‘We must subject technology and science to the economy of the poor and penniless. We must add the aesthetic factor because the cheaper we build the more beauty we should add to respect man.’ Hassan Fathy
Schools are important public buildings; the experience of school is culturally defining and registers dominantly in personal memory and development. Yet school design remains largely indifferent to changes in teaching theory, technology and the broader role of education within communities.
Our projects this year were set in southern Lebanon in the context of Palestinian refugee camps and the divided city of Beirut. Our focus was on school design as a means to shape the many reciprocal relationships within its setting: ecological, hydrological, material resources, climatic as well as cultural and aesthetic. With optimism we rigorously pursued a green agenda, one by nature transdisciplinary and reliant on collaboration and context.
In an area which has always known conflict, the school building is a place to restore community and a safe haven, effectively a ‘child-friendlyspace’. What proved challenging and informative to us was a lack of readily available data, which forced us to take a forensic approach to our analysis.
By designing for long-term development as well as humanitarian issues, we mean not only dealing with natural disasters and conflict but involving ourselves in systemic issues. We intervene by layering positive impacts on local economic and social well-being.
Two technical ambitions guided the unit’s work and research: an investigation into tool-making in a digital age (the inherent obsolescence of high-end fabrication machinery creates an opportunity to adapt low-cost analogue tools) and research methods for accurately predicting the behaviour of natural light (to restore an operational means of calculation for digital modelling).
Participation and communication are essential – this also involves raising awareness. By engaging directly in the field and finding active networks and collaborators including technologists, theorists and NGOs, we encourage projects to outlast the timescale of school terms.