By Komson Teeraparbwong
Team Wua-lai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Before Covid-19 struck earlier this year, the Wua-Lai team had organised a “match-making” academic workshop in December last year. We called it “match-making” because we were trying, for the first time, to set up the regular students’ workshop (between FACMU-Chiang Mai & ENSA-Paris Bellville) to run together with a Neighbourhood Forum event. It was a special Forum with key local persons from the Wua-Lai neighbourhood to discuss recent neighbourhood values-mapping. The students became observers to learn from all the discussions and debates which created dialogue from this special Forum. In other words, the workshop could be part of another Forum which would give a greater in-depth knowledge for their urban study’s project at the end of the workshop.
On “Norms” in Architectural Urban Study
There is a usual or standard way of studying and learning from neighbourhoods in the architectural field of study. The Architecture-based approach always focuses on the way local buildings and settlements could provide evidence about the city’s history and the development of its urban area. Basically, architectural students can use their skills in drawing, sketching and measuring the local, old houses and learn about building techniques or how those buildings were used over periods of time.
Students, however, sometimes fail to reach the kind of in-depth understanding they would have if they were residents of one of the neighbourhoods themselves. A recognition of this incomplete understanding has led to some new thinking about how student groups should work during Workshop days.
Last year’s December Workshop had a newly set-up methodology to avoid misconceptions and failures in understanding, by combining the small neighbourhood forum with the student workshop. The resulting dialogue between local residents of Wua-Lai and the students as outsiders proved very fruitful and successful.
Four main groups (from our research framework) are keys to understanding. Therefore, we invited Monks from both Temples (Muen-sarn and Sri Supan temples); Craft masters; local residents; and also representatives of the new young generation within the area.
The discussion between students and local neighbourhood representatives, including Silver Masters, Monks and people who live in the area proved very useful for students in developing their understanding and looking towards shaping their project proposals in greater detail. This also produced some good results in terms of the point-of-view of local people for governmental policy & development. The so-called “Workshop/Forum within workshop” became a new approach, as part of our way of studying and learning together from academic pedagogy acts with the local participation Forum approach, for the sake of area’s architectural development proposals.
“Going out and bringing in”: the process of oral interview & observation
The shared discussion with neighbourhood representatives in the Forum became an active dialogue with students as observers. Many issues like the environment, the dichotomy between old and new, living qualities, as well as historical pride in the area were mentioned by participants, who not only listed them on the board, but also debated them from different points of views. The Forum also had a chance to listen to a lecture by the Khon-Jai-Baan team which has been working on the redevelopment of Mae-Kha canal. It goes without saying that these programme settings were very useful for the workshop, bringing in many sectors and stakeholders into the Forum to be part of this year’s Workshop.
The neighbourhood workshop with social participation was the key approach this year and ensured a very successful final outcome. This led us to the decision to introduce the new approach regularly, beginning from next year (if COVID-19 allows!). Programming a neighbourhood participatory Workshop will surely be a feature of our next workshop. Hearing voices from the neighbourhood and its Forum will be a useful method apart from sketching and house interviews on their own.
Note: We did organise this workshop in December last year with the hope that Wua-lai would be in her richest form. However, at the time of this writing, the life of Wua-lai neighbourhood has not been the same as last year because COVID-19 has struck. We hope we can review this situation in our next Wua-lai Blog and it will produce thoughtful feedback and enable us to better understand the neighbourhood’s reaction to this global epidemic. Stay safe and healthy everyone!