The Copenhagen Architecture Festival’s Manifesto Relay (IMR) includes 45 manifestos from around the world collected in a digital publication. These represent the most pressing concerns of the day, as put forward in the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and respond to the central question of the 2023 congress: How can architecture contribute to social and environmental change? 

The following manifesto, “Trans-disciplinarity – building better urban futures”, is authored by Ashraf M Salama. He is the co-director of the UIA Education Commission (EDUCOM). 

The challenging built world 

The built world has witnessed drastic transformations that instigated critical questions about urban growth, sustainable development, regenerating and retrofitting cities, post-war recovery and reconstruction, the quality of urban life, design for health, urban liveability, manifestations of cultural identity, diversity and multiculturalism, to name a few. 

The built world endures to experience this multitude of influences. Nevertheless, in many parts of the world today, architecture and urban environments are produced in tandem with environmental degradation, ethnic and regional conflicts and mass displacements of refugees, political and economic instability, among other undecorated realities. 

The role of architects and urbanists 

What is the role of architecture and urbanism in this contradicting world? 

Their role should not be about: 

  • Seizing emerging business and development opportunities. 
  • Seeking prospects for establishing new sets of planning standards for new cities. 
  • Introducing new buildings that manifest physical masks for expressing power. 
  • Establishing means for covering up the harsh realities of inequity and injustice that plague many cities and communities, including these of the developed world. 

Their role should: 

  • Create environments conducive to healing the process of human, environmental, societal and cultural evolution. 
  • Recognise that the built environment is a product of conscious decision making within the public sector, of the collective spatial practice of all users, and of accumulated subjective attachment and identification. 
  • Recognise that three products cannot be examined or designed in isolation, they must be integrated. 

Embracing trans-disciplinarity 

Architects and urbanists cannot create healing environments, address complex and multifaceted challenges, or develop solutions that consider social and environmental innovation alone. 

To create healing environments, address complex challenges and develop innovative solutions, they urgently need to: 

  • Adopt a flat ontology mindset and embrace trans-disciplinarity in thinking and acting. 
  • Involve co-operation among different parts of society, professionals and academia. 
  • Work together to blur and then transcend the boundaries of the various disciplines to encounter complexity, while challenging the fragmentation of knowledge. 
  • Recognise the necessary integration of scientific expert knowledge, folk knowledge, practical knowledge and tacit knowledge, all of which constitute a type of knowledge resulting from transdisciplinary architectural and planning practice. 
  • Integrate three levels of knowing:  

a) Knowing “what and that” (evidence-based design and planning). 

b) Knowing “why” and learning from past experiences (post-occupancy and performance evaluation). 

c) Knowing “how” (democratic design and participatory/collaborative planning). 

  • Recognise that their role is not to solve people problems, but to create inclusive mechanisms that enable people to have a say in shaping their future environment. 
  • Engage in dialogues, to be good question askers, knowing when to raise issues and how to manage discussions, to be good listeners and observers. 

Building better urban futures, creating healing environments, addressing complex challenges and developing innovative social and environmental solutions cannot take place without embracing trans-disciplinarity.  

Trans-disciplinarity is not a luxury anymore; it is an urgent necessity and an obligation. – Ashraf M Salama 

Read more manifestos from CAFx IMR at https://www.cafx.dk/imr/home. 

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