arch-peace news and articles

14.4.14

We're embarking on a strategic plan

After a decade in existence, Architects for Peace has established a significant legacy - including over fifty public talks, three day-long conferences, more than sixty editorials, the establishment of a pro bono architecture service and publication of a book. Ten years is a long time in the life of an organisation. In that time, social networking has been invented, wars have been waged and lost, WikiLeaks has shocked us and ceased to shock us, the people have Occupy-ed and gone home. The world is a different place, and so are we. It seems like the right time to review our legacy and explore our future direction.

To this end, over the coming months, we will be undertaking a strategic planning exercise. During this period, many of our usual activities and operations will be on hold: notably, the 'words' monthly talk series, pro bono service and publication of editorials. We will still update the website, keeping you in the loop as things progress, and we encourage you to continue to share news concerning social justice in the built environment via our facebook page.

We're keen to receive constructive feedback from our members and supporters all over the world in regard to what you like and dislike about what we've done to date, which things you'd do differently and what you'd like to see stay the same. In the short term you can expect to see a few questions appearing on facebook. We will also be developing a series of survey questions, and are hoping to hold at least one open consultation session (in Melbourne, Australia), to enable you to contribute in a more structured way. Stay tuned!

We hope you'll share your thoughts. Should you wish to provide specific feedback, or otherwise take part in this process, we would love to hear from you! Please get in touch at team@architectsforpeace.org

One more thing... being mostly architects, planners, urban designers and landscape architects - not strategic planners! - we intend to engage a qualified professional to help us through this exercise. If you fit the bill, or know someone who does, please let us know.

We look forward to hearing from you as we embark on this exciting process!

13.4.14

Architects for Peace quiere expresar su pesar y solidaridad con los habitantes afectados por el incendio de Valparaíso


(Architects for Peace would like to express its sadness and solidarity with those affected by the fires in Valparaiso)

Fuente: Incendio en Valparaíso.EFE/EUROPA PRESS. AFP, Alberto Miranda

La tragedia que afectó un número aún indeterminado de viviendas e infraestructura presenta un gran desafío para el gobierno, la ciudad de Valparaíso y principalmente sus habitantes. Architects for Peace desea apoyar los esfuerzos de miembros en esta región y que por su cercanía quisieran asistir en la reconstrucción. Enfatizamos que Architects for Peace es una organización que por su estructura no tiene capacidad económica, por lo que las iniciativas de sus miembros locales es esencial.

Por favor contactarnos por email pinchando aquí 'levantemos@Valpo', para así poder apoyar estos esfuerzos.  

3.4.14

Discipline and Punish: The Architecture of Human Rights

Note: this article was originally published in Architectural Review and it is re-published here with the permission of its author Raphael Sperry.


Why architects are in need of a Hippocratic Oath of their own to prevent human rights abuses

We think of architectural regulations as being there to ensure that buildings are safe for the public. But what if a building’s harm is not caused by unexpected structural failure but by the building performing exactly as intended? Can a building designed to facilitate human rights violations amount to a violation in itself? And what is the responsibility of the architects involved? These are the questions at the centre of the current debate in America around the architectural profession’s involvement in prison design.

The US’s 2.3 million prison inmates represent the largest proportion of a society behind bars anywhere in the world, making the operation and construction of prisons a huge industry. Execution and the use of prolonged solitary confinement are widespread − and widely criticised. Amnesty International and the UN condemn US practices such as isolation, which can damage the long-term mental health and eyesight of an individual in a matter of weeks.

Meanwhile the UK, followed by the EU, recently banned exports of the lethal injection drug sodium thiopental to America hoping to pressure states to rethink their position on the death penalty. While the world is toughening its stance on US penal conditions, disturbingly, licensed architects are involved in the construction of new prisons including death chambers and isolation cells specifically designed for human rights violations.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is to be commended for already having a requirement within its ethics code that members ‘uphold human rights in all their professional endeavors’. Despite the damage done to human rights by US detention projects at Guantanamo, in Poland, Romania and at home, elsewhere in the English-speaking world neither the RIBA nor Australian Institute of Architects takes such a clear position. Nor does the Canadian architectural code or Union Internationales des Architectes with its model code of ethics.

Yet despite the AIA’s apparently strong stance it has not been enough to guide licensed architects faced with clients demanding design assistance at or across the line of human rights violations.

Aerial view of the Pelican Bay State Prison in California
The concept of human rights first emerged in 536BC when Cyrus the Great conquered the city of Babylon subsequently freeing slaves, declaring that all people had the right to choose their own religion, and establishing racial equality in Ancient Persian law. Modern human rights treaties arose in the aftermath of the Second World War and were mechanisms to protect populations from harm by oppressive regimes. Although today Western governments seem inclined to resist international oversight or accountability, at their inception human rights were a source of patriotic pride and diplomatic finesse.

Civil society has long been a bulwark of their strength and architects, as professionals within civil society, see our freedoms and well-being rise and fall with everyone else’s. Human rights do not only apply in moments of constitutional crisis but in everyday life, where the work of architecture is generally conducted. Architects must be aware of the ethical dimensions of their projects to avoid what political theorist Hannah Arendt famously called ‘the banality of evil’ − the subtle trajectory from accepting a morally questionable project to becoming familiar enough with a problematic client that one stops questioning their programmes altogether.

How should the architectural profession respond to this? Currently the group Architects Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility − of which I am president − is petitioning the AIA to amend its code of ethics to specifically prohibit member architects from designing spaces intended to violate human rights. Doctors and other medical professionals already have similar codes built into their professional statutes. An AIA amendment would have profound international consequences.

US prison architects are currently courted by foreign governments, especially from the developing world, seeking to adopt ‘modern’ prison designs. Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, site of numerous mass executions under Saddam Hussein and infamous cases of torture by US Army personnel, was designed by American architect Edmund Whiting, and built by British contractors in the late 1960s. Since then, US firms have worked in Mexico, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates − places where an ‘interrogation suite’ listed in an architectural brief today may be listed by Human Rights Watch tomorrow.

Foreign governments, especially those in the developing world, are courting US prison architects in their search for ‘modern’ designs
The CIA’s now-notorious ‘secret’ prisons outside America were built in 2003 with prefabricated cells from the SteelCell company of Baldwin, Georgia which also supplied cells for the construction of the widely condemned detention centre in Guantanamo Bay using designs provided by American architects and engineers. American architects led by the AIA are in a powerful position to take a stand, pushing the moral consensus of the society forward.

People in prison are a hard group to advocate for. With the exception of the unjustly imprisoned (a surprisingly high percentage in the US, even on death row, where their cases receive the most scrutiny), people in prison have broken the law, often harming others, sometimes horribly. But prisoners’ human rights are not about their crimes, but about protecting our societies from falling below a minimal level of decency and ensuring that we continue to aim for our highest aspirations.

Barack Obama said of Nelson Mandela, ‘he was fighting for the freedom of the prisoners but also for the freedom of the jailers’. When architects design prisons, we take responsibility not only for the conditions of prisoners and guards on the inside, but for the status of freedom of everyone on the outside as well.

Legislators, governors and prison staffers of course hold the greatest responsibility for prison conditions − after all, any room can be used to torture someone, not just one intended as a solitary isolation cell. The ethical burden on designers is too great for individual architects or firms to handle alone, which is why the AIA must speak clearly and forcefully for human rights. Turning our backs on projects that would violate human rights is an essential move towards realising a vision of a world of equality and prosperity − the world that architects strive to build every day.
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Please consider signing the ADPSR's petition: here



21.1.14

President's report 2013



In 2013, Architects for Peace celebrated a whole decade in existence! The steering committee was made up of:

Beatriz Maturana - Vice President
Kamil Muhammad – Public officer
Katherine Sampson – Secretary
Edith Wong – Treasurer
Peter Johns – General member
Soledad Maldonado – General member
Eleanor Chapman – President

Volunteers 

A new volunteers session was held in April 2013 at the 1:1 basement space in Niagara Lane. Thanks due to David Nock, 1:1 director, for allowing us access to the space. We received a good response to the invitation, with 18 people attending. Numbers were capped due to the size of the venue and structure of the night, meaning some interested individuals were not able to attend on the night. Some observations:

  • Most interest among students (mostly architecture) 
  • No attendees were yet members of A4P (suggesting most were alerted through Facebook or university mailing list circulation) 
  • Majority interested in pro bono (followed by words) possibly suggesting that perceived 'hands-on' activities are of most interest. 
  • Limited attendance of general follow up social event (held at a CBD bar) 

Of those who attended, five have become actively involved, including some involved in the news team, and the following active members of the words and pro bono teams: Akemi Traill (pro bono and words), Anne-Claire Deville (words), Farah Rohzan (words), Khaliesa Soffiee (words), Yousuf Karimi (words)

Pro bono service 

Team: Pauline Ng, Soledad Maldonado, Katherine Sampson, Akemi Traill, Zin Mee, Nicole Mechkaroff, Glenda Yiu

In March 2013, for the first time, an international team of architects was appointed to undertake a pro bono project based in Uganda: the Ligingi Community Centre. The Melbourne based team Some Kind of Studio, made up of Charity Edwards, Leila Allbrook and Jessica Black, opted to team up with Kenya-based architect Charles Newman) and have been working with Dennis and Anna of the LCLC to develop a design proposal. The pro bono group has lost some momentum due to sporadic meetings, a continuing trend from last year, and in part due to the democratic, effectively leaderless, structure of the group. Last year, a plan was made to expand our reach to target more communities in need, through a multi-pronged approach of promotion, research and evaluation. Some preliminary research has begun in this regard.

Talks 

Team: Mary Ann Jackson, Farah Dakkak, Dina Bacvic, Akemi Traill, Anne-Claire Deville, Farah Rohzan, Khaliesa Soffiee, Yousuf Karimi, Nicole Mechkaroff

The words series benefited from a new lease on life this year, with new team members and the move to the Centre for Cultural Partnerships. Dr James Oliver at the CCP has been a valued collaborator and the theme of 'spatial justice' was an effective way to frame the discussion. There were 7 events this year: 
  • Peace of Wall - Chris Parkinson 
  • Occupy – Spike Chiappalone, Victoria Stead, Lachlan Rhodes, Andy Dawson 
  • Creative Suburbs - Alvaro Maz
  • Asylum seekers and representation - Steve Thomas 
  • Creative Resistance: conflict, occupation and contemporary artistic expression in the Middle East with Sary Zananiri, Firas and Nora Massouh and Rachel Busbridge 
  • The tyranny of (in)accessibility: perspectives from Australia and Papua New Guinea with Carolyn Whitzman, Dennis Hogan, Ralph Green 
  • Space for Dissent – Alison Caddick, Jennifer Podesta, Jacinta Parsons, Guy Abrahams, David Vakalis (absent due to illness) 

Recording/tracking attendance and online publication of video/audio files could still be improved – we missed access to recording facilities at the CCP. Other difficulties included being geographically removed from the CBD, lack of control over security and room booking arrangements and a formal atmosphere to the space that was quite different to RMIT bldg 50. On the other hand, the change in venue has opened the series to new channels for speakers and attendees and expanded the A4P network.

 The arrangement with the CCP was a year-long experiment and we understand it may not be ongoing in 2014, which gives us the opportunity to explore other possibilities. One option is the Arena magazine project space in Fitzroy. Another idea that has been discussed is a 'nomadic' series of events in various public spaces, which could be an opportunity to open the discussion to a wider public.

News and editorials 

We have exceeded 11,000 facebook friends so far (for what it's worth!). Editorials and newsletters have been quite sporadic however. There is a sense that the facebook page has taken over from the website in terms of interactivity, which is problematic, as it is a medium dominated by advertising and payment-driven promotion, and allows us no control over presenting information in a hierarchy.

Collaboration and connections 

The possibility of a4p members putting forward individual initiatives/projects to be run under the Architects for Peace umbrella, which was broadly supported in 2011 and occurred to a degree through Kamil's project Fatin Historico in East Timor, has still yet to be fully explored. Could we see this in 2014? The relationship with the CCP has been a good one, and we participated in the CCP's Creative Time summit satellite event at Federation Square in October. It would be good to maintain this connection even without the talk series hook.

We were approached by some young architects who are planning to establish an AfH chapter in Melbourne. They have arranged a roundtable discussion on Saturday 30 November for selected local public interest/architecture groups. This should be a good opportunity to touch base with our colleagues and update our knowledge of what everyone else is doing, of interest particularly in light of reviewing our strategic direction.

Eleanor made contact with Trenton Oldfield of This Is Not a Gateway in August. There seems to be much in common with their Critical Cities series and annual conference/festival. Perhaps A4P could consider a contribution or satellite event in 2014.

Beatriz is now based at Instituto de la Vivienda (Institute of Housing) at the University of Chile, where she is spreading the word about A4P. There is interest in starting up a connected group in Chile and details of how this might work need to be discussed. The possibility of a joint Melbourne/Santiago conference was flagged last year but has not progressed. We look forward to seeing Beatriz briefly in Melbourne in January!

Thanks 

Thanks are due to our supporters, including Architeam, Visionary Design Development (especially Mary Ann Jackson and Ralph Green for their tireless support, and provision of a meeting place at the VDD office this year) and the Centre for Cultural Partnerships (especially James Oliver), to those who spoke at words@bldg50 and to our pro bono architects, particularly SKOS (Leila Allbrook, Jessica Black and Charity Edwards) and Charles Newman.

Plans for 2014 – rethinking our strategic direction 

This year, we will be giving some serious thought to how best to continue to promote social justice in the built environment professions. After a decade in existence, a strategic planning exercise is well overdue for our organisation. In 2014, we plan to limit our public activities so as to focus primarily on reviewing and interrogating the A4P framework and legacy with a view to a strategic transformation: clarifying what we are about, holding onto what is important to us, letting go of what is not and working out where we want to go. We hope this exercise will deliver a renewed focus and relevance to our work. It will be an opportunity for those who have been active to help shape the organisation that they want to be part of in the future, and enable us to welcome new members with confidence. It's an exciting prospect, and we would like to offer as many of our members and supporters as possible the opportunity to contribute their feedback and opinions as we seek the best way forward. We are yet to determine how this will play out and more details will follow once they have taken shape.

Thank you for your support last year. In 2014, I will be continuing as president, and A4P will be led by the following steering committee (including a few old hands and some fresh blood!) as nominated at our Annual General Meeting:
Beatriz Maturana – Vice President
Katherine Sampson – Secretary
Anthony McInneny – Public officer
Edith Wong – Treasurer
Targol Khorram – General member
Nicole Mechkaroff – General member
Akemi Traill – General member


Eleanor Chapman Architects for Peace President, 2013

13.1.14

The Rise of Open Streets

Introduccion by Ajith Kuruvilla

To all my friends that still believe that streets belong to car, watch this documentary. I remember when i first started cycling to school, uni, work over 15 years ago it was a world where there were no bicycle lanes, close shaves with a car on a daily basis and often abuse and spitting by many car users. I know how much has changed since then for bicyclist, but i also know, for car users their ownership of the road has decreased, the speed limits have decreased and the petrol price has gone from 75c to 1.60c.

So for my friends who still want to complain about the cyclists and the hippies and continue to elect pro automotive governments ahead of greater levels of public transport and people friendly streets, just think where the world will be in another 15 years time considering major cities like LA, NYC, Bogota, Mexico City have already moved in people ahead of cars direction.

The Rise of Open Streets

(Source: https://vimeo.com/78886448)


The Rise of Open Streets from Streetfilms on Vimeo.
Streetfilms has been documenting the ciclovia/open streets movement for over seven years, beginning with our landmark film in 2007 on Bogota's Ciclovia, currently our most popular film of all time.

Not soon after that film's debut Mike Lydon of The Street Plans Collaborative decided to get one going in Miami in 2008 which led to his research for The Open Streets Project, a joint project with the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

In 2008, there were new events in over a dozen cities including San Francisco, Portland and NYC. Since 2006, open streets events have increased 10 fold.

Since Streetfilms has ample footage of nearly a dozen such events, we decided this was an opportune time to interview some of the most important people in the movement, including former City Transportation Commissioners Janette Sadik-Khan (NYC) and Gabe Klein (Chicago), as well as former Bogota Parks Commissioner Gil Penalosa and Enrique Jacoby, from the Pan American Health Organization.

"The Rise of Open Streets" looks at myriad angles of the Open Streets movement. From its little known origins to the joy it brings to participants. From the sundry types of programming to the health benefits it brings citizenry. From the inspiration it gives people to further change the balance of our streets to giving city residents a few hours of peace from the normal tumult of loud city traffic. And it not only looks at big cities like Los Angeles, but smaller ones like Fargo, Berkeley, and Lexington.

We were proud to partner with The Street Plans Collaborative and the Alliance for Biking & Walking to produce this film, which we hope will give municipalities another tool and encourage even more events throughout the world. Funding for "The Rise of Open Streets" was graciously provided by the Fund for the Environment & Urban Life.