At the Crossroads

I was appalled to read about one of the projects nominated for 2012 RIBA Silver Medal. The project that won the 2012 Rawat Award for Best Graduate Design Project. The project that at its core is the opposite of what the human actions should be. It is a thesis project by Jack Murno, a 2012 graduate of University of Westminster in London. Built with bricks made of blood and sand, the proposal is a brick-making community in Siwa, Egypt. The positive spin to the thesis is that the blood being used for the bricks is a byproduct from slaughtered cows, hence the reuse of a waste resource. What horror for architects to stoop to this level! I see a direct correlation between the waste blood and the high levels of methane generated at slaughter houses. (I won’t get into the increased potential for diseases from eating meat.) It begs the question, what is our responsibility as architects? Architects are regarded among the leaders for the sustainability of the planet. Does our work start and stop at buildings? Why are we talking about what to do with waste blood or methane? Why are we not talking about why so many cows are being artificially mass-reproduced and then mass-slaughtered? Should architects be setting an example from our lifestyles that go beyond designing buildings?

Proposal for a brick-making community in Siwa, Egypt

A professor once told me that while talking about project sites I shouldn’t use the phrase “natural landscape”. He said that everything we see around us has been touched by humans. The correct phrase is existing landscape, not natural landscape. On similar grounds, should we use the phrase “natural disasters”? I reckon we should call them man-made disasters instead. Hurricane Sandy… Sick of the news coverage much? Are you still debating whether climate change is real? Do you think your actions are so minor that they are a drop in the ocean? If you are not feeling responsible for Sandy, you are still living in a dream world. You are the cause for natural disasters. Together we are all the cause for them.

Photographs of the deserted NYC subway system before Hurricane Sandy hit may seem rather serene. The aftermath coverage is jaw dropping. There are multiple lessons to be learnt from Sandy that have been covered widely. RMI published a treatise on smart grid vis-à-vis distributed power.  It may seem trivial, but Fast Company featured a cell phone charger for disasters. Story about a few student volunteers got featured that reached out to old or disabled people stuck in buildings without power, food and medicine immediately after the hurricane struck and before the Red Cross could do anything. Good news is that NYC saw a big upswing on the number of bicyclists on the roads. We’ve got to do something about that traffic! Camaraderie was witnessed top to bottom where people and corporations opened doors to help each other. People are working hard to rebuild the systems, bring order to the chaos. However, they say that prevention is better than cure. Could we have prevented Hurricane Sandy? Maybe not. But maybe it would not have been so severe had we not been living in an age of record number and catastrophic levels of disasters. Had the climate change not soared to these heights. Had we built smarter from the very beginning.

 Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

Some people shun all discussion about climate change either because they think it is God’s will, or because they think that they are being forced to feel guilty over something they didn’t do. They say it is a tactic employed by politicians simply to control the masses. When a pigeon sees an approaching predator cat it closes its eyes thinking that now that it can’t see the cat, the cat won’t see it either. People are pigeons and the cat is the climate change. And in our case, the pigeons created the cat.

Disasters are coming; we should expect more of them at increasing levels in the future. Root cause, Climate Change. The issue is neither religious nor political. It is Common Sense. What will you do to prevent the next disaster? You are at the crossroads, which path would you choose? Acceptance of the consequences, worship when all fails, war against climate change, or elopement to the high-ticket underground caves? Choose carefully, because this is more serious than the Presidential Election. Failure is guaranteed, the disaster will strike regardless of your choice. But it may not be as devastating if you act now.