Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Architecture of Fear on the Road; Pack your bags for Kabul

Its official, the flights have been booked and the hotel (well guest houses) have been reserved, the Architecture of Fear is going to Afghanistan!

You might remember mention of the Archis RSVP events in a previous
post, well after a few months of correspondence and a lot of organizing (all on their end) the event is taking shape. I will be in Kabul from the 23rd to the 28th and am looking forward to an amazing and perspective altering few days. I’m especially looking forward to meeting the talented people who are lined up to participate.

See below for an outline of the event as provided by Archis:

Archis RSVP event 11: Kabul
Oktober 2007

Drawing from earlier experiences with RSVP events on a global scale, but also from an identified local urgency to think through future urban development in Kabul, we will instigate an event with the main goal to formulate specific projects and actions in the public domain in contemporary Kabul.

The two main goals are:
1. To make an inventory of real needs: that can range from the practical to the intellectual.
2. To rethink public space in a way that opens up fresh ideas and helps to create an agenda on a larger scale.
From this we create an action list to be elaborated on in the follow-up.

Further we would like to create an alternative perspective on Kabul’s contemporary society then is usually conveyed in the media.


How do we know Kabul? As a city of warlords, a frontline, a zone of utter destruction caused by modern warfare, a place of religious intolerance, the capital that is painstakingly reconstructed while a war is fought in the south. Kabul is a far-away place, dangerous and hostile - this is our outsider’s point of view. Reality, however, is more complex.

Makeshift Metropolis

Kabul is probably the most heterogeneous territory in the country, perhaps even of Central Asia, obviously greatly scarred by almost three decades of war. Its present situation as an awakening city that faces unprecedented urban growth reveals, however, the potential to become a booming Mega City within short time (it has grown from 500,000 people in 2001 to currently 6 to 7 million people). Its inhabitants are hopeful, energetic and eager to build up their city – strikingly enough they form the main driving force of reconstruction bootstrapping new settlements and economies in all parts of the city and throughout all parts of society.
But is there an overall governance of it all? Are there forces that provide people with infrastructure, water, electricity, security and thus create a setting of fairness and equality? Local authorities and the government along with international and military organizations face tremendous problems in collaboration. And not only do they struggle with their tasks but, as being inhabitants of the city themselves, fashion their direct surrounding according to their own needs, cultural habits and interpretations of security.
The result is the privatization of public space - a city of barb wired spaces and concrete barricades emerging from and simultaneously fostering distrust and the loss of dialogue among citizens. At the same time unregulated occupation of space follows Darwinian rules negating the process of democratization.

How do people assimilate to this fight over public space? How do they respond to violations to their freedom of movement and assembly? How do they shape their environment when the state withdraws? And what kinds of interventions are possible in this context?

Archis RSVP Kabul
RSVP Kabul will focus on the role and function of the public spaces in the city. It will investigate how public space is used in practice, and to what effect it could be used as an instrument of engineering the urban society.

The event will focus on a small number of specific sites. It is on this very local level that we ask participants to Repondez SVP; to formulate observations, witnessing and recommendations.
We intend to pinpoint these sites for the formulation of specific projects in order to foster change. Bringing together local energy of architects, planners, artists and writers will lead to alternative ways of solving practical urban issues regarding planning, restitution, design, identity and memory.

During a period of four days we will explore several sites in Kabul and have on site discussions and fact finding – meetings with the task to create an action list. A few pilot projects will be identified to elaborate on in 2008.

Archis Interventions will advise and monitor the concrete and practical projects from the action list and helps to find partners and financing. Furthermore A.I. seeks to discern the pivotal issues from the local debate that are of interest to a regional and international discourse. These debates will be voiced in Volume magazine and lead to the formation of regional networks.

Proposed Partners in Kabul

- AKDN, Anna Soave (AKTC)
- Department of Architecture (Kabul University) Hemayat Azizi
- Pietro Calogero, a Berkeley PhD student specialising in urban planning who is presently teaching at the Faculty.
- Sayed Maqbool, urban planner and teacher at the Faculty, who is now also working for KURP (Kabul Urban Reconstruction Project)
- Lida Abdul, artist
Center for Contemporary Art Afghanistan (CCAA) Rahraw Omarzad (artist, writer, editor of “Gahnama-e-Hunar)
- Fred Levrat, architect
- Anne Feenstra
- Rafi Samizay
+ Students (4th-5th year of the Faculty of Architecture)

+ other participants

Knowledge Partner
AKTC, the cultural branch of the Aga Khan Development Network, is the knowledge partner and host of the first RSVP event in Kabul. Main agreements on venues and dates will be developed in collaboration with AKTC.

Proposed Public Sites for investigation (further suggestions are welcome)

1. Park Zarnegar - the “waiting room” of the city centre, it gathers hundreds of people in “transit” between destinations, it is surrounded by a number of highly contrasted buildings and functions (e.g. the municipality, the great mosque, the Serena Hotel, the Istiqlal School, the Public Library, the commerce etc).

2. Shahr-e Naw Park, green recreational area next to Park Cinema.

3. The awkward space fronting the Spinzar Hotel, on the riverfront. The typical public square that has been lost to parking, toilet and informal vending.

4. The green spine down the Silo Road, just below the InterContinental Hotel. It has been recuperated, protected, greened and is now used (little) by the growing number of people that are moving into the houses built along the road.

5. The embankment of the river Kabul, from Pul-i Kishti to Park Nauroz (Deh Mazang)

6. Chamane Huzuri, a place with a very rich history, an iconic public space that could do with some great ideas for its revival

7. The hilltop of the Nader Shah Mausoleum hill? (where kids fly their kites) – a bit of waste land that has become a ‘hanging out’ place for young people

8. Park Sare Shomali, the spine of green along the road that goes to the Shomali plain, just before the mountain shoulder. Informal (grabbed land) settlements on both sides, with no water or services.

9. Olympics swimmingpool on Bibi Mahru Hill. Popular place for gathering in week-ends.

About us

Organization from the Netherlands
Archis Interventions, NAi, Partizan Publik

Archis Foundation is a cultural think tank devoted to the process of real-time spatial and cultural reflexivity.
Archis Publishers is publishing Volume Magazine, a project by Archis, AMO (Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture) and C-Lab (the architectural laboratory of Columbia University)
Archis Interventions organizes international events that initiate interdisciplinary debate on spatial and cultural issues and intervenes in deadlocked situations;
Archis Tools advises (governmental) social and cultural organizations and private companies on a variety of urban and spatial issues.
See also

NAi – The Netherlands Architecture Institute is more than a museum of architecture. It is above all a cultural institute which is open to the public and which uses a variety of methods for communicating about the shaping of human space. The institute offers facilities for research and a platform for discussion. The NAI presents exhibitions and issues publications which aim to inform, inspire, and stimulate both professionals and the general public.
See also

Partizan Publik is a think and action tank devoted to a braver society.
The Partizans explore, produce and implement social, political and cultural instruments, which generate positive and sustainable change to people and their surroundings. As such we take part in the complex and continuous process of global social engineering by implementing capacity building projects, instigating social research, producing journalistic accounts and organizing public events.

See also