Graduate 2017: Architecture as reconciliation

Education and students

How can architecture play a positive and active role for people in areas that have been ravaged by strife and shortage of resources? Meet the architect, Katharina Manecke. In her final project she used a ramshackle fishing factory in Turkana, Kenya as an architectural “peace resource” in order to give the local indigenous people a common route out of poverty and conflicts. 

What is your final project about?

‘Architecture Between Conflicts’ implements architecture as a peacekeeping resource in Turkana, the poorest region in Kenya. 94.3% of the population live below the poverty level, and the region is also plagued by unrest. For ages, the local tribes around Lake Turkana have been fighting hard for the area’s limited resources and historical borders, and every year hundreds of herders lose their lives in armed conflicts. Climate change, oil extraction and the building of a dam for a hydroelectric power plant have made the situation tenser.

In an attempt to make the people’s lives better and create a basis for peaceful co-existence among the local tribes, I used an abandoned fish factory as a kick-starter for positive development of the area. The idea is for the local tribal people to convert the factory together. It will give them something positive to unite for, with an understanding of the history and culture that are at the root of their conflicts.

Lake Turkana, den vigtigste vandressource i området.

The office area and drying area of the fish factory will be converted into construction workshops, where people from the different tribes in the area can come together for various building workshops, thereby working together. At the workshops, together they will learn new construction techniques that will make use of local materials and resources – something which ultimately could generate a regular income and independence from outside help. The fish factory’s freezer room will be transformed into a nursery, which will grow types of trees that are indigenous to the area. To restore and increase the amount of local vegetation can help to curb soil erosion for the benefit of the entire Turkana area. Meanwhile, products from the trees they grow can be sold, thereby generating a permanent source of income. 

At a later stage, the project will involve building small harbours around Lake Turkana, which will serve as a kind of demilitarised zone, which all the tribes will share.

The fish plant

What was your motivation for this project in particular?

I lived in Kenya for 7 months as an intern on the UN Habitat’s Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme. It awakened my interest in the UN targets for sustainable development: how they affect people’s lives and how as an architect I can work together with local people to restore energy and vitality in the small communities at a difficult time.

After the internship period I had the opportunity to travel to Turkana in northern Kenya. I became fascinated by the clash between different ways of living. On one hand, there are people who live a traditional life as more or less independent herders. Meanwhile, other people are attempting to keep pace with modern development, involving smart phones and Facebook, in an area that appears to be totally neglected in terms of public planning, financing and legislation. As a foreigner, I asked myself what development would mean for these people, and how one could involve the stakeholders in a project aimed at bringing about peace and coexistence.  

How do you imagine your degree project will make a difference?

First and foremost, the idea of the project is to build not only a physical, but also a social infrastructure. I regard building as a social process. The participation of local people is the whole basis for creating a joint project, which will be inhabited, supported and maintained by the local community. The design of the building is strongly influenced by the local architecture, aimed at creating an architectural language, which is coherent in terms of aesthetics, materials and climatic features. My project aims to build local skills and a strong sense of ownership of the building. 

Can you see any opportunities for development and job creation in your project?

I think the main development potential of the project lies in the working method and the way, in which one works together with the local community. These are specific to the Turkana area. Simultaneously with our studies, my fellow student, Hannah Wood and I founded the company, ‘Freiraum Kollektive’. Its aim is to establish an alternative network for studies in multi-faceted global subjects in the field of informal construction. We work specifically on sites, which are undergoing major societal and cultural changes: for example, following human or natural disasters. Currently we are working together with the Memusi Foundation to develop a housing prototype for a small village south of Nairobi. 

What do you think is your greatest strength as a KADK architecture graduate?

My studies have really equipped me to take a critical look at the complex issues involved in commissions, ethics and the potential of architecture to contribute to social change. I also became aware of the importance of the tensions implicit in urban growth, changing climate conditions, the elimination of poverty and the provision of affordable housing.

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