The chase for a better roof
Author - Sammouri Nader
Everyone is walking through a seemingly long but also rapid journey called life trying to seek happiness and fighting for it along the way, but some people aren’t privileged enough to chase for that happiness for they are chained by the basic needs to survive and ensure food and a roof. M.Scott Peck in his book the road less traveled says: “The mind which sometimes presumes to believe that there is no such thing as a miracle is itself a miracle”. This quote is a reminder that miracles are not a lateral state but are actually part of the state that we live in right now for every single aspect of our existence is a miracle even the mind which we are using now to think about this single idea. Thus, there is always room for innovation and solutions we never thought that they could ever existed.
One day, as I was scanning through the architecture section of a bookstore and I bumped into a book called “Design like you give a damn”. I picked it up, and since then a new world opened to me. As a practicing architect I was previously drowned in a world which was fixated on designing bright and sparkly architecture that aim selfishly to stand out more. A new world opened up to me which was architecture of the shadows that is social housing. As I read this book, I experienced a paradigm shift that completely altered my point of view. My passion prior to this happenstance was to design the tallest tower and the most appealing landmark. My passion was luxury. I realized that my work was a selfish “showing off” platform. Little did I know that I could have belonged there in the shadows trying to pour my experience in a place that needed it the most, though away from the cheering crowd. My target became to channel my design skills towards people from the low and middle class who needed to find affordable housing solutions. I knew at that time that I could do something more purposeful.
I am seeking to achieve a huge target which is to ensure an affordable housing module that could be used internationally. I need to start somewhere which is familiar, my country of birth Lebanon. Lebanon is a relatively small country, 10,452 square kilometre, with a GDP of 49.6 billion dollars and a GDP/capital of 14.3 thousand dollars. The current population is around 6 million, one third of which is inhabiting the 85 square kilometre capital Beirut that makes 1 percent of the whole country. With the increasing flowing number of refugees from Lebanon’s neighbor Syria, Lebanon’s economy is deteriorating. In my experience living within the weaves of what the country had to offer, almost everyone around me was unhappy and locked in a system they couldn’t handle anymore. It was sad for me to experience people changing mentally as circumstances became tougher. I had to do something about it. The problem am trying to solve lies under sustainable goal number 11 which is sustainable cities and communities. The world population is increasing and thus the way we build and manage our urban spaces needs to continuously improve. Not just that, but people are very mobile nowadays and the need to have more flexible solutions have never been that important. Nevertheless, the world is developing so fast and thus solutions need to be found on a faster rate than ever before.
Challenges for affordable houses lie much beyond the mission of the architect though. Houses can be designed in cheaper ways but they also need expensive lands and flexible laws and people from a certain mindset and taste to accept what is coming. In an interview with a senior Lebanese architect, Lana Makary, I asked her what are the challenges regarding finding affordable housing solutions in Lebanon. Her answer was that the number one issue is the cost of the land and the second issue is the mentality of people which is used to inhabit big spaces and may not be open to live in compact spaces. I also sat with a long discussion about that with a very successful Lebanese real estate investor as I was trying to convince him about a project that people need and while he was very interested and propelled to listen, he gazed at me for a while and told me that people might not accept it. Little did I know that the problem is far beyond an external modification in housing but is also an internal issue with mentalities. My internal rebuttal is that people are actually willing to twist their unaccepting mentality of living in tiny spaces if the trade-off regarding the cost is appealing. People don’t usually know what they want until they see it displayed beyond their eyes calling for them to enhance their efficiency. People are willing to adapt to a new minimal solution if it was less costly and designed in a smart manner. And it is enough for a small number of people to adopt this solution for them to spread the world and lead others in joining in. An interview with refugee expert and Phd graduate, Marwa Ahmad, says that it is illogical that people have a minimum wage of around 300 dollars in Beirut, Lebanon and the cheapest dwelling that they could find is for 300$ in one of the worst areas there. This drives people to do multiple jobs so they could afford some food and a roof. People like this are calling out for solutions with a muted voice that no one can hear, and the problem is global for people around the world are chained by mortgage. Why is housing so expensive in such a short life? Speaking with people from different corners in the world, from Brazil to Russia and Serbia to Italy, they all said that this is a huge problem “especially in their countries”, which basically means “especially in the world”.
I chose Takenaka corporation whose main headquarters in in Osaka city in Japan. Far beyond its multidisciplinary work and unique designs and technology and aside from the fact that it was able to innovate the tallest tower in Japan; Abenos Harukas, located in Osaka as well, its core values intersected with my mission. Takenaka’s corporate message is connecting the thought to the future in a form and its 2025 growth strategy complies with the gap that we have in sustainable communities. It says: “From now on we will work closely With group companies to deepen dialogue with stakeholders at all stages of community development, work on various issues in japan and abroad, and aim to realize a sustainable society where people can live with peace of mind. Takenaka’s steps toward growth is: By providing solutions to meet social challenges, we will create new value globally.
Housing is a global issue and architects do have some responsibility to innovate solutions and make housing more affordable and approachable to people. We are currently hoping to cooperate with Takenaka Corporation and trying to invite it to fill the gap in Lebanon that they have the potential to fill. Henry ford once said; “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, a faster horse!”. People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.