Creating Livable Spaces

September 1, 2015

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

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Photo (CC): Jana Revedin/Gernot Gleiss for LOCUS Foundation

Architect, scientist and author Jana Revedin champions sustainability in architecture and urban development. Her work makes a case for unhurried design and lasting quality.
Jana Revedin gives each award winner a firm, heart-felt handshake. They have come to Paris from various continents to receive the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture at the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in May 2015. The five winners are architects from Chile, Spain, Denmark, Belgium and Finland. “Our award honors great pioneers and visionaries – as well as subversive young talents,” says Revedin, who is the head of the LOCUS foundation.One of the award winners is Santiago Cirugeda from Sevilla, Spain. Together with his young team, he uses discarded materials to create public structures in his home town – especially in those areas hardest hit by the economic crisis. Among other things, he built public playgrounds whose flagship feature is a seesaw made from recycled materials.
People as partners in architecture
Revedin created the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture in 2007 together with international research institutes. She established the LOCUS foundation two years later in order to give the award its own independent scientific basis. The foundation not only issues the award, but also connects various stakeholders – urban developers, students and local residents. The foundation is the mastermind behind numerous community-driven projects focused on co-creation. Revedin’s vision: “I believe in development through self-development, in education and community spirit, I believe in the people as partners in architecture, rather than just beneficiaries of architecture.”
A beacon of hope for marginalized people
One of the LOCUS foundation’s beacon projects is the production of photovoltaic street lamps in Mokattam, a poor shantytown in Cairo that is often referred to as Garbage City. Launched in 2009, the project is still on-going today. “Over a period of two years, my students and their Egyptian counterparts worked out a city analysis and needs assessment,” Revedin says. They came to the conclusion that the most critical deficiency was a lack of light. Together with local craftsmen, female trash scavengers and the expertise of Indian architect and 2009 Global Award winner Bijoy Jain, they built their own photovoltaic streetlamps.
Today, the main square of Mokattam is illuminated independently from Cairo’s power grid. During the months of the Arab spring, for example, the poorest of the poor had light while various blackouts left the downtown area in the dark. In addition, the project transformed the daily lives of the local women, as they are the ones who make the lamps and now also sell them online to clients around the world. Thus, the light of the sustainable lamps radiates beyond Garbage City, beyond the capital’s and even the nation’s boundaries. “Light for the slums became a beacon of hope for many other marginalized people – whether they are religious, social or political minorities,” says Revedin. For it is mostly the living spaces of marginalized minorities that fail to provide even basic necessities.
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The trash scavengers and Revedin’s students are co-creating. – Photo (CC): Jana Revedin/Gernot Gleiss for LOCUS Foundation

Designing space in a way that is organic and adaptive for all
The project in Cairo is only one of Revedin’s many ventures. She is not only an architect, scientist and president of a foundation – she also holds a university chair for architecture and design at Sweden’s Blekinge Institute of Technology, and she is putting forth a design theory of her own. In the fall of this year, Gallimard Paris will publish her new book La ville rebelle: democratiser le projet urbain (in English: The Rebel City: How to Democratize Urban Planning). In the book, she explores how the unevenly distributed living space that is Planet Earth can be designed in a way that is organic and adaptive for all.
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Silence in otherwise busy streets: The lanterns are assembled… – Photo (CC): Jana Revedin/Gernot Gleiss for LOCUS Foundation 
So what makes a living space sustainable? The author thinks that the city of the future is socially diverse, develops organically from its existing base, and is dense, integrative and green. In Revedin’s playbook, sustainability means ecological and economic responsibility, but also social empathy and cultural authenticity. “The role of the architect is to capture the needs of the population and then address them adequately and in the most resource-efficient manner possible while maintaining the highest quality standards.” She lives up to this ideal in her new project: a community centre in Rio de Janeiro, which is being built together with the residents of the Favela.
Revedin has already received lots of support and recognition for her work. In 2011, UNESCO assumed the patronage of the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture and appointed Revedin delegate to the UNESCO-UIA research and teaching committee. In 2014, she received a knighthood from the French Order of Arts and Letters for her pioneering work for ethics and sustainability in architecture and urban development. The 2016 edition of the Global Award will once again honour innovative colleagues – under next year’s motto “Time is free. Haste is costly.” For according to Revedin, sustainable design cannot be achieved without patience: “We can only create socially and ecologically balanced living spaces when we share, network and take our time.”
Translated by Kerstin Trimble.


Nathalie Schnabel

Nathalie Schnabel studied German philology and media and communication studies in Hamburg. As a freelance journalist, she has written for the German press agency dpa and the Hamburger Abendblatt.

Tags: building resilient communities, sustainable architecture