Within the context of a case study conducted with the UN and a critical analysis of citizen participation, Annabé Brouwer’s project focusses on Kosovo’s young people and their frustrations around unemployment.
Can you explain your choice of subject?
Having come to architecture through a background in international development; I was curious to discover through the physicality of building how to design frameworks that connect people in a profound way. Specifically, I wanted to understand how a careful consideration of socio-political contexts, local interpretations of space and beauty, resources and materials, and forms of collaboration could improve social organization, while unveiling spatial qualities not previously recognized. Working with an intergovernmental organisation such as the UN as well as a local, grassroots NGO on a project aimed at improving public space, in the small, welcoming, but contested environment of Kosovo, offered the perfect ground upon which to explore these questions across various scales. How could the architectural project inspire agency through forms of community participation and become a point of mediation between a critical assessment of social conditions and architectural autonomy?
What or who are your sources of inspiration and can you explain this?
My inspiration for this project became the people I met in Kosovo who were so gracious as to take me in, tell me their stories, how they lived and how they wanted to live. Those who despite their conditions, don’t give up on searching for beauty in the details of the everyday.
State and describe the key moment in your graduation project
The project was initially intended to be of the design-and-build type; a small public space constructed in collaboration with the UN and the local people. Four months into the project; however, I discovered that my thoughts on how architecture might be approached were not going to fit into the UN model projected onto our site. So, in collaboration with my tutors, I decided that it would be more fruitful to instead develop a hypothetical project based on this field experience that would propose a more holistic way to develop agency and to introduce the idea that this city has qualities worth fighting for. I had to let go of my assumptions that within the framework of my graduation thesis I was going to be able to marry two fields that have a lot to learn from each other but are in many ways diametrically opposed. There is much good to be found in the processes of each, but adapting them from within to engage the stakeholders in the most meaningful way is a slow and careful process.
Many of Kosovo’s young people are frustrated. Around half are unemployed and dream of emigrating; they are convinced they will find better lives elsewhere. These young people constitute more than fifty percent of Kosovo’s population, yet they don’t feel politically represented or taken seriously. Some plea for change, but many have no hope or will to invest in their country. This absence of agency is mirrored in how local architecture is approached. Whether serving as a tool to express communist ideology or fabricate ethnic identity, its meaning has largely been dictated from above. So now, as the country tumbles into a neoliberal democracy, there is a lack of awareness that society can and should take responsibility for its urban environment. Historic fabric is destroyed, public spaces are vandalized, and new architecture is cheap and of poor quality.
Within the context of a case study conducted with the UN and a critical analysis of citizen participation, the project’s question therefore concerns agency. It asks how a community facility might give legitimacy to what young people do and could do. It wants to introduce the idea of a ‘public building’ in a place where this does not exist, and through joint responsibility inspire an enthusiasm towards looking after something together. The project argues that the youth have the right to project from a visible place in the city, that it invests in them, in the hope that they will want to stay and invest in their city in return. Its architecture wants to make their voices explicit, but in contrast to Kosovo’s history of a ‘politicized architecture’ where the political message was
closed for discussion, it invites debate by retaining a degree of openness. The roof or shelter becomes the primary figure, the traditional heavy walls are opened up; horizontal planes offer places to gather.
Then, the project questions how to construct while understanding local resources and the craft of the vernacular city. Built together with the young people from locally sourced timber, it considers the poorly managed timber industry, forestry systems and illegal logging problems, while teaching the young people a trade. Finally, it proposes a framework that will inspire its effects to be felt across various scales. It argues for a system of awareness building and education to inform the design as well as maintenance strategies beyond completion. A deeper and slower approach to the architectural project is put forward. It aims to show the young people that they are seen and heard. It invites them to act. It is an investment in futures.
Technische Universiteit Delft
What are you doing now
I am working at David Chipperfield Architects in London. It is a place with ambitious, strong-willed and open-minded people where I have been able to learn the craft of architecture, but also explore the questions of my thesis project further.
What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and / or the distant future?
It is important to understand how to unite the public and private sector under a shared mission. I would like to create well-built spaces where people feel both embraced and lifted up, but also learn how to embed these social frameworks on a broader scale. I am exploring methods of working with existing political bodies to carefully yet deliberately introduce change to stimulate more inclusive production frameworks while challenging economic systems that leave many behind. I’d like to develop an architecture that is attentive, beautiful, yet disruptive.