Bower Sala 08 Revisited: Lessons for Community-Based Live Projects

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David O'Brien
Boonanan Natakun


To fulfill their engagement agendas many schools of architecture step from the academy into the ‘real’ world and work with ‘real’ clients. These types of projects have been described as ‘live’ projects and a subsection of these can be described within the ‘design/build’ format as they work towards the production of a built outcome. Reflecting on these projects gives participating schools the confidence to continue their own initiatives and helps strengthen the value of the built outcomes within specific context locations and within participant communities.

This paper reflects on the Bower Sala project that took place in 2008 as a joint initiative between Faculty of Architecture and Planning, Thammasat University, Thailand and the Bower Studio team from Faculty of Architecture Building and Planning, the University of Melbourne, Australia working with partners not-for-profit Population and Community Development Association (PDA) and the Nong Tong Lim community in Buriram province in the ‘Isaan’ region of Thailand. A team of architecture, landscape architecture and construction students prefabricated and erected a pavilion, literally sala in Thai, in the grounds of the community clinic. This sala had a dual purpose by providing a place for people to wait to visit the clinic and as a place for occasional community gatherings. People from within the community contributed during the on-site construction phase lasting a further four days.

Carefully revisiting the Bower Sala project in 2015 helps to see the dynamics of the sala’s usage by the community residents by reviewing the modifications undertaken in the intervening years. Interviews and physical trace analysis assist to identify residents’ modification to the sala. These types of changes are to be expected within the live project model and reflect the changing needs and aspirations of the participant communities.

The paper re-establishes the value of cooperative, multidisciplinary and multicultural learning mixing the expertise and values of various stakeholders to work to a built outcome. Reaffirming the capacity of student teams to engage positively with both cultural and technical matters the paper goes on to demonstrate how reflection and reaction of projects of this scale can be a catalyst for on-going and deeper work within marginalized communities concentrating on links between technologies and specific cultural norms. The paper assists in setting improved frameworks for subsequent larger initiatives utilizing the ‘live project’ format as an innovative pedagogy for community-based design project.


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