Of all the ways to empower a community, architecture can be one of the most significant catalysts for meaningful social transformation. That was the thinking behind Tehran-based ZAV Architects’ design for the Majara Residence, a gathering of holiday houses, restaurants and shops completed last year on Hormuz Island in the Persian Gulf.
Rather than the high-rise, high-spec rental apartments typically favoured in the region, the firm created around 200 colourful, small-scale, super-adobe domes using stacked sandbags filled with earth dredged from the dock. Inspiration came from the surreal rocky topography on Hormuz, nicknamed the Rainbow Island due to its red, mineral-rich terrain. The lo-tech method tapped into the construction capabilities of on-the-ground labourers, while choosing readily available materials instead of imports meant that a bigger slice of the budget went into paying them a fair wage.
It’s the kind of grassroots vision shared by figures such as socially driven architect Diébédo Francis Kéré (designer of the Serpentine Pavilion in 2017) whose projects in Burkina Faso (schools, medical clinics, teachers’ housing) are known for harnessing the skills of the nearby workforce as well as close-at-hand supplies. Around the world, the most clued-in hoteliers – for example Wilderness Safaris which employed 250 Rwandans during the nine-month build of Bisate Lodge – also understand the human value of hiring locals so they can provide for themselves. This is life-altering architecture with foundations that go deeper than bricks and mortar.
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