WHO'S THE CLIENT IN A SLUM? Published in MONU#28 Client Shaped Urbanism
Who is the client in a slum? Towards a deterritorialization of the client-designer dichotomy
Published in MONU Magazine Issue#28 Client-shaped Urbanism
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This article aims to question the underlying dichotomy of the client-designer by investigating this particular relationship in informal urban conditions. The word “slum” merely acts as a trojan horse to slip in urban informality into the fortress of A rchitectural discourse. Starting with a thorough demystification of the myth of urban informality to be a case of the global south and/or “third world”, the article will delve into informality as a mode of architectural production especially in urban settings. This reorientation is necessary for two purposes. Firstly to counter the epistemic inequality hegemonically present in architectural discourse by relegating informality as a trivial, exotic or subordinate kind of design, completely understandable as informality is perceived as a threat to established norms of architectural practice. This territorial demarcation is illustrative of the paucity of imagination in current practice regarding ways in which a designer / architect can engage with and using urban informality. Secondly, correlating with Diffuse Design, as propounded by Manzini and bringing crowdsourcing into design as well as funding, the article aims to further reveal the irrelevance of the rigidity of client-designer dichotomy. The article urges for a deterritorialization, a fuzzying of the strict border that separates the roles strictly kept in place by managerial and litigation-proof contract documents.
Employing assemblage thinking to the production of urban informality and employing diverse
examples from shantytowns of Dhaka to the production of farmers market in rural Arkansas, I
blur out the lines between who is a client and who is a designer in such cases. Rather than the
client being in opposition to the designer, it would be made evident that what truly happens is a symbiosis between the two. On one hand, in a slum, the client is the designer (an absolute
deterritorialization), hence the symbiosis is more difficult to spot. On the other hand, a relatively less deterritorialization is enacted in the way the farmers market gets designed, where the designers and clients bring in a dramaturgical consciousness and empathically switches roles, clearly shows how blurring the line is beneficial to the production of the assemblage itself.
Too long the client and the designer have been posed as diametrical opposites, as epitomized
by Howard Roark’s defiance to his clients. Rather than being oppositional, client and designer,
once placed on a synergistic juxtaposition, allows for a collaborative model to emerge. This is
not to say that such a symbiosis is at the expense of the expertise of the designer nor does it
allow an uncritical succumbing to the client’s whims. Rather, a middle way emerges from
informalizing the overly formalized role of both. As all designers will admit, albeit informally, such is the case already. Clients already do shape a lot of the design. Recognizing such a
deterritorialization and giving it legitimacy only serves to open up new territories of architectural
imagination and production.