Can Design Challenge Inequality?
Al Borde is a collaborative and experimental architecture studio that uses participatory processes to engage people who are living on the margin of society, whether in the remote coastal regions of Ecuador or in the informal settlements of Latin America’s major cities. Their work is known for extreme affordability – one of their most notable school projects was accomplished on a budget of $200. They accomplish this through an investigative process that begins with community engagement, which then leads to a keen understanding of all the resources available for a particular project. Their work elegantly illustrates how in the world of social design, constraint leads to creativity.
Al Borde was founded in Quito in 2007 by David Barragán and Pascual Gangotena; in 2010, Maria Luísa Borja and Esteban Benavides joined the studio.
Al Borde’s approach to community architecture has been most shaped by three “hope projects,” Escuela Nueva Esperanza (2009), Esperanza Dos (2011), and Ultima Esperanza (2014). The three projects were sited in Puerto Cabuyal in the Manabi Province, a fishing village of about 35 families who subsist on fishing and agricultural activities.
Al Borde was initially invited to the village by Gangotena’s cousin, who was at the time teaching literacy in the village. Beginning with the $200 design challenge, Al Borde developed the three “hope projects” while building an ongoing relationship with the community. That relationship bore fruit well beyond physical structures – the community based approach favored by Al Borde taught the community that the resources (both human and natural) to design and build were already present in their community. Beyond the hope projects, the villagers started integrating the discovered materials and design strategies into their own self-built structures. The process itself was catalytic, turning an entire village into designers and builders.
Such is the point of Al Borde’s process. The designer can serve a community best when they make themselves obsolete. In Barragan’s words:
“We are never looking for a form when we are designing . . .All of the forms are the consequence of a very rational thinking process. We want to transmit this rational thinking process so that the community can create new projects on their own and feel free to explore space in other ways. We created this education opportunity because we don’t want to be necessary.”