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What are the roles and responsibilities of architectural interventions attempting to integrate disempowered communities into modern society with respect to preserving or revitalising cultural identity?


Last summer I volunteered to take part in a participatory construction project in Romania, aimed at lifting the standard of living of a particularly disempowered community: the Romani gypsies. The project was not run by an architectural or a governmental scheme, but by a Christian charity, FAST, set up by a Romanian, Daniel Hristea. In this paper I will attempt to analyse and evaluate the roles and responsibilities of participants in intervention projects with disempowered communities. I will use my first hand experience of the specific complex situation of the Romani to illustrate several contrasting theories.


Naive preconceptions replaced by meeting the Romani children from a village in Tarlungheni


Prologue In the first year of my architecture degree at the University of Sheffield I attended presentations about the Live Projects carried out by the MArch students. In contrast to the conceptual and social theories that I was just beginning to digest through our lectures and hypothetical studio work, these were projects about doing, ie. actually intervening with real people and their environment by architectural means. The presentations gave an insight into projects involving real human beings and communities, in adherence with the real constraints of time and budget as opposed to hypothetical projects without limits. A project that particularly caught my attention was presented with a colourful display of photographs depicting the Romani children residing in Romanian villages. This related to an existing project called Better Homes, set up by the charity organisation FAST who focus their attention on ‘fighting against poverty through education.’ From a young age I was aware of the term ‘gypsies’ being a generalised label given to groups of travelling people who inhabit caravans, though I used it with little understanding of nomadic culture. Coming from Liverpool, the only ‘gypsies’ I had any contact with were the Irish gypsies often referred to as ‘tinkers’; a term which was commonly used in my childhood as an affectionate name given to a naughty child. The connection between the Irish gypsies and mischief was therefore firmly embedded in my subconscious. The only other link I had with this social group was through one of my ancestors; my great great grandad, who owned a fairground and who lived in a caravan his whole life, refusing to conform to the norms of modern society by living in an ordinary terraced house. My perception of a gypsy was somewhat romanticised and similar to that of folklore characters, who are detached from realities of contemporary society, and aroused the wonder and intrigue of fairy tales. This naïve preconception was altered by the Live Project presentation, as I learnt of the historical persecution of, and discrimination against, the ‘gypsy’ people and the reality of their lives today.


The MArch students introduced these people by using their ethnic name ‘Romani,’ cutting away the fairy tale character connotations and instead distinguishing them as a real group of people. The students related their actions in Romania, assisting in the Better Homes scheme by acting as additional labourers and designing and building a kindergarten attached to the new school for the Romani people. It allowed the viewer to see the potential of creating something which had a positive influence on a community within a short amount of time and with a low budget. By the end of second year, I felt the need to put the strong research carried out in the university to practical use. Using the existing connections set up by the older students, I decided to participate in the Better Home project to see what I could offer. Before going to Romania we were uncertain as to what role we would play when we were there, considering that we were entering an existing project and were far less qualified than the MArch students we were following. We wondered if our architectural skill would actually be needed, if we were to be designers or construction workers. We were unsure what the intensity of the relationship would be between us and the Romani people, not knowing how much time we would spend with them and whether the language barrier would make communication difficult. On arrival in Bucharest we were picked up by Liz, the English volunteer coordinator of FAST who gave us a simple clear description of the organisation; who was involved in it and what it aimed to achieve through the new housing and education program. She gave us an insight into the main characters involved in the organisation, such as the founder Daniel Hristea. Daniel is held in great esteem by the Romani communities as he has provided them with positive and effective help over a number of years. He has built up a good relationship with them, built on trust and a mutual respect. Just before we arrived at our accommodation in Sacele, we drove past the Romani


village, Garcin, giving us a first-hand glimpse of this group of people and their poor living conditions. As we passed through the village Liz remarked that, ‘this would be the worst place to break down’, explaining that this village was the most hostile of all the villages, and even Daniel had only entered a few times to try and communicate with them. It gave us a sudden realisation that the situation the scheme was attempting to intervene with, was extremely complex. Before, we had assumed, perhaps naively, that any helpful intervention would be simply and gratefully accepted by the communities. However, despite the good intentions of the project it still presented some dangers and tensions for the participants and organisers. We then looked more closely at the people of this village and I think we subconsciously read defensive and even hostile expressions in their faces as they looked on at the traffic. This was the beginning of a new awareness in us of the unusual social characteristics of the Romani people within the wider society owing to their history of persecution and discrimination.

We soon arrived at the social centre where we were to stay for two weeks during our Better Homes experience. This building reveals a lot about how and why the organisation works so well as it allows a hybrid of activities to work together under the same roof. It was constructed by Daniel and a team of helpers, shaped around the functions inside. It epitomised the philosophy of the leaders of this scheme, which was - be pro active and do it yourself. After a tour of the building it was clear what programmes took place within it. The education project which brings in the Roma children to learn and play, has a generous space lined with shelves of toys accompanied by a small stage covered in musical instruments for the use of the teachers. These instruments are also used by Daniel and his family to entertain the volunteers staying there. The space doubles up as a canteen for the workers of the Better Homes project who eat there at lunchtime in between the two education classes. As well as this, the building facilitates a hostel for the volunteers helping with the different projects, providing a kitchen, bedrooms,


The community centre and the multiple functions it accommodates.


internet access and bathrooms. It also provides accommodation for the central operations of the organisation, such as organising funding, volunteers etc. It was clear that the individual projects run by FAST are not separate entities but form part of an integral whole with one overall aim: to improve the standard of living of the Romani people through education. We were then introduced to Daniel and Ema, a married couple who set up FAST after working in several different orphanages together and witnessing first hand the consequences the Communist regime had brought upon several disempowered groups in their home country, Romania. Responding to our questions, Daniel gave us a brief insight into the Roma people and their past to give us to have a basic understanding of how they have arrived at this unfortunate position. He was determined to sweep away any negative misconceptions and perceptions of their reputation that the majority of society appear to have. The volunteers came from many diverse backgrounds and starting points, for example, there was a group of English girl guides who came with their leader who have returned to the cause on numerous occasions to help with the education program; university students such as ourselves; people with highly paid jobs, unrelated to architecture, from America, who were seeking to do something worthwhile in their summer holiday. This consistent support from the wider international society assists in empowering the Romani communities, as they recognise their dedication to their welfare. It was interesting to see the different groups of people arriving from different backgrounds and organisational routes but all with a common purpose. At this point our role within the Better Homes project became clearer as we realised we were to act as pure labour attending to the immediate aid of providing sufficient shelter for these communities. It appeared that our architectural skill was not needed at this point, as clearly any person willing to work hard was able to carry out the task. On the first day we were taken to the village at 9am by Daniel which was about


ten minutes away from the community centre. Daniel briefly introduced us to the team of Romani workers: Peter, who had the most experience in construction and therefore lead the work from within the village; George and Avram, the apprentices of Peter, who were gaining knowledge and experience with the hope of gaining employment in the construction industry later on; and the family whose house we were to work on that day. He gave us the itinerary of the day, which was to assemble the roof of the house; the volunteers and the men of the family assisted the workers in lifting the trusses, a task which required a large group of people. It was clear that our labour was needed to speed up the process, and this displayed the need for a consistent number of volunteers to help throughout the year. According to Liz: “We start to get busy between March and September, and even more so in the summer months and yes we do get a lot of volunteers revisiting, so they become good friends and often long time supporters. They tend to go back and raise funds for us through various methods, which is great, since we are solely supported by donations.� It is important to continually make progress with the completion of houses to keep up the morale of the community. Since leaving the project the organisation has set up a Facebook page and updated their website in an attempt extend methods of gaining volunteers through word of mouth, Facebook being extremely successful in social networking on the internet. The usual routine of the day was to be taken to the villages of either Tarlungheni or Zizin at 9am, to work on a variation of houses, until being taking back to the centre for lunch (which was included in our accommodation fee) provided by Ema or the women from the Romani communities. After lunch it was back to work at the villages for another few hours, to then be taken back to the centre for the evening. The whole working day was broken up, making it hard to submerge ourselves both into the atmosphere of the village and the task in hand. We would be starting to


One of the Roma villagers, Avram who is part of the construction team, assisting the assembly of a roof truss.


TARLUNGHENI ZIZIN

Map showing distance between the accommodation center and the two villages that we worked in.


form a relationship with the people of the village - mainly the children because of their natural curiosity were more willing to make contact and less inhibited about approaching us - when the minibus would whisk us away to the neutral environment of the centre, detaching us from the communities. As the days went on and we became more comfortable we started to eat lunch prepared by George’s wife Simona at their house, which we were helping to complete. This gave us an insight into the way they lived in these new houses. It was clear they took pride in being hosts to their guests. Having a continuous day made a difference to our attitude whilst working in the villages, as we made more effort to build up relationships with the workers and their families, despite the language barrier. The second floor of George’s house was to become accommodation for volunteers working for the Better Homes project, to replace the rooms in the centre. When complete this will enable a continuous day to become a continuous week, fortnight or month, depending on the length of stay, and allow a more efficient use of the time there but also having the benefit of further strengthening the relationship between volunteers and the Romani people. Daniel taught George just enough words of English to be able to direct the volunteers. The restrictive language barrier made it hard a times to do the task exactly how George wanted it to be done, causing us to have to redo certain parts. There were times at the start when I wondered if we were causing more problems than solutions, as we were not speeding up the process. However, towards the end of our time there our skills had improved and we were able to get on with the task without the input of George or the other workers. This, along with the fact that we volunteers and the Romani workers had become a strong co-operative team, meant that if we had been able to stay longer our labour could have been put to better use. (The reasons for our short-term visit were simply financial, as we were unable to stay without incoming funds.) Also, just as we thought our architectural skills were not required at all, Daniel needed to solve a problem concerning the arrangement of rooms around a chimney to gain the most efficient heating system. We took a


day out of labouring to tend to the problem, eventually coming up with a solution that Daniel seemed pleased with. This raises the questions of both how a project such as Better Homes can sustain a continuous flow of long-term committed volunteers to enable a higher rate of progression, and also of how to retain volunteers with a level of expertise. Whilst we were working on the project it was visited by a group of one of their main fundraisers, a Rotary Club from England, who regularly visit to check the progress of the project. We joined them for a tour around the school that they had helped to fund over several years, where they movingly explained why they commit time and money to the cause. Over a decade ago they had witnessed the horrific circumstances that the Romani people found themselves in as a consequence of their history of slavery, holocaust, deportation and previous subordination. This charitable organisation, coming from a culture founded on Western democratic ideals, used emotive language when talking about the Romani history. They had however no day to day involvement with the work, taking the more detached role of observers and fundraisers for the project with no day to day involvement. In contrast Daniel related the Romani people’s situation more matter-of-factly as it was life as he knew it. He simply recognises what is unjust and then chooses how to be pro active about it.


My growing awareness of the background to the Romani people’s plight developed from the different perspectives, given by various sources throughout my experience. This triggered my motivation to delve deeper into the cultural past of the Romani people, to help gain a thorough understanding of the complex history that has determined their fate.


A Romani woman and her children in front of a typical ‘shanty’ hut.


“Identity is not static but something that is constantly shaped and reconstructed”

The Romani gypsies are a unique social group given their nomadic cultural past, and are believed to have originally migrated from the Indian subcontinent. The villages involved in the Better Homes project are four of many Romani communities living in difficult situations all over Romania and the rest of Europe. They are classed as a communities suffering extreme housing poverty. These communities generally live in villages classed as ‘shantytowns’ which are segregated from the established residential areas of the town or city. These shantytowns consist of shacks made of the discarded materials of the dominant society of the area. The type of materials used will vary depending on what the surrounding environment provides in its waste. According to Will Guy the writer of ‘Between Past and Future: the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe’, “Identity is not static but something that is constantly shaped and reconstructed”1. Romani villages change in relation to the different environments they settle within. The dependence of the Roma people on the wider society that surrounds them is deeply significant because it has lead to the subordination of their own culture and continues to do so. The temporary patchwork solutions to shelter, and lack of solid foundations reflect the loose attachment the Romani people have to their settlement area. According to the writers of ‘Housing and Extreme Poverty’, ‘their houses act as a determinant factor of social exclusion’2. They are repeatedly uprooted and moved along due to various conflicts with the wider communities, requiring them to constantly adjust and adapt to new environments. Most commonly a fear of racial attacks prompt the Roma communities to flee to another place. 1Will Guy, Between Past and Future: the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe (London: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2001) p.5. 2Catalin, Berescu, Marian Celac, and Cosmin Manolache, Housing and Extreme Poverty: The Case of the Roma (Bucharest: Printing House of the University of Architecture, 2006), p.21.


According to Yi Fu Tuan, ‘A neighbourhood’s architectural distinctiveness has in itself an effect on group identity’1. Hence the poor quality construction of the shacks allow outsiders of the community to identify the Roma as having a lower status within society. The appearance and interior layout of a dwelling ‘expresses the level of income, aspirations and education’2 especially when one visits the dwelling and is able to assess ‘cleanliness, the presence of formal and access spaces, storage and spaces for body care’.3 It enables the wider society to continue to suppress this group of people and their culture as they are easily identified and undeniably disempowered, making it easy to keep control over them and keep them marginalised. Like the shacks that they build for themselves, the location of their villages are the scraps of land that the dominant society do not want. This they are generally always linked to the residual spaces of the town or city that they inhabit such as the fringes of a town, near pollution and bad sanitation. According to the writer of ‘Geographies of Exclusion’, David Sibley, ‘... the dominant society consign the Roma people to these spaces, as stereotypical associations with this community and slum culture are already confirmed’4 This reduces the Roma people to a vicious cycle from which they find it difficult to escape from. The Romani villages, like the ‘slums’ around the world, suffer terrible living conditions with insufficient sanitation. This increases the distance between poor settlers and the wealthier inhabitants of the area who do not wish to be associated with or be in close proximity to the ‘polluted’ area. The villages of Tarlungheni and Zizin are referred to as having a ‘satellite position’ to the main settlement as they are well connected but the ‘spatial segregation betrays marginalisation and exclusion’5.

1Yi Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience ( London: Edward Arnold Publishers) Ltd, 1977) p.171. 2 Berescu, Celac and Manolache, op.cit. p.93. 3Loc.cit. 4David Sibley Geographies of Exclusion (London: Routledge 1995) p.45. 5 Berescu, Celac and Manolache, op.cit. p.30.


In Yi Fu Tuan’s analysis of neighbourhoods referring to Herbert Gans study of Boston’s West End he observed, ‘Through day to day visual experience the inhabitants know when and where they have crossed the line from a region that is ‘us’ to ‘them’1. This equally applies to the Roma villages in Romania, where there is a clear distinction between: the lean-to huts within villages that lack solid boundaries and are covered in human and animal waste; and the clean facades of dwellings territorially organised by orderly fences, that are inhabited by the wider society. The distinction creates a clear boundary (even though it isn’t physical) between the two groups. This segregation has evolved over time and is a consistent recurring pattern in the appearance of the Roma dwellings. The distinction is so marked that when newcomers enter the village, they are extremely noticeable and in some villages they are not welcome. It is the desire to remove this visual barrier and ameliorate the wider community’s negative perception of the Romani community which is based on deep rooted prejudice which has prompted intervening projects such as Better Homes.

1Yi Fu Tuan, op.cit. p.171..


Horse and cart, commonly used in the villages in front of a new house constructed with the help of the Better Homes project.


Between Past and Future The cultural identity of the Romani people is hard to pin down owing to their nomadic past and history of constant oppression by the dominant societies of the areas where they have tried to settle. David Sibley opines that the ‘dominant aspect of Romani identity is social rather than ethnic’1 that is in his opinion the conflicts and differences between the Romani and the non-Romani are based upon their social behaviour or perceived reputation rather than their inherent ethnicity. Sibley explains that Romani culture is not a ‘unique and isolated entity’2 as it ‘arises out of and is a response to the nature of the symbiotic relationships between Roma and the wider majority communities, on which they have depended on for their livelihood’3. Berescu explains their poor situation, ‘is the result of the forgotten heritage of the period of Romani slavery and at the same time of transition difficulties’4. Just as the Roma people build their houses from the scraps and waste of the society that they settle next to, they also acquire the cultural ways of the surrounding society, constantly adapting and changing as they move onto different locations. It could be said that their ability to adapt is essentially a major part of their culture. This is argued by the theoreticians Mirga and Gheorghe who wrote, ‘Always immersed in other cultures, Romani life has been characterised by ongoing adjustment and adaptation to changing environment’.5 The treatment of the Romani people has varied within different areas in Europe and different periods of time. Nicolae Gheorghe talks of how the Romani people 1Yi Fu Tuan, op.cit. p.171. 2Loc. cit. 3Loc. cit. 4Berescu, Celac and Manolache op.cit. p.22. 5Guy, op.cit. p.5.


that settled in Romania in the thirteenth century were seen as ‘an important resource which had to be put under harsh dependency in order to be used or exploited’. The dominant society put them under severe subordination marking them with an inferior position within the wider society. The Roma have even been described as being ‘slaves in the full technical sense of the word’1 – Gheorghe. There was a clear hierarchy between non-gypsies and gypsies as a legal segregation between the two groups was established which determined that the Romani people could be legally treated as property. This was perhaps one of the pivotal moments in their history. It led to the subordination of their place in society and a loss of confidence in their own culture. They were officially regarded as being of the lowest rank in society. When communism was introduced in Eastern European countries there was a sudden demand for ‘shock-workers in the ‘unrelenting drive to build Socialism’2. In this period of time the Romani people were needed and therefore able to start establishing themselves within society by benefiting from regular wages, and therefore better houses and education. The Marxist-Leninist theorists referred to this community as a social group as they wanted to decrease the expression of ethnic minority identity. Due to the new and improved status of the Romani people the aim of these theorists was to assimilate these communities into the wider community by regarding all aspects of their culture negatively as ‘relics from the past’3 and ‘obstacles’ that would prevent them from integrating with the rest of society. The Romani people took the ideals of assimilation upon themselves showing a willingness to dispose of their own cultural heritage, hardly any of them speaking the Gypsy language and readily disguising their origins to progress further in their social mobility. This willingness showed a loosened attachment and

1Guy, op. cit. p.354. 2Guy, op.cit. p.10. 3Guy, op.cit. p.11.


confidence in their own culture, possibly embedded by the long term discrimination they had suffered in the past which had provoked low self esteem and feelings of inferiority. This act of the minority community adhering to cultural ways of the dominant society is still apparent in the modern day. According to Leonie Sandercock, writer of ‘Mongrel Cities’ surveys proved that ‘values and norms of dominant culture are typically embedded in legislative frameworks of planning in planning bylaws and regulations’1. The consequence of this is that if the planners themselves believe the minority community should be susceptible to adapting to the dominant cultural ways of living, then the planning is ‘unlikely to be sensitive or sympathetic regarding new ways of belonging in the city’2. Will Guy states in his book ‘Between Past and Future: the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe’ that in 1975 in ‘economically developed places’, the Roma communities were seen as ‘useless pests’ by the authorities. The action taken against them was either legislating heavily against them or expelling them altogether. A more recent example of the latter strategy ie. expelling them, is shown in debate of the ‘clear-out’ policy created by the now current French president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2002 and 2007 (home secretary at the time). When criticised that his policy discriminates against one ethnic group he justified his stance by arguing that, “It appears that these persons do not have a means of subsistence as can be seen from the conditions in which they live and their begging. Their behaviour is incompatible with public order: prostitution, incitement to vice, theft and aggressive begging. These persons must be removed from the territory.”3

1Leonie Sandercock Mongrel Cities in the 21st Century (London: Continuum 2003) p.21. 2Loc.cit. 3Erik Gerritsen, ‘Seeing Like A Society Interview with James C. Scott’, Volume Journal No. 16. (Amsterdam: Archis Foundation, 2008) pp.10-12.


Sarkozy made no attempt to enable the Romani communties to integrate but saw the simplest solution to be that of removal. It is ironic that the Romani’s way of living, which to a great part has been brought about by the oppression of hegemonic culture, and the place in society given to them, is now being used as a further way to discriminate against them. It is this very discrimination and oppression which has led to the Romani’s loss of confidence in their own cultural identity and made them unwilling or unable to conform to mainstream society. This statement from Sarkozy strongly resonates the view of modernism at its most radical were they ‘imagined wiping the slate utterly clean and beginning from zero.’ Le Corbusier expressed strong opinions against the slums of Paris as they ‘failed aesthetically to meet his standards of discipline, purpose and order’.1

1James C. Scott Seeing Like A State (New Haven and London: Yale University Press 1998) p116.


Top Down James C. Scott heavily criticises the authoritarian high modernist way of planning in his book ‘Seeing Like A State’: ‘The scientific technically trained elite created singular answers to all social problems, then imposed these solutions onto the public.’1 Scott suggests that this ‘single planning authority’ replaces ‘multiple sources of invention and change’ preventing naturally diverse evolution. He goes on to say flexibility is lost within society as ‘fixed social order’ replaces the ‘ plasticity and autonomy of existing social life’2. In the time of the modernist era it became apparent that ‘only those who have the scientific knowledge to discern and create superior social order are able to rule’.3 The government’s first attempt to rehouse the T’au tribe in Taiwan is a good example of artificially clearing out organically grown culture, imposing control over a group of people with concrete block housing, the ordered environment making it easier to supervise a group of people. Le Corbusier stated: “...human happiness already exists, expressed in numbers, of mathematics, of properly calculated designs, plans in which the city can already be seen.”4

1Scott, op.cit. p92. 2Scott, op.cit. p93. 3Loc.cit. 4Scott, op.cit. p114.


George demonstrating to Roy and a younger Romani villager how to use the cement mixer.


‘Fighting Against Poverty Through Education’ The charitable organisation Fundatia pentru Asistenta Sociala si Tineret (FAST) based in Transylvania, Romania states that its mission is ‘to help the underprivileged people from Romania in their fight against poverty and discrimination. Through its activities, FAST aims to facilitate integration of marginalised Roma communities into society by providing educational services and social assistance to children and families living in critical situations’. The project focuses on the idea of education to help the Roma communities escape from the vicious cycle of poverty and segregation and regain confidence in their community and culture. The scheme works with families and children in particular need from four local communities, which are the villages of Tarlungeni, Garcin, Budila, and Zizin. Although the Roma communities account for more than 25% of the populations in these areas, they are still marginalised and disconnected from the local economy and education system. All four communities are segregated villages, into which non-gypsies dare not enter. The charity discourages dependency on the part of the Roma people. They see their mission as a way of ‘offering them a chance to help themselves’1, and in so doing develop confidence in their own abilities. The scheme runs several projects side by side that all offer education as stepping stones to integration into wider society. One of these projects is the Better Homes project which aims to develop substantial homes for the Roma people living in the shantytowns in Transylvania, Romania. Their goal is to transform the lean-to huts into timber framed houses with solid concrete foundations, damp proofing, weather-tight roof and thermal insulation, to provide considerable shelter throughout seasonal changes. Not only is this a reaction to the desperate need to improve the Romani people’s standard of living and hygiene but a statement to the rest of society that they have shed their

1Daniel Hristea, ‘Our Mission’ Fundatia pentru Asistenta Sociala si Tineret <http://www.fastcharity.ro/>.


nomadic culture, and now desire to settle permanently. It provides evidence that they are willing to integrate themselves with the rest of society by accepting the cultural demand for conformity, which requires completion and stability. The founder of the project, Daniel Hristea has stated that it is important not only that they provide shelter for their family but finish the project by giving thought and importance to the aesthetic qualities of their living. A house would only become complete when the concrete render finish was applied, and the interiors decorated. The project began by building a prototype, designed by Daniel Hristea (president of FAST) and built by a few members of the village who already had building experience. This set the target for the rest of the community, providing reassurance that they are able to achieve this. The families who built the first few houses set the example to the rest of the village displaying a better standard of living â&#x20AC;&#x201C; the families themselves providing the education for the rest. Before the construction of the new houses within the village, the Better Homes project built a church for the community as religion has remained a significant part of the Romani culture. Sacred spaces that people can attach to emotionally are known to help migrants in a foreign place as they can relate to them wherever they are. It provides universal recognition and comfort, through the ritual carried out inside, to the layout of the building itself, acting as reassurance to people having to accustom to a new way of living.


Images courtesy of Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism

The new houses designed and constructed by the Tâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;au tribe with the assistance of the NTU team. Images courtesy of Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism


‘Traditional Morphology and Contemporary Functionality’ The Better Homes Project can be easily compared to a project in Taiwan which helped to regain the cultural living of the T’au tribe residing on the island Pongso-No-T’au. These tribes had previously suffered the insensitive eradication of six traditional villages in the name of modernisation. Traditional dwellings were demolished and the tribes rehoused in ‘rows of concrete barracks’1 by the government in the 1970s-80s without thought to the social consequences. The building practices of this tribe were certainly significant to their culture as they were ‘tied to social norms and ritual, the local environment and continuity of knowledge’2. The new housing caused several social and safety issues, the actual construction of the housing becoming an immediate physical danger to the residents from poor construction due to cutting financial costs, calling for the need to replace them and compensate the residents for the loss of cultural legacy. The design professionals from the National Taiwan University (NTU) who stepped in to replace the dilapidated blocks, studied the traditional dwellings of the tribes closely before carrying out the design process for the new housing. Unlike the project in the 1970s the team wanted to use the building methods and traditions of the original dwellings to use as guidelines for the new housing. Like the Better Homes project, a prototype was built first, of which they saw as an experiment of ‘integration of traditional morphology and contemporary functionality’ applying modern technologies and standards of living to the traditional design characteristics. For example it was orientated towards the sea to establish the relationship between the dwelling and larger landscape – one of the norms of their culture - yet it was constructed with reinforced concrete to increase stability. A local resident in the

1Jeffrey Hou Traditions, Transformation and Community Design Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism (New York: Distributed Art Publishers 2008) p.75. 2Loc.cit.


Tâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;au tribe was hired to help construct the prototype, as were a few of the villagers within the Roma community on the Better Homes project. Thus both emphasised the importance of the passing on of information and educating the users. The hierarchy between architect/project manager and user is blurred to become one team to eventually allow the communities to educate and run the project themselves. In both these cases the architects/project managers established the projects but then took a step back to allow the villagers to rebuild their own homes enabling them to gain their own personal achievement. In Taiwan the dwellings that were erected revealed what each family wanted to value, most being an amalgamation of contemporary and traditional. The results showed a desire of the villagers to use new contemporary materials inspired by modern living, opposing some of the ideas the NTU team put forward to preserve their culture. The education allowed the process to cut out the assumptions that the architects would make after researching and analysing the culture and traditions of these people, about what the user would want, handing over the majority of the decisions to the user themselves. In the Better Homes scheme a key figure within the community with a wealth of construction experience leads the building process for each dwelling passing on skills to a few other villagers that work with him as apprentices. One of the terms and conditions is that if there is a man within the household then he is required to do the unskilled work for his own home. The knowledge then spreads throughout the village, quickening the process, and enabling the villagers to gain skills and experience which increases their chances of obtaining jobs outside the project. In this case the education through participatory construction has a wider agenda to break down the obstacles that the villagers face in integrating with the wider community. A completed dwelling is important to both projects as it is a symbol of an established social status, an achievement that is clearly presented to the rest of society. Daniel, the project manager of Better Homes sets out to support the


families throughout the construction of their home all the way to completion. He claims that the finishing details to the dwelling such as the rendering and painting are just as important as providing the essential shelter. These final details give out a message to the rest of society that they are committed to the area they are settled within, an attempt to heal the loose attachment they have had before. For the Tâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;au tribes it is a declaration that they still owe social importance to home-building despite using different forms and materials â&#x20AC;&#x201C; a tradition firmly set into their culture.


M

‘ any communitarians seem to believe that we belong to one community, defined empirically and geographically, unified by single idea of the common good but we are always multiple and contradictory subjects’1

The difference between the two projects is the level of freedom given to the the T’au tribe to make significant decisions about the design and construction of their dwelling, compared to the standardised design presented to the Roma community, of which they had little input. In the case of the T’au tribe, their building practices are a significant part of their culture, practices which have evolved over centuries. On the other hand the Roma people have potentially lost that part of their culture due to their nomadic existence, the building technique of their current dwellings is to use scrap materials that are collected from their current surroundings, varying the form and construction of the huts in each different location. According to Leonie Sandercock, travelling cultures and peoples have ‘varying degrees of geographies of attachment causing the race and ethnicity to be taken out of national identity and belonging’.2 This is apparently replaced with ideals of citizenship, democracy and political community – an organic system clearly shown in the Roma communities through their natural display of territories.

1Tacita Dean & Jeremy Millar Place (London:Thames & Hudson 2001) p.110. 2Sandercock, op.cit. p.100. Elevations of shanty huts.


The comparison questions the ethics promoted within participatory design as it could be argued that people of different cultural backgrounds require different approaches to how they participate and the degree to which they participate in the design or construction process. For the Romani people what is essential to them is to improve their standard of living to fight health and social issues, in the quickest and most cost effective way. This is achieved most efficiently by a standardised design. Although this appears to deny the residents the right to make significant decisions, the standardised design has been created with a deep, thorough knowledge and understanding of the way in which the Roma people live. The new houses were designed to allow the families to gradually adjust to contemporary ways of living, trying not to overwhelm them too much with modern domestic appliances. In the past, the blocks of flats that Roma people were placed in, soon became derelict due to the fact that they had no income, therefore unable to pay utility costs causing the equipment to be dismantled and taken away. Although Danielâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s understanding is very thorough of these particular villages, it bodes well to realise the diversity of each Romani community in terms of their origin, location and physical position to the main settlement. These factors determine their level of ability to integrate and the method that is best to assist this. For the Tâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;au tribe, a standardised design (of which they experienced in the 1970s) took away details such as the layout of dwelling clusters that present clan hierarchy and personal relationships, which are a significant part of their values and norms within their culture, making it essential that the second attempt to rehouse them involved a high level of participation in the design.


a) Interior view of the new houses constructed on the Better Homes project. b) Sketch up model of the exterior of the most recent standardised design. c) Sketch up model without roof.


How does the identity of architecture affect the status of a community within society?

Yi Fu Tuan has several theories about the identity architecture can provide for a community, one of which considered the outsiders view on slums and shanty town villages. He claims that these settlements are extremely distinctive to the middle classes even to the extent that they become ‘tourist attractions’1 as they are so ‘peculiar’. The inhabitants become gradually aware that outsiders ‘fear to cross the boundaries’ into their neighbourhood which results in a build up of ‘helplessness’ and ‘resentment’. The shacks that the Roma currently inhabit do not reflect their concept of an ideal lifestyle but do reveal their basic needs for survival such as the amount of space needed and multiple methods of structure to keep the shelter standing above them. The dwelling is a cluster of individual units added onto according to the additional space needed for an expanding family. This leads to a ramshackle approach to their construction which is pragmatic rather than planned. This appearance contrasts heavily to the dwellings of non-Romani people in the same area, creating that mark of difference which acts as a non-physical boundary between the Romani and wider society. Yi Fu Tuan further states that, ‘It is clearly apparent that the working class/poor people of society do not live within dwellings or neighbourhood’s of their own design. Their dwellings are abandoned residences or subsidised housing which physically represent other peoples prescriptions’2. The Better Homes project aims to remove the ‘boundary’ by building living accommodation of better quality, however the design of the buildings is essentially prescriptive. It could be argued that the standardised design used in the project could potentially fail to strip away the inferior identity the Romani currently have. 1Yi Fu Tuan, op.cit. p.171. 2Loc.cit.


The prescribed housing (owing to the constraints of available finance, which dictate the need for efficiency and low cost of construction) could still identify the community as a segregated group to the non-Romani residents within the same areas in Romania who appear to build their own houses individually complying with their own specific needs, evident in the variation of form, size and territory. The Better Homes project is clearly dealing with the immediate problem of providing shelter and improving the standard of living of the Romani people in the hope that it will enable them to progress further in society through education and jobs, but it is questionable how much the physicality of the houses themselves will improve their social status.


A â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Better Homeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; in the process of being constructed next to the existing dwelling of the Roma family.


Bottom up The drawback of the standardised design raises the issue of to what extent architectural participatory interventions should try and help revitalise suppressed culture and if so, what is the best way to go about it. For the Romani people to regain the valuable parts of their culture they need to heal the self loathing and lack of confidence and low self-esteem, caused by past subordination. The Better Homes Project avoids any act of demolition or wipe-out before the new houses are complete showing a willingness to learn and build up from what already exists. Despite the inadequacy of the shelters, respect is given to the existing dwellings that they have built for themselves putting a value on the communityâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s strong ability to survive with what is available to them. By preventing the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;wipe-outâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; the project retains the strong ties that they have with their community as bases and territories are neither confused or lost. Building up next to what they currently have allows the strong relationships, which is a strength of the Roma communities, to be retained and continue growing during the construction process. This sensitive approach acknowledges the valuable aspects of Romani culture and helps to build up a confidence within the community. The Better Homes scheme encourages the families to self manage the construction of their new homes, only intervening when necessary. This is in high contrast to the authoritarian approach of the modernists. The method of this project is to approach the problem from the bottom-up by educating the villagers and developing their skills to build the houses themselves rather than it be provided for or forced upon them. In the past the Romani people encountered prejudice and suffered rejection whilst trying to seek employment. This has caused the Roma villagers to lack confidence when approaching new employers. The project meets two needs: it enables the workers to build up a better image of their village in the wider communities and gain meaningful employment through the


skills developed, generating income for their own community. It gives the Romani people a step on the ladder towards a sustainable future, rather than just an end fixed solution that the high modernists would propose. In his argument against the high modernist methods Scott claims: ‘to change and intervene with a society the state has to create a society that can be manipulated...has to create citizens with identities and understand the society before intervening’1 rather than disintegrating history and inherited culture such as ‘the structure of the family and patterns of residence to moral values and forms of production’2. The FAST project provides a good example of this approach. Daniel had a thorough understanding and respect for the culture of the Romani people before intervening with the project. He understood that these people needed to develop skills to maintain their property, and a realisation that they needed to provide ongoing investment in their possessions that would be theirs for a substantial amount of time. Also the process of participatory construction creates new evolving identities for the Romani community as it generates new meanings and values, attached to progressing together as a group of people within the scheme.

1Gerritsen, op.cit. p.10-12 2Scott, op.cit p.114


View of the village in Tarlungheni showing the newly constructed houses amongst the â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;shantyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; huts.


‘Unslumming’ – a success?

slum A squalid and overcrowded urban street or district inhabited by very poor people − a house or building unfit for human inhabitation1 Oxford English Dictionary

Jane Jacobs, a theorist of town planning talks of an alternative solution, ‘unslumming’ which approaches the situation by avoiding slum clearance and demolition of communities. Instead, it permits the people to stay where they want, in a place that they have already created a ‘home’. According to Scott, ‘it is easier to identify the workings of a successful neighbourhood and preserve it’2 It is better to build up from what already exists, than attempt to start all over again or shift the problem onto some where else. This is was what was proposed by the modernists who proclaimed, to ‘those who refuse to yield to new scientific plan’ must be ‘educated to its benefits or else swept aside’3. The approaches of Urban Renewal Laws attempt to break the vicious cycles that slum dwellers face by wiping away the slums and its populations, replacing them with ‘projects intended to produce higher tax yields’4 according to Jacobs. These projects ‘merely shift slums from here to there’5, the consistent disruptions weakening the strong relationships that the current slums hold together. As Jacobs proclaims these types

1Applying my own Western democratic ideals I would class the Romani villages that I worked in as slums, given they appear to be places of squalor and unfit for human habitation. However, the Romani people and Romanian society may not have the same perception. 2Gerritsen, op.cit. pp.10-12. 3Loc.cit. 4Jane Jacobs Death and Life of Great American Cities (London: Vintage Books 1993) p.284. 5Loc.cit.


of neighbourhoods ‘call for encouragement rather than destruction’.1 Before accepting ‘unslumming’ as the correct way to intervene with a disempowered community, the level of physical infrastructure surrounding them must be considered. If the villages sit within residual areas far away from education, health service, jobs etc. then it is unsuitable to build a permanent dwellings which are likely to become, ‘deluxe cans for poverty and misery’2. The FAST organisation is attempting to implement this infrastructure by providing the education program and work experience for the apprentices constructing the homes. The satellite position that the villages have enable them to build up from their existing location, but in other cases were villages are isolated from the main settlement area it could be more appropriate to relocate the communities in a sensitive manner.

1Loc.cit. 2Berescu, Celac and Manolache op.cit. p.96.


From left to right: George, Avram and Peter.


Peter, George and Avram For ‘unslumming’ to be successful Jacobs professes that ‘significant people within the community must remain and bring success into the area’ to allow the community to escape the vicious cycle they are in. Within the Roma village Tarlungheni, a well respected member of the community, Peter, showed his commitment to the village by building the first new house with solid foundations and completed interiors, revealing his intentions to permanently inhabit the site. Peter supports other families within the community to build their own houses with previous skills he learnt in the building trade, essentially leading the project from within the village. It is not only significant members that must commit but also a ‘sufficient amount of people must stay in the slum by choice’ to allow the community to gain ‘competence and strength’1. The greater the number of inhabitants within the area that stay for a substantial amount of time, the greater the growth of trust and loyalty towards the village and its members will become. The vicious cycle of the unprogressive slum occurs when either a large number of the community migrate out of the area all at once to escape poverty or bad treatment, and/or when significant individuals move out of the area as soon as they become successful, failing to invest their success into the progression of the slum. Educating Peter’s apprentices with building practices assists in gaining successful employment for these members, who are currently constructing their own houses with solid foundations within the village. The commitment shown by these community members is significant to the rest as it makes their aspirations of unslumming more promising, their success and growing expertise and experience remains in the village. According to David Sibley, gypsies/semi nomadic minorities generally demonstrate characteristics of shared knowledge between members of the community and of physical nearness very clearly. Therefore when an outsider comes into the village 1Jacobs, op.cit. p.286.


they are very exposed within a community, as it is a rare occasion for the segregated group. The presence of Daniel, the leader of the Better Homes scheme, within the village, adds great value to the process as not only are the members of the community showing commitment to the village, but so is an outsider. Daniel gives consistent support towards the families with daily visits to the sites to check the progress of the new constructions.


a)Fellow volunteer Rosie talking to George and Avram on a break b)Me, collecting rocks to lay foundations.


The Impact of a Parachute Volunteer The majority of volunteers that participate, come for a two week period, allowing them to just settle into their role of assistance in the construction process before leaving. Unfortunately in this short period of time the assistance is limited to pure labour and it is hard to establish what role the volunteer has. Through the form of dialogue, a fellow volunteer and I examined our thoughts of the Better Homes experience and the theory that surrounds projects like this. Hannah Martin: I have been using the Better Homes project that we participated in to explore the responsibilities the architects and other volunteers have when helping to intervene with disempowered communities. As they are generally delicate and complex communities it would appear the participants should have a good understanding of and approach towards the cultural heritage of the people. Did you feel you had sufficient knowledge of the cultural past of the Romani people before we went to help with the Better Homes project? Huan Rimington: No I don’t think I did, but maybe for the work I was doing I didn’t need it, as obviously it was only manual work. I wasn’t directing the project or the process so my knowledge might not affect it that much. HM: Yes, I guess coming into an existing project that was helping to provide emergency shelter it felt like we didn’t have to apply any architectural skill or knowledge of the community as we were purely needed for labour... HR: Yes, well at least for the manual work that we did and because of the language barrier and lack of construction experience we weren’t able to influence the process much on site. If we were trained as carpenters or builders we could have been able to contribute a lot more.


HM: Near the end of the trip Daniel did require our expertise, to solve the layout around the chimney in the houses to make them more efficient. Would you agree projects such as Better Homes would benefit from a constant presence of expertise to improve the standard and efficiency of the process? HR: Well at least for the efficiency of it, considering Daniel has to design and organise everything himself â&#x20AC;&#x201C; it is hard work for him. It would definitely help to have a constant source of knowledge and expertise rather than it arriving for two weeks were the knowledge gets lost in the short amount of time. HM: As our trip was coming to an end it felt like we had just started to develop a relationship and understanding between George and Avram (the Romani construction workers) as we had started to gauge their personalities and work comfortably as a team. Do you think there are consequences of participating in the project for a short amount of time taking into consideration the relationship between us the volunteers and the Romani villagers? HR: Like any volunteer you are the centre of attention for the short while of your stay and then suddenly leave. The projects always seem to timetable themselves around you and your needs, not necessarily what needs to be done. HM: Yes, the decision of what would be done each day seemed to depend on the amount of people in the group and the capabilities of the volunteers, for example some jobs were unsuitable for some of us if they required a lot of strength. HR: If you compare it to other organisations such as Habitat they would do the heavy construction work before the volunteers came on site, they tailor the type of work to benefit the volunteer rather than the progress of the project. HM: It starts to question if accommodating for these temporary volunteers actually slows down the progress of these projects, the earlier occasions were we would have


to redo a task through lack of experience being a good example of this. Does it prove there has to be that long-term commitment for the project to actually benefit from the labour of a volunteer? HR: I would agree as initially we were very slow but towards the end we were able to be left alone and use our own initiative. If you exclude the activity, do you think the presence of an international volunteer has a positive effect on a community such as the Romani people? HM: A foreign presence that is concerned for their welfare and identity in their village, which is generally ignored or pushed away from its neighbouring society, must lift the morale and confidence of the community. HR: Yes so potentially the positive presence could outweigh the lack of productivity in the construction work from inexperience. HM: Yes I agree, but that positivity would be even stronger if the temporary volunteers kept coming back to reassure the villagers of their interest and concern, through their willingness to be there.


Following the leader...? Jacobs has the opinion that to overcome slums and shantytown villages, the intervening party must do the following: ‘regard the slum dwellers as people capable of understanding and acting upon own self interests – which they are’; and realise the ‘need to discern, respect and build upon the forces for regeneration that exist in slums themselves and that demonstrably work in real cities’1. In line with the first criteria, Daniel’s role within the project was to set it up financially by organising funding and start the motion of the process by initially organising the construction and the workers. From that point onwards, he has chosen to step back as a leader to allow members of the community such as Peter to take charge of the building process, who organises which houses are to be worked on each day by his preferable methods. By stepping back Daniel is demonstrating his belief in the Romani community’s ability to progress in the project to completion. Daniel’s role throughout the project is to act as back up support and continue to organise funding and volunteers to help with the construction of more houses, as this is an ongoing process in the background. It is essential for Daniel to continually act as a representative of the villages to local councils and fundraisers, as like many of the Romani communities they ‘lack the capacity to express themselves’2 to wider society on account of cultural reasons such as language barriers or physical/ pschological disabilities. By improving the connection and communication with civil society, Daniel is increasing the chance of a sustainable solution. To meet the second criteria the project chooses to learn from what already exists within the Roma villages that help it to remain a cohesive community, such as defined territories which have organically grown through deeply established relationships and hierarchies between inhabitants. As mentioned before the new 1Jacobs, op.cit. p.285. 2Berescu, Celac and Manolache, op.cit. p.96.


houses are built next to the existing dwellings before demolition, showing a willingness to learn from what already exists. The Better Homes scheme provides evidence that this method of ‘unslumming’ works in a positive way as Daniel and his team recognised the positive aspects of the Roma villages and chose to work with these characteristics. After surviving many obstacles and poor treatment together the Romani people generally have an extremely close community with the willingness to help and work with each other to improve the lives of the whole group not just the individual. This bodes well for the scheme to be carried out by workers from the villages, the more experienced being willing to pass on skills to the less experienced. Territories of all the individual families had already been ingrained into the village and therefore the new prefabricated houses are placed within these territories where the families have already established a ‘home’ already in their leanto huts. The results from the housing project in Taiwan show a successful level of intervention from the architects involved as the villagers built exactly what they wanted, not necessarily the traditional housing of which the architects initially presumed. The NTU team wanted to restrict the heights of the dwellings to preserve the ocean view – a historical tradition of the tribe, yet the inhabitants themselves chose to have larger, taller residences, inspired by contemporary living, even swapping the traditional wood construction for reinforced concrete to create a symbol of prestige. The process of listening and talking to the users that the team went through to gain knowledge of the tribe’s traditions could have potentially led to a naïve view of the desires of the tribe who are living within modern society. The freedom given to the users cut out the presumptions that participatory architecture can create if not enough freedom is given. This case study shows that the participatory intervention does not necessarily have to revitalise suppressed culture by completely recreating it but instead allowing the traditions to evolve within modern context. The role of the architect within this example was to show the users what they could potentially


do to modify the traditional dwellings, whilst then stepping back in the decision making, developing the confidence of the disempowered group in two ways: giving them the tools and knowledge to establish themselves within modern society through contemporary living; and then giving them the freedom to use these tools as they wish, showing society has a belief in their capabilities. In a recent presentation by Nikos A. Salingros it was pointed out that one of the main obstacles in participatory design is the residents themselves. In some cases poor communities have seen images on television of modern houses, which they see as aspirational, but which are in reality examples of poor construction and have desired these over their own traditional sustainable building practices. In cases such as this, the architect has the role to inform the user which option is better for them as they have the expertise to do so. The role of the architect is to find a balance between the traditions of the group but also the rapid forces of change in modern society. It could be said that in the case of the Romani people, their willingness to constantly adapt to their environment is an advantage. The theorist James McDonald, claims in his book ‘Imagining the City’ that he is in support of ‘broad social participation in the never completed process of making meanings and creating values’ as it works well with, ‘an always emerging, negotiated common culture’1. It presents the process of participation as a way of redefining a community, not as an identity or place, but as a ‘productive process of social interaction’2. This proves that this approach is very suitable for the Romani people as the definition of their cultural identity is extremely blurred. Therefore it is more appropriate to develop the confidence of the community by accomplishing an achievement together, creating new meanings and values for their community through this process. Before the approach of participation there have been several contrasting approaches 1Sandercock, op.cit. p.88. 2Loc.cit.


to the planning of communities. Modernist planning is possibly the most contrary and has been heavily criticised since. The justification for the modernists’ designed prescriptions for a new society came from statistical facts such as age profiles, occupations, fertility etc. - ways of simplifying the description of society to make it easier to design for and manipulate. Chantal Mouffe points out, ‘Many communitarians seem to believe that we belong to one community, defined empirically and geographically, unified by single idea of the common good but we are always multiple and contradictory subjects’1 Before the NTU team in Taiwan started the design process, they spoke and listened to the inhabitants intently, to gain an in-depth knowledge of their cultural traditions with respect to their dwellings and communal spaces. Despite all this research carried out through a participatory process the presumptions made by the team – that the users would want to significantly revert back to their old housing with some new modifications – this proved not to be the case. The younger generation in particular did not want to go back to the traditional way of living after being heavily exposed to a more contemporary way of life for a significant part of their lives. Mouffe’s statement above predicts the conclusion from this project, as even after thorough analysis of a community through an interactive process, there must still be a consideration of the subjectivity of the individual within that community.

1Dean & Millar, op.cit. p.110.


View of the entrance to village in Tarlungheni.


‘Resistance to change is not only a characteristic of those excluded but also of the society in general’1

Several theorists have come to the conclusion, the right approach to social integration is to change how society perceives a group of peoples identity. The writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, talks of contesting the ‘pure and static notion of national identity’ that speaks of ethnicity and origin, and instead view identity as something which is ‘dynamic and evolving’.2 As modern contemporary culture is developing at such a rapid speed it is hard to define a certain culture by its place and period of time. The mix of ethnicity within cities is continually growing and therefore society must ‘accommodate new hybrid realities of changing culture’. This is evident in both the Better Homes project and the rehousing of the T’au tribe: the Roma villages needing to conform to contemporary living to progress within society, therefore creating new evolving cultural identities through the participatory experience; the younger generation of the T’au tribe showing a preference to new concrete structures over traditional construction to gain a symbol of high status within modern society. It could be argued that the responsibility of social integration lies most heavily with wider society who according to Gilroy require an ‘imagination of the nation as something other than a racial or ethnic territorial space’3. Referring this back to the views of Yi Fu Tuan about identifying a group of people through there architectural distinctiveness, it is easy to see how perceptions of difference creating territorial boundaries provoke segregation of communities. The attempt of changing the visual identity of the housing in the Better Homes project could be seen as just solving the problem on the surface, when actually the 1Berescu, Celac and Manolache, op.cit. p.24. 2Sandercock, op.cit. p.97. 3Sandercock, op.cit. p.100.


deeper solution is to change the way society views the role of the town or city. Lewis Mumford wrote in ‘The City in History’ that there is ‘a need for cities to be more than ‘containers’’1 that carry different groups of people with different identities. He argues the ‘urban experience is also about mobility and mixture, encounters and challenges’2. This could argue what is valuable about participatory design and construction, as it is not necessarily the end product that they are working together to create that is the most important aspect, but the process of which they take part in, that positively builds on the strength of a community and its progression of integration. However it is important that the end product sits within a positively working infrastructure that enable the communities to sustain an improved standard of living with their renewed empowerment.

1Sandercock, op.cit. p.109. 2Loc.cit.


In conclusion, based upon my first hand experience in Romania and the research that followed, it is my belief that the main roles and responsibilities of projects attempting to improve the standard of living of disempowered communities are as follows: Before embarking on these projects the architects should thoroughly research the cultural and social context of the group in relation to their location and relationship with the dominant society. They should enter into a dialogue with the target community to ascertain what their aspirations and priorities are and secure their commitment and belief in the project. They must also determine their capacity for taking on roles and responsibilities within the project and what training or education the members of the community need to participate in the scheme and then to be able to sustain their improved standard of living. It is vital that the community feel they have ownership of the project. To this end the individuality of the members of the community must be taken into consideration and they must be fully involved in the decision making process â&#x20AC;&#x201C; this will further cement their commitment to it and ensure its long term sustainability. It also prevents them from relying too heavily on others, and helps them to develop their confidence and self esteem. This renewed confidence enables them to put more value in their own cultural identity and heritage.


The Better Homes project is successful because the leaders understand Romani culture and have a deep respect for it. The people themselves have responsibility for its progress and sustainability. It provides education and training which can lead to employment and more meaningful integration into the wider society. In my opinion the most crucial responsibility for everyone participating in projects such as this is to continually use dialogue to achieve the best outcome and empower the community it is intended to help.


Bibliography Architecture For Humanity, Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Reponses to Humanitarian Crises (London: Thames & Hudson 2006)

Berescu, Catalin Celac, Marian and Manolache, Cosmin Housing and Extreme Poverty: The Case of the Roma (Bucharest: Printing House of the University of Architecture, 2006)

Blundell Jones, Peter (ed.) Petrescu, Doina (ed.) Till, Jeremy (ed.) Architecture and Participation (London: Routledge, 2005) Dean, Tacita & Millar, Jeremy Place (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001) Friedman, Yona Pro Domo (Barcelona: Actar, 2006)

Guy, Will Between Past and Future: the Roma of Central and Eastern Europe (London: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2001)

Hou, Jeffrey Traditions, Transformation and Community Design, Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism (New York: Distributed Art Publishers, 2008)

Jacobs, Jane Death and Life of Great American Cities (London: Vintage Books, 1993) Sandercock, Leonie Mongrel Cities in the 21st Century (London: Continuum, 2003)


C. Scott, James Seeing Like A State (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1998)

Sibley, David Geographies of Exclusion First edition (London: Routledge, 1995)

Tuan, Yi Fu Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (London: Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd, 1977)

Articles: Barrie, David ‘...A Foreign Correspondence Writes’ Volume Journal No.19 (Amsterdam: Archis Foundation, 2008) Gerritsen, Erik ‘Seeing Like A Society Interview with James C. Scott’, Volume Journal No. 16. (Amsterdam: Archis Foundation, 2008) Robles-Duran, Miguel ‘A Challenge of Difference’ Volume Journal No.19 (Amsterdam: Archis Foundation, 2008) Sampson, Anthony ‘Europe’s nomads... but not by choice’ The Guardian Newspaper 2000 Wassenaar, Steven ‘Coping with Slums and Slabs’ Volume Journal No.16 (Amsterdam: Archis Foundation, 2008)


Websites: Hristea, Daniel ‘Our Mission’ Fundatia pentru Asistenta Sociala si Tineret <http:// www.fastcharity.ro/> Salingros, Nikos A. ‘Algorithmic Sustainable Design: The Future of Architectural Theory’ University of Texas San Antonio < http://zeta.math.utsa.edu/~yxk833/algorithmic12.htm>

Films: Dom za Vesanje (The Time of the Gypsies), dir. by Emir Kusturica (1988)

Images: All photographs and illustrations by Hannah Martin, unless stated otherwise.


Roles and Responsibilities whilst helping disempowered communities  

A special study carried out by Hannah Martin whilst studying Architecture Part 1 at University of Sheffield.

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