Before you read this note, ask yourself what do you see in the pictures above and which concepts come into your mind? Try to recall as many concepts as you can.
Walking in the metropolises like Tehran, one finds little trouble to view scenes that have the potential to be significant depictions of poverty or inequality; but we, as far as are engaged in our disciplines and careers in architecture, are not used to interpreting them in this way.
The borderlines dividing rich and poor neighbourhoods construct our mental maps of the cities2, but trying to understand and deconstructing them has no place in educating pupils in bachelor schools.
More broadly, the economy has never been an integrated part of our narratives of works of architecture. Our ideas of architecture are not linked to the general economic system. We have generously assigned this part to the scholars interested in critical theories and postcolonial studies, economists, and social scientists. We do not even have the concepts, the theoretical frameworks which include these pertinent issues not as something marginally related to our field but as an essential part of it.
Regarding the complexity of the built environment, Christopher Alexander once told that we could not hold all multiple aspects of a complex problem in our mind; we have to remove some. We have not chosen the right facet to do so.
We are used to understanding the urban landscape in terms of the built forms. We are used to dividing landscapes based on inanimate artificial or natural elements, and the overall character as a result. If there is any possibility to consider a cities’ landscape integratively and explore the mental image of citizens in this way, then we will be able to divide city landscapes according to the measure of economic equality we might perceive. Thus, a kind of landscapes we might recognize, alongside what we have always noticed, is the "landscape of poverty". As an example, it is enough to look at one of that garbage bin beside a street in which a young boy is digging to find something to survive in search of valuable or recyclable materials, or when at a traffic light a group of underage girls and boys present their Jasmine bouquets. It is when you watch a three-years-old in the subway, insisting you to buy. Where a homeless is resting under a massive flyover, the award-winning masterpiece of architecture of our age.
These scenes, which have been rubbed out of the images pertinent to us as professors, architects and planners, are as equally part of the city landscape as those huge architectural endeavours or those which cultural landscape refers.
Inequality is taken for granted in our architecture schools.
No one taught us to see architectural phenomena as something seriously entangled with the economy and so that economic inequality. At best, we mostly regard it as a mundane problem which might prevent us from our creative design work or our prestigious theoretical endeavours.
We do not have an education whereby the conspicuous inequality in cities has a place in its curriculum. We have not yet borrowed those concepts we need from humanities to define this problem as an inherent aspect of our occupation, something related to us and our decisions, our conceptualizations. It is not enough to write poetic elegies on this inequality. We need to fundamentally rethink the way we consider the relation between the economy and the built environment in our educational system of architecture. We do not have defined even one single course regarding this, neither it has ever been an alternative approach in teaching some of the architecture programs in our departments. We need to reapproach the non-illuminating Landscape of Poverty.
1.The rest of this title which I removed is "Or Why we do not have a Course on Economy in Architecture Schools?"
2.If you have ever lived in Tehran, trying to recall the connotation of Tajrish, Vanak, district 1, North and West versus Shush, Molavi, District 16, and South will be enough proof.