The primary purpose of this research was to better understand the unique conditions and regulatory actions that have influenced the outcomes of contested urban spaces. Whether in public space or housing, it is useful to understand how a community’s determination and inclination toward being active participants in city building drives them to create their own outcomes in a world that is increasingly dominated by top-down control and regulation. Cities are shaped by the ways in which its citizens define and use its space and resources. In order to consider how design and planning could embrace local, user-driven architectures, it was important to see how diverse cultures, with extremely contrary political and social histories, adapt to circumstances beyond their control. The case studies chosen reveal that the need for designers and planners to embrace flexibility and impermanence in building and public space is a global phenomenon. This research is by no means bringing forth topics that have been overlooked in current academic discourse. Rather, these topics have been heavily researched and are fundamental case studies to understand the current status of architectural discourse concerning urbanism in the twenty-first century.
In India, cities like Chandigarh, Jaipur, and Mumbai present three contrasting visions of India’s traditional bazaar, as a result of the diverse ways in which city planning has either embraced or shunned its presence. For Mumbai, the bazaar is a subversive space that weaves its way through the more permanent city and exists beyond and outside formal city planning. At Chandigarh, one experiences a city that, in efforts to rapidly modernize in the mid-twentieth century, had turned its back on the bazaar, trading its loose structure and fluid form for the modern tenets of western planning. This vision inevitably gave form to the strip malls of its planned market sectors. Finally, Jaipur’s city plan (est. 1727) is totally shaped by its bazaars, which define its urban form at several scales, from the block to the street, to the traveling market kiosk.
Mexico City’s tianguis share a somewhat similar story, as a resilient urban form that has been either embraced or shunned over the course of the city’s long history but retains its status today as a legitimate urban form. The tianguis have often been at odds with the political and social visions of Mexico City’s government. Though, its ability to create its own hierarchical structure and leadership with each tiangui group has contributed to its ability to retain its legitimacy and status as a politically significant and powerful space, even though at times it has been seen as a remnant of an antiquated city order. In the government’s efforts to fully modernize and control the distribution of food and goods in Mexico City, the tiangui remains a space for those whose livelihoods depend on unregulated commercial enterprise.
In housing, the flight of Chileans from the countryside to its cities resulted in housing shortages that gave way to its campamentos. Nonetheless, in efforts to shift toward more regulated and safe models of housing for all of Chile’s citizens, its government established a series of housing programs over the past fifty years in order to incentivize the gradual shift of Chile’s more at-risk housing populations into permanent housing solutions. This led to the development of deployable housing models that focused on circumstance and action to embrace economical and flexible models for subsidized housing. In the end, the housing policies in place allowed for a negotiation between ELEMENTAL and MINVU to establish user-specific and site sensitive housing models that would take into account the notion that houses are assets and commodities, and any housing model designed to shift one from campamento to formal homeownership should allow for growth and improvement. The overarching goal was to allow homeowners the opportunity for home value appreciation in order to improve a family’s social and economic stature in the long term.
In China, an inverse condition exists when compared to Chile’s urban growth in the twentieth century, as a result of the development of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that created the framework for urban expansion around what were previously rural villages. As cities have risen around these villages, the landowners have maximized the building capacity of their land plots, creating new and inexpensive housing for the migrant populations which flood the SEZs for new economic opportunity. The migrants, along with this loosely regulated stock of housing supply, created essential ingredients in both housing and labor to support local economies in cities like Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
City on the Move
These case studies all present visions of a city on the move and how individuals and groups are oriented toward being active participants in shaping their place within the contemporary city. In Chile and China, homeownership creates the means by which people can achieve social mobility and shape their circumstance for generations to come. Physically, the housing in each case is developed incrementally, gradually filling in the vertical and horizontal voids as economic circumstances improve for homeowners and as new populations create higher demand for housing supply. Thus, these housing forms become visual representations of its city’s economic and social order and how they change over time, through physical alteration.
This notion of the city on the move, when applied to the tiangui and bazaar, reveals a form that is resilient based on its ability to adapt over its long history. Similar to the housing case studies, the temporal nature of each space and its loose form allows it to be sensitive to circumstance. These spaces, however, can flex and adjust more rapidly and are best understood as immediately deployable architectures. Where housing, in the case studies provided, became a means by which people could become, step by step, closer to permanence, the tiangui and bazaar’s survival depends on daily movement and adjustment in order to occupy spaces in the public realm that are, more often than not, planned for other uses thus putting them at-risk.
In India and Mexico, the marketplace forms a key network of social and commercial exchange that can survive centuries of political upheaval and social restructuring, because it is based more on sets of values and ideas about how one democratically creates space than it is based on a fixed formal or spatial logic. At first glance, it is easy to discount these spaces as having a lack of order, seeing their form as a result of chaotic and unplanned space. However, the organizational logic of each space in question, when studied closely, reveals its careful orchestration, shaped by their own social and typological order that is native to that space after generations of defining its key characteristics. In China’s urban villages, the general decision-making process is often controlled by village collectives comprised of participating landowners, forming a sort of homeowners’ association for each village. In Mexico City, market committees which are formed by influential members of specific tiangui groups help retain the existence of each market space and have at times held political sway as a significant player in Mexico City’s social order. In Chile, ELEMENTAL’s design process emphasizes the formation of action groups comprised by the future project’s homeowners, in order to determine their collective and individual needs. Following construction, homeowner committees form the task force needed to ensure that each project develops with more collective ideals in mind. In each instance, these committees and collectives ensure that each space is seen as a loose framework, where projects can change and evolve structurally and spatially based on the changing needs for generations.
Of course, the planning and execution of these spaces is by no means perfect, as the build-up of each space presents its own unique sets of obstacles. The loose regulatory framework of La Merced in Mexico City creates the ideal conditions that allow for the prostitution and petty crimes for which the marketplace and its surrounding tiangui have become famous for. Also, in ELEMENTAL’s earliest housing projects, the total lack of control in the house’s open framework zones often led to conditions that were undesirable for the overall community and less safe than previously imagined. In China, the government has made efforts to shape perceptions of the Urban Villages (much like the political treatment of the tianguis, bazaars, and campamentos) as unsanitary, crime-ridden eyesores. Thus, the city has in many cases undertaken projects to level these urban villages to make way for more modern city planning efforts.
With that said, these conditions do not totally detract from the merit of designing with flexible, loose frameworks when considering the more fluid and fickle ways that different people experience and live in the city. For each city in question, zoning and city code has been at the heart of the research when considering the question of how one can make a case for total social and economic inclusion in the contemporary metropolis. Zoning and public policy, in each condition, have historically either embraced the formation of these spaces or created the policies which shape the perception of these spaces as the anticity and the scourge of modern progress. All of the spaces presented through this research retain their position as valuable, yet often subversive, entities within the city. Henri Lefebvre contended that space is a social product, suggesting that research concerned with urbanism and city building should shift from looking at static space to considering the processes of how space is produced. Traditional building knowledge is commonly derived from a functionalist logic that follows the idea of centralized control. For many political agents, the formal and informal city are contradictory modes of spatial production and planning, which apparently are brought forth through equally opposing political processes. Nonetheless, counteracting the forces of control and top-down planning that became a benchmark of early twentieth-century urbanism, self-determination in contemporary megacities creates means by which individuals can reclaim their right to the city.