Posts Tagged ‘ GFRY ’

Lessons Learned in the Challenges of a Collaborative Studio

In just under three weeks, the GFRY studio made some major improvements to the Paso Moya Sede Social (Community Center). Located in one of the most severely affected regions (Maule) of the 2010 Chilean earthquake, the sede is home to several community groups. We sought to expand the utility of the sede and in the process, revitalize civic interest. Our plan included a series of architectural upgrades: a playground, signage, pavers and custom furniture in the front, a quincho and barbeque / fire pit in the back, and tool storage / checkout system inside.

Background

The two-semester studio took more twists and turns than a great roller coaster ride; each turn offered a new lesson, most of which could not be fully appreciated until the ride came to a complete and sudden stop. We began by researching the disaster context. As I’ve learned from thesis, it’s easy to get overly enamored by research. Instead of strengthening our overseas partnerships and developing a shared vision, we developed projects based on our personal interests. I partnered with two others from the start in the hopes that an early collective vision might make it to implementation. While this proved true, we created a solution looking for a user.

After a natural disaster, most governments (with the help of NGOs) manage to stabilize the food/shelter needs of its constituents. Most fail in the medium term (6 months to 3 years) recovery: restoring/improving esteem and social structure. My team saw that children were severely affected in this earthquake and sought to improve their post-disaster situation by building a play area (which psychologists widely consider important in recovery). By the time we solidified our partnerships, the community we were designing for turned out to be predominately elderly. Because of this, some community members pushed back at our use of space for a playground. This taught me the importance of understanding client needs early and affirming that understanding through feedback before the research phase.

In our first face-to-face meeting, our partners questioned our intentions and seemed to shoot down all of our project proposals. Other universities had come and promised much and delivered little. These were academic exercises. While faculty had every intention to deliver, that objective wasn’t even clear to students, as we received significant push back on every proposed expenditure. As a result, many developed very low budget proposals that related more to art than design. This taught me the importance of open communication with the broader team.

Implementation

Feelings were mixed going into the implementation phase. Without a confirmation of budget (to the students) and seemingly reserved support from our overseas partners, we weren’t sure what we were getting ourselves into. We had a game plan, but most projects take longer than anticipated. The bottom line: We had 12 work days to make everything happen.

The first few days were a scramble: get materials and equipment from Easy, clean the work site, lunch at Arturo’s, prepare for the town hall presentation of our plans and get feedback from the community less than 24 hours after arrival. It was too late to change large jobs. We trusted that our partners in the community had accurately gauged and communicated community needs. Fortunately, this proved to be mostly true.

I mainly worked on the playground and barbeque pit. In practical terms, everybody helped with everything: the quincho, the fence chalkboard, paving, foundation work, and documentation. We involved the community in volunteer shifts. Neighborhood kids helped paint. Locals pulled up on horse-drawn carts to drop off used tires. A passerby helped us break up and bury a giant cement block that we couldn’t remove.

Lessons

1. Leadership requires buy in. To convince people to follow your vision, you need to understand your constituency’s vision. Paul (faculty) involved us throughout the planning process and helped us combine diverse project interests under one community center renovation umbrella.

2. Activities that contribute little to tangible outcomes can still have significant intangible value. We took turns sledgehammering a giant cement block on a few afternoons. The progress was minimal; we could have rented a jackhammer for very little compared to the time investment. However, hammering proved incredibly therapeutic for the class. It contributed to harmony and group dynamics.

3. Failures are opportunities. We missed the bus to go horseback riding in the mountains, but took a trip to Conception instead. The visit opened our eyes to how another region reacted to the 2010 earthquake. We walked along a beautiful black sand beach and experienced another aspect of Chilean culture.

4. You have to trust your teammates to pull through for you. When you don’t have the time to accomplish everything by yourself, those good working relationships with your teammates really pay off. My hands weren’t agile enough to fasten interior bolts, but Cleo’s were. No one else could drill 3/4″ holes through tires, so I had to, in spite of the carpal tunnel.

5. Mortar is not glue. My barbecue stand fell apart when the form work was removed because cement has very little lateral strength. (Mig fixed it the next day.) Similarly, inflexibility as a team member creates an all-or-nothing dynamic that can damage morale and results.

Advertisements

GFRY Chile Trip

We returned today from a long, politically- and emotionally-charged week in Chile. The result appears to be a significantly reduced role for our initial partner and sponsor in Chile (Reconstruye) and an introduction to another group (Surmaule) for what has been reframed as an academic exercise. This is disappointing because there is so much we could do for them as designers.

Walk through almost any neighborhood in Talca and you see completely leveled buildings next to standing ones. Shacks called mediaguas spring up in patches like mushrooms after a storm. A year later, people are still living in these shacks that take up very little of their actual land. Walls of roofing steel, aluminum siding and any wood scraps cordon off sidewalks from property lines. Chains and double locks maintain the illusion of security. Visit a small collective. The pool overflows with muddy rain water. An inflated shark pool toy leans against the wall as a reminder of things before the earthquake. A toilet seat balanced on a bucket becomes an outhouse. Each day the someone steals water from a fire hydrant to sanitize the family. A little girl looks fragile and frightened. She pokes at the pile of dirt and rubble with a stick.

Some of us cried at the neighborhood meeting in Seminario before taking the tour. What we saw was a shocking reality. How could the Chilean government leave its people in these conditions? A major part of the problem are the laws which allow only one home per family and landowner. Those that had multiple homes or condo units were entitled to only one mediagua and one reconstructed home on the city outskirts in exchange for their more valuable centrally-located land. This left several classes homeless: renters who faced rising rent in the face of diminished supply, those who lived on land inherited but did not have the paperwork to prove it, and those who through other legal reasons such as separation without divorce were unable to file a “legitimate” claim. As a result, large buildings that once housed several families are reduced to two room shacks. For many, “cramped” is an understatement.

Reconstruye’s approach for integrated social housing seems humane albeit difficult to execute. They find landowners that give up the vertical space on their land in exchange for construction that other tenants finance. By building higher, a finite amount of land can accommodate more families within their respective neighborhoods.

Beyond the architectural concerns are the psychosocial concerns. The people of Talca feel betrayed by the federal government and its local appointees. Many voiced identical sentiments to what one woman in Paso Mayo said, “I’m never going to forget it (the earthquake). It’s a psychological trauma that will remain for many years. The only thing keeping me going is my brother and his business.” Children have been similarly affected. Some remain in a fight-or-flight state. “My 12 year old girl used to get good grades but now she’s fallen from a 6.1 to 4.5 in school. Each aftershock causes her to lose control. My other child, a toddler, everything scares her now.”

There is a playground in the city center, but outside of that area, there is little for children to do in their free time. Older children sit around talking in the green areas, but younger ones kick rocks and visitor guides for entertainment. After school, they are shipped home in yellow minivans (which are privately contracted by parents). Once home, there is little to do. Community centers are bare and provide only a roof and wobbly chairs for adults to talk about reconstruction efforts. The central park area is too far away for a child aged 5-8 to wander towards alone. In addition to the stresses of changing schools and making new friends, children retire to crowded realities in undivided rooms they must share with their parents and other siblings.

While I remain interested in the idea of a mobile playground, it seems that a lack of funding and the relabeling of our work as an academic exercise may change priorities. The need is there. We received positive feedback from almost everyone we spoke to about it. But Surmaule doesn’t want to raise the hopes of the people as other universities have without delivering tangible results. Bottom line: we need to regroup.

GFRY Draft Proposal for a Playscape

This week, we presented our proposal for a mobile playscape that could move through five elementary schools throughout the week and serve the two community centers on the weekends. The central idea is to create an outlet for stress for kids that is active, educational, and engages the senses. We purposely kept the presentation at a concept level that focused on the process of how we could work with our partners in realizing this vision. The flow diagram was shown as a step animation to demonstrate the iterative and collaborate design process. The sketches were modeled on the computer and traced over to intentionally lower resolution so that our partners wouldn’t think we were overly invested in a specific form. They exist to demonstrate the idea of modularity.

Feedback: The two main points of feedback concentrated on: Why portable versus fixed? and Why proscribed versus free? In the former, we wanted something we could realistically implement but perhaps it makes more sense to get things started on something more permanent. We will add that scenario to our presentation. We did not intend for all play to be limited to specific, organized games but saw that as a feature. We will change the layout and hierarchy of the last slide to reflect an either/or situation. We were also asked about materiality, something we felt was too early to consider. We were given several precedents to look up and will perform further research to get a sense of what can be done so we will know what to look out for during our trip next week.

Therapeutic Value of Play in Post-Disaster Settings

Play is a universally important means for expression across cultures. Children reflect on relationships and experiences with others, express needs, release unacceptable impulses, and experiment with solutions through play. A child can move towards inner resolution of a frightening or traumatic experience through play by returning to the event again and again, changing the outcome in the activity. In a post-disaster setting, play serves a restorative function in the lives of children.

In order to play, children need toys, creative materials and other props. Games and storytelling can also serve as vehicles for play. The adult sets the stage, observes and participates by providing reassurance for feelings the child may be experiencing.

Play does not require the direct supervision of mental health professionals to be beneficial. For example, The Kids’ Corner (KC), a therapeutic play area conceived after the September 11, 2001 attacks, was staffed with volunteers from both mental health and other professions.The work done in this space was considered “play therapy” when conducted by mental health professionals and “play that had therapeutic value” when supervised by other relief workers. KC is a model that has been replicated with positive results in other disasters such as the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. The fact that Western play methods work in Eastern cultures suggests the transcendent healing properties of play in post-disaster settings.

Hosin, Amer A. Responses to Traumatized Children. Basingstoke England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 66-90. Print.

GFRY Inspiration Boards for a Playscape

This week, we developed the playground idea by creating inspiration boards around the ideas of learning, sound, and physical activity. We wanted to give children a positive avenue of anxiety relief through play.

Based on feedback, we need to…

1. Research Chilean games and game frameworks (such as game show premises for the learning function)
2. Diagram a framework for collaboration with our partners in Chile that incorporates prototyping and feedback loops
3. Develop prototypes of the appropriate resolution to facilitate collaborative design

GFRY: Early Stage Opportunity Identification

This week, we continued brainstorming opportunities that we thought our partners would be interested in. We then looked at what we thought the people of Talca would need. We then filtered these opportunities based on our own design interests to present three ideas.

GFRY People Module

Cleo, Vrinda and I looked at our GFRY partners in Chile, their past projects and their intended impacts in order to start thinking of ways in which we could collaborate. We started with a relationship map to document who works with whom in what capacity. Then we took a stab at breaking down past projects by category to understand the working methods and goals of our partner institutions. Finally, we took a first pass at projects that we thought could benefit our partners.