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A Model Village for the World

A new earthquake-proof village in Turkey offers residents instant community.
December 1, 2003

On August 17, 1999, the earth shook under Turkey’s North Anatolian fault, triggering an earthquake that registered 7.4 on the Richter scale and destroyed towns and villages in southwest Turkey between Istanbul and Ankara. More than 25,000 people died-almost all of them in building collapses.

Jan Wampler, a professor in MIT’s architecture school, immediately called two of his former students, Barbara Brady ‘92 and Rukiye Devres Unver ‘93, MA ‘96, who had formed their own architecture firm in Istanbul in 1997, to make sure they were safe. In the year before the earthquake, Brady and Unver had been discussing with Wampler the possibility of bringing one of his signature workshop classes to Turkey as part of a design project. Wampler told his former students, “Maybe now is the time.”

As graduate students, Brady and Unver had participated in Wampler’s International Workshop, which he has been teaching for the past decade. Each workshop brings together a mix of undergraduates and graduates from various disciplines (engineers and urban planners as well as architects) who make a field visit to a country to consider the architecture, resources, technology, culture, and history of a particular area. They return to MIT to spend the rest of the semester designing a project for that area. Brady and Unver, for example, helped design a school in Pakistan. Other workshops have gone to India, China, and Honduras.

Wampler reasoned that, by bringing a workshop to Turkey after the quake, he and his students could help rebuild the devastated countryside, designing and constructing much needed and more stable shelters. After consulting with Brady and Unver, he chose to focus on the region surrounding the city of Adapazari, which lies directly on the fault and 75 percent of whose buildings had been leveled. He also intended to devote the workshop to planning an entire village, or as he puts it, a “microvillage.” Wampler invented the term, he says, to capture the sense of a small, technical community-something more than just homes grouped together. According to his definition, a microvillage incorporates design that recognizes local architectural traditions while exploring the newest technologies; fosters a sense of community (something that gets lost amid the high-rises of a big city); and provides economic self-sustainability (if inhabitants can create microindustries within the village, they won’t feel pressed to migrate to the cities).

“I wanted to use this opportunity to build a permanent community to explore new technologies,” says Wampler.

What started in 1999 as a proposal by Wampler, Brady, and Unver expanded to include students, the Turkish government, and nongovernmental Turkish nonprofit organizations. It took years to iron out the details of the project, and dealing with the bureaucratic wrangles necessary to build in any country slowed the process. But construction of the village finally began last summer. And Wampler’s longtime commitment to not just designing shelter but helping form a new type of community is coming to fruition. “I’m prepared to say it might not be as successful as we want,” Wampler says. “But we’ll know something, and that’s the point.”

Designing a Community: The Workshop

In the two weeks between the earthquake and the start of fall classes at MIT, Wampler, Brady, and Unver scrambled to organize a trip to Turkey for the 11 undergraduate and graduate students who had registered for the workshop. Unver and Brady scouted possible building sites in Turkey, established connections with local governors, and planned visits to tent cities that sheltered thousands of earthquake victims.

For the students, the October 1999 trip was a fact-finding mission. They traveled through the countryside outside of Adapazari not only to look for potential building sites for the village, which would consist of about 50 houses, but also to study the native architecture for design ideas. In addition, with Brady and Unver interpreting, the students met with families-usually over bottomless cups of tea-in the tent camps to ask them what attributes they might like their new homes to have. “It was a very powerful experience,” says Bruno Miller ‘98, SM ‘00, SM ‘01. In addition to learning that families valued space for gardening and for community events, the team learned that the people were concerned about the safety of the structures in which they would live. The MIT students’ challenge would be to design homes that fit the families’ lifestyles but were also stable enough to withstand the shocks of the earthquake-prone geography.

Taking all of this information back to Cambridge, students met twice a week during both the fall and the spring semesters to design the village for a 3.2-hectare site some 10 kilometers from Adapazari. The effort was a collaboration: the architects designed the framework, the urban planners investigated microeconomic opportunities, and the engineers worked on soil stability and energy conservation.

“One of the biggest things we got out of the course was learning to speak to the other disciplines,” says current doctoral student Lara Greden, SM ‘01.

The final design called for 50 units in four-family buildings with light steel frame-bearing walls and site-cast concrete foundations-flexible, earthquake-proof structures. As important to the students as structural stability, however, was honoring the architectural and cultural heritage of Turkey with two-story buildings of local materials like stucco.

“The village looks like it should be there,” says Greden.

Respect for a particular culture’s traditions is at the core of Wampler’s teachings. “When I go to countries, because I’m from MIT, sometimes they expect me to do high-rise, high-tech buildings,” Wampler says. “They are surprised when I come and say, You should be doing what you are already doing.’” For Wampler, a sense of community and economic opportunity should dictate the design of the buildings themselves. Not, however, that his students leave out high-tech additions when they’re practical. The design of the Turkish microvillage includes a water-filtering system and solar panels for individual houses.

The Self-Sustaining Village

Adapazari, which lies about 160 kilometers east of Istanbul, grew up over the past half-century on an ancient lake bed of unstable soil. Though the area has seen a dozen major earthquakes since 1939, its access to a waterway leading to Istanbul made it an attractive spot for development, and soon thousands of rural village families in search of jobs were living in its cheap, high-rise apartment buildings.

Wampler believes that if rural villages could provide employment and economic sustainability, families would not feel pressed to migrate toward work in cities, which are inherently rife with overcrowding, poorly constructed buildings, crime, and poverty. And here is the crux of his vision for the microvillage: it can offer both. The reason is the Internet. Rural Turkey may still be a ways away from having every home wired, but families moving from the city back to the village often include computer-savvy teenagers willing to not only learn the latest software but also share their skills with their parents, Wampler says. Wampler believes that, by incorporating a wired library in the community center into the overall plans for the microvillage, he can introduce the benefits of the Internet to the Turkish villagers-namely, the ability to bring in information and sell locally crafted products online. What teenagers can’t teach their parents, scholars and professionals willing to visit the village and run occasional workshops can. The result-a self-supporting community-could go a long way toward reversing migration to the city, Wampler believes. “A small community can make something and sell it over the Internet,” he explains. “People not only learn a skill, but they learn other skills, accounting skills or marketing skills.” Women who will be living in the village designed by Wampler and his students have already expressed a desire to sell paper handcrafted from dried flowers over the Internet.

Such examples of entrepreneurism-of people’s confidence that they can support themselves independently-is exactly what Wampler is after. “I believe that good architecture is the result of economic, social, and form issues-not just form,” says Wampler. “And I teach that.” Others have listened and learned. Most of the students in the original Turkey workshops have graduated and left MIT, but Habitat for Humanity International and CEKUL, a Turkish foundation, joined with Wampler, Brady, and Unver to form a Turkey-based foundation called Berikoy, Communities Creating Communities, which continues to raise funds for construction of the village.

When Wampler attended the groundbreaking for the village last July, he discovered that it was more than a ceremonial shoveling of dirt. It was a celebration of community. Children dressed in native Turkish costumes danced and performed songs. There were speeches and a roasted lamb, and dozens of the village’s future inhabitants posed with Wampler for photos. Tears came to his eyes. “It really was the end of the hard work that had gone on for so many years,” he says.

And while the workshop has been over for several years, some of Wampler’s students are still carrying its lessons into their lives. For example, Miller, a native of Costa Rica, was designing small turbine engines in the aeronautics and astronautics program before he met Wampler. Now Miller is investigating the roles air transportation can play in local development and has started conducting a study in Costa Rica for its government.

Graduates of the Turkey workshop also stay in close contact with Wampler, Brady, and Unver to monitor the progress of the village. And Brady, who now lives back in Massachusetts, still devotes most of her working time to the Berikoy project. She writes grant proposals, schedules labor, and plans events. “The reason that we are doing architecture is because it involved so many components that affect the livelihood of so many people,” Brady says, referring also to Unver; both are part of a steering committee that oversees the project in Turkey. “We’re not architects that just want to put up a big monument, and we are not trying to do this ourselves. We have professionals, we have NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], we have local governments, we have corporations. Anyone alone would bring in his or her own biases and limitations. But as a team, this opens everybody’s eyes to angles they wouldn’t have considered. I think this was key to the uniqueness of the workshop.” And as a product of Wampler’s workshops herself, she says, “It’s a very nice closure of the loop.”

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