

5. Water slide with pool. 6. A composting machine to separate organic waste17. The hardest thing was to have them think out of the box. It was very hard to come up with ideas of undefined objects and really invent new things. We did this exercise two days and I think we needed spend more time on it to develop more innovative ideas. But at the same time, the most interesting part of this process is to see how they use the parts in different ways than I had imagined when designing the pieces. We chose one block out of the three that we had surveyed and made models of to present the designs. The block selected was OCC14 because it was the one with the most available space and the community living around the courtyard was interested in our designs. When they presented the design objects to the community, the first reaction was that the space could not be occupied with permanent structures. As it is it remains open for different uses according to the needs. It is very hard to manage a small space to be shared with more than 80 households. We also encountered some contradictions between the communities. Men were not interested in trying anything new in the space, they were 17 The importance of separating waste was brought up as we were crossing the Nala and I asked the children to look closely at the huge amount of waste and think which things could be ‘saved from the garbage’, in other words recycled and make the problem a little bit smaller. 94

Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study

not open to any of our proposals arguing that they had already tried to accommodate seats and it had been a problem. Other people would come from other courtyards to sit on their space and get drunk until late. On the other hand, women were eager to listen to our ideas. They are the main users of the space and asked for seats, cleaning the space and were open to any innovative idea as long as it was furniture that could be stored away during the nights or when not being used. The most important lesson from this step is to think about different strategies to allow children to become design agents by using tools. Design is a complex process and requires several iterations as well as refinement; we need to be aware that this design process is about setting a framework to enable children to design. However, it is important to involve the rest of the community in this process and maybe have the children share their tools with adults to see what they design.

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Malvani as a case study

2.2.7. Prototyping for the Place After doing the design exercises, it is important to turn representation into real scale actions. Therefore, the question for this step was: Can we demonstrate how public space can change in a short time with local resources? Sharing their designs with the community living in block OCC 14 allowed us to understand that it is very complex to design for the public. Not everyone agrees on which are the priorities or what can be improved. Showing the designs to the community, we discussed which kind of demonstration we could do. We had only two hours to do a small intervention that could demonstrate how the community could transform their public space. I propose three options and after discussing which one would be best, we chose to make the space clean. The children decided to visit each house in the block, explain their work and ask for money to buy the materials to do one of their ideas. They collected 300 rupees (around 5 dollars). We had a discussion about what to do with this money, it was important to be realistic and use resources from the place. We decided to paint the toilet walls and clean the space as a demonstration of how it could become better in a very short time with community resources. We collected brooms from the houses around the courtyards. Each kid was assigned a small area to broom. In the form of a 15-minute competition they cleaned the space. Some kids from Ana Cristina Vargas


Malvani as a case study


Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas


Malvani as a case study

that block that had not been part of the workshop decided to join us. It was a simple way of demonstrating that cleaning the courtyard could be fun an easy. The rest of the time, we painted the walls of the toilet taking turns using three brushes. The last day of the workshop we presented all the work that the children had done to their parents and friends. We invited them to Rahee Foundation and each one of the children explained what they had learn over the process and how they planned to carry forward their work. The hardest part of this process was to be able to demonstrate something in a short time. Therefore, for future work I think it is important to design on 1:1 scale too. Either spend more time to fabricate real objects or provide a real scale toolkit to design. Consequently, following-up on the women’s idea of temporary furniture, I designed a 1:1 scale toolbox that could be owned by each family and contain enough pieces to build different versions of the children’s designs. The more toolboxes in the courtyard, the bigger the variety of things that can be built. As an example, I drew different scenes according to the amount of toolboxes. With three boxes, we could make a park with three swings, a slide and three seesaws. This park could be there for an afternoon during a children’s birthday party for example. With nine boxes, we could build a temporary roof to collect rainwater during the monsoon season and allow the children 100

Tracing Public Space

to study in the courtyard as well as women to their handwork. This type of setting could be assembled for the whole monsoon season.

Malvani as a case study

With thirty boxes, we could assemble a temporary theatre with stage and seats to make functions. And we could keep on thinking of other ideas to build with the toolboxes but ideally it would be their owners who would develop new uses for the pieces. It would be the community who would re imagine constantly their public space according to their changing needs and desires.

Event Planner’s House, uses cacade for chair storage

Bamboo storage

Temporary wedding tent between toilets Ana Cristina Vargas


Scene 1- Using 3 toolboxes


Tracing Public Space

Scene 2- Using 6 toolboxes

Ana Cristina Vargas


A shared courtyard


Tracing Public Space

2 .2.8. Transforming the Place The Malvani workshop did not permanently transform physically a public space, it embarked their communities in a long-term transformation process by giving them the tools to see the public space differently, take ownership and eventually change it. Cleaning and painting the toilets gave the children the occasion to realize how easy it could be to improve the way their courtyards look. It allowed them to learn how to advocate for the space and transform it with local resources. More importantly, because they took the leadership of this process they are able to replicate this process in other courtyards. For the community living in OCC14 block they witnessed how in a short time and bringing resources together they could change the conditions of their space. It does not matter how long the space remains clean or the wall remains without graffiti’s, it most important that they know that making it clean again is easy and can be accomplished on their own with their resources. Finally, it is important to understand that transformation is a moment, an object or taking an inauguration picture. It is about allowing the agents of change to understand their role to transform and sustain their public space for their own benefit. Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Part III


Formalizing an organic process So for the development activist, asking the right questions (and knowing when the right answer comes along), looking with curiosity and finding simple answers will help in finding the right architecture for a world of rapid change and scarce resources. Sumita Sinha, Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources (Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Earthscan from Routledge, 2012), 27.

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Part III. A REPLICABLE METHOD. Formalizing an organic process This chapter is a preliminary step to formulate a strategy that can be replicated as the Tracing Public Space Method. It can be read as a series of strategies to engage with communities or as hands-on tactics for participatory processes. It is important to acknowledge that development of this method was driven by intuition, creatively responding to the given context and was dependent on MIT funding. Therefore, it is necessary to define how to use this methodology in other contexts. The purpose of Tracing Public Space is to change the way in which children look at their community and provide them with tools to empower them to become agents of change. It is based on the belief that only through education and bottom-up strategies we can accomplish sustainable transformations. This method is designed for children between the ages of 11 and 15 living in lowincome urban communities, where houses are close to each other and shared spaces are scarce and vibrant. It is also crucial to acknowledge that this process aims to transform the community but inevitably transforms the architect, as participant his perception changes while the process takes place. Overall, this chapter is a summary of lessons and ideas that aim to inspire future designers to engage on meaningful research for a rapidly changing urban world.

Ana Cristina Vargas


A Replicable Method

1. Finding the Place or Defining the Place How to define your search, approach a place, choose your partners and ask a public space question? Before you find the place you need to define what you are looking for.

Malvani Transit Camp, Mumbai

On your quest to find a place it is basic to look for three things: a local institution to collaborate and help make the project sustainable, a strong community interested in understanding and transforming their public spaces and a place that triggers a challenging research question related to public space. All the case studies mentioned in chapter 2 were places I looked for and found. In some cases the place might find you first and then you want to be able to define its characteristics to structure your workshop and guide the process towards a larger goal. The first step is to define the context, understand the topic of study and do background research on the site and the city where it is. It is helpful to raise questions and think about the characteristics that define it:

Julian Blanco Slum, Caracas

Is it an urban village? Is it an organically developed settlement? Is it a place in conflict? Is it a low-income community? Is it a neighborhood that needs to be preserved? It is not important to give it a name (slum, informal, organic). Different countries and languages have different meanings as explained in Chapter 1. Therefore you must define the characteristics of the place. Then, you must determine which are those that are important for the workshop: Are there public spaces? Are public spaces recognizable? Who owns the public spaces? Who uses the public spaces?

Waste pickers temporary shacks in dumping ground, Mumbai 112

The other first step is to partner with a local institution to guarantee sustainability and gain trust from the community. As an outsider Tracing Public Space

your partner can introduce you to the larger community and help you locate the children that will be part of the workshop. At the same time they are the ones that can guarantee the sustainability of the project, keep documentation and replicate the process. Some possible partners can be: Local Community Based Institutions (non-profit organization, community leaders, cooperative societies, city council) or Education Institutions (elementary schools or high schools, art schools). The institution should also provide a space within the neighborhood that is safe and accessible to all the children.

A Replicable Method

Community Local Institution Architect

After you have a site and a partner institution, you need to define who is your community. Depending on the place and the specific site you choose, the community size can be huge and abstract, or small and become your one-to-one client. The larger the community, the harder it is to have all of their individual opinions and engage them all in the process. Smaller community groups could be more engaged but they might be all very busy to participate. Beyond the size of the community, it is important to define the physical boundary of the workshop site. In Malvani this boundary was defined by the grid plan, and even though it is feasible to walk through all of the area it is very dense which meant that our community was huge. Other boundaries that can help define the area are political boundaries, socio-cultural structures or regularity of the urban form. Moreover, the urban qualities and physical organization of the selected area should contribute to a larger question about public space: is it about reclaiming public spaces, is it about reconnecting them to break a boundary or is it about making them more flexible? It is up to the designer facilitating the workshop to raise this question and explain it in detail to the children participating in the workshop.

Ana Cristina Vargas


A Replicable Method

2. Reading the Place Getting to know a neighborhood is like getting to know a person. At first we might be fascinated by its charm and its richness, or shocked by its chaos and hostility, either way you need to know them for some time to get pass your biased opinions or first impressions and construct your own image of the place or the person. Therefore, before starting a workshop I recommend to give yourself time to walk around, take notes, sketch diagrams, talk to people, take pictures and try to understand some of the internal dynamics to be able to define a research question and the spatial limits of the study. When reading the site it is important to differentiate the outsiders’ and insiders’ view. As outsider you need be sensible to your limitations, you might miss some important details or make assumptions, there are many stories lying within that can be ignored unless an insider points it out. At the same time, you have the opportunity to see a place with fresh eyes and notice special things that are normal for insiders1. It is necessary to observe the neighborhood on your own first, define a scope of research and then involve the children in the observation of specific topic of public space. When observing2 the most important thing is to ask questions about the physical and social characteristics of the place and how they relate to public spaces: Can we recognize repeating patterns or typologies within the public spaces? Which are the main social conflicts? 1

Danny Jorgensen explains these limitations: “A an outsider

looking in, you can overview a scene, noting mayor and distinctive features, relationships, patterns, process, and events. This is extremely important, because insiders do not view their world from this standpoint, and once you become even somewhat familiar with this setting, its Sequence of blocks with courtyards in the center. Malvani Transit Camp 114

initial newness and strangeness also will be lost”. Danny L Jorgensen, Participant Observation: A Methodology for Human Studies (Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1989), 57.

Tracing Public Space

What is the type of governance and how does it relate to public spaces? How is public space being used? Is the use of public space inclusive? Is public space a common good? Also, it is important to define for the place, what makes spaces public within the context. It might help to reflect on: What is Public Space? For me the premise is that public space is every place that we have unrestricted access to within our environment. Streets and plazas are always accessible but there are other spaces that might be public at certain hours like the Laundromat (as Tucker from the Jamaica Plain workshop taught me), the Coffee shop or even some private parks that open for limited hours (very common in Mumbai). There are also places, that even though they belong to the private realm, they overlook and can be looked at from the public space. These would be balconies and terraces. We usually call them intermediate spaces. They make us reflect on personal space, as Imani from Jamaica Plain says: “It’s amazing how a public space can be made so personal and simultaneously a private space being made so public”. Everyone has personal stories about public spaces they frequent, but because they belong to a bigger society other people have other stories that provide them with a sense of ownership of the space. There are also places that are good opportunities to claim and create new public spaces. Either abandoned areas, inaccessible publicly owned spaces or green spaces underutilized. For example, in the Colaba workshop all the kids were fascinated by the Sassoon Docks, they provide a rare occasion for a nice sea view, which might sound absurd when you look at this area from a map and realize it is all surrounded by water. Another example is green open spaces that are remnants from modern public housing. Juan Manuel (12 year-old) from Petare photographed these spaces and kept explaining how by adding a little bench here and there they could become public space. Ana Cristina Vargas

A Replicable Method

filter: paths and open spaces

relate to edges: paths and open spaces

spatial transit system: paths and open spaces

Finding a stair-path pattern in organic slum. movement of goods: collect garbage

continuity: scape route in case of risk new social relations

new opportunities

Laundromat in Jamaica Plain by Tucker

Juan Manuel’s image of possible public space 115

A Replicable Method

3. Tracing its Public Spaces This step is about the first part of the workshop. Every workshop needs to start with an introductory class, which defines the scope of the workshop and introduces the steps of observation: photographing, mapping and measuring. Each one of these steps is supported by a set of tools. If they can keep the tools, they can practice and improve their skills after the workshop. Before you get started with the workshop it is important to reflect on the following logistics:

Basic Toolkit

1. Build the team: In my experience working with 10 children with one architect is the limit. Beyond this number it gets very hard to give each person the attention they require. Nonetheless, if its required to work with more children two or more designes can help facilitate the process. The ideal age according to psychologists is between 11 and 14 years old3, but this may vary in different contexts. 2. Set a place to work: The place needs to be accessible to all within the area of study. It should have basic amenities like electricity and be safe. 3. Language of instruction: when working in countries were you don’t speak the language you need to work with children that speak one of the language that you speak. Translating takes too long and you can easily loose the children’s attention. Therefore, if 3

According to Jean Piaget, between the ages of 11 and 14,

children are in the “Formal Operational Stage”. In this stage, the child can make and use abstractions and formal operations, develop the ability to speculate propositions contrary to the facts, and formulate hypotheses. The child may come to consider possibilities that have not been experienced and form ideals that might be detached from reality. Mastering formal operations makes him capable to adapt to problems and be flexible in reasoning.Harry Beilin, “Piaget’s Enduring Contribution to Developmental Psychology.,” Developmental Psychology 28, no. 116






doi: Tracing Public Space

there is not one common language between the participants and the architect, then someone else needs to facilitate the process. Regardless of the language it is very important to be cautious with vocabulary. Certain words might have different meanings in different contexts or the children might have different words for the same thing4.v 4. Teaching: In my case my previous teaching education was informally developed through ten years of working in summer camps, a year and half of teaching undergraduates in architecture and the Teaching Certificate at MIT. Nonetheless, I was lucky to work on the side with people that had been teaching the same age group for a longer period of time5. Pedagogical skills are very important in this process; also it takes time and experience to master them.

A Replicable Method

Susannah Lawrence, artist and teacher from The Urban Project during our Jamaica Plain workshop

5. Identity: The identity of a place is only made by the sum of its people and public spaces are usually an expression of identity. Therefore, I think it is important that the children understand from the beginning that beyond public space, we set off to find the communities’ identity as a group. Each of the participants gets a bag with a letter; together they spell the word IDENTITY. Each of them is essential for the success of our project, because they all have different views of their community. This concept hopefully makes them think twice to drop the workshop because as soon as they embark on it they are part of a team project. The first class needs to help define the observation objective, if this definition is too loose or open, the results might be ambiguous 4

For example in Malvani I would talk about ‘urban blocks’, but

the children would call them ‘plots’ because that is how they are define, ‘plots’ (for blocks) with ‘rooms’ (for parcels). Also, what I referred to as ‘courtyards’ they called it ‘space around the toilet’. 5 In the case of Malvani, Swapneel Rahe, who was a Teach for India Fellow who was eager to clarify my instructions or suggest ideas on how to deliver a message. Also, in the case of Jamaica Plain, Susannah Lawrence artist and teacher helped me develop pedagogical

I D E N T I T Y bags

strategies to engage children in the workshop. Ana Cristina Vargas


A Replicable Method

or hard to define. An introductory session shall be about public spaces and how to use the camera and the map to represent them. What Makes the Space Public? The type of public space chosen should be defined. It is necessary to explain which is its role in the larger urban plan, what typically defines the edges, what constitutes the space and which are its main dwellers. This process should be done with images as illustrative examples of broader characteristics. Photographic Composition

“Framing Tool”

“It was important to keep in mind how to frame the picture, either including or excluding specific aspects of the environment around the subject for a purposeful reason.” Lissi (JP, Boston) We start by defining roughly what is photographic composition. What makes a good composition and how depending on the way we frame a picture we can express different messages. I designed a cardboard camera, which I also call “the framing tool”. The idea of the tool is to practice framing instead of aiming. The popularity of digital photography has trained us to aim by clicking endlessly forgetting that as Henri Cartier-Bresson said ‘good pictures are between clicks’. With the framing tool I ask them to look around the room, or walk outside and look for something special they would like to capture, then take their framing tool and make a good composition that shows that object within its context. Then, when they have a composition we click the real picture through their frame. As homework, to practice this method they have to write down what they see through the frame. They have to narrate the image they are composing. This way, their images must be meaningful to them, because it’s boring to write about a bad picture.


Tracing Public Space

Mapping Individual Cognitive Maps: On the first workshop I asked them to draw a map from their house to their school. A route that is familiar and easy to remember on the spot. I ask them to write or draw all the important places that they pass by on their way. Those places that make their walking trail more interesting. The results are fascinating; they usually bring in much more things than what they were asked for. One of my favorite examples is Juan Manuel’s map (see map) he decided to color code it according to the areas where he felt safest. 6

His own description: “This is a map I made up, it might exist as it is here. The green areas are where I feel safe. I have free access. The green line is where I usually walk. This is my house (it says Juan). The yellow line is the road that I occasionally pass by. The shops (bodegas) are places marked in green outside are places where I usually shop. The blue roads are the ones that I never pass by. The areas marked in black are where there is a lot of violence. Around my school there are shootings when you least expect it. In that case we cover ourselves. What would make this place safer? They should put police presence, that might make this area more ‘green’ not all of it because ‘malandros son alzados’. They should fix the hospital a bit. What about the empty area? They are building houses there now. When they are done I will make a new map tracing this one and including the new construction. Maps are never the same. Cities always change.

A Replicable Method

Juan Manuel’s Map

Naresh’s detailed Map

Juan Manuel’s map has many interrogation marks meaning he does not know who lives there. But Naresh’s map of Colaba is a fascinating detailed map of every shop and detail of his community. He asked me to repeat the exercise with more time and has been the person that has engaged the most with this activity. His work shows a unique representation of his community, it is about the 6

Most of the workshops I have done I have a base map which

we detail as we find information of the public spaces. In case of not having a base map or having one that is not clear enough (google maps) I recommend to try balloon mapping or drone photography techniques. Although it is likely that in a near future more accurate satellite images will be available. Ana Cristina Vargas

Map to trace with string


A Replicable Method

empirical knowledge of the place. It tells a story that his not written elsewhere. As a follow-up exercise it helps to project the real map of the place on the wall and as a group find landmarks in the map. Then, trace those places in a sheet of paper hanged on the wall where the map is projected. When you turn off the projection you will see how much of the city they collectively know. This exercise encourages the children to register all the missing parts with their cameras.

“Collective Map in process�

Individual Base Maps: The transition between the cognitive

Setting up the Petare Exhibit


Drawing on projected maps

Tracing Public Space

maps and using the base map might be harder from some children than for other. The most important thing is to consider that for them to familiarize with the map they need to locate elements from their cognitive maps in the base map. They also need to walk with the map and continuously locate new landmarks or references. The individual base map can be given in many ways. The two versions I use are:

A Replicable Method

1. Print the map on paper to attach on a cardboard surface. Give them pins and a color string so they can ‘trace’ their walking trails on this board. The board allows flexibility to retrace as any times as they want to. 2. Other option is give them a stencil with the base map and allow them to draw it as many times as needed on their notebooks or on their bags so they can stick them with their findings. Walking: Mapping, Photographing and Measuring Once they have grasped mapping and photographic composition they go out to walk and register their neighborhoods’ public spaces. The time they spend photographing may vary from a day to two weeks (the longer the better results). It is important to print the pictures and have them write captions to support their photographic composition. At the same time, each public space they photographed needs to be recorded in the map (to make a collective map) and basic characteristics written7. Also, important measures that will be helpful for the design phase should be written. This process can be easy using smartphone apps that collect data with geo-location, such as Fulcrum App. Exhibit: With all the information gathered, you can share the collective map and the images with the community. It is important that the children explain their work and start to feel empowered to transform their communities. Setting up their work as an exhibit is a useful way of gathering as many community members as possible to get their feed back and options for the following steps. 7

In the case of Malwani the main study was about availability

of space and activities, therefore the written information was related to this. Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

4. Advocating the Place After collecting images and information from the ‘Tracing the Space’ step it is important that you, as the curator of the process, compile everything in one document. I find it useful to do it reproduce the images and information in the form of a booklet that also brings new questions and information to workshop8. The book can be accompanied by a typological representation of the public space being studied. For Malvani, it was a miniature version of the urban block to explain the importance of the courtyards. Maybe for a favela the public space chosen may be the common stairs or corridors, and then the representation needs to be a topographic model in order to explain the different slopes of the stairs.

Shaheen explaining “Tracing Public Space” to a neighbor in Malvani

Essentially, the booklet and the model are tools for the children to explain the knowledge acquired during the previous step in order to inspect and survey the community by visiting their houses. The surveys should collect data that is quantifiable so that by adding it up you may be able to have a general understanding. Nonetheless, it is inspiring to listen to particular stories that the children may bring from the surveys and can start interesting discussions. The results from these steps should be summarized as key findings that can help guide the steps to follow.


Find an example of the Malvani booklet in the appendix.

Ana Cristina Vargas

Next page: Non- Participant Children looking at the workshop exhibit in Malwani


A Replicable Method

5. Re-Imagining the Place This step is about narrowing the scope of the study, bringing it from an urban scale to an architectural scale. It requires focusing on one to three spaces that can represent a variety within the public spaces. For example going back to the stairs in the favelas, they can choose three types of stairs with different slopes. The general mapping needs to be done in order to understand the elements that define the space. In Malvani we used a classic architecture model, I brought the pieces and it was easy to assemble but we could think beyond small-scale representation. It could be about making real scale mapping. For example, in the spirit of Christo and Jean Claude we could use fabric to wrap the houses around the space and perceive the 3 dimensional quality of the public space. Another idea, is to use color tapes or chalk to draw the different kinds of edge of space on the floor. Real scale mock-ups can help devise some of the ideas that could take place within the space.

Using foam blocks to map the space


Overall, these ideas should improve the space by making it more democratic and inclusive. It should be a strategy to translate the needs and desires expressed by the community into spatial interventions or objects.

Tracing Public Space

6. Designing the Place

A Replicable Method

The goal of this step within the process is to design components and spatial interventions that could help transform the space. They must be a result from the findings of the previous steps. I encourage you to develop your own toolkit in order to facilitate the design process. My toolbox was made of cardboard pieces, it was convenient because it can be laser cut anywhere and reproduced easily. The tools where surfaces and sticks, but they could be: clay, foam blocks or Lego pieces. It might be interesting to design a 1:1 scale toolkit that allows you to prototype ideas as real size mockups. The important thing is to remember that the children cannot learn five years of architecture skills in a day or a week. It is important to accept that skills take many hours of practice. It is about using your architecture skills to build a framework, in the form of tools that allow the kids to design.

Discovering ways to use the toolkit

When designing the toolbox, its important to have in mind that the pieces used should allow several combination alternatives, because other people will think of making unimaginable objects. At the same time, by designing the tools, remember you are setting certain limitations for the design process. For example, I can’t imagine making a geodesic dome out of Lego pieces. Nonetheless, bear in mind that constraints trigger creativity9 and limiting the design possibilities might bring some innovative ideas. The hardest step of enabling a design process is to push creative thinking to the limits and have the children invent new things. Only by doing several iterations of the design phase they will refine their ideas. Therefore, I would plan to give as much time as possible to this phase. All the models, mockups, drawings and ideas should be shared with the community. The children should be responsible for explaining their own work.


Through my design experiences I have realized that when I am

given design constraints it is easier to innovate, to try to find loopholes through the limits. Future research on this topic is relevant for this process. Ana Cristina Vargas


A Replicable Method

7. Prototyping the Place This step is about demonstrating how change can happen. It is primarily a pedagogical step to materialize ideas in the real space and transform the way the children perceive change. It is about allowing them to have the realization that they can drive a process of change, that they have the tools, they have developed the skills, they have a voice to advocate for public spaces and finally they can make a change happen. In the Malwani case, we had very little time; it was a small prototype of a process of cleaning the space. Nonetheless, in other cases it can be about building a refined version of one of the designs from the previous steps. It could be anything that is a meaningful demonstration of what the children are able to accomplish after going through the workshop. As an architect, I think it is important to remember that this prototype might seem small or simple. It might be different from our personal ambitions, but as long as it is meaningful to the community and it can be replicated to initiate a transformative process, then it is indeed prototyping for the place.


Tracing Public Space

8. Transforming the Place

A Replicable Method

To transform a place takes time, it is not about a moment gesture. It is about developing with the community a long-term transformation process. I believe there are three elements to achieve this kind of transformation: the first is to empower the children by building the process out of replicable ideas, children should be able to use the tools to practice their skills and create on their own; second the community needs to take ownership of the space by being involved in every step of the process; and third the intervention should be a clear outcome of the community’s needs and desires.

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Conclusion: Towards a New Urban Pedagogy

The most valuable lesson from this process has been to recognize that transformation of public spaces needs to be understood as a process beyond physical design. It is about how we engage people in the process to allow them to think differently about their communities. It is about converting the owners of the space into agents of their own transformative process. Finally, it is about conceiving a design process that looks more like a cycle; where we, as designers, have the opportunity to guide it and the responsibility to teach the skills to keep this process going without us. This type of process is about recognizing that our traditional design ideas might not be relevant to a community, and that we can only be innovative if we embrace the social realities of public spaces, and not impose our pre-conceived solutions. Simultaneously, we need to motivate communities to change their perceptions of what is possible. It is about asking them to look again to what seems familiar and unchangeable, to be brave, bold, and creative and imagine it differently. My core argument rests on the belief that we need to rely on children’s natural and positive imagination to propose new ideas that can come to life through their community’s resources. As designers, we need to remember that we are always faced with constraints and these will trigger, not limit, our creativity. We need to remember that the children will grow-up and hopefully remember to look twice at their public spaces, because these Ana Cristina Vargas



spaces can be changed and they know how to make it happen. However, it is important to keep in mind that to extend the work beyond ten children, in one community and in one city; it is crucial to think how this process can be scaled to address a larger society in the rapidly growing urbanized world, where 33% of the people live in slums. It is a global challenge to start thinking how top-down agencies can understand that teaching this design methodology step by step to children and even adults can have an enormous impact on achieving urban transformation. We need to understand that once we learn how to share those spaces we build democracy; because in the long run, urbanization means sharing more space and resources and we need to learn how to manage them. Public space will connect us as a society to solve pressing problems and gain resilience to disaster, access to water, management of waste, and an end to urban violence. More than anything, we need to accept our role as educators in society, and introduce new teaching methods -- just as Maria Montessori introduced her “scientific pedagogy”1 with one school and her methodology spread throughout the world; or Venezuelan Maestro José Antonio Abreu initiated his “El Sistema”2 methodology, not only to transform the lives of local children through music, but by creating a system that has been replicated by musicians who emerged from his school and then went on to


1 There are about 7,000 Montessori Schools worldwide, “The fundamental principles upon which the Montessori method is based are, (1) individual training; (2) freedom of action and of initiative on the part of the children; (3) the training of the sense; (4) physical training in connection with intellectual education; and (5) social training as part of regular school activities.”(O’Shea 1912, 392) 2 “El Sistema is Venezuela’s publicly financed music education program. It reaches everyone from children in the slums to convicts. Around 350,000 children, mostly from impoverished backgrounds, take part in its music schools. Founded in 1975 by musician-economist Jose Antonio Abreu, the name is short for -Fundacion del Estado para el Sistema Nacional de las Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela-.”(Miller 2012, 1) Tracing Public Space

spread the method around the world. In both cases, they created an education system that adopted a new procedure of teaching under the belief that learning things differently can transform people. However, these approaches are within educational settings mostly separated from context (inside a classroom). My case will emphasize the need to develop the workshops in-situ, because they depend on being on the ground to perceive the space and to fully embrace it. Therefore, for future work I propose to spread the Tracing Public Space methodology by training fellow designers to become agents of change and allowing them to teach others to multiply the knowledge and the skills. If the Malvani workshop impacted ten active participants and around 100 people in one community, what could happen if I where to train ten architects to develop the same process? Then, the impact would be ten times bigger, and those ten could teach a hundred and keep on multiplying the process.


Finally, it is about understanding that we see when we observe, we perceive when we participate, we learn when we do, and we are when we act. So, think about what you can teach and inspire others to observe, do, participate and act, and become the architect of your own process, because time is running and the world is waiting.

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space


Angel, Shlomo, and Somsook Boonyabancha. “Land Sharing as an Alternative to Eviction: The Bangkok Experience.” Third World Planning Review 10, no. 2 (1988): 107–27. Aravena, Alejandro, Andrés Iacobelli, and Chile) Elemental (Firm : Santiago. Elemental: manual de vivienda incremental y diseño participativo = incremental housing and participatory design manual. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2012. Beilin, Harry. “Piaget’s Enduring Contribution to Developmental Psychology.” Developmental Psychology 28, no. 2 (March 1992): 191–204. doi: Burdett, Richard, Deyan Sudjic, London School of Economics and Political Science, and Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft für Internationalen Dialog. Living in the Endless City: The Urban Age Project by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society. London: Phaidon Press Ltd, 2011. Burke, Edmund M. A Participatory Approach to Urban Planning. New York: Human Sciences Press, 1979. Capresi, Vittoria, and Barbara Pampe. Learn Move Play Ground: How to Improve Playgrounds through Participation, 2013. Cities Alliance. Cities Alliance Cities without Slums. [S.l.]: Cities Alliance, 2008. “Cities Without Slums Action Plan | Cities Alliance,” August 9, 2011. Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums. London; New York: Verso, 2006. Friedman, Yona. Pro Domo. Barcelona: Actar, 2006. Gehl, Jan. Life between Buildings: Using Public Space. New York: Ana Cristina Vargas




Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987. Gehl, Jan, and Birgitte Svarre. How to Study Public Life, 2013. Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Boston: Little, Brown, 2000. Habraken, N. J, and Jonathan Teicher. The Structure of the Ordinary: Form and Control in the Built Environment. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998. Hertzberger, Herman, Vibeke Gieskes, and Daphna Beerdsen. The Future of Architecture. Rotterdam: NAI010 Publishers, 2013. Howe, Jeff. Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business. New York: Crown Business, 2009. Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961. Jorgensen, Danny L. Participant Observation: A Methodology for Human Studies. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1989. Lewitt, Sol. Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings. Bologna, Italy; Paris: Damiani, 2006. Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1960. Miller, Sarah Bryan. “Venezuela’s El Sistema Instills Love of Music at a Young Age.” McClatchy - Tribune Business News. June 10, 2012. docview/1019547597/F340268B55B54F06PQ/2?account id=12492. O’Carroll, Eoin. “Maria Montessori: Is the Montessori Method Any Good?” The Christian Science Monitor. August 31, 2012, sec. NEWS. O’Shea, M. V. “The Montessori Method of Teaching.” The Dial; a Semi - Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information (1880-1929), May 16, 1912. Peattie, Lisa. The View from the Barrio. First Edition edition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968. Peattie, Lisa Redfield. Planning, Rethinking Ciudad Guayana. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987. Peirce, Neal R, Curtis W Johnson, Peters, and Rockefeller Foundation. Century of the City: No Time to Lose. New York: Rockefeller Foundation, 2008. Rosa, Marcos L. Handmade Urbanism: From Community Initiatives to Participatory Models : Mumbai, São Paulo, Istanbul, Mexico City, Cape Town. Berlin: Jovis, 2013. Tracing Public Space

Bibliography Shannon, Kelly, and Janina Gosseye. Reclaiming (the Urbanism Of) Mumbai. Amsterdam: SUN Academia, 2009. Sinha, Sumita. Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Earthscan from Routledge, 2012. “Slum Studies.” CRIT. Accessed May 18, 2014. initiatives/housing/slum-studies/. Smith, Cynthia E. Design with the Other 90%: Cities. New York: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, 2011. Soto, Hernando De. The Other Path. Reprint edition. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Spirn, Anne Whiston. The Language of Landscape. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. United Nations Human Settlements Programme. The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements, 2003. London; Sterling, VA: Earthscan Publications, 2003. Welch, Jill K., Danny L. Jorgensen, and David M. Fetterman. “Participant Observation: A Methodology for Human Studies.” The Modern Language Journal 74, no. 1 (1990): 87. doi:10.2307/327947. Whyte, William Foote. Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1955. Whyte, William Hollingsworth. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington, D.C.: Conservation Foundation, 1980. Zeisel, John. Inquiry by Design: Environment/behavior/ neuroscience in Architecture, Interiors, Landscape, and Planning. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2006.

Ana Cristina Vargas


Bibliography Shannon, Kelly, and Janina Gosseye. Reclaiming (the Urbanism Of) Mumbai. Amsterdam: SUN Academia, 2009. Sinha, Sumita. Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources. Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Earthscan from Routledge, 2012. “Slum Studies.” CRIT. Accessed May 18, 2014. initiatives/housing/slum-studies/. Smith, Cynthia E. Design with the Other 90%: Cities. New York: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, 2011. Soto, Hernando De. The Other Path. Reprint edition. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Spirn, Anne Whiston. The Language of Landscape. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. United Nations Human Settlements Programme. The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements, 2003. London; Sterling, VA: Earthscan Publications, 2003. Welch, Jill K., Danny L. Jorgensen, and David M. Fetterman. “Participant Observation: A Methodology for Human Studies.” The Modern Language Journal 74, no. 1 (1990): 87. doi:10.2307/327947. Whyte, William Foote. Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1955. Whyte, William Hollingsworth. The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Washington, D.C.: Conservation Foundation, 1980. Zeisel, John. Inquiry by Design: Environment/behavior/ neuroscience in Architecture, Interiors, Landscape, and Planning. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2006.

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

APPENDIX: Malvani Fieldbook Permission Forms Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas



Tracing Public Space

Ana Cristina Vargas


Tracing Public Space  

Graduate thesis for the Master of Science in Architecture at MIT by Ana Vargas

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you