A champion of building in informal settlements, the atelier founded by Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner brings its socially responsible ethos to the classroom at ETH in Zürich.
The Urban-Think Tank research and architecture atelier has built structures in places most firms would never have attempted. In the barrios of Caracas, U-TT has constructed a multi-level sports arena (known as vertical gymnasia), and it has built a cable car that circumvents the lack of roads and streets by floating passengers above the rooftops. The radical studio’s founders, Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, are also professors of architecture and urban design at ETH Zürich, where they run semester-long studios and two-week workshops while teaching elective courses.
Their studios (past ones have boasted such names as Reactivate Athens and Mobilize Brasil) are dedicated to challenging groups of around 40 students to regard architecture foremost as a powerful force for political and social change. “These are real projects, and we often collaborate directly with NGOs,” says Brillembourg. “Architects no longer parachute into another city. Now you have locals on the ground directing you.” This fall, they are involving their newest crop of students in the ongoing Empower Shack project.
Participants will spend a week in Cape Town’s informal settlements to connect with local NGO Ikhayalami and learn from locals. The goal is to develop a prototype dwelling – an open-source tool kit of parts that can be replicated anywhere – for people who live in substandard housing. Says Brillembourg, “I teach students how to be activists, how to be investigative journalists, and how to have ideas of their own. Then they can go out and crowd-fund – and I will teach them how to connect the top and the bottom, and how to find the money.”
About the School
ETH Zürich, Department of Architecture (D-ARCH) / Switzerland / undergraduate to doctoral programs / 1,880 students / 310 faculty / $680 per semester