Blending traditional and modern to create successful humanitarian architecture
Architects have always struggled with how to blend modern and traditional in a structure. Mixing new materials and styles with old is always a challenge. It either goes very well or terribly. When this concept is brought into a humanitarian context the layers of complexity start to build and the risk of failure is intensified. Not only is the constant challenge of blending new and old styles and materials present, but the issues of cultural appropriateness, the presence of local materials and labor, and building technique all play a role in the success of the project.
The most successful humanitarian buildings are able to blend traditional building styles and materials with modern technologies. This is easier said than done, especially if the designer is not native to the region. There are a few things that humanitarian designers can do to increase their chances of designing a successful project. The first is to do a ridiculous amount of research. Non-native designers will have to double up on the research to know just as much about the traditional building practices, materials, climate, and cultural behavior in and around the buildings, as natives. The secret to this is to spend time speaking with local residents. They will give you invaluable information you'd be unaware of, had you not taken the time to speak with them. Time spent with locals can be the key to the success or failure of a project, and the designer can never lose sight of that.
Once you've done your research about traditional materials, you have to do research on the available modern construction materials in the region. This is very difficult and it can be hard to find any information without physically being in the location and talking to others. Once you have the information, your creative mind can go to work trying to find ways that these styles and materials can work together to create the best building possible. Some architects focus on the materials themselves and use modern technology with traditional materials to create new building methods. Others put more effort into the shape and create a modern building in the shape of a traditional structure. Just like with any design, there is no right or wrong answer.
Here are a very few examples of architects who were able to successfully blend old and new styles and materials in a humanitarian context:
1. Francis Kere, Gando Primary School in Burkina Faso
2. BC Architects, Children's Library in Burundi
Both of these examples use traditional materials in an innovative, and modern way. This ensures that the structures don't look out of context even though the shapes of the structures clearly aren't traditional. They are examples of successfully blending modern and traditional styles and materials to create uniquely regional structures.
The following building uses modern materials in a traditional shape to also create a success blend of traditional and modern.
The Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Center by Renzo Piano on the island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific
The most successful humanitarian projects are a beautiful and functional blend of traditional and modern shapes and materials. Although the steps involved in this process are challenging, and labor and time consuming, the results are truly fantastic. The structures provide the communities they are built in, with much more than a place with four walls and a roof. The blend of old and new in a structure, is a monument to moving forward but never letting go of the traditions that a got you where you are. For any humanitarian designer, achieving this is the ultimate measure of success.