Learning to Communicate _ Learning to Read Economics

It can be argued that the majority of architects are illiterate, because of their lack of knowledge when it comes to economics. Rather than this, I would characterized architects as half-illiterate when we take economics into account. In my point of view this half-illiteracy implies that architects are ‘inscribing’ values in economic environment with their every decision, but they are not able to read economics in their surrounding very well. Furthermore, they lack ability to receive the information and that is why they don’t give proper response while ‘writing’. This insufficient exchange of codes is the first step in a long path of misunderstandings between architectural practice and economics.

It is certain that communication between these two is not sufficient enough, but its existence can’t be denied. Even when architects don’t take impact on economy in consideration they are affecting it. This is why we need flow of information between these two disciplines to be more adequate. For architects to become more aware of their own power to shape economy on different spatial levels, they must understand processes in economy very well. This understanding can be improved if economics deals with factors considering space as well. So we need both disciplines to work on manners of expressing themselves in order to enable both of them to ‘read’ each other. This would eventually lead to better and more comfortable surrounding to live in.

When accomplishing this better relation, it often happens that both of them have same aims, but it is not necessary to be like that. Each of them can look at the other one as a tool for accomplishing its aims. In order to realize this kind of relationship, architects still must have knowledge in fields of economics. This knowledge sometimes can be no more than understudying humans behavior and habits and thinking about ways to change them so people themselves lead to better economic situation.

Nevertheless, economic situation can affect quality of architecture that is being build. So we come to a position where we have a bad economic situation in which architecture usually is a set of bad decisions, which again lead to even worse economic situation. Many countries nowadays are finding themselves in this position, that pulls them deeper to uncomfortable environment.

On the other hand this can be turned into great opportunity and challenge to start to use architecture as a significant tool in accomplishing better economic (and financial) surrounding. In many occasions having plenty constraints leads towards better results. In order to succeed in creating a symbiotic relation between architecture and economy, different approach than usual one in architecture should be used. Rather than starting from spatial qualities and inspiration taken from the site, architects should first consider common behavior of users and have a clear thought about where the desired direction of their behavior is. Only then, architects can succeed in really changing the economy, no matter on which spatial scale they are working on.


Part of this ever lasting struggle of architects to ‘change the world’ is being accomplished through projects of urban renewal. These projects have an aim to improve living surrounding, to regenerate. This regeneration consider putting an effort to make people love urban space considering communal as their own, rather than no-one’s. Besides this, one of the main goals, if not the main, is making better economic situation, and creating better financial  position. This method is frequently considered  as controversial inside urban planning and design. First urban renewals have started 5 decades ago, and since than they have been showing different results, bad and good, but with certain damage in social aspect that can’t be cured. Primarily this refers to ghettoization, as result of artificial gentrification of urban zones. At the core, main goal of urban renewal is gentrification. Complexity of urban renewal lys in its demand to combine different disciplines working closely together in order to fulfill its purpose. As a result of this multidisciplinary approach looking more into examples of urban renewal can provide better insight into relation between architecture and economics.

There are two main types of urban renewal, and many different techniques, which are mainly manifested as architectural projects or regulations. Two main types, that have core difference in their approach, imply ‘mega’ projects and ‘bottom-up’ projects.

First thing to take into consideration while implementing projects for urban renewal are serious financial assets. Usual financial sources are taxes, games of chance and public – private partnerships (PPP). Because of this, many countries can’t affect their urban environment seriously and in organized manner even when they have initiative. In some other countries, for example Serbia, there are many other constraints for urban renewal. These consider: political situation (uncertainty, transition, ever lasting edge of Europe, not well educated experts, world economic crises and its effects, etc.) and legislation (very easy to abuse, no private public partnerships, long procedures, etc.). On the other hand some other countries were able to implement projects of urban renewal on big areas. London Docks can be considered as one example. It was a big project that requested huge finical and political support. One thing that is very common in urban renewals when it comes to big scale, is proportion of financial assets invested at the beginning  of project and time in which first economic values can be seen and felt by citizens. We need to put in a lot of assets, both financial and related to human resources, in order to wait at least a decade to see first outputs that equal initial inputs. Besides positive aspects, such as bringing London Docks back to life, there are many downsides. Prices of real estates in whole neighbor became artificially high, that once again led to ghettoization. Wealth can also become target for terrorists, and the neighbor itself becomes turbulent and crowded with tourists. This last one is often a result of architectural projects, urban rappers. These projects, on the other side, can also become triggers for urban renewal. This is direct indicator of how powerful architecture can be in terms of changing economic situation. With well-thought consequent decisions architects are really able to shape economy, at the same time if not paying attention to it they can either remain irrelevant or have a bad influence.

Because all of defects that big scale urban renewal bears with itself, like one mentioned in example of London, we need to find a new ways to accomplish goals that we already set. One of the methods that quite recently came onto the scene is ‘bottom-up’ approach.

Due to current economic crisis institutions that were once able to support big scale projects for urban renewal now don’t have funds. So, abandoned areas depend on the people who must  make initiative themselves, organize and start working. One of the examples of this self-initiative and organization is renewal of ‘Savamala’ in Belgrade, Serbia. This neighborhood once was city center, but over the time it become only abounded empty place with noisy traffic. Spaces in ‘Savamala’ have turned in alternative cultural centers only because of the self-initiative of people. There are no any institutions standing behind this project, but people succeed to express their desires and to make them real. Shortly after small interventions (and low financial inputs) such as intimate galleries, old hand-made crafts, local art exhibitions etc., people living in this neighborhood started to feel rehabilitation. If we take in consideration how much we put into one project at the beginning and the time when we start to see these differences, ‘bottom-up’ projects win over ‘mega-projects’. Now this neighborhood in Belgrade became ‘must-stop’ for tourists. This also has an great impact on attracting ‘creative class’ into the city, which always leads to better economic situation.

Savamala has it’s position on waterfront, and because of that has recently been in center of attention as part of big scale urban renewal project implemented by state, and coming from Dubai. Unlike the ongoing bottom-up project, this global model of financial speculations doesn’t consider citizens and their needs. It has been promoted as something that will finally put Belgrade on the world map of cities. But, there is a huge question how good this project is for the state, and how good or bad for citizens. It is questionable if someone needs to come and develop commercial spaces where we will all spend our money, or should people who live there be the ones who are creating the city according to their needs. Furthermore, people are not aware that they have power to change their environment. Because of that a lot of effort is being put to let people discover what they can do. The aim is to make citizens part of every phase of urban development, from beginning to the end, and together with institutions or/and architects. Here the role of the architect is the important one.


In many occasions architects aren’t sure how exactly are they affecting economy with their projects. They tend to look at economics through eyes of developers, because they sense that without them they can not accomplish anything. Are architects then also short-sighted in terms of economics? On the contrary, when not being pushed by developers architects can start to think more deeply into their own power to become triggers of better economic situation. In any case, it is confirmed that economical situation is affecting kind of architecture being developed as well as urban strategies, and the other way around. At the end, do we, as architects, have even choice whether we engage with economics or not nowadays? In my point of view economical feature to every architectural project should be considered as important as having a section.

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