The transit lounge is the archetypal transit space, the point where the hyper-global + hyper-local coincide; a location which blurs traditional conceptions of geo-political boundaries, creating pockets of international space within the borders of individual nation-states. An in-between space, it exists relative to a fixed departure and arrival point, not to the area that surrounds it.

The Transit Lounge is a series of overlapping residencies for Australian and German artists and architects in Berlin. It is also a blog where themes relating to the project will develop, collaborations will be initiated and sustained, and observations on the city collected. The Transit Lounge invites you to participate in these transnational conversations by commenting on the blog.

For more information email us: transit [AT] transitlounge [DOT] org

The transit lounge is supported by Culturia and the DAZ

Friday, February 16, 2007


By Hugo Moline

Informalism is the online presence of an international research project, 'working with the informal, learning from the informal', which seeks to explore the way architects and other urban practioners engage with the the informal city, the city as built by people themselves
According to recent international estimates more than 900 million people are living in informal settlements (slums, shantytowns, favelas, poblaciones etc.) worldwide . That translates to almost 1 in 3 city dwellers who are housing themselves without access to basic services or secure ownership of land. These informal settlements are a massive and growing urban phenomenon that architects must come to terms with if we hope to be of relevance to the city and its inhabitants. We must acknowledge and seek to ameliorate the hardship and exclusion faced by people living in these conditions. We must also recognise and learn from the ingenuity, resourcefulness and cooperation manifested in the building of such environments.
Through the project I will seek both to contribute to the practices and communities with which I will work and to gain skills and knowledge to be incorporated in my practice as an architect and shared with others. I will use the techniques learned in all my work as an architect, especially in the service of marginalized communities, both abroad and particularly at home in Australia. I will share my experience at the 2008 Global Studio in the People Building Better Cities forum. I will work with universities and professional organisations to organize talks and workshops which seek to encourage others, particularly students, to become interested in the global urban condition and active in exploring the social potential of architecture and its practice.

Throughout the duration of my research I will be continuously documenting and displaying my experiences (primarily through text and photographs) on this blog. The contents of which will be the raw material from which the final report will be drawn. I hope that the blog will significantly broaden the numbers of people who have access to the research and will allow mentors, advisors and colleagues to comment and contribute throughout the process.


Katie Hepworth said...

so hugo...

can the informalism of the 3rd world metropolis be applied to the first city?

can you set up infrastructures of informality?

can informalism replace the masterplan?

or is it just something that applies to the slums, to the self-built tenuous developments appearing on the edges of cities?

jodi said...

Hey hugo and katie,

I like 'infrastructures of informality' - my inclination is to imagine that once something has an infrastructure it is somehow formalised, no longer ephemeral or on the edge... maybe that's naive.

Does any one still have control over or access to the masterplan? Has it been hacked and decomposed, cracked and redistributed over layers, time and distance into something more fragmented and tangential... maybe reflecting the imprints from various struggles for power and a sense of place?

You may already know this story, about the recent destruction of Nangla Maachi in Delhi. It seems relevant. What are the structures we rely on to sustain us, and how can we be sure they will remain standing? There is no guarantee of stability, however much we take for granted, that illusion can be swept away in an instant.

Nangla Maachi is a 30 year old habitation. It was made by its inhabitants over this period. It is along the river bank and next to Pragati Maidan (Progress Ground). It is now become an valuable real estate. Built on prime land for the new urban development, the process of its dislocation has begun.

Also, in Nangla Maachi Sarai/Ankur had set up a Cybermohalla lab two years ago. (See Many a practitioner have been through the lab.

Over these two years, diaries have been written by the lab practitioners They have many an entry about life in Nangla. These diary entries are also a way to stubbornly remind us all that Nangla was made into an lively, heterogeneous habitation by countless peoples effort and needs to be remembered for this creative act of making and finding ways of living together.

Recently, an entry read - "Packing up and leaving from Nangla has begun." The diary is now a record of a contested terrain of the violence of dislocation.

Notes from a sound artist on return to Nangla after it has been reduced to rubble, and comparative silence.

Detlef Kathrin Thomas said...

Sometimes I am little bit cynic....
But what can we learn from slum-dwellers in Harare? There, 1.300 people share one toilet with just six holes!
In the slums of Nairobi we find a street of 70 meter length, uses as a space for rubbish which piles 2 meters high!
These informal projects stands for the deprivation of slum-dwellers.
Without question the growing urbanization is an increasing problem for the world civilization.
We should make sure first that we have the same understanding over the term slum.
An official definition already exists on slum. (UN Habitat)
Slum is characterized by 5 substantial lack:
- a lack of durable housing
- a lack of sufficent living area
- a lack of access to improved water
- a lack of access to sanitation
- a lack of secure tenure
In addition, I quote Ms Bjork-Klveby, the Assisant Secretary General of the United Nations, who said: „We need a commom vision for reducing the burgeoning poverty in cities.“.
I myself believe, architects and town planners should take an active part in developing of this vision.
Perhaps your interest in informal structures of fringe groups is the correct way into the correct direction.
I differentiate between „developing“ and „less developed“ and developed countries.
In the so-called 1. World we have groups, which prepared themselves at the edge of the society, but we have at the same time also many instruments in the democratic systems, which permit us to seize substantial measures for the integration of these groups. Frequently, as here in Berlin, it concerns relatively homogeneous groups, which have the potential to form out a community. In the "developing countries" however we are frequently confronted with very heterogeneous groups, which cannot constitute so easily a subcommunity.Often it is missing at elementary things like a common language.
Arises the question, which conditions must be given, in order to develop meaningful informal structures within a slum.
21 of the mega cities estimated for the year 2015 will be in „deveoping and less developed countries“, while 80% of the global cities which are the stage of the decision-carrying participants are in the northern hemisphere.
Urban development can be under such initial conditions only a collective task. The role of the architects and town planners must again be defined. How urgent the necessity is, that experts offer innovative architectural and town planning solutions, points the absurd idea of Luiz Paulo Conde, vice-governor of the Federal State Rio de Janeiro, who suggested in 2004 establishing a wall all around the Favela Rocinha.
But can the transfer of urban planning ideas coming out of the developed countries be a realistic concept for the developing world? Isn´t the assumption of homogeneity incorrect? Isn´t it more senseful to work out specific concepts under the integration of the slum-dwellers in the planning process.
Every comparison shows that not the poor, but the rich cities are the surfaces-eating and energy-eating "city monsters".

In the developed rich countries we find the standardized house for standardized families. - conventional Low-Cost-House.
In some slums however (Mexico City), we have very individual houses, which follows a traditional image of house. The own house must be built with own hands. It must be extremely flexible according to the changing family situation in its use and extension possibilities. These spontaneous settlements appear on the smallest parcel. Astonishingly every house is a unique specimen.
In the process of many years such a house can transform of a modest cottage into a townhouse.
Presupposed, that the illegal settlement becomes legal.

I believe, you are right, with an attentive eye architects can learn much from these informal structures.
I just heard of favela painting project: an intervention of european artists


hugo said...

this is a good discussion!

There is a great contradiction in informal settlements, at an immediate level they contain the some of most remarkable examples of creative, innovative and cooperative housing, but taken collectively as a global situation they are evidence of the most massive exploitation and horrific poverty.

There is certainly a danger in romanticising the situation of those living in slums. John Turner's 'freedom to build' revelations in the 70's in which he discribed the beauty and appropriateness of self-built housing that he worked among in Peru and Venezuela, while countering the long held belief in slum-clearance and dismal mass housing eventually became convenient retoric for massing cost-cutting by tight-fisted governments and development agencies parroting 'if the poor build best for themselves, leave them to it'.

But this is not to say that we return to cidade de Deus mass housing, rather that architects must apprececiate what can be done by people as well as what we can do to help. Any intervention can only be successful as a specific and collaborative excercise with the communities whose living environment we are discussing. It is to learn such techniques of collaboration that I will be working with Community Architects for Shelter and Environment ( in Thailand and the Comites de Tierras Urbanas in Venzuela.

Kathrin, I agree strongly with much of what you say, except for the point that rich cities have homogenous disaffected populations while poor cities have heterogenous. In my experience working with marginalised communities in Australia and the Philippines I have not found that to be true. In the slums of Sucat, Tabaco and Payatas I saw incredible solidarity which cut accross groupings based on linguistic, religious and sexual identities. I have also seen examples of division amongst public housing tenants, In Sydney's answer to the slums. It would seem to me that cities' capacity to deal with their own urban underclass has much more to do with the sheer size of the impoverished population (which at a critical mass creates its own city) and the resources that the nation/city has based on its position in the global heirarchy.

As for the question of infrastructure, informal settlements are not without form or logic. but it is a ground level logic of immediacy, planning is ever-present and continuous in the slum as a multitude of actors each juggle space, available materials, family size, relations with neighbours, drainage, advertising and many other variables.

A good example of informal<->infrastructure can be found in the work of Estudio Teddy Cruz, who work up against the border wall separating the twin cities of Tijuana and San Diego, they adopt some tactics of the Tijuana shantytowns in his migrant housing and public space projects. They use collaboration, multifunctionality, fluid boundaries and sharing to challenge (and change) zoning and land use regulations, informalising the infrastructure.

Katie Hepworth said...

Back to Jodi -

infrastructures of informality always seemed like planning spontenaity. but I would love to think that there is a way of doing so. I think that this is what i've been striving (not totally successfully) to do for years.

Thinking about caravan parks and the grids of power and water laid over the grass. Anyone has the ability to set up whereever they need or desire to. Or the discovery that some friends made that all lighting poles in sydney have a powerpoint hidden in the base of the pole. So if you happen to feel like running random projections etc. you have a grid of readily accessible power.

excited about the slow creation of the abstracted paper forest in the gallery. photos soon. it's late.

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