Popular studies in Manila

AN INCREASING NUMBER of students choose to take the Urban Shelter course, where they are confronted with the conditions in a developing country. 23 people travelled to the Philippines in the spring – more than on any other occasion since the start in 2009. Once there, they found no shortage of challenges for aspiring architects.

The capital city area in the Philippines is known as Metro Manila. As in many other developing countries, the capital is growing almost explosively and there are already twelve million inhabitants in the area. The majority of these newcomers are poor people who end up living in sheds that they construct themselves or in small, simple homes that the State helps them to acquire.

This is the destination for students on this fourth-year elective course who come here to take part in planning new residential neighbourhoods. “We consider that they will become better architects by being exposed to an unfamiliar environment”, says Johnny Åstrand, the course director. “They often subsequently testify to this, even though they may not work with developing countries and fighting poverty later on”. The students feel that they learn a lot from the method which requires them to support their work through interviews with both the authorities and residents.

LTH News attended the final presentation on 28 May and listened to Sofia Didrick speaking about “Public Space” in Manila. She is studying to be a landscape architect at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp and took part in the course.

“There are lots of basketball courts in Manila but few alternatives and not many green areas in the public environment”, she said. “There should be protection from the sun in the tropical urban environment, offered by greenery, among other things”.

Sofia presented an attractive landscape architecture proposal for a whole new neighbourhood, specifying the plants and a series of different activities, a bamboo gym and outdoor furniture for everyone. Her ideas included engaging schoolchildren in the maintenance of the area, as this would encourage them to protect it and lead to less vandalism.

The representatives from the Philippines considered this to be a completely realistic proposal. Alma Valenciano from the public National Housing Authority in the Philippines was also present. Her public agency builds homes for the less affluent and its goal for the year is to construct over 50 000 new homes.

“I studied in Lund myself in 1996 and have subsequently cooperated with the Division of Housing Development Management”, she said. “The students have been coming for fi ve years now and often come up with good solutions. They have refreshing and innovative ideas”.

The study on increasing density which the students carried out in 2011 has now influenced the entire public agency’s attitude to construction. Instead of only building cheap, small terraced houses of 22–24 square metres, the agency now sees the advantages of higher constructions, which save space and offer the opportunity to create green areas and shade.

Alma was very positive towards Sofia’s project, which we have just listened to. “It introduces a new paradigm and provides new ideas on how spaces can be used. There is a lot more variation. Of course the solutions are a little more expensive but the area would become much more pleasant for residents”, said Alma.

Faith Varona, a lecturer in architecture simultaneously involved in the not-for-profit organisation Tao Philippinas, which helps poor people to build their own homes, also took part in the examination. She also lectures in architecture at the state university and, through her studies in Rotterdam in 2005–06, she has also been in contact with Johnny Åstrand and his wife Rachel, an architect who also happens to be from the Philippines.

“My organisation prioritises helping the most unfortunate whereas the majority of architects work for the richest people”, she explained. “We provide advice and assistance on construction techniques, materials and rights. We want to make a difference for the poor but we don’t oblige anyone to follow our advice. We cooperate with the National Housing Authority and local schools and networks”.

Faith gets “refreshing new ideas” from the Lund students. She considers several of their projects to be completely feasible.

“They can also teach my own students a great deal; they are so taken up with the Internet”, complains Faith. “The Lund students think a lot about environmental factors and they have a practical approach”.


Facts about the course

The course is studied in the fourth year of the architecture degree programme. The students pay their own travel costs to the Philippines where they live cheaply in a student residence. Most of the architecture degree students make several study trips in their fourth year, as that is when the international exchanges peak. This means that there are also many international students taking part in the course in the Philippines.

The schedule consists of four weeks of preparations in January, three weeks of field work in February, followed by the finalisation work during the rest of the spring. In Manila, the students visit public authorities, architecture agencies and approximately ten residential neighbourhoods, both poor and affluent. They interview residents and produce documentation for a programme aimed at the particular neighbourhood they have chosen to work on. The course management offers a few different options, all taken from the public authority’s programme.

“This gives a working method which is close to real life”, says Johnny Åstrand.

These neighbourhoods are usually 2 to 5 hectares in size and the students create a design for the entire area, working in groups. Each student then designs one building in detail. The general plans are already presented at a seminar before the students leave Manila. The groups receive feedback, both positive and negative, before they continue to work on the details of their project back in Lund.

This year, the course had the opportunity to invite two of the key people in the project to the final presentation at the end of May.

Sidansvarig: tiina.meri@kansli.lth.se | 2015-11-06