ساره ساو ماي حبيب

A Manifesto

S P A C E . P L A C E . B O D Y .

How I engage with design & architecture is through an intention to always consider the interaction of place, space & body and the perceived and constructed borders between them. Borders manifest in many ways. They delineate such binaries between inside & outside, between race, gender, nations, between belonging and not belonging.
Architecture & the built / designed world have been used as tools to enact these borders. At times these tools have been weaponized for harmful outcomes.

To address this weaponization, we must examine how the process of design has been informed by the frameworks of colonization: historic systems of oppression [capitalism, ableism, white supremacy and cis-hetero-patriarchy] that have led to wrong relations between people [themselves and others], between people and nature, and the built & natural environments. We must examine the root causes to the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual scarring we see on lands, cities, communities and its people. This is necessary for healing to occur on individual and communal levels.

We can deconstruct design at a built and relational level. And ask what is the alternative to the status quo of design that is mostly responsive & complacent to existing oppressive power systems?

It could look like built design that is opposed to deadly resource extraction & design that disregards the health of the land it is built on and all life that the land nourishes. It could look like built design that reciprocates any resources that it does use. It could look like relations and design practices that center those effected most directly and give them the power to steer.

It could look like a practice that values knowledge beyond “expert” and “novice” hierarchies. And one that recognizes that inhabitants of a community are inherent experts of their own space; A practice that is interdisciplinary, requiring all fields of organized knowledge to participate; A practice that redefines success beyond monetary profit & corporate wealth; A practice that encourages a redistribution of power and sovereignty of life and creative expression; A practice that values all forms of labor and ensures that labor is consensual and reciprocated.

An Essay

E M E R G E N T    S T R A T E G Y   

T R A U M A    I N F O R M E D    D E S I G N

“Imagine if a developer, eyeing open land for a
shopping mall, had to ask the golden rod, meadowlarks, and the monarch butterflies for permission to take their homeland.What if he had to abide by the answer? Why not?”
-Robin Wall Kimmerer

It’s important for me to deepen my practice of acknowledging PLACE & CONTEXT. We are always at the forefront of many historical, cultural and ecological shifts. Much of our future lies in contending with the harm that’s been done, and sustaining the love, resilience and spiritual stamina in the face of this harm. Our future lies in both restoring what once was & creating what works for us now. This requires critical rethinking of our relationships to each other, to earth, to time and space. The frameworks we work in as designers, are either 1. complicit and uphold systemic oppression, or 2. deconstruct and resist it, or 3. create new liberating and restorative ways of being.
For the design field to truly become relevant in liberation work, it needs to fundamentally transform itself. Design, architecture, planning and the like have been used as weapons against the people & earth. They have all been very reactive to systems of oppression: prisons are built, border walls extended, biodiverse habitats turned to concrete, signs and symbols drawn to delineate the binaries of belonging. It’s not only physically BUILT design that is harmful, it is also the PROCESSES of design.

For example, even the most social justice conscious spaces suffer from harmful relationship patterns, whether it’s lopsided power & labor distribution, a culture of gossip & polite dishonesty, a culture of not valuing differences, making false promises to communities, or not addressing abuses & grievances in a timely and sensitive way. I believe that it has to do with internalized oppression and our unique ways of being with one another that are often influenced by our own traumas. Our healing is strategic! It gives us the solid foundation to support a healthy stamina for liberation work.

This brings me to Adrienne Maree Brown’s work on “Emergent Strategy”. Although this short essay wouldn’t be able to give the book of the same title justice, It is important to summarize some of its contents. Emergent Strategy is about creating large scale movements and changes through the small scale. Brown emphasizes that change happens first and foremost at the interpersonal level, and that we can look to nature to learn how to be in right relationship with each other.

Brown finds inspiration in mycelium for interconnectedness and detoxification; in ants for cooperative work and collective sustainability; in ferns for fractal awareness and small scale change; in wavicles for valuing uncertainty, duality, both the process and the outcome; in starling murmurations for collective leadership and adaptability; in dandelions for resilience and decentralization.

Related principles of emergent strategy include:
+Focusing on critical connection rather than critical mass.
+That there is always enough time for the right work.
+That there is a conversation in the room that only the people in it at this moment can have. Find it.
+Trust the people [and they will become trustworthy].
+Move at the speed of trust.
+That resilience is about how we heal from harm and conflict. Resilience is about transformative justice.

In the context of the community design, I am most drawn to the strategies of transformative justice and generative conflict that Brown advocates for. I believe cultivating these skills are crucial for the design process, as well as built design. These strategies ask: How does our notion of justice move away from punishment and isolation [basically the belief that people who do bad things are not capable of change], to the belief that people are capable of changing, growing, and of healing? How can conflict generate something life changing in good ways? In an effort to answer some of these questions I’ve gathered some thoughts from my experiences, studies, workshops and conversations around the topic:

Conflict can be generative when…
There are boundaries and agreements to the conversation, like only talking about root causes & issue at hand.
Guiding questions include: What was the harm? Who was harmed//who is harming? What are the needs and responsibilities of all involved? How can this be prevented?

instead of immediate response, practice PAUSE and SACRED LISTENING. This helps being a witness to all perspectives with more clarity. [Mediators can help with maintaining neutrality].

We remember the wholeness of each others humanity, which includes our good qualities.

We work on and take the time to build TRUST [through showing up/consistency] because it is foundational for courageous honest conversations, and to honestly express our regrets and our ailments as well as ask for support [combating the shame around the need for belonging, and shame of intimacy, dependency and difference]

the emotional labor of all those involved is RECIPROCAL, CONSENSUAL & VALUED.

all those involved are ready, willing, able and COMMITTED to unpack and work through the discomfort...always with compassion & love.

Lastly, can you imagine yourself adapting to & combining the different roles of designer, land steward, healer, social justice facilitator, and truth teller ? Why? Why not?

[Photo taken in Salalah, Oman.]

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