Architecture: For Elites or Community?

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Architecture plays one of the most influential roles in the daily life of human society as a tool of expression and as the only kind of art with real practical use. Its highest achievements are seen through history as a “sign of the time” and a measure of development of a civilization with the production of monuments. It is represented by size, height, capacity, construction and materials used.

Back in the days, someone build pyramids in Egypt, South America, Europe, and Asia. It is unknown who, how and when it is made, but the life span of these monuments equals to projects the eternity of the “Gods of lost civilizations”. Today we still wonder about their builders, their original function, tools used in construction works. They stand in our world today, witnessing the fact that humanity today, similar with the old ages, aims to build towers reaching for the sky. Materials and techniques certainly have changed, but our goals stay the same – to get closer to the sky, closer to the old and the new Gods, to power and fame, by leaving a long lasting signature between the clouds.

Why do we build? To live, to enjoy, to earn. We need to remember that behind every curtain of architectural objects hides the creators and producers. While on the public stage, we see users and accidental viewers that give them alife and purpose.

Once users see an object, whether be in plan, model or the finished building, they immediately can relate with it. Positive or negative emotions develop at first glance. After a while, they usually get used to the constructed buildings and keep on utilizing the spaces. Users build their opinions; exchange them with friends and relatives. And often it causes little arguments between those who find positive and others who notice more negative sides of the same pile of concrete. Should the opera house have a dome or a flat roof? Should the bridge be like a harp or an arc? As users develop an emotion and relate to the object of attraction, the mind behind the curtain starts pulling the strings, and the audience is happily dancing to the music.

Tourists come and spend their money because they heard that the place is cool and famous. Local consumers also get a story through commercials and enjoy being a part of the show. They hang at certain places in the city to be seen, to be a part of THE crowd.

Architecture’s use in mass manipulation is huge yet mainly unnoticed. Visual art builds the desired emotions – attractive or repelling – depending on the nature of the building. Governmental buildings are usually made to trigger respect and fear. In consequences, people would develop the same feeling and attitude towards the ruling power and reducing risks of civic disobedience. On the other hand, commercial objects are made to attract visitors and make them spend.

There is no doubt whatever about the influence of architecture and structure upon human character and action. We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.” (Winston Churchill, addressing the English Architectural Association, 1924)

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Elites can control and manipulate, use and abuse emotions and behaviour of common people using different mediums, including architecture. But firstly, they have to understand how a mind functioned. Shopping malls, for example, use the skills of architects and lighting designers to bring more profit to the owners of the building by manipulating the feelings of visitors offering gold and glitter in sight. It invites customers to spent their money in exchange for some feeling of “being a part of the crowd who can afford”.

source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/Latin-America-Monitor/2014/0116/Brazil-shopping-malls-New-epicenter-for-social-protest

source: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/Latin-America-Monitor/2014/0116/Brazil-shopping-malls-New-epicenter-for-social-protest

The appearance of malls automatically repels the poor but accept those who can spend. The more bags one carries, the better they feel. Feeling of power and ability to spend on products that are far from needed is comparable with drug abuse, and many people can’t control it. Knowing that, there’s always “new offer” or “new model” “you must have”.

Individuals may get ‘high’ from an addictive behaviour like shopping. Meaning that endorphins and dopamine, naturally occurring opiate receptor-sites in the brain, get switched on, so the person feels good. And if it feels good, individual is more likely doing it. It is reinforced,” says Ruth Engs, EdD, a professor of applied health science at Indiana University.

Apart from gathering places and practical resupplying locations, malls are practically legal-drug-distribution centres whereby people are invited to develop a spending addiction. The philosophical difference between the old-fashioned private shops randomly located in the city and shopping malls is while the former attracts customers because of the NEED, the latter because of WANT. More over the latter encourage spending habit.

Once individuals are inside the circles of spending, their social status is threatened by eventual stopping – one may lose friends or role in the community. Therefore, the social pressure maintains the spending habit. Sociological issues related to spending and gathering at commercial locations are numerous. However, they are just one fraction of manipulation by upper layers that have only one goal – power over commoners and their money.

Aside from infrastructure, the most important objects are those of the biggest size, the religious ones. Both in representing the centres of power – locations from which the elites control different spheres of life of society – and their size and overall grandeur reflect the status of those paying for the project.

Building of the temple of any religion around the globe costs money. These huge amounts come from the pockets of believers who willing to donate. Towers, roofs covered by pure gold, expensive finishing should all reflect the power of the addressed god.

Such impression ensures the believers or donors to even more respectful to the organization or mind-management behind the religion. And, of course, it is also to ensure the believers to keep on donating funds. Since no Gods eat, drink, or bath in gold, their representatives are free to enjoy the donations. Therefore, the size and quality of temples do not reflect “the power of god”, but the amount of money the priests collected out of the pockets of followers.

Not all of the collected money is spent; some particular priests are ensuring their big share is safely kept in Switzerland. Although dressed in assigned clothes of spiritual leaders, they are businessmen followed by bodyguards, drive expensive limos, enjoying the glitter and light of gold someone else worked for them. They act exactly the same way as the owners of shopping malls. The difference is in merchandise. In a mall, individuals buy something, put them in a bag, and he/she will flash down the street. On the other hand in the temple, we get invisible portion of magically given inner peace (or hatred towards “the others” depending on what’s popular today and what will bring more donations).

The truth is – people will always need something to believe in, and why not utilizing that? It is one of the oldest businesses. In the end, temples stay merely as cultural monuments. Many of them being an expression of power of rulers from the time of building, the peak of the art expression, style, and of course – peak of architectural period.

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Architecture affects the quality of life of the community, regardless the use of the final products. It can influence social conditions simply by installing object to where it is needed – or not. There is always a huge difference in development of communities where we DO have or DON’T have roads, bridges, schools, hospitals.

Depending on the model of governing applicable in a certain country, region or a city, there are different ways of improving life conditions in the community. In open societies, communities can decide to work together on fixing the problems affecting their community crowd-funding becomes more popular and brings visible results. By agreeing on a target, community collects funds and proceeds with realization of the project. It can be a playground for children, a new park, bridge, school, etc. One of the interesting examples from Rotterdam (Netherlands) is the wooden bridge called Luchtsingel Bridge that has reconnected the city centre with the part that was for few decades cut-off by a very busy road.

The history of the project, mechanisms of creating it, and its development and realization make the project interesting. Community is allowed to express their needs and ideas, choose a solution and collect the funds for the building. It is “from people to people from A to Z”. Luchtsingel Bridge consists of 17,000 wooden planks. Each donor was entitled to have a message inscribed on the plank he donated. The bridge is a true, public piece of collaborative architecture.

http://www.asce.org/CEMagazine/ArticleNs.aspx?id=23622324819#.VFs8RxzNomo

http://www.asce.org/CEMagazine/ArticleNs.aspx?id=23622324819#.VFs8RxzNomo

The bridge is just an example that anyone can find the community needs, clean-up an unused plot of land in the neighbourhood and create a playground and/or a park, an open-air gym, or organize actions to clean the neighbourhood.

For any project, funding and keeping the costs of building, and future maintenance should be kept on realistic levels. So we come to the point of architecture and cooperation of the architects with local communities. Call them for help, many of them live right in our local communities – tell them your ideas and find a solution together!

However, in some communities, people have no rights to organize their life even on a local scale. Government may claims private owned lands and displaces a village into new skyscrapers in the top-down manner. In this case, there’s practically nothing people could do to decide on their living conditions.

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But in other countries, certain freedoms and decision-making powers are granted to citizens. People can express their interest and learn what they can do for their community. They can demand different material being used in building, decide on power sources – natural (wind, solar) or classical – fire-made by more polluting use of gas, oil, wood or coal. In the best case, with the help from local architects, people could get information and suggestions on how to build, what to build, and what to observe when building in cases when they decide to start own projects.

To return to the earlier arguments, the systems of manipulation that elite use to ensure their gain – we can’t stop or control their eternal game and there’s no point in stopping it – is a part of social living that determines our society since the very beginning of civilization. Such levels of control are far too complicated for common people to understand, control and take part.

“We need not only to build and enjoy the luxury as a status symbol, but also to teach about respect, appreciation, and value of what we leave to those to come.”

However, living in the world we live in, we do have powers, abilities and responsibilities not to forget about it. It is up to us to make small but important changes in our local environment, changes that count and will leave a trace on the quality of life of our community. One thing that doesn’t cost much is meeting with people, communicate the ideas, discuss and agree on what to do together.

There are always things to do to make our children recognize their parents. Things that their parents have made for them and will smile once they bring their children to the same place. Without any doubt, happy life of future generations should be our most important common goal. We must work together to ensure it. We not only need to build and enjoy the luxury as a status symbol, but also to teach about respect, appreciation, and value of what we leave to those to come.

Robert Dujmovic
Born in Paris, 1969. I have dedicate most of my life to aiming for improvement of world justice, protection of victims of war crimes, and the most vulnerable ones - women and children. I was actively involved in work of German humanitarian organization, Senegal Hilfe Verein (SHV), with which I contributed to numerous projects, building workshop compound, water towers, schools, kindergartens, hospitals and so on. After the civil war in Balkans has ended, I went back and joined the United Nation peace-keepers. After few years of service in Croatia and Kosovo, I moved to Dili, East Timor , opening a new UN mission, where i worked in the special Court for war crimes. Paralely, with few colleagues I held several workshops related to basic health, and local community empowering leading to faster neighborhood's recovery. After 5 years, I returned to Europe and have been working for International Criminal Court for the last 8 years, mainly in the area of protection and safety of victims of war crimes.