Community design partnerships have existed in other parts of the world in different forms. Essentially, CDP’s are a collaboration of design professionals with local communities to provide them with professional building services. The core advantages of these initiatives are the interchange of ideas and expertise between the professionals and the local communities. Instead of bringing finished made solutions to communities, more than often solutions that ignore locality, the community is a party of the conception and building process. In this way local communities also benefit from learning new skills whilst building new places for their locality.
In Botswana, these partnerships would assist in integrating our traditional process of building skills and techniques with the modern methods. Architects and other professionals building in rural areas will form partnerships with ‘bathai’ and local community associations such as ‘metshelo’ societies and neighbourhood self-help groups. The building process would still be in the hands of the communities but also with input from architects and building contractors. This of course is a utopian ideal where the best integration of local knowledge and skills with foreign imported techniques would be fostered.
In reality the academia are by far the best placed institutions to lead the direction in establishing community/outreach design partnerships to help in the building of communities. The schools of architecture, engineering, planning, construction trades and other industry specialities would be the best beneficiary from such a fruitful interrelation of education/training and local communities. Vernacular knowledge sharing and skills transfers would help institutions build onto locally available techniques ensuring knowledge continuity. Other international schools of architecture such as the legendary Rural Studio at Auburn University have successfully integrated their teaching of architecture with the community, ensuring that the school learn by doing and engaging in community projects.
In the past in Botswana, great efforts had been made by the legendary Patrick van Rensburg’s community brigade programme. The now government assimilated programme was anchored on training communities in building trades that are directly applicable to their local skill base. The Brigade programme which in my opinion should never have been abolished was the best we had an attempt to integrate training and community needs in partnerships. Brigade schools used to go out into the communities to build houses/structures while in training as also a part of raising funds to self support their programme.
The University of Botswana’s school of architecture need to expediently move to integrate its training with the needs of communities across the country. There are communities that still cannot access nor afford services of design. UB’s School of Architecture outreach in design and community partnerships will ensure its programme is integral part of communities and also that is adopts, develop and appreciate local building knowledge and skills. Recently a visiting class of students from Dalhousie University from Canada completed a shelter for an NGO in Mochudi laying foundations that UB School of Architecture should continue to build relations with.
Community Design Partnerships would ensure that design is a not a luxury for those who can pay for it but something that every community across the country can access and enjoy for betterment of their built environment.
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