arch-peace news and articles

8.2.09

We need to challenge dominant mindsets: Interview with Beatriz Maturana

Interview by Dick Urban Vestbro, 'Architects Designers Planners for Social Responsibility' (Arc.Peace) and published in ARC-PEACE Newsletter No 25 January 2009 page 2-3. Interview published with Arc.Peace's consent.

“We need to challenge dominant mindsets”

Architects for Peace Australia (short: arch-peace) is a humanitarian, not for profit professional organisation for architects, urban designers, engineers, planners, landscape architects and environmentalists, seeking urban development based on social justice, solidarity, respect and peace. It is based in Australia, but has a network of members all around the world. Arch-peace is the second biggest member of ARC●PEACE. It runs a comprehensive and interactive website (http://www.architectsforpeace.org).

Arch-peace’s work focuses on understanding and learning about the many aspects affecting people and their urban space. Its mission is to assist urban processes that achieve better social and environmental conditions for the ‘majority world’. Central to their activities is to highlight the work undertaken by colleagues in poorer nations, work that is often overlooked by the dominant educational, professional establishment and media. Learning from, participating and acknowledging the achievements in poorer nations (+ disadvantaged communities in richer nations) is part of what arch-peace considers conducive to peace. Recently arch peace wrote an open letter to the Australian Prime Minister condemning the bombing of Gaza and demanding that the Australian government calls for a ceasefire in Palestine. The President of Architects for Peace is Beatriz Maturana. She came as a political refugee from Chile to Australia in 1987. At the moment she is writing her PhD thesis besides working for arch peace. Considering her long experience of professional peace work it is most appropriate to ask how she finds the prospects for this type of work.

How do you value the prospects for a more peaceful development during 2009? Can we hope that global resources be used in a more equitable and just way?
I believe that peaceful development can be achieved and that work in this direction necessitates new strategies, a new mindset and a focus on education. As a professional collective, we need to broaden our field of immediate concern to involve the rights, aspirations and needs of others, locally and globally. We need to challenge the dominant mindset (biased toward the narrow and immediate), for a more inclusive, holistic and longer-term approach. Oversimplifications, which often mask and entrenched ignorance and a disregard for the culture of others, need to be questioned.

If we are to contribute to peaceful development, we need to assume responsibility on issues such as the distribution of resources and justice, the systematic eviction of people from their land, wars, abuse of natural resources and covert exclusion in the design of our cities. These are all matters of our incumbency and we need to act on them. Education plays a crucial role in understanding the implications and basis of peaceful development. Whether we believe in the promises of politicians or not, the political changes in USA provide good reasons for optimism. It is the public who have voiced the need for change, this I believe is the most powerful indication today that there is hope.

What can architects and planners do to promote peace and social responsibility?
The question is interesting, mainly because I often find that we, planners and architects, are superficial when tackling issues of social responsibility and development. We tend to view development as something needing to happen somewhere else, a process in which we can be the educators, but is this so?

The “West” a danger to the environment
It is in the so-called “West” where environmental, political and economic decisions are taken and later imposed or indiscriminately replicated in poorer nations. It is also in the “West” where the largest and most deadly armies and weaponry are produced and where decisions pertaining to the worst aberrations such as wars are taken. Cities in the “West” produce the highest greenhouse emissions per capita and it is here too where overconsumption occurs. It is then here, in the “West”, where a real change of mentality can indeed have global repercussions – we need to change, we need help. I am not one that romanticises poverty or corrupted governments, whether in Israel, the USA or Zimbabwe, on the contrary. What I am saying is that the damage that richer nations are inflicting far outweighs other damage – we are talking about the survival of the planet. As so many have asserted before, we need to rethink what we do and question our assumptions about development and the focus of our social responsibility.

By creating bonds among people (and among colleagues from across the world) we will be assisting to dispel prejudice, whether social, racial or cultural. Today new forms of communication offer the potential to overcome official media, with their stereotypes and biased reporting. We have now the option to engage directly with people from far away and to search for the facts. This type of communication not only assists us to broaden our knowledge, but more importantly, it can assist to broaden our field of concern. The latest synchronised civil actions across the world against the wars in Lebanon and Gaza are testaments of the power of these mediums. I suggest that we should be ready embrace and to make the most out of these new forms of communication.

How can arch peace Australia and ARC●PEACE International work together?
An important aspect of our work has focused on achieving legitimacy among other professional and educational institutions. Collaborative work with ARC●PEACE has been beneficial for arch-peace in that it provides an international backing. This support is very important when trying to influence change, which is our main shared mission. Years of consistent work has given ARC●PEACE the experience and granted an important place among international development organisations – a voice in the right place.
Arch peace on the other hand brings new ideas, other strategies to tackle current predicaments and other ways to connect with people from all over the world. We believe that this exchange has already been positive and we can further explore many other avenues to continue to work in collaboration.

A joint magazine?
A magazine, which is academically rigorous in terms of quality and content, accessible to the wider public, and that meet the standards of internet publications, is one of our aspirations. For the last five years our website has evolved in that direction by regularly publishing editorials and articles. However, this is not yet an internet magazine. This ambitious project could be implemented in collaboration by drawing from the strengths of both organisations.

(Interview by Dick Urban Vestbro)
ARC-PEACE Newsletter No 25 January 2009 page 2- 3

Find original publication: here

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