Viewpoint (May 01, 2003)

In a recent letter to the Editor, a correspondent remarked that the need for emergency shelter for the victims of war-ravaged countries must not be disregarded by architects and educators in architecture. It is a compelling statement, and it’s difficult to remain unaffected when we think of a non-profit organization like Architecture for Humanity, wishing to promote architectural solutions for global, social and humanitarian crises in regions that need it the most. These include Rwanda and other African nations, Bosnia, Palestine, Afghanistan and now, Iraq. In Canada, an initiative called the Peacebuilding Protocol for War-torn Regions has been launched by Ellis Kirkland, FRAIC, past president of the Ontario Association of Architects and former Chair of the Committee of Canadian Architectural Councils. Many will recall Ms Kirkland’s abrupt cessation of activities in public service and on behalf of the architecture profession in this country following a diagnosis of cancer in October 1997.

The Peacebuilding Protocol is buttressed under the auspices of the Atlantic Council of Canada (ACC), a non-governmental organization (NGO) that has appointed a core project team comprised of Colonel Brian MacDonald, Colonel John McKenna, Julie Lindhout, the council’s president, and Ellis Kirkland. A key aspect of this initiative was predicated on the ACC’s findings that to date, there is no extant comprehensive strategy that looks at the full continuum of post-conflict development activities following a war. The Marshall Plan, one of the key elements of U.S. foreign policy following World War II, had poised its goals and philosophy in 1947 as, “not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos” and while these may continue to guide America’s foreign aid program, the one-size-fits-all plan is bound to leave out important rebuilding considerations if left solely to military planners. Kirkland has stated, “at this time, the international community increasingly recognizes the need to produce an integrated protocol for development criteria and resource allocation, and thereby to reduce the impact of post-conflict destabilization, and to speed the process of sustainable development and the restoration of a civil society.”

Much to Kirkland’s–and surely others’–amazement, war-torn regions have been reconstructed largely under the aegis of military and NGO guidance, using plans that employ none of the normative procedures for design, planning and construction. Wider considerations of local or national culture and lifestyle–the elements of the architectural parti–are left by the wayside. In a letter to Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, Kirkland has proposed the “Canadian Marshall Plan for the New Millennium,” envisioning not only multivalent financial backing, but also a nuanced redevelopment plan for destroyed infrastructure. While fundraising efforts by the ACC continue as part of a larger “Peacebuilding Template” to assist in the sustainable reconstruction of Afghanistan, many of the inadequacies of current peacebuilding processes occurring internationally are coming to the fore. Casting the issue across a wider net to envision an expanded understanding of Canada’s traditional peacekeeping role, post-war reconstruction must make room for architectural considerations. Without them, a country’s cultural identity is diluted and its capacity for eventual sustainability and self-sufficiency are thereby lost.