How Radical Architects are Transforming the Planet

Radical Architecture

Al Jazeera (2014)

Film Review

Rebel Architecture is a six-part Al Jazeera documentary series about architects who are using their skills to serve the public good rather than wealthy corporations.

Part 1 is about a Spanish architects collective that works with activist collectives loosely connected with Spain’s anti-austerity movement. Thanks to the Spanish government’s severe austerity measures and public service cuts, activist collectives have assumed major responsibility for social welfare. Occupation of public and abandoned spaces is a key tactic. The role of the architects collective is to help activists construct safe buildings in these spaces from cheap and recycled materials. In most cases the structures are unpermitted and technically illegal.

Part 2 is about Pakistan’s first woman architect and her role in helping poor Pakistani communities devastated by floods and earthquakes to rebuild flood and earthquake proof homes as cheaply as possible. Unsurprisingly she discovered that traditional building materials, such as mud bricks, lime and bamboo, are a key to the solution.

Part 3 is about an Israeli architect in the West Bank who studies the “intersection” between architecture and violence. He gives a fascinating presentation describing how the Israeli government uses architecture as a weapon against the Palestinians. This includes the deliberate layout of Israeli settlements in such a way that they strangulate Palestinian communities. And the deliberate use of bulldozers in dense urban communities as an instrument of war.

Part 4 is about Nigerian architect and urbanist Kunle Adeyemi, who works with illegal floating communities to design and build (unpermitted) floating schools and community centers.

Part 5 is about the Vietnamese architect Va Tron Nghia, who has dedicated his life to creating more green spaces in Ho Chi Minh city and building cheap durable homes for peasant farmers in the Mekong Delta. Owing to recurrent flooding, typical Delta homes last only three to four years. The film shows Nghia and local residents building a $4,000 bamboo house for a family of four.

Part 6 (my favorite) is about a pedreiro (Portuguese for stone mason) in Rocinha, the largest favella in South America – located in Rio De Janeiro. All the housing in Rocinha, population 180,000, is unpermitted and illegal. The Brazilian government turns a blind eye to all this illegal building because they need the cheap labor and have no resources to build public housing. This last segment shows how Rocinha residents organized to demand a sewage system to replace the open sewer in their streets. Instead the Brazilian government built a cable car for the benefit of tourists attending the 2014 Brazilian World Cup and the 2016 Brazilian Olympics. It was largely angry Rocinha residents who instigated the mass protests before and during the World Cup. Though the protests were widely reported in the corporate media, there was no mention of Rocinha residents’ ongoing struggle to remove the sewer of human excrement from their streets.


15 thoughts on “How Radical Architects are Transforming the Planet

  1. I ditto the comment above. I want to take these in. I’m already excited to hear what is happening. And then I’ll reblog this.

    I’m a firm believer in self-sustaining, self-governing small community. And this is a step in that direction.

    Thanks, Dr B!


    • Same here, sojourner. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t govern ourselves by direct democracy – so long as the self-governing units are small enough. Like the Iroquois Federation. I have always felt it a great pity our founding fathers didn’t follow this example. Perhaps if there had been a few founding mothers amidst them, they would have recognized the fundamental role women played in Iroquois society.


      • I’m not a Christian anymore, but I believe there is something to the doctrine of man and woman completing each other. We both bring something to the table, and when one is shut out, then both end up suffering. The male is a control freak, take it from someone who has suffered from this ailment.

        Perhaps, if we can ever get beyond this current male created and dominated system/order, this patriarchal hell can finally be extinguished for good?


  2. Reblogged this on An Outsider's Sojourn II and commented:
    If you’re concerned about your future and your children’s future, here is a ray of hope in this dark world.

    I have not watched all of six videos, but I will be over the next few days. I hope everyone will pass this on to their families and friends, since it shows how we the people have the power, if we choose to use it, as individuals, to change the world and our situations, when we come together, in small self-sustaining communities, and share our lives together!

    There is hope for humanity, if we’ll just wake up, look and then respond!


  3. I’m on the third video, and this is wonderful. I have become so cynical and bitter about so much of what is happening, and so this is such a breath of fresh air for me. These people have made me feel ashamed of my defeatist, negative mindset.

    These people are the example of life and living we should all be seeking! There is hope!

    Thank you, for bringing this to our attention!


  4. Oh please don’t feel ashamed of getting in a defeatist, negative mindset sometimes. This is really incredibly common in people suffering with chronic illnesses. I suffer from C Diff, a chronic intestinal infection, and often get into these states.

    I’m trying to remind myself when I get like this that (to paraphrase Scrooge in the Christmas Carol) it’s often something I ate.


  5. I just watched #5, in Vietnam, and as with the others, I was moved by the people and those trying to help by changing the way things are.

    This Vietnamese young man, is such a beautiful human being, as are the poor farmers he is trying to help. And then we have the city planners and business people…

    But at least his dream is beginning to be realized.

    As with many other videos and documentaries I have watched, these not only move me, but they also reaffirm in me that most of us in Merica have been indoctrinated/brainwashed to hate. As you know, Mericans are raised up to believe they are superior, ‘exceptional’, to other people, especially people who are not white.

    And yet, my experiences throughout the years, blows this lie completely away. People are beautiful, and we all have much more in common than we are taught to believe by our political systems.

    I long for the day when everything that has always kept us divided and fearful of each other will be vanquished, and we can all live together as one people, one humanity!


    • I agree totally. If nothing else, people can make an effort to get to know their neighbors better and start attending local city and town council meetings. At this point, reform is still easiest at the local level.


  6. Unfortunately, numbers 4 and 6 are not available to me. But the four that were are wonderful!

    Thanks again, Dr B!


  7. I’m pretty sure you can see both of the missing videos by going to the Al Jazeera website. Like I say in the post, number 6 is my favorite:

    I also really like number 4, in part because the water structures they’re building are illegal (largely due to incompetence and corruption on the part of the Nigerian government:


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