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Loose Fit City: The Contribution of Bottom-Up Architecture to Urban Design and Planning

Published by Routledge, 2018

Drawn from a lifetime’s experience of shared city-making from the bottom up, within rapidly expanding urban metabolisms in Delhi, Mumbai, Agra, Kathmandu, West Africa and London, Loose Fit City is about the ways in which city residents can learn through making to engage with the dynamic process of creating their own city. It looks at the nature and processes involved in loosely fitting together elements made by different people at different scales and times, with different intentions, into a civic entity which is greater than the sum of its parts. It shows how bottom-up learning through making can create a more vibrant and democratic city than the more flattened, top-down, centrally planned, factory made version. 

Loose Fit City provides a new take on the subject of architecture, defined as the study and practice of fitting together physical and cultural topography. It provides a comprehensive view of how the fourth dimension of time fits loosely together with the three spatial dimensions at different scales within the human horizon, so as to layer meaning and depth within the places and metabolism of the city fabric.

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The Architecture of Three Freetown Neighbourhoods: documenting changing city topographies

Published by ASD Projects, 2013

This research was sparked by an individual’s request for help to establish a primary school in Kaningo, a poor settlement on the edge of Freetown, whose population was made up of civil war refugees. This gave access to a stimulating academic environment. ARCSR tested resistances and made accommodations to local realities. Insights and new knowledge emerged as the work 
progressed. 

The first aim was to understand the local physical and cultural topography around the school site to ensure an appropriate fit for building proposals and to sustain an educational programme. 

The second aim was to raise awareness of the architectural history, culture, topography and potential of places such as early 21st century Kaningo, alongside those of the early 19th century Krio Downtown, home to a distinct family of timber board houses, and the early 20th century colonial Hill Station made up of timber box houses, prefabricated in Europe. These places were built at different times and under very different conditions but nevertheless are both spatially adjacent and are, together, part of the rich architectural culture of Freetown. 

The third aim is to give a sense of place-identity to peri-urban Freetown where the greatest social change is currently taking place. Exhibitions sponsored by the British Council have generated a wide response from the Krio Diaspora, the Government of Sierra Leone, students, professionals and the press, but, more importantly, they have enabled residents to witness representations of their neighbourhood making a valuable contribution to Freetown city culture.

Shortlisted for RIBA President's Awards for Outstanding University-located Research, 2014

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Learning from Delhi: Dispersed Initiatives in Changing Urban Landscapes

Published by Ashgate, 2010

The inflexibility of modern urban planning, which seeks to determine the activities of urban inhabitants and standardise everyday city life, is challenged by the unstoppable organic growth of illegal settlements. In rapidly expanding cities, issues of continuity with local traditions, local conditions and local ways of working are juxtaposed with those of abrupt change due to emergency, reaction to modernity, environmental degradation, global market forces and global technological imperatives to make efforts to control by physical planning redundant as soon as they are enacted. In most third world cities there is little social welfare and almost no attempt at social housing. The urban poor must still house themselves with little or no state help to procure land or infrastructure. Not having a legal existence, 'slums' are automatically swept away to create a 'tabula rasa' prior to a complete new build for those who can afford the full cost. The notion of upgrading the existing built environment, has hardly entered the official planning vocabulary. Since 2002, both Diploma and latterly Degree students from London Metropolitan University Department of Architecture and Spatial Design have produced schemes from research work generated during an annual field trip to India. Work is focused on situations where rapid cultural and technical change is affecting traditional or transitional communities who have access to only limited resources. Sites have included post earthquake desert locations in Gujarat, under-serviced urban slums in Delhi, dense traditional city landscapes in Meerut and the integration of Marwari nomads into a settlement in Agra. This has proved a stimulating and provocative academic learning environment producing a range of innovative work. Some of the students involved have been awarded RIBA medals and other prestigious student prizes. 

Best Publisher, Urban Design Award UK, 2012

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Rebuilding Community in Kosovo (2003)

Published by Centre for Alternative Technology Publications, 2003

For two years, Maurice Mitchell and students from London Metropolitan University worked in Kosovo to help recreate a public realm for communities where it had been wiped out by war. The projects worked on included a post office for people who had no address, a sustainable water collection and distribution system, a swimming pool, a park surrounding a reed bed filtration system, a canopy for a market and theatre area, a women’s refuge and rape crisis therapy centre and a safe play space made from scrap materials. The book targets design students, architects, development workers and emergency relief staff and aims to encourage those working in the field of community development to use appropriate and sustainable technologies in an urban environment.

The Lemonade Stand: Exploring the Unfamiliar by Building Large-scale Models (1998)

Published by Centre for Alternative Technology Publications, 1998

In the western world, the relationship between house, home and builder has mostly been severed, removing us from the attachment many peoples derive from making buildings. The Lemonade Stand offers a guide to building your own home or shelter in one of many styles from around the world, in the process understanding more about how buildings are informed by climate, materials, tradition, and technology. It is the ideal 'learning-by-building' guide for self-builders, designers, and development workers.

Culture, Cash and Housing: Community and tradition in low-income building

Published by ITDG Publishing, 1992

Culture, Cash and Housing examines the role of cultural tradition and the local environment in determining a community’s attitude towards housing and its construction. It offers practical advice to enable planners and implementers of building projects (including development agencies) to assess effectively the community’s needs and the factors which shape their own requirements for change. While there is a sizeable technical literature available on low-cost building, Culture, Cash and Housing focuses on community involvement. It examines the issue of housing as a basic human need and puts the subject into a social and cultural context — whether this applies to traditional rural housing, or to the problems of an urban population. The book draws attention to the cultural context of housing which will shape a community’s perception of its needs and its attitude to change. A range of case studies of VSO volunteers who have worked on community-based low-cost building programmes in a variety of countries and settings helps illustrate the issues, concerns and most importantly, the processes which can determine the success or failure of a building project. Culture, Cash and Housing deals with a large subject and gives an overview of the many issues and concerns which need to be taken into account when working on the problems of the built-up environment in less developed countries, although many of its lessons are equally relevant to the developed world. Essential reading for development agencies, project planners and implementers and fieldworkers, as well as academics and students in developed and developing countries.