How do we enter communities? How do we deal with the fact that we arrive at community thresholds with agendas for doing good, and yet the confused mysticism of our arrival just gets interpreted as the outsider coming to steal something from the people living there, for our own benefit. We might be engaging in the most transformative piece of work/life any informal community has ever seen or been a part of. Irrespective, if people with whom we have been called to serve don’t understand why we are in their community and in fact what we are doing, then it will naturally be interpreted that you are there to cause harm.
I realized pretty early on that I needed to leave my ‘professional person’ at the threshold of the community. I needed to keep my cleverness at bay. Some people almost get offended by this, saying that you can’t forgo your training etc to the detriment of community transformation. The point is however, our power, the silent and dangerous power that we have little cognitive perception of and yet exists in ways we couldn’t even imagine, this power has the potential to crush any meaningful process of change. The power associated to education and upbringing, to ability and to professionalism will stifle.
The student of architect is basically taught two things. Conceive the most earth defying, transformative concept you can, and then fight for it until your last dying breath. I exaggerate. But it’s close. If on first viewing therefore you see a community of thousands of shacks, ravaged by the social ills associated with such a context, the superficial eye will conclude there needs to be a housing solution to this housing problem. So the architect conceives, schemes and designs and offers a solution. What happens next is pivotal to the process of change. Does the designer insist on his/her idea, as if God designed it? Or do they allow it to be subject to the will and choice of the people? The latter is a death of sorts; the design dies. In fact it has to die if we are going to start shifting the conversation from designing for the people to designing with the people.
In essence the idea gets rejected. But not everything gets rejected. The difference between the first idea and what has been rejected actually becomes the project.
So we decided to build a house in the community of Sweet Home Farm. Not to be the answer to the problem of housing in the city, but because it needed to be rejected. We believe that when we build with the community, and when the community realize that they have been given the power to accept, reject, love, improve or ignore…then we will end up creating a piece of the city better than anything anyone could have conceived by themselves. The Process House isn’t finished yet; the best is yet to come.