Why the Arts Matter

What happens to us when we actively engage as art-makers or art-takers? Who do we become?

Given the complexities of today’s political, social, and emotional landscapes, engaging with/through the arts is as important now more than ever. Why? “With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s easy to question the value of telling stories or making sculptures.” While some may be tempted to question the arts at times like these, we disagree. And so does Miguel Syjuco.

“Silence, it is said, implies complicity. But that’s only half the story. Silence also confirms oppression, because the ability to speak out is too often a luxury of the privileged.

The aggressive populism we see today seems to be a testament to people refusing to be silent – and rightly so. Our societies have largely failed to provide equally for all, and technology now gives us new avenues through which to be heard, and with which to rebel against repressive ideas and structures. New leaders have latched onto that and now seek to speak for us, even though many of them are rallying us crudely around fear and mistrust.”

Art making and art taking help us raise our voices to the level of consciousness. The arts confirm that we do not need to remain silent and complicit.

Pablo Picasso knew this all too well. That’s why he painted “Guernica.”

Food for thought on why the arts matter…

Designing Activism

Typically, architecture may be viewed as the business of creating functional and “aesthetically” interesting structures for others. Stated this way, how can architecture align with notions of artistic citizenship? Stephen Klimek states that architects need to move beyond form and function to become “citizen architects.” Doing so, architects would ask the following ethical questions. And these questions, according to Klimek, lend themselves towards civic leadership, or what we’d call artistic citizenship:

  • What is the role of architecture?
  • What do we need architecture to be?
  • What does the world need today?

There are many examples of architects who ask the above questions. One such architectural group is TYIN tegnestue. Established in 2008 by Yashar Hanstad and Andreas G Gjertsen and based out of Trondheim, Norway, the firm works towards social sustainability and pragmatic creativity, or, what they call their projects, “architecture of necessity.” The young architects have been involved in diverse projects, from attempts at improving poor areas in Bangkok, to a Sumatran training center and original projects in Norway.

(C) PASI AALTO 2007
(C) PASI AALTO 2007

The architectural firm travelled to the Thai-Burmese border to create dormitories for Karen refugee children.

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As stated by the architects:

The main driving force behind the Soe Ker Tie House was to provide the children with their own private space, a place that they could call home and a space for interaction and play.

The Soe Ker Tie House is a blend between local skills and TYIN’s architectural knowledge. Because of their appearance the buildings were named Soe Ker Tie Haus by the Karen workers; The Butterfly Houses. The most prominent feature is the bamboo weaving technique, which was used on the side and back facades of the houses. The same technique can be found within the construction of the local houses and crafts. All of the bamboo was harvested within a few kilometres of the site.

The specially shaped roof of the Soe Ker Tie Houses promotes natural ventilation within the sleeping units and at the same time rainwater can be collected and stored for the dry season. The iron wood construction is assembled on-site using bolts ensuring precision and strength.

To prevent problems with moisture and rot, the sleeping units are raised off the ground on four concrete foundations, casted in old tires.

After a six month long mutual learning process with the locals in Noh Bo, the Soe Ker Tie House was completed in 2009 consisting of 6 sleeping units, housing 24 children. Important principles like bracing, material economisation and moisture prevention, may possibly lead to a more sustainable building tradition for the Karen people in the future.

What follows is an example of their humanitarian architecture in progress: