Ingenious Homes in Unexpected Places – Iwan Baan

A characteristic of his pictorial language is the engagement with the close relationship between humans and architecture, between social use and the various spatial situations“. Description of Iwan Baan’s book, 52 Weeks, 52 Cities, from here.

Photograph Iwan Baan talk us through his relation to architecture in this 2013 TedTalk. Recording great architecture projects around the world he started to be more and more interested in the inhabitant appropriation of such projects. His lenses focused on the unexpected and curious adaptation resulting from the initial architectural intends. One of Iwan’s photo series was on of Le Corbusier  work, known for its idea of homogeneity and rigidity of use and  in India with Chandigarh.

Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh, India, photographed by Iwan Baan. Taken from ‘Brasilia – Chandigarh, Living With Modernity’, Lars Müller Publishers, 2010.


His interest about architecture shifted from renowned architecture towards architecture when architects aren’t there and self made designs. The photographer destinations are where slums and poverty are dictating the built environment, its structure and organisation. These disadvantaged and neglected cities and villages are self-managed as most of the time the government is completely absent. As a result inhabitants build their living environment with found materials, creating unique intuitive systems adapted to their needs with lot of ingenuity.

Floating Niagara slum of Makoko, Nigeria, Africa.

Torre David, uncompleted 45-story office tower in Caracas, Venezuela, South America. Home to 750 families living in a extra-legal and tenuous squat in total absence of formal infrastructure. Iwan Baan photographs show how this community organize itself to build homes and daily needs commodities and services.

From Makoko to Zabbaleen, Iwan Baan captures communities who:

“have approached the tasks of planning, design and management of their communities and neighbourhood in ways that responds specifically to their environment and circumstances. Created by these very people that live, work and play in these particular spaces. These neighbourhood are intuitively designed to make the most of their circumstances”.

These informal architecture of adaptation is more and more closely watch by planner and architect as part of the solution in the growing city major issue for the future. The ingenuity and adaptation to real needs combined to professional support and expertise could be a solution to face urban expansion and meet people’s needs. Collaborative and participative design approach such as Alejandro Aravena Elemental project in Chile is an example of success which combined local needs and wants and architectural expertise. The result is a share responsibility in building decent housing, the first and most difficult part being build and financed by the council and the other half by the inhabitants in their own time and budget. Here is the project page from Elemental website.





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