Architects for Peace

Editorials: Architects for Peace

Here is a list of essays published as editorials for Architects for Peace.

Outlines of the essays with links to read online at Architects for Peace or to download from Academia.

List of Essays and Outlines

Eulogy -- Khaled Asfour: Early Departure | Perpetual Legacy Architects for Peace, 18 March, 2021, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Eulogy - Khaled Asfour: Early Departure | Perpetual Legacy

On Sunday 14th March 2021, I woke up to a very heavy and shocking social media notification: Professor Khaled Asfour passed away (1). Just three weeks ahead of his 61st birthday marks an early departure for an intellectual, an influential pedagogue and an exceptional critic. A huge void in architectural education in Egypt and an emptiness in the architectural community in the wider Middle East are undoubtedly created.

A full professor of architecture and criticism at Misr International University (MIU), Cairo, Egypt, Khaled left a legacy of body of writings, distinctive approaches to teaching and learning, passionate commitment to mentoring and support, and most importantly, countless cohorts of architects in Egypt (1998-2020) and earlier in Saudi Arabia (1991/92-1998). Under his teachings, graduates have acquired critical abilities to become agents of development of architectural knowledge, stewards of reliable and honest criticism in architecture, and guardians of environmentally and socially responsive design approaches.

It is with great sadness that I write this eulogy for Khaled Asfour, a great friend for twenty-five years and a work colleague for four years; it is hard to process his passing. There is no intention to consider this tribute to Khaled Asfour as a coverage or analysis of all his works. Rather, it offers glimpses of our interactions and presents short reflections on a selection of his works.

Read online on Architects for Peace

Salama, A. M. (2016), Urbanity on the Arabian Peninsula: From the Tradition of the Ordinary to the Tradition of the Elite. Architects for Peace, 20th April, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: Mina Al-Salam, Dubai, Ashraf Salama, 2015.

Urbanity on the Arabian Peninsula: From the Tradition of the Ordinary to the Tradition of the Elite.

What is now the rapidly emerging global region was a series of oases settlements or fishing hamlets and later small port settlements just a few decades ago. The relationship between the ruler and ruled have changed to asymmetric power affiliation. From a tribal tradition of people making their decisions about their own environment under a tribal leadership, the ‘Modern State’ became an organizing body and a legal authority that represents the will of its people. It gave itself the right to intervene and make decisions about people’s most aspects of life. Guided by the principles of the ‘Modern State,’ the region is in a continuous process of repositioning itself on the map of international architecture and urbanism with different types of expression of its qualities in terms of economy, environment, culture, and global outlook. Based on my recent work on Urban Traditions, which is published in TDSR, in this article, I reflect on urbanity on the Arabian Peninsula and on some of these aspects with reference to classical and recent discussions on the notion of tradition. The concerned and concerted reactions to the global condition in the form of economic diversification have become an integral component of most national development strategies and consequently led to reshaping the notion of tradition in such a rapidly growing context.

The multiplicity of views, interpretations, and definitions of ‘tradition,’ as a concept, which were critiqued by Nazar AlSayyad in his latest book Traditions: The "Real", the Hyper, and the Virtual in the Built Environment as well as his earlier writings, reveal deeper insights into the understanding of urban traditions in the peninsula. The traditionality of the process and that of the product proposed by Rapoport offer insights in this context. The outcomes of cultural norms and practices both in the past and the present of the Peninsula involve processes, tribal affiliations, contemporary decision-making capacities, ruling and social systems, and family structures that form integral parts of a process by which the built environment is produced.

Read online on Architects for Peace or Download from Academia

Salama, A. M. (2011), Anti-Vitruvian Architects and Contemporary Society. Architects for Peace, 26 September, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: The famous cover image of Vitruvius: Ten Books on Architecture, Translated by Morris Hickey Morgan.

Anti-Vitruvian Architects and Contemporary Society.

Certain issues keep presenting themselves on the map of discussions about architecture and its role as a profession in contemporary societies. Recently, I came across two web interventions that highlight some of these issues. The first is a video clip on You Tube, titled “is the architect obsolete?” and the second is an article on the website of DesignIntelligence by Helena Jubany, titled “The Social Responsibility of Architects” These were a trigger for this editorial in which I re-iterate some of the issues I presented in my earlier writings. While practicing architecture works very well for some professionals, many are suffering from norms, traditions, and customs adopted by the profession itself. This is due to the fact that the profession still clings to the antiquated notion of an architect or designer waiting in an office for a client to come in with a project. It is also due to the fact that architects do not know how to convince others of their value. The question here is why? Is it the ineffectiveness of professional organizations, is it the notion of ‘starchitects’ that dictates the architectural scene in many parts of the world? Well, it might not be so difficult to offer a validated answer!

I refer here to a study by Dana Cuff (1989), which aimed at clarifying some conflicting issues in the profession. Among those issues were the notion of the individual and the image of the society, the individual’s identity, and the individual’s sense of others. Cuff selected seven famous architects; they were: Peter Eisenman, Hugh Hardy, Steven Holl, Robert Kliment, Richard Meier, Joseph Polshek, and Todd Williams. The criterion for selecting those architects was that they are seen as creative leaders rather than representatives of their fellow practitioners. The study revealed several critical issues. Famous architects see themselves among the world’s actors, but with special talents and responsibilities. Each sees himself as an individual with a unique biography and a set of abilities. They imply that their perceptions, opinions, and actions are similar to those of other architects and contemporary peers. Each emphasizes the cardinal contribution of the individual maker to the world of architecture.

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Salama, A. M. (2011), The Quest for Architectural Excellence in non-Western Societies: Reflections on the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in its 11th Cycle. Architects for Peace, January, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: Madinat Alzahra Museum, Cordoba, Spain, Courtesy of .the Aga Khan Award for Architecture & the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT libraries.

The Quest for Architectural Excellence in non-Western Societies: Reflections on the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in its 11th Cycle.

Repeatedly, in non-Western societies, successes and failures of designed environments go un-noticed. Opportunities for discussing lessons learned from intervening in natural or built environments are missed. Initiating change in the physical environment takes place in many cases as if there was no history or past to learn from. Frequently, gaps in knowledge transmission do exist because of the lack of rigorous documentation, especially give that assessment studies and critical writings have not matured in many parts of those societies. One way to bridge knowledge transmission gaps is to unveil merits of best practices through critical assessment of projects with the ultimate goal of creating a sharper public awareness of the role of architecture in enhancing and celebrating human activities, of its socio-cultural, environmental, and aesthetic qualities. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture-AKAA (1) continues to represent such a way. In this editorial, I reflect on selected projects of the Award’s 11th cycle, which were awarded or shortlisted.

Since its establishment over three decades ago, the Award has established a select network of architects, planners, social scientists, historians, and cultural theorists, to debate and examine a wide spectrum of recently completed projects to be awarded with the aim of fostering dialogue and establishing intellectual discourse on successful interventions in the physical environment of non-Western societies. “Successful,” is seen within terms of sustaining the enduring values of architecture in creating physical and visual manifestations that speak to their communities, relate effectively to their users and their economic and societal realities. Unlike the typical misconception, the Award in not only concerning itself with issues related to the conservation of architectural and urban heritage or revitalization of deteriorated communities or stylistic and symbolic interventions, it goes beyond this and contributes to conserve the values embedded in design professions. The Award is about promoting excellence in creating livable environments.

Read online on Architects for Peace or Download from Academia. This article has been the generator of Architectural Excellence in Islamic Societies: Distinction through the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Authored by Ashraf M. Salama and Marwa M El-Ashmouni, and Published Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2020.

Salama, A. M. (2010), Reflections on Schools and Schooling: Bringing Appreciative Inquiry into Ethical Design Practices. Architects for Peace, 19 June, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: Mineesota School of the Arts in Minnesota, Courtesy - Adams Group Architects, Charlotte, NC, USA.

Reflections on Schools and Schooling: Bringing Appreciative Inquiry to Ethical Design Practices.

Debating the needs and concerns of special populations seems to be a preoccupation with writers, academics, and practitioners who feel and maintain a sense of responsibility in attending to those populations . A number of previous editorials in Architects for Peace addressed issues of concern to special populations or communities in hardship, like the “Victoria Bushfires” by Beatriz Maturana or like the latest editorial “Aging at Home” by Ceridwen Owen, which relates to the special requirements of aging populations and people with dementia, or my earlier editorials on post war urbanization. Building on this, I am writing this editorial to address another segment of society; Children and Teens.

Whether in nurseries, elementary or high school buildings, the educational process involves many activities that include knowledge acquisition and assimilation, testing students’ motivation and academic performance, and faculty and teachers’ productivity. These activities are complex and play a vital role in a child’s development. But, what about the environment that accommodates these activities? While many have said in the past that a good teacher can teach anywhere, a growing body of knowledge strongly suggests a direct relation between the physical environment and the teaching/learning processes and outcomes. Taking daylighting as an example, recent research accentuates that it increases the well being of students and teachers and is a major reason for recording high attendance rates. Strikingly, significant correlations between the presence of daylighting and students’ test scores have been found. This would match the visionary statement made by Louis Kahn "Without light there is no architecture."

The way in which we approach the planning, design and our overall perception of learning environments makes powerful statements about how we view education; how educational buildings are designed tells us much about how teaching and learning activities occur. How these activities are accommodated in a responsive educational environment is a critical issue that deserves special attention.

Read online on Architects for Peace or Download from Academia.

Salama, A. M. (2010), Architectural Aspirations of an Emerging Regional Metropolis, Doha-Qatar. Architects for Peace, 17 February, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: Texas A&M Campus in Qatar, Courtesy - Capital Projects Department, Qatar Foundation, Doha, Qatar.

Architectural Aspirations of an Emerging Regional Metropolis, Doha-Qatar.

An emerging regional metropolis in the Gulf region is clearly on the rise. Doha, the capital of Qatar keeps positioning and re-positioning itself on the map of international architecture with different degrees of expressions of its unique qualities in terms of economy, environment, culture, and global outlook. I call these expressions “manifested architectural aspirations.” In this composition, I select some of these aspirations that can be seen as conscious endeavors of relating an exclusive local context to the global world.. The “World City Network” of Taylor ranks Doha as a Qatari city with the highest global connectivity. Doha’s man-made deepwater port serves as a regional container and transshipment point which handles cargo across the Gulf. Doha has an inner-city international airport with one runway which is currently running out of capacity given the recent rapid growth of the city. A new airport further outside the city with two runways (planned to be finalized by 2011) and a new international seaport (planned to be finalized by 2014) are currently under construction. While these developments represent important economic and infrastructure efforts, Doha’s aspirations in architecture should be underscored.

Historically, Doha was a fishing and pearl diving town. Today, the capital is home to more than 90% of the country’s one million people, the majority of whom are professionals from other countries. Up to the mid 1960s, the majority of the buildings were individual traditional houses that represent local responses to the surrounding physical and socio-cultural conditions. During the 1970s Doha was transformed into a modernized city. However, in the 1980s and early 1990s the development process was slow compared to the prior period due to either the overall political atmosphere or the heavy reliance of the country on the resources and economy of neighboring countries. Over the past decade or so, Qatar has become one of the major producers and exporters of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) in the world. The wealth produced by Qatar's oil and gas exports has generated a construction development boom in the capital, Doha, and the surrounding vicinity. This resulted in significant growth at all levels from urban development and infrastructure provision to cultural and educational facilities.

Read online on Architects for Peace or Download from Academia. This article has been the generator of Demystifying Doha: On Architecture and Urbanism in an Emerging City, Authored by Ashraf M. Salama and Florian Wiedmann and Published Ashgate in 2013 and by Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2016.

Salama, A. M. (2009), Yellow Urban Alternatives for a Green and Orange Context, Belfast-Northern Ireland. Architects for Peace, 14 September, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: Courtesy - Deirdre McMenamin - Building Initiative, Yellow Space--Belfast: Negotiations for an Open City. School of Art and Design, University of Ulster, Belfast, United Kingdom.

Yellow Urban Alternatives for a Green and Orange Context—Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Belfast, the home of the Titanic, is a city evolving out of a history of conflict and distress. It is witnessing continuous civil and urban transformations; a transition from a troubled urban entity to a lively vibrant city. When I went to the city about 7 years ago for a short visit, the city was starting to get out of its sleepy, scary, and dark image—from what I felt and was told. Since March 2008 however, I was attracted by Belfast’s new image as a tourist destination with historic depth, unparalleled in many cities. I was also ensnared by the idea that a city I have seen a few years ago has changed beyond recognition and keeps changing for the better.

The Urban Reality of Belfast: Despite the fact that Northern Ireland’s peace process began in the mid 1990’s, the city is still essentially divided between the two dominant communities, Catholic and Protestant. While the east and south of the city are diverse enough, these single-identity communities continue to exist in many parts of the north and west. They are partially separated by ‘peace walls’. Records indicate that the number of these walls has increased since the beginning of the peace process. At the last count there were 41walls or similar such constructions. Here I relate to my earlier editorial of February 2008(1) and insert Robert Frost’s famous Poem: Mending Wall. Frost reminds us of offensive building acts when he says: Before I built a wall I'd ask to know... What I was walling in or walling out... And to whom I was like to give offence. Introducing diversity is thus a critical challenge to Belfast’s urban designers and architects, which keeps posing itself on any urban discourse about the city’s future.

Looking at the urban reality of Belfast, one can argue that the city still suffers the impact of thirty years of civil conflict. Such an impact continues to be felt as much in the current urban growth of the city as it was during periods of contention. Notably, the structure of governance remains centralized—yet locally unaccountable to a great extent —while the development of civil society, especially in the center, north and west of the city, is typically hindered by importunate sectarianism.

Read online on Architects for Peace or Download from Academia.

Salama, A. M. (2009), Cultural Identity Manifested in Visual Voices and the Public Face of Architecture. Architects for Peace, 17 May, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: A series of images of entrances of Tourist Facilities in Hurghada , Red Sea, Egypt, Ashraf Salama.

Cultural Identity Manifested in Visual Voices and the Public Face of Architecture.

While scholars in architecture as an academic and professional discipline may criticize the interest and tendency to place emphasis on discussing building images and facades, I adopt the principle that since architecture is created for the public then examining the public face of architecture is integral to the understanding of the juxtaposition of those images and what they convey and represent. This editorial interrogates a number of discourses on ways in which cultural identity is manifested by debating selected interventions developed within the Arab world. Still, the discussion on whether building images are created as visual voices that attempt to react to the tidal wave of cultural globalization is open-ended. So, there is no claim here that there is a resolution, but an articulation of identity debate as it is manifested in the public face of architecture.

Arab architects are in a continuous process of criticizing their own versions of modern and post modern architecture and the prevailing contemporary practices. Within their criticism, discourses always suggest the recycling of traditional architecture and its elements as a way of establishing and imposing a distinguished character in the contemporary city. Typically, this takes the form of either refurbishing old palaces and public buildings, or establishing visual references—borrowed from the past—and utilized in contemporary/modern buildings. Adopted by governments and officials, there are a considerable number of examples of projects that advocated traditional imaging to impress the society by their origin while boasting the profile of capital and major cities, especially in Egypt and the Arabian Gulf Region. In generic terms, similar to the worldwide tendency, societies in the Arab world tend to re-evaluate the meaning and desirability of building images rapidly. The search for an architectural identity, the rise and fall of ISMS (movements and tendencies), and the continuous debate on symbolism and character issues in architecture are derived from this fact.

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Salama, A. M. (2008), Unveiling the Jewels of the Built Environment in the Developing World. Architects for Peace, 17 July, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt, Courtesy of .the Aga Khan Award for Architecture & the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT libraries.

Unveiling the Jewels of the Built Environment in the Developing World.

People including main stream professional architects sometimes wonder about the reason of or the need for architectural awards while questioning their validity: Are they necessary? I would say yes. Awards are critical; they validate the achievements of professional architects while making their contributions more widely acknowledged by the public, hence promoting excellence in architecture. Some awards recognise the extraordinary lifetime achievement of an architect and others praise projects of virtues that offer guidance for changing the status quo toward a positive change. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture (AKAA) continues to centre its interest on these three areas.

In essence, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture-AKAA addresses contexts in which Muslim communities have substantial presence and, in my view, it has contributed at the physical intervention level and at the architectural thought level in the whole developing or non-Western world. The Award's concern and impact is not only expressed in the conservation of architectural heritage or revitalisation of deteriorated communities or stylistic and symbolic interventions. It is about the enduring values of architecture in creating physical and visual manifestations that speak to their communities, relate effectively to their users and their economic and societal realities. In this editorial, I reflect on selected aspects of Award and its contributions.

What is the Aga Khan Award for Architecture? Established in 1977 the Award is not a typical architectural prize. It aims to identify and reward architectural concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of developing communities while addressing the multi-faceted aspects of the built environment; these range from contemporary innovative designs, to social housing and community developments, to adaptive re-use and conservation, landscape design and city re-development. The Award is presented in three-year cycles to multiple projects with prizes totalling up to US$500,000. A unique aspect here is that unlike other architectural awards, it recognises all parties involved including clients, design and planning teams, stakeholders and users. While it is important to shed light on the process of how projects get awarded, I reflect on some themes under which the major contributions of the Award become more perceptible. These themes continue to represent explicit concerns of the Award while posing themselves on the worldwide map of architectural and urbanism discourse.

Read online on Architects for Peace or Download from Academia.

Salama, A. M. (2008). What’s War/Peace – Construction/Destruction Got to Do with Architecture? Architects for Peace, 17 February, Online, Melbourne, Australia.

Photo: Architects for Peace Logo, see here

What's War/Peace - Construction/Destruction Got to Do With Architecture?

Watch any news channel or listen to any news station you will find floods of issues and concerns that refer to human-made destruction caused by conflict and war. Architects and Urbanists seem to join the public in just watching or listening…! Can they have a say? I doubt it. Can they intervene? I am not sure! Can they play a positive role? I hope they do!

This editorial is deeply rooted in the mission of Architects for Peace that simply involves the promotion of peace from architectural, cross-cultural, sociopolitical and socio-economic perspectives. While it might be seen as an article more than an editorial, it attempts to consolidate a number of issues typically oversimplified by the global professional community. In very recent discussions, however, the issues of War, Peace, Destruction, Post War Recovery and their correlation to architecture and urbanism are starting to gain momentum toward shaping a new body of theories or cases on destruction and their underlying applications in terms of recovery efforts. While this is not new, it indicates that architects and planners have important roles to play in this context. Here, I reflect on such a relationship within the scope of some selected writings.

Is Destruction Needed? The history of architecture and urbanism tells us much about how to design and erect buildings; it typically exhibits the way in which specific cultures lived, expressed their identity, and mediated their environment. However, if we blindly and slavishly followed its basic assumptions, there would be such a huge number of temples, mosques, churches, houses, and all types of buildings that it would be almost impossible to find a place for one more building on earth after millions of years of building buildings and of accumulation of civilizations. In recent years, a new assumption is emerging to shape some new understanding that is "that history of architecture should involve the destruction of buildings as it involves the building of buildings." Some argue that building requires a preceding incident of destruction, a spatial void without which it would not be possible to build new buildings. Interrogating this assumption might be an exhaustive task that needs in-depth investigation.

The Syndrome of Celebrating Destruction! The preceding assumption goes along the recent issue of VOLUME magazine, where issues of migration and displacement, ‘warchitecture’ and ‘post-warchitecture’, 'counter-heritage', 'cultural interventions' and 'post-conflict reconstruction' strategies are debated. On the basis of what is displayed in terms of construction efforts in different cities such as Kosovo and the southern part of Beirut one would infer that such an assumption is tested and proven valid as Ole Bouman in the introductory statement of VOLUME puts it "…there is a strong correlation between destruction—the unbuilding of cities—and the construction of buildings."

Read online on Architects for Peace or Download from Academia.