Architecture is often connected with extravagant works of art, useless art or fancies of the rich. The socially weak are, on the contrary, doomed to live in inconvenient housing, since they do not deserve anything better because they do not contribute to society and only live on social benefits…
Both above mentioned views are absolutely misleading. Good-quality architecture creates space for coexistence and creates a satisfied society. The authors of the two documentary films Bedřiška Colony and Bellevue di Monaco chose a similar approach.
HOUSING IS A FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN NEED
In the first place, we all need to satisfy our basic physiological needs and according to Maslow´s hierarchy of needs these are followed by the need of security and safety. We can satisfy all our needs only in some kind of space and the most important space for us is home. Home means safety and people need to feel safe. Short-term lease agreements are not only against the law but also against this fundamental human need.
One of the solutions is social housing. It is a common type of housing, a standard flat with a classical lease agreement and an opportunity to use the support of a social worker. Social housing should not be segregated and should not result in concentration. Social housing should be, if possible, located in different parts of the town – in common built-up areas, in houses with expensive as well as affordable flats, in neighbourhoods with residents belonging to different social classes. Neither the segregated colony Bedřiška nor the apartment building for migrants Bellevue di Monaco would meet these requirements. However, thanks to architecture of coexistence both projects were stimulated to find a solution which does not demolish but, on the contrary, which unites. Uniting diversity is the key to a sustainable quality of life in a town. Diversity means strength not only in business but also in housing. Homogeneity leads to concentration, which can result in socially excluded localities or gentrification.
OPEN MIND AND AUTONOMY
The development over time in both documentary films shows that town councils and architects play a really important role. The process spanning from racist and xenophobic representatives of towns to enlightened leaders, who see further into the future and are not content with superficial and short-sighted solutions. Both in Ostrava and Munich we see strong personalities who decided to support often unpopular target groups and who decided to solve actual problems instead of sweeping them under the carpet.
In both projects activists, social and community workers together with architects, a number of specialists and members of the general public succeeded in establishing a community. They managed to involve civil society and to arouse a feeling of togetherness, which resulted in seniors teaching migrants German in Munich or in enabling unemployed foreigners to get jobs in cafés. Tenants were able to satisfy their need of love, acceptance, belongingness, recognition, respect and often reached the highest level in Maslow´s pyramid – the self-fulfillment needs. In connection with the colony Bedřiška, the mayor of Ostrava Tomáš Macura said: „The first precondition of success in dealing with issues related to socially excluded localities, is a strong local community of people, who want to improve a place. Since we have such a unique community in Ostrava, it would be a waste of energy and senseless to ignore this community and scatter the members all over the town.“
PARTICIPATION LEADS TO SUSTAINABILITY
The strength of a community may result in a revolution. The feeling of security and belongingness changes the mind setting and people begin to appreciate their own space, their house or flat. We can see perfectly clean and tidy flats in socially excluded localities. However, this does not always apply to corridors and neglected common areas, where walls are covered in grafitti and floors covered with cigarette ends. Moreover, the vicinity of many buildings has been turned into rubbish dumps. The colony Bedřiška is a clearly different case, which is apparent at first sight. This was achieved thanks to the activity of people who stayed there and who respect the place they live in. This is the first step to a successful transformation of a locality which has a great hidden potential for coexistence in an architecturally interesting area.
In both projects it was mostly external subjects that wished to transform the locality and called for the solution of old problems. Provided a change should be a sustainable one, it cannot be the job of activists only, but the actual actors must be involved. Nobody is entitled to impose his ideas on anybody (even when saving somebody). He should reflect other people´s needs the same as a modern social worker or a good architect do. Someone who loves watching soap operas will hardly go to a hipster concert and not all migrants will enjoy playing in an amateur theatre. „Our initial ideas and reality turned out to be two quite different things,“ said one of the initiators of changes in Bellevue di Monaco. Architecture of coexistence must involve empathy, it cannot only experiment in a visionary way with lives of people and society without respecting their needs and ideas. Similarly, these ideas will never be homogenous, because the community will stay heterogenous. The road to social togetherness and solidarity requires mutual respect, which was undoubtedly present in both projects.