rise in the city 2018 competition winner from Bangladesh comes to Lesotho
In April 2019, I had the opportunity to visit the beautiful country of Lesotho for a week to participate in a workshop. The main objective of the workshop was to propose a solution for the lack of affordable housing problem for low-income families through community involvement. As a recent graduate of Architecture, working for and with the community is one of the core values of my studies and career stream. So, the moment I got the opportunity to be a part of this participatory design workshop, I did not think twice to go for it.
It all started back in August 2018, when I chanced upon a web advertisement about an affordable housing design competition organised by RISE – Relationships Inspiring Social Enterprise. The prospect of designing houses for low income people to address the ever-growing housing challenge in another part of the world seemed very interesting and we quickly formed a team of three like-minded, young architects – Tanmoy Dey (team leader), Rabbani and myself. While designing, we thought about creating spaces by introducing flexibility of layout and vertical growth to accommodate the range of growing population. Winning the competition felt surreal and the prize of a trip to Maseru arranged by RISE made it even better. So, I ventured onto a plane for the very first time and travelled all the way from my home country, Bangladesh, to meet and get involved with the Basotho people.
The first couple of days were basically surveys of market, site and existing scenario. It was an interesting insight into the array of resources. The random use of metal and concrete, the most thermally inefficient materials, puzzled me, whereas there was so much earth and stone lying around.
The most interesting part came with the commencement of the PDW (Participatory Design Workshop) on affordable housing. There were three aspects to the participatory involvement – user, stakeholder and designer.
First we participated in running a community assessment of the users – local people with low range of income (of less than $70 a month). I remember the eagerness with which the locals participated in bringing forward what they wanted, what was lacking, what could be improved. It was prominent that affordable housing needs does not mean discarding facilities to cut cost but rather, it means arranging all the important elements sensibly for good living at reasonable costs. The latter session with the national housing authority further revealed the issues that stakeholders faced in delivering affordable housing. Lastly, it was up to us, the designers, to come up with a proposal balancing affordability and requirements. We went through research of materials, housing samples and modified the awarded design to adapt to contextual needs. The final proposal was presented to authorities from housing, planning and finance sectors as well as local user representatives. It sparked a light of hope to see everyone willing to embrace major changes to move forward in the housing sector. After all, movement leads to growth while stagnancy limits possibilities.
The PDW was finally over but the RISE team had further planned a culture trip for me before my departure. I enjoyed the scenic beauties of Maseru’s outskirts and the cultural tour of Thaba Bosiu – which means the Mountain of the Night in the local Sesotho language, upon which King Moshoeshoe I founded Lesotho. As a foreigner, I would like to share the observation I made, that this country has amazing potential for tourism given proper attention to infrastructural development.
My stay in Lesotho was short but fun and inspiring. Best of all, I made new friends and connections. It was a pleasure to work with the energetic RISE team – Daniela, Luca and the co-operative group of local designers. It was an experience worth remembering.