Amateur Building Tactics

Concept – Various

Amateur building tactics refer to the myriad practices of self-building that occur across the world without the input of an architect. These practices are usually the result of need and the will to survive and are typically located in what are variously termed informal settlements, shanty towns, favelas, shacks, katchi abadi etc., settlements that are built on left-over and neglected pieces of land, on steep hillsides, by the side of railway tracks or at the edges and interstices of cities. Characterised by dense and rapid growth, informal settlements are unplanned and indicate a failure of governments to keep up with the housing needs of their citizens. Although it is difficult to define these collectively, as they occur in vastly different contexts, informal settlements are often grouped according to their legal status. This is problematic as legality is based on capitalist and neo-liberal definitions of property, which means that much of the debate around informal settlements concerns issues of land ownership.

It may therefore be better to define informal settlements not through their relationship to an external system but through their own context, one such way would be to examine the different tactics involved in building and organising such settlements. For example, the geçekondu of Turkey take advantage of a legal loophole that means a structure cannot be removed without legal proceedings if it is already inhabited, leading to makeshift houses being built collectively overnight. The minimum required structure to qualify as a house cannot be completed alone and so requires a group of people to work together. It also means that self builders not only engage in a very fast building process but one that is continuous, starting with just a room and growing steadily to accommodate more people and activities, often over a number of years and generations. Another collective building practice that occurs in Brazil is named mutirão, meaning 'collective effort' in Portuguese, a group of family and friends get together to help build a house for one of their group; the favour being repeated for others as and when needed. The principles of mutirão are now also being applied to the provision of social housing across Latin America. This type of self-building in informal settlements often occurs in a self-organised manner with a number of services being provided within established settlements, for example the architect Arif Hasan has supported and utilised such grass-roots initiatives in the upgrading of the katchi abadis of Karachi.

Whilst the standard response of many local governments has been to evict inhabitants from such areas and to relocate them to newer neighbourhoods that conform to legal and planning standards, it is now widely accepted that this is not an adequate response. It disperses established communities, with peoplw often moved from sites close to city centres to the outskirts of the city, where there is little chance of earning a living. In recent years, some governments are taking a more progressive attitude, looking to provide services within these communities, but due to development pressure this is still a highly contested area with many communities being evicted regularly.

References About

AbdouMaliq Simone, For the City Yet to Come: Changing African Life in Four Cities (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005).

Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Reprint (London: Verso, 2007).

Robert Neuwirth, Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World (New York: Routledge, 2004).

'Squattercity', [accessed 23 June 2010].

United Nations Human Settlements Programme, The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003 (London: Earthscan, UN-HABITAT, 2003).


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