BOW DIY
Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment

alma-nac and Architecture 00
Bow, London, 2012

Alma-nac's Bow DIY project, in collaboration with Architecture 00, was a research and communication exercise setting out to map and unlock a population's skill set in a specific area of London through a series of workshops and events.

In exploring the theme of urban ‘scarcity’, alma-nac and Architecture 00 set up hubs to expose local skills, then mapped and linked these with existing learning infrastructures.

In exploring the theme of urban ‘scarcity’, alma-nac and Architecture 00 set up hubs to expose local skills, then mapped and linked these with existing learning infrastructures.

An approach to reveal, connect, and strengthen local skills and resources as a strategy for fostering greater resourcefulness and resilience in Bromley by Bow.

An approach to reveal, connect, and strengthen local skills and resources as a strategy for fostering greater resourcefulness and resilience in Bromley by Bow.

Today, architects are typically paid less for their services than their professional counterparts/predecessors. At the same time, new values are emerging within the realm of architectural production, seeping slowly back into the profession. These extend beyond the finite production of buildings. Indy Johar’s reframing of the value of architecture as that of social and economic over the physical illustrates one such example, positioning his practice, Architecture 00, in a very different stream of work (see Helen Castle’s interview with him in New Modes: Redefining Practice[1]). Our own project, Bow DIY, undertaken in 2012 in collaboration with Architecture 00 was a similar example.  This was a research and communication exercise setting out to map and unlock a population’s skill set in a specific area of London. Indy’s calculations show that the cost of construction makes up a fractional proportion of the financial cycle of a building, a viewpoint that has the potential to change what is deemed ‘costly’ in building, ‘thereby driving a systemically different “architecture” judged on its performative effect. This is an architecture that moves beyond the media shot to the long term impact and influence over human behaviour.’[2]

BOW DIY learning exchange.

BOW DIY learning exchange.

The SCIBE brief asked contributing teams to formulate a strategy aimed at reducing ‘real’, perceived and constructed scarcity[3] in Bromley by Bow and how such a proposal could generate a vision for 2062. [4] Our starting point examined future impacts - such as rising costs of living related to energy and food prices, and changes to housing and welfare benefits, as well as the SCIBE team’s research findings, which highlighted that people here aren’t always aware of the resources available - including local institutions, clubs or other talented residents. This formed the basis of our approach to scarcity and resilience in the area, which became about releasing greater resourcefulness through local networks as response to both real and perceived scarcity.

Underlying our approach is the tag line ‘Reveal, Connect, Strengthen’. Reveal - to uncover the resources within BBB and begin to uncover the constructed scarcity. Connect - to imagine ways of connecting and optimising these resources. Strengthen - the final step would be to add to the existing networks and resources. This project is primarily focused on the Reveal stage.

A series of posters by BOW DIY participants showcasing local skills.

A series of posters by BOW DIY participants showcasing local skills.

Mapping local resources.

Mapping local resources.

We began with the hypothesis that, despite very real vulnerabilities in the area, there is also a wealth of skills, know-how, and agency, but people have not been able to transact on their skills (marketing, bartering, volunteering, etc) for variety of reasons, particularly because of a lack of appropriate platforms for hosting exchange. The Bow DIY day was an event held in order to test this hypothesis. Through a network of local figures and SCIBE contacts, we invited the community bring themselves and an object, skills or interest to share. We mapped skills, deficits, and most importantly tried to convey these emerging skills in a way that made them ‘personal.’

Overall, we found a hunger and support for skills exchange for greater resilience, but also discovered that there are significant boundaries to be transcended. Many talented members of the community don’t recognise the value of their skills; even more don’t feel confident, or that it’s culturally appropriate, to ‘put themselves out there.’ Our long-term aspiration would be the formation of a self-run neighbourhood network, one that might organise meet-ups and skill swaps in various locations around Bromley by Bow, become a trusted social infrastructure that transcends cultural boundaries, assesses where skills are lacking in the area and reaches out to surrounding institutions to help fill in those gaps. It might only take a light infrastructure - a shared email address - a proactive resident - to begin a process which develops into a network as described.

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[1] Castle, H. (2018). Groing from ZERO to 00. Architectural Design, 88(05), pp.78-85.

[2] Johar, I. (2015). Towards a Future Architecture. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/architecture-00/redesigning-architecture-7e8aeccb7dc3 [Accessed 29 May 2019].

[3] Goodbun, J., Till, J. and Iossifova, D. (2012). Scarcity: Architecture in an Age of Depleting Resources. Architectural Design, 82(04).

[4] Iossifova, D. (2013). SCIBE. Scarcity and Creativity in the Built Environment. [ebook] The Bank of Ideas. Available at: https://issuu.com/deljanaiossifova/docs/2013_scibe_tabloid [Accessed 29 May 2019].