The climate is changing and the whole world with it. But what effects will this have on the most fragile communities? We asked it to Marìa del Carmen Mendoza Arroyo, Professor at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya and co-director of the Master of International Cooperation in Sustainable Emergency Architecture.
1 – In which way, nowadays, climate change is influencing the most fragile urban communities?
With the immigration made by the increase of climate change and with the increase of natural events in their frequency and their violence: climate change is affecting all the world, however, when a crisis or disaster (human-made, or natural) occurs, the existing vulnerability of a system is exposed. In this sense, in countries or communities which before the disasters already faced vulnerability (social, economic, governance, etc.), the impact is worst. Therefore, we are seeing the effects more clearly in fragile communities. Although the events are global, it is important to insist that effective and culturally relevant recovery is linked to localized adapted frameworks of response instead of global approaches.
2 – What kind of technological elements and constructive techniques can be adopted to mitigate the consequences of this kind of events?
It is important to underscore that the vast majority of reconstruction is carried out by families and local builders, and it is this capacity that needs to be developed to achieve safer buildings. In other words, the first and most important requirement is that local communities in the affected regions be considered active collaborators, rather than ‘helpless beneficiaries of aid relief’. Hence, our work must create opportunities for capacity building so that local professionals can assume complex processes, and this be seen as a priority to be addressed before disasters occur. Therefore, one of the major challenges of our profession is the co-creation of knowledge, knowledge sharing, and its translation into local building codes in disaster prone countries, in order to introduce better and safer construction processes.
3 – Which will be the role of the “Occidental world” and what will be its relationship with the most vulnerable countries with less capacity to react to that kind of crisis?
Today disaster studies and practices are questioned for being ‘over-influenced by Western concepts’ and dominated by ideas developed in ‘rich countries’, this is due to the fact that we very often forget that Architecture must promote the uniqueness of a place and, in order to accomplish this, we must keep its culture alive. From this perspective, our drivers to create resilience and to adapt to disaster, is to work with the causes, the history and the cultures in which we intervene. The local culture will facilitate work or it will inhibit it if our work is counter to the culture. When a sense of place is reinforced in the efforts to reduce disaster risk, recover from disaster, and urban betterment, the possibility for autonomy will emerge, despite the implementation of ‘technical western concepts’.
4 – What will be the consequences on our way to make architecture and in which way will it change?
Today architecture and built design professionals have to accept that our field is merging with other areas, such as climate change adaptation and increasing displacement and migration, all of which are changing the field substantially. This constitutes a working field which is more and more complex. This com-plexity requires a multifaceted, comprehensive view on different scales of the built and natural environment, much more resources, as well as greater expertise. On the other hand, as professionals and academics we must understand the relationship between what we know as it relates to our expertise and what we do not or cannot know, so as not to create relationships of dominance or imposition. Furthermore, working professionally is vital, as well as acknowledging that local communities need active support in devising their own recovery and in building in a safe and efficient manner.
5 – In 2017 you published “Rethinking refugee camp design from temporary camps to sustainable settlement“. Do you believe that with the increase of natural events and conflicts the refugee camps will become less temporary and will take their own architectonic identity and dignity? What will change?
This article, based on the doctoral research developed by Nasr Chamma, acknowledges the fact that all camps are protracted situations. UNHCR explains that 18 years is the expected time a conflict can last, therefore, camps are no longer temporary. Camps are states of exception and should not be promoted except for first emergency stages. Specially in Europe, they have become a way of keeping migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees out of the continent attaining to certain political agendas. Luckily, today it is assumed by all humanitarian agencies and professionals that the answer are not camps, but working toward the urban integration of refugees. In the research line I direct Post-emergency Community Resilience at UIC, we are working on methodologies and policies in order to achieve, with social and physical parameters, the urban integration of migrants to cities. Particularly, the importance of site selection for migrant housing in order to promote social integration in European cities.
6 – One of your last works, “From metropolitan rivers to civic corridors” analyzed how rivers took as ecological corridor can start a redefinition and rehabilitation process of the urban context; what will be their role in the city of the future and how will our relationship with water change in the next years?
This work, developed in the UICs research group “Community Based Urbanism” led by Professor Pere Vall, is built on the belief that ecological elements as rivers and people-centered recovery go hand in hand. Our relationship with ecological factors must be enhanced in any urban transformation and specially when it comes to development patterns. The collaboration with ecologists, geographers and specially community led actions, must be included in our work, as well as a transcalar approach (from territory to neighborhoods) in order to maintain and regenerate existing ecological grids (watercourses, green and open spaces, etc.) by building on their resilience and sustainability.
7 – In the last period, we clarified that we must redefine our relationship with the natural environment. In your opinion, in which way we have to redefine it?
Cities are on the leading edge of climate change adaptation and resilience, therefore, as architects/urbanists, we must research on how we must transform specific urban knowledge systems that are currently in place, in order to align them with diverse societal needs, and open new ways for (re)designing how city systems sense, anticipate, adapt to, and learn from extreme weather events, forced migration and rapid urbanization. In this sense, through the Master di International Cooperation Sustaianble Emergency Architecture, which I direct at UIC, we are exploring teaching methodologies and generating research on the close relationship the changes in the natural environment have on the interventions and development of our practice.
Translated into English by Marco Grattarola.