Norwegian architects reach out to the needy

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POCKETS OF CIVILISATION: Transforming the lives of needy communities in poor and underdeveloped countries sets the TYIN tegnestue Architects firm a world apart

Energetic duo Andreas G. Gjertsen and Yashar Hanstad, partners of TYIN tegnestue Architects from Norway live by Finnish architect and writer Juhani Pallasmaa’s saying, “Architecture is about the understanding of the world and turning it into a more meaningful and humane place.“

“We have always been interested in basic solutions to fundamental challenges.

Our architecture is usually based on rational choices with the aim of creating useful and beautiful structures. Our background in Norway has taught us a lot about wooden construction and we cherish other natural materials as well.

Sometimes we feel that architecture has become limitless (in scope), and it doesn’t seem to add to the quality of our surroundings,” shares Gjertsen candidly of the way the studio is run.

Treading lightly on the earth’s surface when it comes to the projects they design in line with the sustainability mandate, all materials sourced are either collected close to the sites or simply purchased from local suppliers.

Armed with this belief, it was somewhat befitting to discover that in a coincidental but appropriate fit, the theme of this year’s DATUM:KL 2012, the Malaysian Institute of Architects’ (PAM) international architectural design conference entitled

“Roots” points back to the fundamentals of the design philosophy that the firm’s work revolves around. Incidentally, Gjertsen will be in Kuala Lumpur during the first week of July to present his practice’s work while showcasing the range of projects the firm has done mainly in poor and under-developed countries.

Date with DATUM: KL 2012:

“For us, the term ‘Roots’ inspires us to go back to culture and tradition to reinterpret what we find,” shares Gjertsen, 31, about the practice he established with Hanstad in 2008 that has been building projects in Thailand, Uganda and Sumatra, Indonesia.

“Solutions to fundamental challenges call for an architecture where everything serves a purpose, an architecture that follows necessity (if you like),” he reiterates of the studio’s efficient way of operating from its headquarters in the Norwegian city of Trondheim.

It is this very quality of “involving the local populace actively in both the design and building” of their projects that TYIN has been able to establish “a framework for mutual exchange of knowledge and skills” to benefit these communities.

Close to the heart of this well-grounded practice is the ongoing desire to improve the lives of needy communities around the world.

“We have discussed this topic many times and we can’t really find a simple answer. Firstly, coming from an affluent country like Norway, we feel there is more to architecture than decorating rich people’s buildings.

“We believe architecture can be crucial in the development of healthy communities and in bringing about a positive change for people. The will to do something meaningful and ‘good’ lies within us all and we are very lucky to have the resources to participate in ways others may not be able to,” shares the architect.

Working globally:

Besides being kept busy undertaking a couple of commercial projects in their home country, at the heart of TYIN’s practice are global projects undertaken for communities in far-flung, undeveloped countries away from Norway.

Dedicated to developing architectural projects that not only meet the basic shelter needs of these communities, inevitably, the exposure to these visually pleasing dwellings also points them to the fundamentals of form and function coupled with an appreciation for the aesthetic aspects of architecture.

Architecture rooted in heart and soul:

TYIN’s portfolio consists of a heartwarming pool of projects undertaken by the firm. As imaginative as they are rich in details, it’s evident that their architectural adventure knows no bounds – taking them on various project assignments that are experimental, practical, educational and insightful.

It’s hardly surprising then that the firm’s latest, ongoing project known simply as the Cinnamon Factory in Padang, Sumatra is creating waves of interest within the community and beyond. One thing’s for sure, the final outcome will surely prove to be beneficial to the community in infinitely more ways than one.

Klong Toey Community Lantern project in Bangkok, Thailand:

Just last year, the firm proved its mettle when it set out to undertake the ambitious Klong Toey Community Lantern project in Bangkok, Thailand. This represents “the largest and oldest area of informal dwellings in Bangkok” in which more than 140,000 people live. The fact that the area is infested with high rates of violence and crime due to the great social challenges faced, speaks volumes about this small firm with a big heart.

“A year of preparation period allowed the team to design and build the structure in as little as three weeks. The project’s main functions are a playground for children and a common gathering place for adults,” enthuses Hanstad.

This statement in itself enlightens one about the clever ways and methods by which the firm managed to manoeuvre its way around to avoid being entangled in risky situations. Furthermore, the end result exemplifies the basic idea behind the project in that the environment in itself can be part of “a long term strategy acting as a social tool to improve community conditions in a positive development”.

Fifty small points of light set among the pillars make this a “convenient, safe and exciting” lantern area, both practically and figuratively speaking. Quite literally, it’s a light bulb moment that has elevated the status of a slum to that of a thriving place for the community to exist.

Old Market Library in Bangkok, Thailand:

The Old Market Library in Bangkok, Thailand was built in 2009 in a 100-year-old market building with the hope that it would “strengthen the passion in the neighbourhood”. An interesting part of this project involved the participation of the inhabitants from inception to completion.

“Initially, we mapped the needs within the community by holding regular meetings.

These meetings included drawing and building models to even clearing garbage.

Aside from introducing ourselves to the community, we wanted a deeper understanding of the situation they live in,” shares Gjertsen.

“It wasn’t always easy getting everyone involved, especially the adults. However, when the project became more tangible, this completely changed. We soon had a regular group that worked with us everyday who began to develop an attachment to the library besides a sense of achievement and pride. Besides this social premise of commitment to the library, it was important for us to use local and reused materials, which were already available to the community,”
echoed Hanstad of this striking case study of a refurbishment exercise demonstrating what can be achieved by the inhabitants themselves. After all, there’s no substitute for using one’s initiative coupled with local inexpensive materials and knowledge.

Safe Haven Library in Tak Province, Thailand:

In 2009, under the guidance of associate professor Hans Skotte and architect Sami Rintala, TYIN invited 15 Norwegian architectural students from NTNU to participate in a workshop at the Safe Haven Orphanage in Thailand.

The library makes for a simple but striking statement, positioned on a concrete base cast on a bed of large rocks that were gathered on-site. The walls of the library consist of plastered concrete blocks that serve to cool the building by day while the open bamboo façade facilitates natural ventilation. Iron wood that hold up the solid frame construction also doubles up as a comfortable floor for the children to play on.

Education being the rock on which the children can build a foundation on, the library is more than symbolic in it being a safe shelter for the children of the orphanage to do their homework, use the computer and read books besides
being the gathering place for arts and craft and indulging in a game or two.

Safe Haven Bathhouse in Tak Province, Thailand:

In 2009, TYIN created the Safe Haven Bathhouse in the Tak Province in Thailand representing the new sanitary building that caters to the basic needs of the orphanage that include the toilets, personal hygiene facilities and laundry area. Interestingly, the internal structure that was already built became the framework
for the project.

Employing alternative solutions, the bathhouse was transformed into a well-functioning and dignified facility for personal hygiene given the climate of northern Thailand that necessitates good personal hygiene to prevent diseases, especially in the case of small children.

Soe Ker Tie House in Noh Bo, Thailand/ Burma:

The fall of 2008 was a special time for TYIN as they ventured to Noh Bo, a small village tucked in the border between Thailand and Burma to design and build houses for Karen refugee children.

The aim was noble – to provide the children with a private space to call their home, a place for “interaction and play”.

Aptly named “Soe Ker Tie Haus” by the Karen workers, the “Butterfly Houses” were designed using bamboo and natural materials that can be found within the construction of the local houses
within mere kilometers of the site.

A six-month long learning process ensued with the locals resulting in the construction of six sleeping units housing 24 children.

Continuing the good architectural journey:

Sowing the seeds of goodwill coupled with a generosity of spirit in terms of giving back to the communities, their decision to journey the path less travelled was started during their final year of architectural studies. Armed with an architectural dream to transform the lives of less privileged communities with their designs, Gjertsen and Hanstad traversed the globe with this simple but heartfelt mission.

It was a move that has yielded not only a rich harvest of gratitude from these communities, but admiration too started flooding in from the rest of the world. Inevitably, slowly but surely, their work soon started gaining larger ground and increasingly widespread attention. True to the testimony of the firm’s spirit of giving and excellence came a wave of international awards, recognition and accolades. TYIN’s projects have also been published and exhibited worldwide.

“Our studio was initiated (based) on the projects we did (at) the start. We stayed in Thailand for a full year, studying, designing and building with several different communities in Thailand,” says Gjertsen who holds a Masters of Architecture.

“This was a learning experience and we have evolved a lot since the beginning, both on a personal and professional level. At the moment, we are working mostly on small scale projects in Norway and are involved in teaching at several universities in Norway. We want to keep in touch with hands-on building and the enthusiasm of students,” he shares further.

Quick takes with Andreas G. Gjertsen of TYIN tegnestue Architects Role models that have influenced your architectural approach?

(Architect) Sami Rintala has from the start been a good mentor and inspiration.

Now we consider him as our friend and colleague. His poetic approach to architecture is amazing and he has a very strong belief that architecture can be used to turn (around) some of the unfortunate developments we see in the world today. Other inspirations are Rural Studio, Anna Heringer, our professor Hans Skotte. The list is long…

Your mission in life and how do you relax when not working?

For the moment, it seems (like) our mission in life is to do something (that) we believe in, that feels meaningful. We don’t relax, really. We like to stay busy. The way we disconnect from designing is to build, and the way we disconnect from building is when we design.

Any other architects in your family?

We are both from families outside the architectural business.

What is the project you‘re proudest of and why?

Usually our last project makes us the proudest. We did a training facility for farmers for a cinnamon producer in Sumatra last year, which we haven’t made public yet, and it is by far our best project in our eyes. When we work on a project, we get deeply involved in all the aspects of the project and other projects are pushed to the back of our minds. We are very focused, for better or worse.

Given a choice to live your life all over again, would you still do architecture? Why or why not?

The only answer I can think of is that even though we wouldn’t have designed the Soe Ker Tie House project as we did, if we could do it again, I still wouldn’t do without the experience it gave us. I think life just happens and we have to try to be aware of the possibilities that appear and grasp them when we have the chance.

The best and worst bits of your job.

One of the best feelings an architect can have is to see the design come to life in front of you (and) seeing that your design has real life consequences in people’s lives. This also brings a big portion of responsibility, which can be quite heavy.

The worst part is that you can never turn off the architect in you. We bring our work with us at all times, and one can get quite tired of constantly working.

What are you designing at the moment?

At the moment, we are working on a small-scale addition to a small family house in our city, Trondheim. We are in the process of designing it but we are also going to follow up closely on the building period and be directly involved from start to finish. This is unusual for architects (at least in Norway) and we hope to be able to learn from the process and make this a good project for the family whom we are working with.

What are the most important criteria for a good project?

I would say that budget, material limitations and sensible time schedules are crucial for good projects. We see all too many limitless projects that take no consideration for the situation they are in or the people they affect. It leads to poor architecture with little significance to the challenges humankind is currently struggling with.

Give us an indication of how you operate as an architectural firm.

We are a small studio, at the moment comprising only three architects. Usually, we build a team for each project based on the nature of the task and the location. Sometimes it makes sense to bring an international team of architects, other times a small team that goes into the local community can make a bigger impact. We haven’t come across two projects that are alike, even though they all resemble each other. This forces us to be critical whom we work with at all times.

Pics courtesy of TYIN tegnestue Architects.

Datum: KL 2012 will be held on 6 and 7 July 2012 at the Plenary Hall, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. For more information, visit www.pam.org.my or call 03-26934182.

 

The Safe Haven Bathhouse is a new sanitary building to meet the basic personal hygiene needs of the orphanage.

The will to do something meaningful and “good” lies within all of us, agree architects with heart Hanstad (left) and Gjertsen who stayed in Thailand for a full year studying, designing and building with several different communities.

The Safe Haven Library workshop undertaken in 2009 by TYIN involved the participation of 15 Norwegian architecture students from NTNU to ensure that the Safe Haven Orphanage has a space for the children to do homework, use a computer, read books and play games.

The Soe Ker Tie House in Noh Bo, a small village situated at the border tucked between Thailand and Burma is the realisation of a dream for the Karen refugee children. Here, bamboo weaving technique was used for the creation of the “Butterfly Houses”.

The Old Market Library built in a 100-year old market building caught on with the locals who have developed an attachment to this place built with local and reused materials.

The Cassia Co-op Training Centre located in an area where 75 per cent of the world’s cinnamon production takes place is designed as a space for educating local cinnamon farmers in Sumatra.


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