Jan Wampler is bucking a trend.
Rather than spearheading ‘monumental’ architecture, which spotlights glitzy, avant-garde projects, the MIT Professor of Architecture is thinking small, organic and sustainable.
The principles guiding Wampler’s work are strikingly evident in a workshop project he initiated that took him and 11 architecture, planning and engineering students to Turkey following that country’s 1999 earthquake, which killed 25,000 and left another 200,000 homeless. The project was launched after Wampler phoned two former students now practicing in Turkey — architecture alumnae Barbara Brady and Rukiye Devres — to inquire if he could help.
The result was the Turkey demonstration workshop, which was based on previous courses Wampler had devised to help trauma-ravaged areas in Honduras, and other regions in China, Pakistan and India.
After meeting with Turkish authorities and hundreds of survivors living in the tent city near Adapazari, Wampler and his students designed a microvillage, a 50-unit housing community that incorporates the idea of renewable resources, locally produced material, and “the needs, values and dreams of the families who will be living there,” says Wampler. The site, which includes two-story housing and a multipurpose community space, will be built with the help of the area’s future homeowners, as well as support from Habitat for Humanity International and Mercy Corps International.
Vital to Wampler’s architectural vision is the idea of preserving local culture, which for him translates to building in rural habitats. Opposed to the notion that cities are the key to a better quality life, he points out that in the past 50 years the world’s urban centers have been unable to keep alive or provide quality of life to the huge numbers of people who migrate to them.
“Of the eight million living on the streets of Bombay, some don’t survive the night,” he says. Wampler’s village alternative relies on the concept of sustainability, both in terms of energy conservation and economic livelihood. The housing complex was designed so wind and solar energy would provide power, treated sewage would be recycled for fertilizer, and rainwater collected for drinking. Similarly, opportunities for microenterprise are key to the concept: Local residents will be trained in micro-entrepreneurship and the Internet will enable individuals to learn marketable skills and sell their goods or services on line. Thus, by Wampler’s thinking, residents can be trained to build their own reusable roofs from locally harvested timber, a skill they can parley into an income-producing future.
Also central to Wampler’s vision is designing “a new way of living. The future of our settlements is not just about shelter, but about the spirit and life of the place. We’ve gotten away from a sense of community and in this century we have to get back to it.” With this in mind, the housing complex features a common space, including computer facilities, which can be configured as library, health care or community space. The complex will be run as a cooperative, with the communal space owned collectively and the housing units owned individually.
With the preliminary designs complete, the project’s next stage focuses on the working drawings, which will be created by members of an engineering university in Turkey. Construction is planned for early spring 2001. Since the project was launched, Wampler has been invited to design housing complexes in four additional Turkish locations.
A key part of Wampler’s mission is the workshop’s educational model. Combining both undergraduate and graduate students, the cross-disciplinary demonstration workshop pushes MIT resources and ideas “outside the walls of this place,” says Wampler, who received the Irwin Sizer Award for the Most Significant Improvement in MIT Education in 1998, as well as the 1999 Distinguished Professor Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. “The practitioners of the future, whether they be architects or engineers, will be working on the international stage and they need to become sensitive to other cultures,” he adds.
Wampler’s students echo his sentiments. Minna Ha, BS ’00, who currently works as in intern at Cambridge Seven Associates, a commercial architecture firm, says the workshop’s greatest accomplishment was “allowing us to experience real-world issues and bring a human side to the project — which isn’t as heavily considered in other projects.” Bruno Miller, an aeronautical engineer completing an MS in Technology and Policy, says the workshop had a life-altering impact on him.
“The world seems a lot smaller after this project. When I hear about Turkey now, it’s not remote. I feel close to what they’ve been through, more sensitive to the disadvantages of people in other parts of the world.” In addition to broadening his awareness of the world, the workshop also made him more service oriented. An aviation engineer highly focused on technical matters, whose previous goal was to become an astronaut, Miller has broadened his perspective to focus on “how technology can help people.” Accordingly, he has revised his professional orientation to focus on reducing contamination from aircraft, while his Ph.D. dissertation involves developing aviation infrastructure to support economic, social and environmental growth in developing countries. “The workshop,” he explains, “made me think about what matters. It gave me a perspective about where I can help and make a difference in this world.”