This book profiles 30 progressive architectural projects from more than 15 countries in an attempt to demonstrate the productive potential of community-centered design. Editor Lukas Feireiss goes beyond curatorial norms by including the testimonies of people who have interacted with the finished buildings, along with full-page color photos, contextual descriptions, and mission statements.
These interviews show how the combination of physical intervention and community programs can impact day-to-day life but reveal little about the value added by architectural design decisions.
Many of the testimonies suggest that community organizations are the key drivers for improvement, and that design is just one of many essential tasks that need to happen.
The message is that architectural practitioners should think beyond the professional stereotypes of the boutique, the starchitect, and the corporate giant, in an effort to work as embedded, localized community agents for spatial improvements.
Testify! is published by the Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAi), which, according to the introduction by director Ole Bouman is trying to show the genuine accomplishments of architecture. In contrast to Feireiss’s attempts to weave architectural discourse into the fabric of society, Bouman seems to want to extract it for validation.
The book's title explains its mission: “Testify!” Prove that architecture works. Demonstrate that architecture solves problems. Readers will find some interesting accounts here. But the book does not acknowledge the absurdity of considering these accounts to be “proof” of anything. If proof is defined as positive reactions from users, then the reality TV show Extreme Home Makeover provides more of it by videotaping the joy that its “design team” creates by renovating suburban monstrosities.
Testify, though, is a wonderful global survey that should inspire architects to act locally in pursuit of authorship that is less about tectonic decision making and more about serving as a catalyst for positive engagement with the built environment.
Ben Uyeda is the design director for FreeGreen.com and one of the founders of ZeroEnergy Design.