INTBAU 2016 ‘Tomorrow’s Cities: Building the Future’
This week, FAC Associate Director, Richard Hamilton attended the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism’s World Congress 2016 – a global gathering that leveraged INTBAU’s influence to attract delegates and speakers from Australia, Asia, Europe and the USA to the headquarters of RIBA in Portland Place, London.
The conference was a call to action for the architecture and planning professions. The ’crisis’ of cities and their growth has left behind attempts to manage, let alone plan, development. With 100 million people in the northern hemisphere who are too cost overburdened to ever buy a property, to the one billion people in informal settlements the global south, and a refugee epidemic of biblical proportions; nobody was pretending things are going well!
Architect and urbanist Peter Buchanan described this as a pivotal moment for the world, where a multitude of established norms are up for re-definition. This is too important to be ambivalent, and we must work harder than ever and more creatively to ensure that our cities grow sustainably.
Speakers at the conference addressed a broad range of diverse topics. Pakistani architect Arif Hasan spoke of the challenges of a city made of refugees in Karachi, while Marianne Heaslip told the wonderful story of ‘home baked’ to illustrate the deep-rooted needs of community and interaction in Anfield, Liverpool. American urbanist Michael Mehaffy epitomised the human values of our challenge: that it is not just a question of how to build well; it is also to live well.
Fresh on the heels of the adoption of Habitat III in Quito, Peru, much of the energy was focused on the seemingly impossible task of getting ahead of the curve of rapid urbanisation. The global explosion in informal settlement reflects a systemic failure, of finance, governance and planning systems. Ben Bolger of The Prince’s Trust talked about a new Rapid Response toolkit to help cities plan in a fast and agile way.
Richard Economakis of the University of Notre Dame described a fascinating project on how architects should provide solutions to refugee housing using traditional skills to build dignified dwellings. Housing humans from ancient cities like Aleppo in compounds made from Ikea huts is a derogation of responsibility. He postulated that a settlement of 10,000 units could be built in a month Using traditional adobe brick construction incorporating proper streets and public spaces. This comprised part of an emerging theme that building is self-empowering and physiologically healing.
The investigative journalist Robert Neuwirth highlighted the immense power and utility within the informal economy, where the capacity and determination of the unplanned city is a creative thing to sustain people’s lives and communities in a way that formal development models have often failed.
The topics raised at the event are relevant to Ireland. As a country we have a lot to give, a lot to learn and a lot to be grateful for. Our capacity is enormous, and we have more answers than perhaps we know.
Planning cannot be disconnected from its resource base – whether it be ecological, fiscal or the energy supply. We deal with highly complex and integrated ecosystems. Neither can we disconnect from our architectural built heritage. This is not to create museums to the past, but to understand our own continuum and place. A place’s character is derived from its people and vice versa, and neither is immortal.
We can talk endlessly about the problems, and quote frightening figures of the truly human realities and sometimes tragedies. However, planners and architects must be solutions developers, process innovators and governance advocates.
Harriet Harriss of the RCA eloquently highlighted that our technophilia sometimes blinds us to the strengths of proven traditional development approaches. Our problems have parallels on every corner on the planet. We’re here to embrace change, learn from old knowledge and innovate continually.