Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Building Together

Roger Katan and Ronald Shiffman

New Village Press


Based on seven case studies, Building Together gives a personal reflection of successes and struggles of advocacy, architecture and planning, and citizen engagement projects in Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Roger Katan and Ronald Shiffman provide readers with an in-depth understanding of how their practices and encounters with communities have challenged them to move from the conventional form of architecture with a largely aristocratic view that was common in the 1960s towards a deeply people-centred form of practising their profession.

Addressed to architects, planners, citizen planners, students, activists and decision makers, this book exemplifies what it means to see participation not as an empty phrase, but as a practice that requires specific skills in order to engage with communities in a reciprocal and mutually beneficial way. Although not written as a textbook or guidebook, the case studies illustrate how professional architects and planners can commit themselves to working with communities and to overcoming local scepticism and initial resistance, hence arriving at more democratic and equitable ways of place making and community building.

The vast experience of the authors is manifested not only in the breadth and depth of the chosen case studies, but also in their authority and their confidence to make it a very personal book. Personal reflections on success factors and mistakes find a place along with people, institutions and organizations that contributed positively and negatively to project outcomes.

While the case studies are geographically and socio-economically diverse and affect different temporal and spatial scales, they are united by their goal to improve the living conditions of a community and their commitment to take the needs as well as assets of the communities as a starting point for a diverse and pluralistic planning and implementation process. As the book follows an earlier publication of Roger Katan (Batir Ensemble, published in 1988), many case studies started in the 1960s and 1970s and are followed up with modern-day descriptions, while the chapters on the US are new contributions from Ronald Shiffman. Thus, the book offers examples of participatory regional planning in New York in 1976 and after September 2001; pioneering self-managed cooperative and collaborative housing management of Jardies in Meudon, France in the 1970s; the more recent establishment of savings federations and microcredit organizations in Burkina Faso; and self-managed and self-built projects of the Destechados (Homeless) in Pereira and other projects in Colombia.

In sum, this book helps to demystify the process and methodological approach to community planning. It speaks clearly about power struggles, limiting regulations and norms, but also about the innovations, visions and opportunities that come from genuinely participatory planning efforts.

Book note prepared by Julia Wesely

Photo of Pacific Coast Cluster Homes (Cabanons), Bocana-Buenaventura, Columbia, 1991-93c, by Roger Katan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


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