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Guest article: Brand new slums?!
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Guest article: Brand new slums?!

Photo courtesy of Global Properties

Original post:

“It’s a pity to see those "concrete boxes" being build...why??? you got a unique chance of building from scratch and could do it in a modern and green way...but most houses I see in the new Africa look like that! a real pity and waste of opportunities to me...”

After having received some interest in the Facebook comment above, I decided to write an article on the importance of community development through design, further explaining details that were behind my comment . Design is one of the most powerful tools to address 21st century challenges and will become even more important within the next decades. The main motivation for me to write this article is to make people rethink how we currently design and implement new developments, and what can be done to change those existing ways for the better. The main question is: Can we handle creating more brand new slums, which we do at the moment, or shall we rather go for new, individual and creative solutions to address our 21st century challenges?

To start, I have to clarify one thing up front. There are examples of good design and developments out there and I´m not here to make it all bad, so please don’t get me wrong. All I´m trying to do is, open your eyes and to point out the opportunities. I would like to help you understand the unique chance every Gambian and African in general has got, in creating a forward looking society by building local, sustainable and modern communities.  

At the moment most current Gambian developments really leave out a lot of potential for people, future user, environment, surroundings and society. Sure those “modern concrete boxes” are an improvement to the current situation, but are rarely designed after the needs and demands of people or their surroundings. Rather than involving local people and future user into the design and building process, most projects are built a similar way inspired by western media and their building industry. No proper design research is done before building and projects have a rather short term outlook instead of a long term vision.

That, by the way, is not just a Gambian or African problem, it is international. It is just one of those typical things which at one point was introduced, then spread and established itself. Now nobody really thinks about the why we are doing it this way anymore. It has become the “rule” or even the “standard”. Luckily we see a lot more awareness of this topic in recent years, but still not enough action.

If we continue building this way, rather than creating adapted, individual and sustainable solutions, we will face the same future problems we currently see in Western societies or even worse.  That is why the entire world is looking for new solutions and ideas, because we simply cannot continue building the way we used to. We have to stop the horrible “trend” of standard designed buildings, ready to move in, build and designed to get the most profit out of the project and building site. Instead, we have to start designing and building houses with people for people rather than for profit.

Wouldn´t it be better to actually find the future users first and to develop buildings together suited to their individual needs and adapted to their climate and surroundings? And wouldn´t it be better to use local materials and also involve local people in the design and building process to create skills and achieve own identity?

So why don´t we already build this way? Because it is more expensive?!


Good design is not a question of money at all. Why would you pay a fair amount of money to have a catalogue home, not properly adapted to climate and surroundings, when you could build yourself a home designed after your needs with locally available materials and adapted to the climate? It is not a question of money. It is about understanding how much positive impact an individual designed home has on your daily life compared to a catalogue house.

If you understand that fact, you also understand the bigger picture and the importance of community development through architecture and design especially in developing countries like the Gambia. Due to facts like population growth and urbanization, community development is one of the biggest challenges of our time – worldwide. By 2050 around 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. At the same time 25% of the world’s population will live in slums. The question is: Are we ready for that?  I think the smarter way is to rethink our current way of doing things which is bringing us “brand new slums” now, instead lets create better communities around the world designed after people´s needs and encourage one another to find creative solutions.

Unlike the Western world, the Gambia and most other developing countries don’t have all the established old structures and buildings creating environmental and community problems. You instead have the unique chance of developing your communities almost from scratch. With that, you got two choices: You can either continue building the way it is currently done, knowing about the future problems and issues or you can involve people in the design and building process and try a new, more individual approach, creating modern, forward looking communities.

Can you imagine what impact it would have to build the first carbon neutral, modern designed town, region or country on the African continent? Not only would you set yourself and your people up for the future, you would most likely become an example for other regions and countries around the world. That is a very unique opportunity I see for the Gambia and other developing countries. Only by doing this you can build your own identity and a better tomorrow. What do you have to lose by trying a new way of designing? Nothing – that’s right, so you better start today.

Please contact me if you have a project or idea in mind. No project is too small, and none are too big! It all starts with small change and a first step. I´m ready to take on that challenge. I look forward to hearing from you and collaborating with you.

Ronny Goalgetter Matzat / creative superhero at ronnstar social architecture & design 
[email protected] / www.ronnstar.com



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