Meet the 2019 Loeb Fellows: Michael Smith Masis

Meet the 2019 Loeb Fellows: Michael Smith Masis


All set. All right. I might be nervous,
but I am going to try to do my best
with my English as well. So well, first of
all, I would like to thank the Loeb program
for this great opportunity, to John and Sally and my fellow
colleagues for their support in this great adventure, to
Montserrat, my mom, my family. This is amazing, being here. And when looking up at the
Loeb’s double house walls, there are pictures hanging
back from the ’70s cohorts. And I don’t know. It makes me feel proud
of being part of a legacy and grateful at the same time. So I want to just make, in
this sense, knowing this talk is going to be
recorded, I want to tell to my little boy, my
son, [speaking spanish].. I’m going to break down in this
one, but [speaking spanish].. My aim today is to speak
about hope, passion, struggles for our dreams, even for a
revolution, as my colleague, [? mikail, ?] may call it. And well, I come
from Costa Rica. Costa Rica is this small
country in Central America, we abolished the
army in the 1940s. So most of the money that
some Latin Americans are badly spending wealth in
war and stuff like that, we spend it in
health, education, in natural preservation. So it’s a paradise. You’re more than welcome to
come, to have a beer, to surf. It’s an amazing place to go. And well, our
practice has been run by Alejandro Vallejo,
my associate and I. But we truly believe
our practice, we’re in representation
of community leaders. We’re in presentation
of students. We’re colleagues. I mean, we’re a bunch of people,
community leaders, colleagues, emerging small collective
students, activists. I think it’s a
Latin-American movement right now about
these collectives that we’re trying to
struggle and to do things. We believe in making. We believe in collaboration,
in participation to develop a sense of appropriation. We believe that the
users and the environment are the true protagonists,
not the designers. Unfortunately, when you
look into the practice and the academia– I mean, we have been
worldwide, looking at this– we almost put all
our efforts to work for 1% of the world population. And it’s unfortunately just
walking blindly towards this 1%, knowing that there
are biggest struggles, and knowing also that
we, as designers, we provide a service. And that’s very
important to know. So there is one billion of
the world population living under the line of poverty. 80% of the population lives
with $10 per day or less. In Latin America, it’s
half of our population. And in Costa Rica,
it’s almost 1/4. But this is not only a
third world issue, you know? We’re talking about the US. We’re talking about Europe. In Boston, we’re talking
about 686,000 persons living on the line of poverty. 3/4 of the housing solutions
there have been built have been done without any
architects, urban planners, or regulations. Robert Neuwirth, in his
book, Shadow Cities, he claims that this
billion has mixed mix more concrete than any
other developer in the world. So we truly, we’re talking
about the cities of the future are being built here. This is very important
to know as a phenomenon. It’s not good and bad. This is really happening
right now, globally speaking. In our practice, we have
two type of projects– the ones to feed us and
the ones that they don’t. So we’re basically
working those two senses. So we have the red dot is
when your grandma or your aunt calls you to do the
doggie house for her. But she hires you. You get paid a little
bit for that one. But then the white dots,
I think, very important. Because in the case of my
colleague and I, I mean, we don’t have families
that own big enterprises and stuff like that. We have to build our own future. So this is about
knocking doors, working with pro bono projects,
NGOs, working with public, working with the private. And in a matter of
15 years, we have achieved a struggle to stay
in our practice, our office. It’s because we’re
pursuing our own projects as an ongoing experience. So this is very important. Because you need
money to do something that really gives you
passion, something that you really want to do. I want to show you an example. For example, we
have this project. It’s called Cueva
de Luz in La Carpio. It’s located in San Jose. It’s a biggest
informal settlement. And it’s almost 50,000
inhabitants in there. And we work with these
two powerful women, Alicia and Maris. Alicia is a community leader. Maris is the leader of the NGO. And they developed
this amazing program. It’s called Systems of Art
Education for Social Inclusion. So a couple years ago, eight
years ago, we knocked the door. How can we help? And we helped them to manage
to achieve this infrastructure that they needed. And in a matter
of years, we have enrolled almost 150 volunteers. This is an investment. It stops almost $1 million. The Carpio orchestra performed
in the national theater, which is a great honor back home. And it accounts an impact
almost in 900 persons. And we have award judo winners
from the last competitions in Costa Rica. So there is a lot
going in this place. It was used to call that
[? toad ?] Cape, was probably the most dangerous site in
San Jose, in Costa Rica. And now it’s called
the Cape of Light. And this Cape of Light, there’s
something very nice to say. I mean, it has won
very important awards nationally and internationally. But something very funny
that happened to us– for example, we won the
Costa Rican [inaudible] of architecture. And then one local
colleague called to the college of architects. And he called,
hey, what the hell? This project won the big prize. And it’s illegal. So the college of architects,
they called us and told us, hey, guys is that true? Of course, is true. I mean, it’s an
informal settlement. It’s not literal. So what happened, they told
us, oh, so what can we do? Can we manage to do something? So in that evening, we sent
them all the technical drawings, all the studies. Of course, there is a lot
of professional background behind this project. And in a matter of
hours, it was illegal. So we still keep the prize. But what is funny about
this is we are not promote illegal architecture. This is not about that. I think the most
important part is this project truly
represents citizens calling for an urban
and social inclusion. I mean, we’re not architects. We’re citizens. And we wanted to do
something out of the city. Because this community has
been 40 years of struggling against urban plans
from the communities and their necessities. Unfortunately, most
of the plans that are imposed in Latin America
are these preconceptions of Euro-North
American point of view that we wanted to topicalize it. And they don’t work. I mean, I’m pretty sure
there’s no recipe in order to develop our cities. This is also not about
architects’ impositions. This is about this project
was not even finished and was fully activated
since the beginning. Because I mean,
the population is deep-rooted because
the community, they wanted some
things to happen, whether before even the
building was even done. So that’s very important to say. There is a maker’s movement
since 2014 until now with Veritas University. We managed here
to put a Fab Lab. Within the place. There is also tailoring
entrepreneurship, which is called Entre Costuras. We even have all
these music ensembles, which was one of the first
driven forces of the project, and collective design
workshops, which we work with the
university on site, break dance classes,
judo, karate, [inaudible].. There’s a lot of
things going in there. And this is the regional tallest
wood construction building actually, in Central America. And I mean, top
practitioners have been involved as
[inaudible],, which is our engineer and our wood
construction enterprise, which is called Microtec. So great technology, put in
this site is very important. Because there is a paradigm. Usually these type
of interventions, what the government wants
to do or other enterprises, they just want to make it cheap. With little resources, how can
we achieve the best possible? And that’s– sorry my
French– but that’s bullshit. I mean, we have to work
the other way around. We have the best quality has
to be put in these sites. So I mean, just looking
at the materials, the warmth of the place– and I think these pictures is
very amazing because it also talks about another
paradigm in Latin America, about the constellation of the
public and the private efforts. We have to work together. There are now divisions. And I think project, and to
some extent, in this picture, reflects that. Because you have here the
private enterprise owner. You have the community leaders. You have the community members. You have NGOs. You have us. We have the government. We have the college of
architects over there. And this guy, he’s
Carlos Alvardo. He’s right now the former
president of Costa Rica. But in those days, he was the
Ministry of Social Welfare. So it’s amazing
how a lot of people get involved in this
wonderful project. And of course, after this,
we have ongoing initiatives, other urban acupunctures
within La Carpio. And one of these
is called Breezes of Light, which is
multifunctional facilities with a skate park, sports
facilities, and a garden roof– a roof garden, for example. And also, we’re trying to
push this earlier with further with housing and
public spaces and how to release a space
without harming the communities on site. For us, this is very important. How can we bring out
inclusive design? I mean, we do a
render model, not sketch before engaging
in these processes, where there is a lot of
lessons to be learned beyond academia for sure. And we are facilitators
of these processes. We listen. We learn. We articulate design problems. And then we validate these
ideas and put it into practice. And one amazing
project we have done is called Kapaclajui,
which is located in an indigenous
community in Turrialba. And we even have to have
translators in order to develop the workshop. And this project is
amazing because it also has achieved some important
recognition and awards and so on and so forth. But I’m talking about
awards, because there is a sense of proudness
about these projects because they belong to a
lot of collective efforts. This is not my practice. This is a lot of people
that have been involved. And we feel proud to
have in a rural community an award-winning project
which a lot of people now wants to know and
want to get insight and how to put indigenous
knowledge that informs all these design decisions. So another important
part I would like– I’m just throwing ideas
here in this little tuck– and something we consider
is very important is how you get enrolled in
the post-occupancy processes. Probably that’s the most
important part of this project. It’s just not about delivering
some physical infrastructure and that’s it. Actually, the real
magic occurs afterwards. That’s the most important part. So we have, of course,
in all of these projects, we have helped the communities
during that process– not help, work together I
think is even better to say. Another project we
developed was in Venezuela in Espacios de Paz. They invited us to collaborate. We worked with almost 70 persons
to develop an intervention to this sports facility,
which was fully enclosed, didn’t belong to the community. So they wanted to do some
specific operations in order to make it work. So it was amazing,
because the challenge was to make participatory design
and validation in two days. And in a matter
of four weeks, we have to make this intervention
with less than $30,000. So we really have
a challenge there. And it’s amazing because
after the days pass through and when we delivered
the project, we construct the project with
the community, you can tell that these
pictures, they actually had been taken by
the community itself. So this is a powerful
evidence about empowerment with these projects,
how they belong to them. There is a sense
of appropriation. Because some of these
pictures, most designers, they wanted to be
really well-produced by a photographer. But they don’t
truly represent what really happens in these spaces. So this is very important
evidence into some extent. And finally, I just
wanted to show you in this studio we
have in Costa Rica, in Veritas University, which
is called Entre Comunidad. And we try to encompass these
spaces for communal support. And there is one important
rule we tell to our students. Don’t worry about the money,
because we don’t have. So basically that’s a
very important thing because money is not
the boundary that doesn’t allow you to go and
pursue what you want to do. And that’s very important
because they get involved. I mean, there is no Pinterest
inspiration in these projects if you see the wood pallets. Of course not. I mean, it’s about
going on site. It’s about trying to
fundraise your projects. It’s about movement. It’s about to try to get
engaged with the community. It is also, I think it’s
the greatest excuse. Design is a great excuse to
build human relationships. That’s very important. And also, it’s a
design-and-build studio in which all the students
get these haptic sort of experiences in order to
develop the products they want to do and the designs. And this is also
about developing trust beyond academia. Because I mean,
academia is mainly about simulations
and speculations. But what happens at the end? I mean, these
communities, they’re really tired abound
universities going and doing all this mapping, all this
research, and nothing happens. And that’s something
that we really need to change, to get all
these resources and put it all to work into something
very significant. And we can gain and build trust
step by step for our users, for our clients. Because they really matter. And there is a
citizen engagement along these processes, where
every single part is important and is part of a
collective transformation into some extent. And everyone is included in
this transformative experience. So just by finishing– I just saw the sign there– when you ask these
young ones, what do you want to be when you
grow up, they will tell you, I want to be a reggaeton singer. I want to be a soccer star. And after the experience,
you ask the same question– and maybe an architect, an
engineer with a suspicious eye, you know? And it’s not that we
want to bring them to the dark side of the force. But it’s about knowing that– I mean, we are able there. We are not a luxury. We designers are
part of a society. We belong there. And so this is very
important to say. And this is a false sense of
philanthropy, no money in top. This is building
opportunities together. And I just want to
conclude with three images. The first one talks about these. I mean, we work also
in different scales with our students. And it doesn’t matter the scale. For example, there
were some kids that they have
physical disabilities. And we work on
these, for example, a deployable bed in here. We work where design
has a key role to improve the lives
with these wheelchairs. But finally is the last image. I think these images
really condenses what I wanted to share with
you today, that I mean, imagine these girl. She is oxygen-dependent. She was basically alienated
from other relationships within the community. So these students, they work. And they designed this scooter. So I mean, she became from being
the most alienated little one into be the coolest kid
in the neighborhood, just with this scooter. And this is important
to say because it really improved her life quality,
her family quality, community quality. So I mean, the small
scale is very important because it really deals with
the one-to-one relationship along humans and love,
as [? katherine ?] West pointed out. So [spanish]– many thanks. [applause]

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