Oct 27, 201309:00 AMPoint of View
Response to Iwan Baan’s TED Talk
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Meagan Durlak and I were excited to see the TED talk by architectural photographer Iwan Baan on the ingenuity found within informal settlements. In his presentation he walks us through a range of communities across the world, capturing many such settlements, including houses above a lagoon and a repurposed office block.
Baan’s view of informal settlements resonates with our own work; it’s an under-told story that we very much applaud. He shows an overview of people’s lives and their unique methods for adapting to difficult conditions. Perhaps as interesting as his film are the reactions to it from TED viewers. Many found the innovation in informal settlements to be inspiring and heartwarming; others claimed that this talk is just a life affirming story for the rich 1% of the world, perpetuating inaction for areas which need immediate aid. The two sides of the argument reminded us of our own work and the battles we have gone through in trying to wrap our heads around the systems of informal settlements, as well as the difficulties we have had in explaining their hidden properties to others.
Through Mark, our project which deals with community empowerment, we have had the good fortune to spend a few weeks talking with different inhabitants of São Paulo’s biggest informal settlements. Our aim was to tell them about our mission: Show off the cultural vibrancy and incredible way of life within favelas, so that we could move the conversation away from crime, poor sanitation, and low social mobility.
I want to be very clear here. The reason our work is focused on the favela is because of their social troubles. We are not trying to ignore or brush over them. Instead, we are trying to ignite a new conversation. Like Baan, we feel that it is of paramount importance to recognize the duality of informal settlements; there is both abject poverty and an incredible raw, human beauty coexisting in an inconceivable and contradictory tension with one another.
This message is important for two reasons. Firstly, as designers we are looking for points of intervention, where we hope to make change. To do this, it is essential for us to fully understand the design context we are working in. This means acknowledging not only the problems but also the opportunities and differences.