‘It is difficult to ignore the rapid development of urban cities and the urbanization growth all over the world and especially in the global south. The role of urban planner and designer is not limited to making new designs and nice architecture for unknown users. For me, after having worked with different social and cultural contexts and with different disciplines, I recognized how architecture and urban planning studies are strongly intersecting with social studies as well as how important it is to get in direct contact with the community (our clients). I was then concerned to gain more validity for users’ perspectives (Utilities) in life who often get neglected.
My goals evolved from focusing on exclusive academic achievements at the university level to applying and utilizing my knowledge base and science from academia towards constructive actions for sustainable community development and especially in informal settlements. Moreover, I got more interested to understand and valuate the culture, identity and the logic of such communities and try to learn how they managed to develop their lives in such a creative way without planners and only based on their needs.
Understanding the “hidden dimensions” and silent communications (Hall, E., 1990) within such communities becomes for me then very critical aspect to work with. The more you view these areas with an observant eye, the more you would be able to recognize the beauty of its informality and discover different architectural vocabulary that is never taught on the academic level. Even when it comes to challenges, you can witness how the community deals with them, what they do and how they live, regardless of any condition, shall be seen as a hidden potential and a foundation to work on. By observing along two years of pre-work on different aspects, I was able to view such communities as sustainable communities, in terms of the less use of energy, electricity and resources while building houses and on their daily life habits, that reflects their needs. I have found in Ezbet Abu Qarn, our pilot project, resources and potentials in terms of knowledge, human being, and local materials that could be recognized as a foundation for urban development.
Based on these aspects the role of our academic approach, is to empower the people, to let them be able to recognize their own potentials. By empowerment, we mean paving a way for them to realize the benefit, resources, skills and knowledge that they can bring to the process and be able to use these potentials as an effective tool for community-led/ grass-root development. That’s why based on that belief and idea of how our role as architects and urban planners should be more directed to the community and users, that was the initiative seed for me to start EZBET project and this whole thought is reflected to our project’s mission and vision as EZBET Project started as a big dream for change; not only in our social and academic life, but also in ourselves as individuals. It needed those who believe in its importance and goals, who work for a change that may not occur in our life, but in a future generation. Our vision “Improving life along with the place” does not only address the Ezbet residents but also, we mean improving ourselves by working on our potentials and empowering our members. We share experiences, recognize resources and employ them to develop projects. We apply the same approach to ourselves showing a role model to the community. With the belief that only a healthy and well educated society can contribute to the development process, EZBET Project works on promoting three main pillars of development: health, education and professional skills.
EZBET team members are considered a family. This “Family” started with only me and the project, and I was so delighted to observe it grow day by day gaining more people who possess the same believing power. Not only with this strong “Belief” that EZBET family had the ability to overcome all the challenges we faced the whole the time, but also with the “Love” of what we are doing. And the “Love” and the “Respect” that is spread among us and the surrounding communities.
- Manal El Shahat, 2018