Architecture Kenya

A frenzied and insatiable appetite for the boundary wall and its equally sinister equivalent the ‘gated community’ seem to have permeated our urban culture, and irreparably so.

 This resident’s only concept is part of a growing global urban living trend driven largely by a siege mentality of insecurity and exacerbated by acts of terrorism of the recent past. Yet in its pure form, it represents a damning aspect of social decline, instability and delinquency, an unsanctioned assault on public space and human decency. 

A tour around the city reveals the travesty that public space has become. For every built structure that is coming up, there is a fence, boundary wall or whatever other barrier to enclose it. The street today has become a disturbing retreat from the public realm where everyone is a suspect and every building a potential target. Whatever happened to defensible space? The idea that openness enhances security.

Where democracy expects open societies, our fears are drastically returning us to the safety of fortresses. Who are we running away from anyway? Ourselves?  Where architects are expected to sell the concept of defensible space to the public, drawing after drawing is submitted to the local Authorities complete with a boundary wall detail. Does this represent failure on the part of Architects to advise clients or a tacit endorsement of this troubling and ruinous concept?

For the gated community be it an enclave for the rich and famous or subdivisions of the working class represents in its stark form separation by income, economic opportunity or race all seeds of social instability.  Whilst golf and country club developments are understandable in their quest for exclusive lifestyle and prestige for their contemporaries, the security developments have fear as the greatest motivator. Yet both represent an embattled community whether by excesses of capitalism or unverifiable security concerns. 

For starters Gates and fences are in themselves not impenetrable to serious criminals and neither do anything to curb crime arising from residents. In any case evidence of enhanced security remains anecdotal and unverifiable. Where they enclose inequality in society, they have exacerbated, not reduced social tensions upheaval and controversy.

We have a solemn duty to build communities which are the only hope in solving our social problems. Physical design, architecture, landscaping and lighting have a place in fighting crime and encouraging social community responses. This is what urban design has always envisaged ‘eyes on the street’ being the best defenses against security threats and crime. 

What then is the measure of nationhood when neighborhoods and public buildings require fences and patrols to keep out their fellow citizens? How will nations fulfill their social contracts if they prevent social contact? It is time to rise up to these attacks on the very idea of democracy.
2/10/2011 03:13:34 pm

Speech is the image of actions.


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