Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On Habitat Planning

UNDP, during post-tsunami reconstruction, was proposing to develop "Habitat Development" guidelines. Some of the guys even toyed with the idea that we could participate in the process. It led to some ruminations ....

Habitats happen. Habitats develop - over time, over years, over decades. They are developed by the people who inhabit these habitats – they add, modify, take away, build, renovate, restore as per the needs that are felt in a given context, in a given time. It is hence not necessary that a response that was appropriate in a given time, in a given context, with a given community will be appropriate in another time and another context, with another community.

Hence, habitat development is a contradiction. For it cannot be "developed" or "created" at one shot, as a response in reconstruction.

However, a habitat development approach can be taken up. It would mean that the response is appropriate in the given time and in the given context with an eye for future expansions and modifications. (and hopefully with learnings from the past).

Habitat approach can only be a holistic response – a response that comes about when there is a deeper, greater understanding of the environs of the habitation – the land, its undulation, the water resources, the vegetation, the peoples, the lifestyles and patterns, the relationships between humans and humans, between humans and the environment, between humans and animals.

Are there givens in such a circumstances ? Can we say that response X, Y, Z is needed to make the habitat most suitable ?

How does one establish guidelines under such circumstances ?

The Butterfly Effect

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas ?
- Philip Merilees

The above phrase refers to the Butterfly Effect – a phenomenon whereby a very insignificant change in a complex system can significantly alter an anticipated course of events. It refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events.

This term could very well refer to the Climate Change crisis that the world faces, where a small event in the Arctic Circle, like a breaking of a ice shelf, can lead to a series of unconnected events that could eventually sink a small island in Southern Pacific Ocean.

Climate change is an issue that has unified the world like no other… It has converged economic, social, environmental, political, gender, equity, and all other such concerns into one overarching concern – the well being of our planet. It has converged on the same platform, countries, communities and sectors that otherwise would not even see eye to eye, let alone work together. It has made the concern of an Eskimo living on the Arctic Shelf, the concern of the person living in the equatorial forests of Papua New Guinea.

The reverse also holds true. For if we are to reverse or slow down the process of Climate Change, it can only happen through tens of thousands of small and large initiatives the world over. It would require the flapping of a million butterfly wings to stop the climatic extremes that we are on the verge of facing.


Edward Norton Lorenz (May 23, 1917 – April 16, 2008) was an American mathematician and meteorologist, and a pioneer of chaos theory. He discovered the strange attractor notion and coined the term butterfly effect.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Reconstruction Education

What does architecture mean in reconstruction ? Oor what is reconstruction architecture ? Is there some special sensitivity/ education/ exposure required to build in post-disaster situations ? Only architecture does not seem sufficient. With a history of a variety, scale and magnitude of disasters what has been the architectural response to rebuilding ? (unfortunately i found only software architecture or rebuilding of monuments and big buildings when i was looking for info on it).

Similarly what does education mean in conflict/ disaster times ? School and all its trappings mean nothing when lives are on line. Alternatively how does one record/ document the real-life-education gained during such situations ?

Friday, May 30, 2008


The issue, I think, is the initial perpetration (have I got the word right ?) and not the mode or means of reaction.

Unfortunately, most often, we look at the 'reaction' (which is violence) and try to understand and see how this can be different. But the reaction is in heat, in anger, in pain. BUT the first action is COLD, very often calculated, manipulated - for gains which most people do not even begin to understand. Unfortunately, it is the REACTION that gets the limelight.

The alternatives have to be searched for the initial action. How can the gains that generate and manipulate situations which are destructive, be created through another means ? The means of making gain has to have alternatives. Eliminating 'gain' may not be entirely possible. Unless 'gain' can be re-formatted such that it can be equated with contribution and participation instead of ownership and power.

The reaction, then automatically changes if not entirely eliminated.

I myself do not have a take on violence - i am neither for it nor against it - but I deeply understand it and from whence it can come. Everything has an outcome and a violent (visible (as in war) or invisible (as in exploitation)) initial action is bound to have a violent outcome. And the opposite.

Its only when the means become the end that we might achieve peace, equity and justice.

My visit to Kabul a couple of years back brought violence and its consequence very sharply. It was crazy to see people going about their 'normal' lives in bombed out environs. Children playing among the debris of bullet-marked walls and bombed out shells of homes. For these children 'violence' would seem normal, an everyday affair - something which they and their families and generations before have been facing day in and day out. Deprivation, no-basic amenities, no food or warmth, no TRUST or security is normalcy.
How can they arrive at a value-judgement on this ? What is reality for them ?

In contrast, the designer boulevards of Paris or the idyllic waterways of Amsterdam stood out in stark contrast. Where people can complain about the most minor discomforts. Heated homes, a variety of delightful, foods imported from every corner of the world, access to organised transport, and basic, a deep sense of being powerful, of being capacble of being heard is normalcy for them. What is reality then ?

One can be a heathen to the other. And the other's reality quite incomprehensible to the first.

I don't know whether there are any answers. There is any particular way or outcome.

I also have begun to question the path of peace and love as a method. Does positing one (peace) as preferable to the other (violence), create a division, a separateness ? And hence it becomes impossible to achieve ?

Love and peace will work, I think, when it is the outcome.