Designing for difference

The Triennial brings in inspiration, provocation and ideas from all directions, and in its first week there were lots of talks given by Triennial participants.

Lucas Doolan

Lucas Doolan

One of these was Teddy Cruz, a San Diego architect who has done a lot of work exploring the informal architecture which springs up in towns around the Tijuana border. This idea of ‘informal economies’ is an important one to keep in mind. What happens to the architecture after it’s been inhabited for awhile? How is it changed and adapted for use, and how does this differ from the architect’s intentions?

During the design process, this leads us to consider how we can design buildings which allow for some freedom and flexibility rather than being overly prescribed. While the original villa on the Hepburn Street site the students are working with probably accommodated about five people, the new designs proposed aim to house about 17 residents. With four different groups ‘typical’ of the Auckland housing market - a retiring couple, a multigenerational family, a nuclear family and a group of friends who have grouped their resources to buy property together – there’s a diverse group of desires and needs that the site needs to cater for.

Bringing together these four groups to co-habitate requires us to understand that perhaps a new ‘collective’ ideal is impossible, and instead explore how we might plan for diversity and difference. Hou Hanru has emphasised the uniqueness of Auckland as a city where there are as many immigrants as people born ‘here’, and in this multicultural context, what part does difference play?

Gary Lawson, in the talk that was the subject of the last post, stressed the benefits of policy and planning which works together with architecture to allow for a certain amount of freedom, flexibility and variation. Regulations and diversity are two things not easily reconciled – and the idea of designing for informality brings to the surface more questions than answers.

In the meantime, I encourage you all to come along to The Lab and make this project inclusive from the inside out. As Andrew Barrie writes in the Triennial’s catalogue, The Lab is about ‘demystifying what it is that we do as designers’ and pushing ‘our creative practices into the public domain where they encounter a different kind of scrutiny.’ So come along with your own subjectivities and scrutinies, and put these ideas to the test.

After all, when looking to form new ideals, we must remember that at the root of our existing ideals is the notion that the home is (as Sarosh Mulla puts it) ‘a place to define one’s own conception of landscape’.

Emma Ng