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.