OUR NEW COLUMN ‘Tiny Revolutions’ EXPLORES initiatives in grassroots architecture around the globe, addressing issues of affordable, sustainable and accessible construction techniques and design solutions for developing communities.
All around the world, crowdfunding has empowered communities of all sizes to present grassroots projects and gain the support of thousands of people to make them happen. With the success of The Lowline’s crowdfunding campaign in 2012, the architectural world is increasingly turning its eye to the possibilities of funding innovative projects through global seeders.
KnitKnot Architecture is a collective of eight architects scattered among London, New York and Los Angeles who recently launched a campaign on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. Their objective is to raise funds and build a school in El Jicarito, a small Nicaraguan village of about 20 families, amounting to 27 kids in need of a proper space for education.
Architizer talked with a member of KnitKnot Architecture — Gonzalo Lopez — who explained how the collective came together three years ago, between friends who met in university and colleagues working in architecture studios. “We realized that we liked to work together but were in such different places, so we decided to establish this kind of collective without a clear base,” explains Gonzalo. Thanks to internet tools like Google Drive and Hangout, KnitKnot Architecture is able to work past boundaries, sharing ideas simultaneously and working on a range of projects.
When a member is interested in a project, receives a proposal or wants to do a competition, he pitches it to the group and forms a team with the amount of people fitting for the size and feasibility of a project. Having four members work on a task while the two other pairs are focused on something else gives the collective “a chance to develop this body of work without having to be one-hundred-percent committed,” explains Gonzalo.
This flexibility also allows for the individual members to manage their concurrent occupations, which include teaching for some, studying for others or both in the case of Gonzalo, who is teaching an architecture studio at the New Jersey Institute of Technology while completing his Ph.D. in urbanism from the University of Madrid. “We have the allowance to dedicate efforts to what is really interesting to each member,” he says.
In the summer of 2015, KnitKnot Architecture learned of Seeds of Learning, a California-based NGO building school in Nicaragua. Aware of inadequate and inefficient designs for its own past projects — including, for example, metallic roofs that become very loud when it rains or poorly isolating cement structures — Seeds of Learning was looking to involve architects in its next project for a school in El Jicarito, Nicaragua. “It was a very good chance to establish a collaboration between them and us,” explains Gonzalo, “and for us to propose a design and a different set of materials that the community could try and use in the future.”
In terms of materiality, Seeds of Learning leaned toward the use of earth bags because many organizations in Nicaragua already used those materials extensively. For that reason, there was an abundance of workshops already in place where volunteers — often coming from North America for the summer — could work with the community and an on-site technician to learn building techniques and manage those materials. Taking neighboring Nicaraguan architecture as a precedent, the KnitKnot collective decided to use familiar materials, such as a concrete structure and a steel frame.
“If we were to change completely the way of working, constructing or actually conceiving buildings, the community wouldn’t accept the new design,” explains Gonzalo, so it aimed to be “a little bit more sensitive” with the traditional design and construction techniques. Through El Jicarito School, KnitKnot Architecture proposed a prototype for applying new construction techniques over time, allowing the community to get used to new forms and realize the possibilities of sourcing for more sustainable, more accessible and more affordable materials over time.
Seeds of Learning is constantly in contact with the communities in Nicaragua, working with them through presentations and workshops. Working in rural places like El Jicarito is not easy, and there is a high need for basic infrastructure such as water access and roads. Building schools is a priority for many organizations as they provide spaces for education as well as facilities for community meetings, which people in El Jicarito currently hold at a villager’s house. Providing public space or a communal kitchen become lasting resources for the community.
Once the design concept for the school was complete, KnitKnot Architecture offered to conduct a campaign on Indiegogo “because we saw an opportunity to show our enthusiasm for the project that we were working on as a group of young people based in developed countries.”
The mission of KnitKnot Architecture reflects collectives like the 2015 Turner Prize–winners Assemble, and Gonzalo explains that while it is hard to find this kind of collective structure of young professionals generating their own projects in the U.S., it is something that is gaining a lot of momentum in Europe. Beyond El Jicarito School, KnitKnot Architecture won a competition last December in Norway for the revitalization of Os, a town close to the city of Bergen. They are now in the process of negotiating their involvement in the project.
The campaign to raise funds for El Jicarito School will run through May, for construction to start in the summer, so visit Indiegogo to support the collective and stay up to date with the construction progress.