Architects challenge greed and war

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Architects for Peace, Australia, took an active part in the protests against Israel's attacks on Lebanon and Palestine. Beatriz Maturana, a founder of the group, told Green Left Weekly that the group formed in February 2003, in response to the invasion of Iraq. It continues to campaign against the US-led occupation of Iraq.

"It doesn't make sense for urban professionals to build cities only to have wars destroy them", Maturana said. When her stream of letters to MPs against the Iraq war were ignored, she decided something more needed to be done. "As professionals, we can add to the community outrage, and we are taken seriously speaking out against social injustice and environmental destruction."

Architects for Peace is a global organisation. It describes itself as "a forum for architects, urban designers, engineers, planners, landscape architects and environmentalists seeking urban development based on social justice, solidarity, respect and peace". It involves social and urban planners, engineers, environmentalists and artists, something that Maturana said helps break down barriers between the disciplines so there can be greater "questioning and challenging of the philosophy of greed and individualism".

Maturana said the group draws links between the Australian government's refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol and unsustainable urban development agendas such as privatising public space and government and corporate resistance to improving inadequate public transport systems. "The industrially advanced nations' constant exploitation of other nations' natural and human resources means that, unless we reverse these inequities, the resulting poverty and resentment will lead to war", she said.

Regarding the peace movement today, Maturana believes that inclusiveness is key. "We should focus on what we have in common and strive to bring a diverse range of people together by respecting differences. The Lebanese and Palestinians need our support, and that is what we need to do right now. We should come up with immediate common demands and discuss longer-term solutions later."

Maturana added, "It is bizarre that peace can be considered controversial, even seditious, while war is accepted as natural — at least by the government and the opposition".

Members of Architects for Peace are also involved in pro bono work that aims to link community groups, non-profit agencies and charitable organisations that need architectural services but cannot afford to pay. "This also helps promote a discussion about architecture and planning, and its impact on people, their health and their cities. We hope that these services can promote education and participation, and assist in finding solutions to preserve our environment."

Architects for Peace has been involved in converting a Collingwood car park into a community art facility, and the design of a library and workshop for a poor neighbourhood in Nicaragua. It is currently helping extend a community facility in Baucau, East Timor.

[Beatriz Maturana teaches architecture and urban design at RMIT and Melbourne University. For more information about Architects for Peace, visit <http://www.architectsforpeace.org>.]

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