Zhuo-ming Shia (TUDelft) continued and implemented his research project ‘patterns of participation’ as an alternative to the existing mode of mass housing in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). He developed a new housing process where participation of future inhabitants is incorporated.
Can you (briefly) explain your choice of subject?
My graduation project focuses on how large-scale housing developments can better reflect the plurality of different modes of dwelling. In particular it takes the case of Addis Ababa and proposes an alternative to the mass housing scheme that is currently underway in the city. The project thinks about housing as a process which is driven by the participation of its many stakeholders, in particular its users. The choice of subject is my response to the perception of dwelling architecture as ‘boring’ and ‘repetitive’. I propose that through a participatory design process, the architecture of ordinary dwellings can be rich, heterogeneous and exciting.
What or who are your sources of inspiration and can you briefly explain this?
Many architect and theorists that have explored participatory housing came from the Netherlands. In particular, the work of John Habraken and the Stichting Architecten Research has defined much of the theoretical framework of designing participatory housing on a mass scale. I also had the pleasure to visit architect Frans van der Werf, who was a member of the SAR and designed many participatory housing schemes in the Netherlands.
State and (briefly) describe the key moment in your graduation project
The process of my graduation project has undergone many key moments through the many interesting conversations with my tutors. Perhaps the most important moment for the project was when I was pushed to consider aspects beyond the normal scope of an architectural project, aspects such as researching how the population of the city is organized into social groups and hypothesizing how a new housing process can expand and integrate within this network.
An Architecture of Enablement documents the design of a participatory housing system in the context of Addis Ababa. It is the first architectural materialization of the principles put forward in ‘Patterns of Participation’. The hypothetical project focuses on formulating a new standard of housing that can be applied city-wide, offering an alternative to the existing mode of mass housing.
Who are we to dictate how others should live?
This question becomes even more provoking in unfamiliar contexts such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since importing Western models of mass housing production, Addis Ababa has chosen a short-term solution to its problems of rapid urbanisation which favours efficiency over sensitivity, standardisation over flexibility and a homogenous illusion over heterogeneous reality.
My response to this imbalance is not to tip the scales in the other direction. Instead, ‘An Architecture of Enablement’ creates a model for co-existence between top-down and bottom-up decision-making in the Global South. It suggests that current methods of housing production can be adopted in initial phases of construction, while participatory design, fundamentally rooted in informal practices of Addis’ dwellers, can take place at a later stage on a smaller scale. It takes heavy inspiration from ‘Open Building’, reinterpreted for the context of Addis Ababa. The result is a design for a housing process, instead of a housing product, which can be implemented on a wide variety of different sites in the city – resulting in an architecture that is rich but a process that is repeatable.
What are you doing now?
Currently, I am working at WilkinsonEyre, a large international design firm in London. I am lucky to work on a large variety of different projects and learn from very knowledgeable colleagues. I am also preparing for my RIBA professional architect qualification.
What hope / do you want to achieve as a designer in the near and / or the distant future?
I want to continue to learn how architecture is practiced around the world in a variety of different types of offices, while, at the same time, continuing to be inspired by process-driven architecture and affordable housing strategies. I wish to practice architecture in Europe as well as in China where I am originally from. In the distant future, I hope to apply my experience and start my own firm, experimenting with different design processes.