London Met hosts discussion on accessibility and ethics within architecture

AAD staff, industry professionals, and visiting academics held an extensive discussion exploring ‘Architectures of Care’ and the creation of equitable and sustainable communities.

Date: 22 May 2023

What would our public and private spaces look and feel like if an ‘ethic of care’ were the overriding factor in shaping them? The question has become extra-topical with the award last month of the RIBA Gold Medal to Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan’s first female architect, and the publication by MIT Press this month of Yasmeen Lari: Architecture of the Future, an in-depth introduction to her oeuvre. Lari’s zero carbon, zero waste buildings and stoves are co-created with women from the marginalised communities who live in and use them.

Elke Krasny, Professor for Art and Education at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and co-editor of the book, joined other speakers in a recent edition of AAD Sessions for a stimulating exploration of ‘Architectures of Care’ and the role that they can play in creating equitable and sustainable communities. Matthew Barac, Professor of Architecture and Urban Culture, hosted the event on behalf of the Centre for Urban and Built Ecologies, with support from Events Assistant Indigo Leveson Gower.

Chaired by Anne Karpf, Professor of Life Writing and Culture at London Met, the panel examined some of the different ways, even in conditions of structured, systemic inequality where power is exercised by capital and elites, that alternative traditions of architecture exist. In this context care, suggested Karpf, meant not just the care of people with disabilities, special needs and eldercare, critical though these are, but also creating an environment in which people and groups can both feel supported and cared for and which makes it easier for them to care for others. Juliet Davis, Professor of Architecture at Cardiff University, contrasted a common ‘architecture of carelessness’ with the need to be attentive to fragility and vulnerability and design spaces and places accordingly.

The wide-ranging conversation touched on what Krasny called the structured ‘invisibilisation’ of care and its gendered nature, along with the importance of focusing on neglected places and experiences identified by Beatrice De Carli, Reader in Urbanism at London Met and Deputy Director of CUBE. De Carli described the collaborative work that she has done with the non-profit group, Architecture Sans Frontières UK, in Cape Town, Quito, Freetown and Johannesburg, in illegal settlements such as squats, as well as more formal ones.

“Practising care isn’t just about end product” argued discussant Bo Tang, Reader in Architecture at London Met and co-ordinator of the Architecture of Rapid Change and Scarce Resources research group. “it is also the very processes of designing and co-designing.” Any alternative model, the speakers agreed, needed to be decarbonising and decolonising, to avoid reproducing colonial and patriarchal relations.

In Yasmeen Lari: Architecture of the Future, a dozen different contributors situate Lari’s practice as postcolonial, humanitarian and activist, while Karpf’s short essay is one of two in the book positioning her work as feminist. Krasny’s rousing and inspiring conclusion calls for a reimagining of what building is “so that it cares for existing planetary wounds and avoids continued wounding of the plant”, a project that can only be achieved by ‘emancipating the imagination’.

Woman cooking in an earthenware pot.

Visit the CUBE and CREATURE pages to keep up to date with future events in the AAD Sessions series and find out more about research in Art, Architecture and Design at London Metropolitan University. For the full range of research initiatives at the university, see the Research Centres, Groups and Units webpage. View past event recordings on YouTube.