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Architecture and shelter : the roles and responsibilities of architects in meeting basic needs Bristol, Graeme Leslie


This paper concerns the responsibility that the architectural profession has to the basic human needs of the society it serves. In order for the profession to meet these responsibilities - to shelter, to a healthy work place, to a liveable city - it must change and enlarge the parameters of practice. It must also become more directly engaged in the ethics of the profession. The development of architecture, however, has led in quite another direction. As a result, practicing architects believe that their intended professional monopoly over the built environment has eroded considerably, while at the same time, the public views the profession as increasingly irrelevant to urgent social concerns. Because these social concerns are most compelling and ruinous in the Third World, this paper has focussed on the work that some architects have undertaken there. By examining their work in support of the development of communities in China and Southeast Asia, it is possible to extrapolate some common elements that suggest a way for practicing professionals to act responsibly in honouring the human right to shelter. The opportunities for responsible action involve architects working for government bodies, educational institutions, and in private practice. In this work, architects have had to respond often in non-traditional ways in working for Non-governmental organizations and community-based organizations. The non-traditional, or enabling practitioner uses architecture as a tool towards the democratization of the built environment. For the profession to recover its relevance to society, these non-traditional tools and methods must become a more central part of the profession. Architecture, as well as the democratization process, has a role in the development of a sustainable future and it has a responsibility, as a profession, to use its resources to address the basic need of shelter in society and to honour the human rights derived from that basic need.

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