Abel Feleke, University of Western Australia, M.Arch

Design is communication. A medium to convey thoughts, ideas and narratives that hopes to engage with an emotive response from the user. I feel one of the greatest opportunities that exists through architecture is the possibility to interact at both the scale of the individual and community.

During my study of informal settlements as part of the RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship, I travelled and learned from ‘slum’ communities across China, India, Brazil and Ethiopia. Within such settlements the intricate social networks integral to the survival of communities are revealed. The spontaneous interaction between residents reflects itself in the built environment. Individuals actively engage with one another to slowly affect change within the urban fabric. Social networks exist as tangible physical expressions.

Although construction methods used are rudimentary, structures remain responsive, evolving with changing circumstances of the community. In terms of architecture reflecting cultural identity, this collective engagement within the built environment is extremely powerful. Architectural interventions are woven within an existing urban fabric to allow for flexibility of use over time. What is impressed upon me is the ability architecture has to actively engage with both the physical and social needs of those within the community.

(See www.weavingtheurbanfabric.com for more)