Public Interest Design

Our community-driven approach

Over a quarter of Bangladesh's population now live in towns and cities. Rapid urbanisation, coupled with limited financial and physical capacity, has put significant strain on these areas.

To date, the Government of Bangladesh has mostly ignored the growth of informal settlements, or reacted by evicting squatters. New approaches to the urban context are needed.

Throughout the world, slums upgrading is often done through investments in neighbourhood improvement that result in de facto security of tenure for the urban poor. This in turn allows families to incrementally improve their shelter conditions, thereby improving human capital, and leading to synergies in savings, employment and poverty reduction, and gradually incorporating informal settlements into city development.
— Pro-poor slums integration / The World Bank

Global experiences show that slums upgrading requires strong engagement from urban poor communities for a number of reasons.

  1. Slums and informal settlements are dynamic and variable. No single solution is suitable for all situations. Engagement is essential to create locally relevant and contextually appropriate solutions.
  2. Government delivery and private sector engagement can crowd out the poor. A community-driven approach ensures that those involved in designing and implementing initiatives are also the beneficiaries.
  3. As governments are slow to address urban improvements for slums, community-driven approaches are often the only alternative.

Our current project will pilot a community-driven approach to improve living conditions in an urban slum of Bangladesh. This will be achieved by mobilising the community, supporting committee capacity building, facilitating access to banking facilities and improving infrastructure.

We're working with a group of 50 households in Jogen Babu Maath slum, in the northwest of the country. We've worked with the community since 2010, but now we're taking our engagement to the next level.


Author: J. Ashbridge

Meet Tarindaro

Tarindaro is the head of a family of five in rural, northwest Bangladesh.

When we met him in 2012, he was working as a day labourer in agriculture. As the sole income earner, he brought in 100 - 250 taka (85p - £2.14) per day. The work was seasonal and unreliable, which meant he often took out loans to cover the cost of basic food items such as rice and vegetables.

The family lived in a one-room earthen house, only 7.5m2 in size with no personal water source, no access to sanitation facilities and no electricity. They were chosen by their community to work with us and co-design a new prototype house to improve living conditions.

(Photo: J. Ashbridge)

(Photo: J. Ashbridge)

Tarindaro worked full time on the project, alongside our construction staff, to build his own home. He was involved in all stages from design and purchase of materials to construction and finishing. Tarindaro is now the biggest advocate in the area for improved building techniques. He also has the skills and expertise to work in construction ensuring a consistent source of income for his family.

Read more about the project >>


Author: J. Ashbridge

Think equality

The face of equality takes many forms... political equality, equality of opportunity, treatment, membership and perhaps more controversially equality of outcome. If this state of being equal is a core value in the democratic tradition, does it follow that the responsibility to achieve it lies in a collective determination?

How then can the architectural process contribute, indeed should it seek to?

(Photo: J. Ashbridge)

(Photo: J. Ashbridge)

Once hailed as a master craftsman, an age of humility is dawning. The role of the architect continues to evolve and a growing underbelly is challenging all we hold to be true. Has the profession focused on providing design services for the top percentile for too long? Can the sector reclaim a sense of social responsibility and if so what methodologies should be celebrated?

Architecture, good architecture, is not about the end product. It is not about a series of components eloquently assembled. It is the life that pervades around it and the sense of community created in and through the design thinking, which brings the object to life.

A shift in process is required. The power of architecture can be realised if citizens take ownership – the architect as the facilitator; the client as the agent of change.

The architectural process begins well before pencil meets paper. Engagement with the end user is essential to understanding real needs. In Mumbai for example, non-governmental organisation SPARC seeks to mobilise pavement and slum dwellers, equipping groups with the tools they need to articulate their concerns and create collective solutions. The once invisible urban poor are supported in direct negotiations with the government, cementing their right to the city.

Early design development is all too often resigned to brief discussions and back of house iterations. A human-centred design approach incorporates a myriad of tools, which bring architecture back to the public domain and in doing so support capacity building. For example, community workshops running in parallel to the design journey are a key aspect of SAFE’s work. This small Bangladeshi organisation strives for replication of improved construction techniques in an area on the frontline of climate change. With limited funding, their projects will only be successful if information is disseminated widely, if ideas are presented in a culturally sensitive manner and if the local population chooses to engage. It is not enough to provide a handful of families’ access to adequate shelter. The vision must empower the wider community.

Similarly, the construction phase itself provides an opportunity to leverage the local economy and offer a level playing field irrespective of ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality or disability. How can we fail to be inspired by the achievements of MASS Design Group’s master mason Anne Marie Nyiranshimiyimana in Rwanda or Orkidstudio’s construction worker Hellen Nyambura Kamau in Kenya? These women fly in the face of disparity.

The potential of architecture is not limited to traditions taught in school. Those who think outside the framework see a new way. True collaboration will allow us to break through the walls and expand the definition.

Think beyond the building. Think equality.


Author: J. Ashbridge