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How to Build Communities
through Building Construction

part of the Rituals for Real Estate project

The act of building is, in itself, an expression of the ideals of a society and of the way it operates. It reflects not only our cultures, norms and traditions, but also the economic processes which allow for construction to take place. So, as a designed object, a building is never politically or ethically neutral.

Looking at the residential housing market in more “globalised cities,” the house, unit or apartment has become a tradable commodity in a neoliberal market economy. The relationship between the inhabitant and their future home has its beginnings with: the handshake with real-estate agents, house tours, mortgage applications, paddle raisings, building appraisals, pest inspections, solicitors meetings, and so on. The nature of this relationship becomes reduced to the owning of an inhabitable object within a bureaucratic mess. What’s usually neglected is the dweller’s sense of ownership and belonging to a place.

In this project, I explore a way to use architecture—in the sense of building construction—to build homes and communities. If a physical environment is more legible—that is, the form, structure, spatial relationships and materiality are easily to read—then dwellers are better able to imagine how they want their environment can be, and then take up action to make it happen. Having this greater sense of spatial agency amongst individuals, I believe, is what creates community.

I frame the project around the concept of ritual, which I broadly define as the repetition of a complex sequence of actions involving gestures, words and objects. These physical actions express and reinforce a set of customary traditions and values of a community. A ritualised process could take place within a day, as a political event or ceremony. Others are long-standing cultural practices or alternative building processes, which may take place over an extended period of time. Despite the differences in nature, all the case studies demonstrate that engaging in a collective action is a means to foster a sense of ownership and belonging within a group of people: through reenactment, rituals not only transmit forms of knowledge, but also generate a collective consciousness and memory that is immediately spatial.

For this housing project, I use the concept of the ritual in that, through the process of building buildings (something tangible), one can also build community and bring people together (something intangible). This is done as a way to think about the complex relationship between architecture and the using of architecture; the purpose of the project extends beyond the pragmatic functional object to one which embodies meaning at a symbolic level; a building “must signal and accommodate the activity, and afterwards they tend to become mnemonics of it, at least for those who were involved.”