Offering solutions to urban issues through social architecture

Metro Manila; image by Michael D Edwards/Shutterstock

Mega Manilla is one of the most congested urban centres in the world and it is bursting at the seams. Most of the population live in the metro and urban area (37 and 35 per cent respectively) so the density is high. Speaking about the use of spaces, it is not uncommon for kids to be playing football in one street corner and in another, customers buying food from a street vendor. But the irony is, although streets are often packed with people, the number of pedestrians walking is low and commuters would rather be sitting shoulder to shoulder in a public taxi van.

Tapping into architecture as a solution to urban issues, William Ti, Principal at WTA Architecture and Design Studio, in a session called Emphatic Interventions hosted by Archifest 2020, shared his projects that aim to encourage social connection and build a more welcoming community.

Image courtesy of William Ti as presented in Archifest 2020

Pasig River spans over 11 kilometres and divides Manila into two areas. There are 19 bridges connecting the north and the south but all were built for vehicular traffic. The Riverlane project will be the first pedestrian bridge to offer an alternative way to commute. The design aims to unite neighbouring communities and create social benefits by introducing spaces into the pedestrian footbridge.

Social architecture focuses around the idea of social intimacy and building a network infrastructure on a social scale that serves to connect communities. The Riverlane project is an example of how this notion offers a solution that not only lessens the friction of daily commutes, but also promotes the value of personal mobility.

Image courtesy of William Ti as presented in Archifest 2020

The idea of social architecture project is often drawn from the urban social background. In Manila’s metro area, according to Ti, introducing a formal library where visitors must keep quiet and stay put does not sound like a good idea. Therefore, he designed a space where people could read in a park, with an open-plan establishment that welcomes everyone 24/7.

The project is called the Book Stop, which later turned into a community centre with various activities ranging from author’s sharing session and artist’s exhibition to storytelling for children. The small library has also built trust among the community members. Although the design is entirely open, no books have gone missing. In fact, the initial 300-book collection has now increased to 800. What’s more is that these books are read not only by the park visitors, but also by Manila’s street kids who otherwise would not have access.

To compare with a local library with a 450-square-metre space, the book turnovers are exponential. The Book Stop’s area is only 12 square metres, but the books read per day is around 108. This is such a big leap from the average 5.6 books read per day in the local library.

The Book Stop Project:
12 square metres
US$16,000 budget
5 communities
800 books on the shelf
100–150 books turned over daily
Over 45,000 books turned over in total
Over 80 community events
Hosted 6 festivals
Over 220,000 visitors
727 times more efficient per square metre
US$0.07 per visit

Design plays a vital role in including, and often excluding, communities. Social architecture project such as the Book Stop could make everyone from the deprived to more-affluent individuals feel included. Worldwide planning decisions could perhaps focus more on enhancing a sense of unity and connectedness such as what this kind of emphatic intervention project can offer.– Anisa Pinatih, Construction+ Online