Op-Ed: The Resilient City Part III
By Cedric Al Kazzi
“I am ……………”
“I design …………”
“The best example of resilience in Baltimore is ……………..…..”
I was given a slip of paper to fill out at each AIA lecture this spring. By the end of each lecture I had
sometimes managed to define myself, but was never able to complete the rest. What
is resiliency? And what do I consider to be resilient?
Is resiliency a natural phenomenon? It is an innate characteristic of all natural elements and creatures. It is usually attributed to reactions rather than actions, maintaining continuity and ensuring survival. Resilient is also a comparative adjective since it could vary in levels from one state to another and from one described element to another. Although cities are not directly natural organisms; they are overlays and agglomerations of micro and macro networks of natural organisms ensuring its functionality. Hence, resiliency is truly inherent within the daily operation of any city.
“We have to change how we operate and be proactive - it’s cliche - but we have enough examples showing the need to do just that…[on being designers in this day and age]”
-Dan Pitera, Lecture 4.2
Why are some cities more resilient than others? Can we enhance or facilitate resilience? No matter what scale the task is, from urban interventions to product design, we should work towards making its default or primary setting favorable for resilience: a framework that is amorphous and can transform by absorbing contextual needs and data into a solution.
Resiliency as a form is evasive; it’s hard to discern as its actively occurring. The first reactions might even be disregarded for it might be a direct causality and lack the spontaneous character. The French philosopher, Deleuze recommends deep observation as the next step in the design process - A crucial step that may take seconds or even years. The immediate/direct change we notice in the environment has to be carefully studied and we must be careful not to rush the process by labeling it resilient too quickly.
In a social experiment, the secret ingredient for emergence is people. Resiliency is then a product of instigators/curators and the spontaneity of organic matters. Mindy Fullilove in her talk, stressed the major potential of the community and its role in shaping its environment. And then she questioned the subsequent role of this environment in relation to resiliency.
”How does a space become a trigger for rebirth you may ask?” A great example of spatial resiliency is Midan al tahrir: A traffic circle in Cairo, Egypt, that transformed overnight into the focal point of the Egyptian Revolution. Lefebvre talks about the power of people and the appropriation of space to shape none-spaces into incubators for resiliency.
“Inequity in society undermines the whole society.”
- Mindy Fullilove, Lecture 3.12
We are witnessing the tip of the power structure being replaced by a wider and more specialized group.
As for the base, we now find a more educated and diverse population with an easier vertical jump between classes and ranks. Both ends are interconnected by social media as their common ground.
Accordingly, a bottom-up approach is more likely to get the project accomplished since a crowd-driven design process would ensure continuity and a more transparent structure. This approach brings together a more diversified process that merges with closely extracted data to result in alternative solutions. Through this ‘fostering’ environment, the product, whatever it is, faces at every step of the process a multiplicity of tracks that adds complexity and completeness. Our job as curators or moderators, is to ensure the continuity of the environments that are more favorable for the survival of resiliency and learn from the mistakes of both approaches.
“Architects have a very particular way of looking at the world. They see opportunity instead of barriers.”
- Mindy Fullilove, Lecture 3.12
Why is resiliency relevant to the AIA? Architecture as a profession should be contextual. It is a built-up manifestation of the society’s social, political and economic conditions. These conditions have shaped strict typologies and rigid models that constitute the urban fabric of today’s cities. And these typologies stay around for 80 to 100 years, whereas society would have been evolving within the period from construction to the aging of the building. Therefore, whenever we are asked to be contextual, we join the movement set in the last century with minor modifications to fit the image of the new era. And
this image will last another century. The more we create these fixed images, the more the delay between society and built-up space grows. During Winy Maas’s talk, he asked about our role: “As an Architect, should I refuse or should I collaborate?” and “How do we make architecture more ‘us’ and not elite? ”There’s a chance in these contradictions to innovate by defying the sets of
rules and typologies.
“It’s a great design challenge, how do we design for the future when it’s likely going to be very different than the present…”
- David Perkes, Lecture 4.2
It is easy for us to spare ourselves from testing and perhaps failing. But failure is when we learn the most and potentially could advance the process further than any success. We need to free ourselves from form and typologies that have been reigning as solutions for decades. We can learn by observing the “uneducated” design decisions that proved to be innovative solutions for today’s needs. In this case, mistakes are what we are looking for. We study the resilient qualities through trials and errors, we learn from failures and we make sure we don’t fail when it counts. Finally the AIA should moderate negotiations on all types and scales, where we introduce resiliency to society as new solutions rather than abnormalities.