Participatory Design for Port of Spain by ETH Zurich

Since August 2012, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) have joined forces to help emerging mid-size cities within Latin America and the Caribbean to face their urban challenges. Within the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI) the ETH Chair of Architecture and Urban Design of Prof. Alfredo Brilembourg and Prof. Hubert Klumpner will identify the opportunities in urban development of Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. The research and design will follow the participatory design methodology and contribute to a positive impact on the sustainability of local communities. In October 2012, a team of ETH Zurich architecture, urban design and environmental science students and specialists together with community representatives, local students and sector specialists undertook intensive analysis into Port of Spain’s urban code and operations, particularly in the topics of solid waste management, cultural heritage restoration, mobility and community strengthening.

What are the key elements of a participatory design process?

Participatory design is a planning methodology, which is widely considered a tool for user empowerment and democratization of decision-making processes, having been tested in many different settings and scales around the world. It advocates the view that design is not the privilege of a few, but rather, the right and responsibility of the communities – a shift from top-down planning to bottom-up initiatives. The key elements of this methodology are a participatory consultation process and critical mapping of the sites; together they form a tool kit of urban strategies. The participatory consultation process is an approach to actively involve all relevant stakeholders such as the civil society, academic institutions, government entities and private sector in the design process to build an urban design product that serves the public interest and fulfills the needs voiced by end-users. This approach creates environments that are more responsive and in line with their inhabitants’ cultural, emotional, spiritual and practical needs, encouraging a social sustainable approach. Mapping on the other side, is a new form of urban literacy, a method to read and interpret the city by finding and re-codifying it into zones of social tension, conflict and social cohesion in which everyday life unfolds. Mapping those fields in the city and consulting with all relevant stakeholders will build up a data basis for Port of Spain, which the ETH team will use to create a strategic urban development plan. The strategic development plan is in this case a tool kit of strategy implementation and a set of architectural prototypes that intends to support creative action in urban life and instigate a new sustainable approach in the urban environment.

How does participatory design fit in the future urban development of Port of Spain?

Trinidad and Tobago is listed by the United Nations as a Small Island Development State (SIDS) based on its high levels of ecological, economic, and social vulnerability. Port of Spain is the capital of the country, an urban agglomeration with a fragmented urban fabric of constantly changing demographic and economic conditions. As a leading oil and gas producer, the modernization process and rapid urbanization of the city have created marginalized zones. The focus of the project is East Port of Spain, an area that contains many of the marginalized and isolated communities. The former quarries are today occupied by informal housing settlements with inadequate infrastructure, environmental degradation, and deficiencies in the provision of social facilities. We believe that through the implementation of a participatory design process and the combination of research and design, urban development in Port of Spain can respond to public interest and promote a new mindset in environmental sustainable and innovative design solutions – a catalyst for urban growth.

ETH Team

Prof. Alfredo Brillembourg & Prof. Hubert Klumpner, Michael Contento, Lea Rufenacht, Lindsey Sherman, Johan Alvfors, Alexander Athanassoglou, Lucas Bucher, Sabrina Cervenka, Valentino Crameri, Vladimir Dianiska, Anil, Erkan, Lukas Fink, Hans Flühmann, Daniela Gemperli, Giulia Giardini, Ramona Hablützel, Lennart Harbich, Jonas Hässig, Sylwia Jezewska, Felix Sadlo, Stephanie Schenk, Fabio Stirnimann,Thai Tran, Tessa Vollmeier, Nathalie Wandel

Lea Ruefenacht

Lea Ruefenacht

Lea Alexandra Rüfenacht, born in Guatemala, leads the collaboration between Inter-American Development Bank’s Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich). As an architect and researcher, Lea represents the ETH Chair of Architecture and Urban Design of Prof. Brillembourg and Prof. Klupmner and coordinates the urban renewal project for Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago. Her research and teaching at ETH Zurich focused in modern and contemporary urban policies in cities such as Berlin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, the intensification of every day life, the implementation of temporary urban strategies as well as the implementation of processes of participatory design also in areas of limited statehood. Lea worked for the architecture and urban design firm Urban-Think Tank in Caracas and Zurich, where she led the project design and management of diverse projects such as the FAVA School for Children with Autism in Caracas Venezuela and the Housing Complex Olympiakwartier Almere Netherlands. Lea holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree of Science in Architecture from the ETH Zurich, with concentrations in urban design, architecture and building process and urban sociology. She is a registered architect at the Swiss Engineers and Architects Association (SIA). Lea is a native Spanish and German speaker and is fluent in English.

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