Manning Clark House, Weekend of Ideas, March 2006
Thank you for the invitation to speak, to be part of this weekend of ideas. Its a great honour and a pleasure to give the Dymphna Clark Lecture, not only because of the great legacies of Dymphna and Manning Clark and their contributions to our understanding of the past, and hence our present, but also because of my long if somewhat distant connections to other members of the Clark family. - connections that began at Melbourne University during my student days and continued when I arrived back in Australia in the mid 80s with my son. I became stepmother to two close friends of Anna Clark’s and what impressed me about all these young people was their dedication to ideas or projects: sharks, geology, cooking, painting, windsurfing - it didn’t matter what was the current ‘passion’: it was the passion that mattered.
One summer we camped near Wapengo. Its beauty took me back to one if the magical places of my girlhood, where I had listened to TS Elliot’s more -theatre- than poem Sweeney Agonistes recited around a campfire in the Howqua Valley. I used to go there with my father, who was friends with the professor of English at Melbourne University, Ian Maxwell, an eccentric in that he didn’t drive, and ‘squatted’ in the bush. His camp was some hours walk down into Fred Fry and Helen Schuster territory deep in the Howqua Valley, in the lea of Mt Buller and Geelong Grammar’s Timbertop later. Ian built rude lean to’s with bracken filled beds, and at some distance he had a secret food and equipment store. There he kept his favourite axe, saw and hammer, his rat catching devices, fishing gear and dried goods such as flour, sugar and salt. Fly fishing and swimming, long walks down the valley to abandoned farms filled the days. A stand of carefully planted poplar trees glistening in the sunlight announced a forgotten farmhouse, and there was nothing quite so magical as the ancient fruit trees with lichen covering their once supple, apple bearing boughs or the quiet of the ramshackle building remains, and a proud kitchen fireplace telling tales of families, and food cooked long ago. At camp Maxwell mornings began with porridge with sweet raisins, and strong tea. At some time during the day, a damper or two would be rolled out of the ashes, and depending on the skill of the fishermen dinner would often be fresh trout, with baked spuds, lots of good red, and talk, and ideas. Over the years I would go to the Howqua, there were always friends, poets, Old Norse scholars, doctors, and often Delia -Ian’s eldest daughter and her young son would be there. The wives- my mother and Ian’s wife never went- not sure why. Men’s business? Bush business? Father -daughter business? Thinking back it was much more than shelter- yet objectively that’s about as much as you could claim. Not house, not home in a conventional sense, but home in a deep and existential way. A highlight was T.S. Eliot’s Sweeney Agonistes under the stars in the flickering firelight, recited by Ian Maxwell.
As I learned later Sweeney is Eliot’s’ characterization of a sensual and rough sort of man commenting on modern man’s life, and its difficulties. In this Sweeney perhaps articulates some of the disappointments of today’s global poor, many of whom also speak in poetic voices, as I would learn years later when I lived in the slum town of Puerto Tejada in rural Colombia. In Puerto Tejada a blind old man recited his account of the War of 1000 days at the end of the 19th century and I recalled Eliot and the Howqua as we listened to him for more than an hour in the dark of his small, hot room, and recorded this remarkable event on an old Sony tape recorder. As a young girl, though, I didn’t understand what the main character in Sweeney Agonistes was saying:
There wasn’t any joint
There wasn’t any joint
For when you’re alone
When you’re alone like he was alone
You’re either or neither
Birth, and copulation and death
That’s all the facts when you come to brass
Birth and copulation and death
I’ve been born and once in enough
You don’t remember but I remember
Once is enough
Today these lines make me think about people born into, and stuck in poverty, but at the time I was captured by the romantic, flippant, jousting and seductive dialogue between Sweeney and Doris
S. I’ll carry you off to a cannibal isle
D. You’ll be the cannibal
S. You’ll be the missionary; You’ll be my little seven stone missionary. I’ll gobble you up. I’ll be the cannibal
D. You’ll carry me off? To a cannibal isle?
S.I’ll be the cannibal.
I’ll be the missionary. I’ll convert you!
S. I’ll convert you. Into a stew. A nice little, whites little missionary stew.
Juicy little, right little missionary stew.
The good humour, the jousting seduction, gives way to more serious stuff.
D. That’s not life, that’s not life
Why I’d just as soon be dead.
S That’s what life is. Just is
D. What is?
What’s that life is?
S. Life is death. I knew a man once did a girl in.
At the age of 14 I was captivated by these star lit nights, the song, the talk and the bush. When it came time to leave, the long haul up the Red Hill with those back packs that had a waist slicing metal frame - despite the grey felt that meant they were the latest in back pack design - there was a returning to ordinary-ness. The cool of the bush, the soft crackle of leaves and their eucalyptus smell, the paths winding by the river and the open fields by the farmers’ houses were left behind. The crack of the bell bird’s call soon receded, and bush tracks were replaced by dirt roads ,then paved roads, countryside gave way to small towns, larger towns, the outskirts of Melbourne and finally home. The Howqua remains vividly in my mind- shelter, home- an anchor of some sort that up till now I haven’t really thought about.
I start off with these personal reminisces, because just as the personal in the political in the good feminist tradition, so is the personal intimately connected to ideas. Why would you pursue any topic if it didn’t interest you, resonate with you at a personal level. Children teach you that, and I think again of the kids already mentioned. and my memory of the Howqua tells me about the impact of place and people, the emotion of those days so easy to conjure up again. Sweeney Agonistes is still within easy mental reach, despite the passage of so much time, but for sure I understood it in a limited way.
Today I want to share with you some ideas or enthusiasms, projects which I have directed my energies to as an architecture academic. Both are tied to personal things- so you will have to bear with the personal for a little longer. Having graduated in architecture from Melbourne University I worked for a while and then left- living in Italy for a while, then London before heading for Colombia with my anthropologist partner. We spent an intense year and more in a rural slum in South West Colombia, before tracking down to the upper Amazon in search of traditional healers - the shamans of the Putumayo. With our young son just a baby we travelled in canoes, slung our hammocks in the shaman’s house for days on end, and for months shared a house with ex peasant farmer friends in the small dirty sugar cane town of Puerto Tejada. Life was nasty brutish and short in many ways for them but it was also immensely rich, intense and immediate- in the same way as the Howqua evenings had been. We saw life and death, as we had never known it- and we spent a year recording stories of the past as these peasant farmers lost their land to sugar cane agribusiness. I began to understand architecture more as a social construct, how people and culture informed the shape of space. and indeed the politics of space- especially when local people came into contact with provincial authorities and architects. I was particularly interested in women’s use of space. We published a social history of the area - tracing the story from slavery, liberation; peasant economies to a new form of slavery- the landless day worker.
For some it was an Elliot- like reality, ‘That’s not life, that’s not life, Why I’d just as soon be dead.” The book, with the advantage of some archival work on the slave period, became a well thumbed text- it was used in the schools, people referred to it at labour meetings, university students from nearby Cali did plays based on it, the literate read it to the illiterate. The author was Mateo Mina (Mateo for our son, Mina a very common African slave name and common in the area). We felt it was everyone’s book- their stories. The poem about the war of 1000 days is in that book.
We subsequently went to the US and to Ann Arbor Michigan, a bit like Canberra in that it is a University town, and there I did a doctorate based on the Colombian work. Not far away in Chicago Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin had grown up. At that time the Frank Lloyd Wright industry was in full swing and the WB Griffin one was in the making. Marion Griffin was usually sidelined. Just like the Colombian women had been sidelined. But when all was said and done, the Colombian community we lived in was a matriarchal society, and Marion Griffin was a powerful force in their shared practice and throughout their 26-year marriage. Moving back to Australia I started to work on Marion Griffin, who in recent years has started to be given her due - here and in the US. She left an extraordinary document. The Magic of America is over 1000 pages long and is a testimony to her life with Walter Griffin and their creative partnership. After the Canberra debacle the Griffins’ settled in Castlecrag where she was involved in the development of a bohemian community of discussion, debate, religion and theatre.
There are some parallels between the performances in the dark nights of the Howqua Valley and the plays in the Haven open-air theatre in Castlecrag. Both had magical and creative qualities, both relied on the mystery of the Australian bush at night. MMG had grand ideas about architecture:
The civilisation of a people is expressed in many of its arts but recorded most permanently in its structures…in buildings and communities the actual facts are inescapably set forth and try as we may to conceal ourselves behind false fronts the rear and interior of buildings are as visible to the naked eyes as the fronts and tell the tale of sham and pretence…
She and Griffin believed in the power of architecture to create community, and while not being over deterministic about it, this approach gels with my thinking. But the moist intense of the community building experiences- Castlecrag- demonstrated how intimately connected life and place were- theatre, discussions groups, relations with children and neighbours etc. This is probably why I have found he so interesting a person to write about. In Eliot’s parlance she is a bit of a ‘missionary’, a ‘brass tacks’ type.
In 2002 I was invited to be a member of a UN Millennium Project Task Force on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers. Our target, #11 comes under Millennium Development Goal 7 ” ensure environmental sustainability”. Just why it wasn’t a goal in itself is a bit of a mystery. We are at a historic tipping point when more people will soon live in the cities than in the countryside, and almost all the issues that need to be addressed to ‘make poverty history’ are familiar to the urban poor and found in cities.
My Latin American experience was now some years ago- although I had lived in a slum and that is not all that usual for design professionals. Over the years I had been teaching about cross-cultural issues with the awareness of our living in multicultural and transcultural societies, and latterly about globalisation and global citizenship. Design studios in outer Sydney, eg Cabramatta, rural Australia, PNG, Indonesia etc, complimented this work.
From 2002-04 the Task Force worked on how to improve the lives of so many slum dwellers. A group of some 20 people made up the Task Force, and they came from many countries and represented many interests: the World Bank, UN Habitat, the ILO, the urban poor organization Slum Dwellers International, the city of Sao Paolo, planners, social workers, economists, land tenure experts all bringing to bear expertise, and personal knowledge of many countries and situations. Early on in the piece the slum dwellers representatives made a strong critique of the professions, adopting the position that the urban poor were better situated to develop their cities than the so-called experts. In their view planners were generally top down; architects unable to work collaboratively with people on what they needed. Slowly themes emerged, and one of the key ones was that people must be at the centre of decision-making processes that affect their lives. I was the lead author on one of the Task Force background papers on participatory planning and design, and indeed the paper confirmed the observations of the urban poor representatives in the main, although World Bank policy- having drawn back on some of the bad old days of structural adjustment, now sets aside 10-15% of budgets for participatory processes. However, there is usually a division of labour involved: the social workers do the research, and the technicians (architects, planners etc) apply the findings. This seemed a limited way of approaching the issue, and doesn’t confront the shortcomings of the many cities but not by any means all city-building professionals. Recommendations from the background paper were taken up in the final taskforce report, A Home in the city and one of these urged professionals to take anthropologist Malionowski’s advice to come down from the veranda and into the hut. the tent and slum, to find how their skills and expertise could best assist the urban poor. Instead of the ‘knowing best’ attitude or the focus on the individual building, an approach which embraces participatory processes with people at their centre was proposed, a form of ‘globalisation from below’ rather than the neo-liberal ‘globalisation from above’
Today there are one billion people in slums - including 56 million in developing countries, and if nothing is done by 2020 the number could double. Thus while 100 million seemed a lot of people at the outset, it quickly became apparent that a change of target was essential. Thus the task force re-stated its goal: to improve the lives of 100 million people by 2020, and to create adequate alternatives for those slums in formation. In line with the taskforce brief, the strategies were costed, and fit in with the overall budgeting for ‘making poverty history’. That is if countries contribute 0.7% of their GNP to Aid.
This might all sound too pat, so let me digress a little to the funding of the Millennium Development Goals. The 0.7% target refers to the repeated commitment of the world’s governments to commit 0.7% of rich countries GNP (gross national product) to Official Development Assistance. First pledged 36 years ago in a 1970 General Assembly resolution, the 0.7 target has been affirmed in many international agreements.
Ours is the first generation in which the world can halve extreme poverty within the 0.7 envelope. After two and a half decades of sustainable economic growth, the Goals are utterly affordable. To develop this a little further, and here I am quoting information from the Millennium project website.
“The UN Millennium Project’s analysis indicates that 0.7% of rich world GNI can pr9ovide enough resources to meet Millennium development Goals. If every developed country followed through on a timetable to reach 0.7% by 2015, the world could make dramatic progress in the fight against poverty. The project costing shows that $75-$150 US per person per year over the period would
As of June 2005, 16 out of the 22 donor countries have met or agreed to meet the 0.7% target by 2015. Australia is one six (out of 22 countries) that has not set a timetable fro 0.7%. Australia is one of the lowest contributors with AID set at 0.25% of the GNI- only six other countries are worse - Austria, Greece, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and the good old USA (0.16%).
A sensible argument has been put that the 0.7% matters for global security, and it doesn’t take much imagination to think that education, water, sanitation, transport, health, employment, safe cities and good living environments will impact global security, and that economically, socially and environmentally sustainable planning is a good thing. To return to my main theme- urbanization and the growth of cities - we are at an historic tipping point when more of the world’s population will live in cities than the countryside; thus the quality of life for all is important, so is the halt to the ‘divided city’ increasingly an urban phenomenon on many countries- a clear spatial division between haves and have nots.
In 2004 I suggested to our taskforce that we take up the critique of the city building professions, and try and do something about it. How might we make some impact on both education and practice, and reinvigorate quite old ideas about participatory practices (they go to the late cities with Sherry Arnstein’s ladder of participation). I proposed that new modes of education and practice would be a good start- and where better to start than the Union of International Architects Congress, a gathering of around 5000 architects generally. So we went to Istanbul, the site of the UIA Congress in 2005 with two initiatives. The first was four days of sessions under the title within the Congress titled, People Building Better Cities’. which brought together over 30 speakers and community members to speak about architecture and planning projects where participatory processes were paramount. We tried to model the way the urban poor exchange information- where possible they came, and the atmosphere was convivial and sharing. In addition we ran a studio that brought 70 students from other 20 countries - around half were from developing countries.
Tonight I understand you will see the film about the Zeyrek project-taken to last years Millennium Development Goals summit at the UN- so I will not offer much in the way of comment, other than to say that the Global Studio appears to have inspired a great deal of enthusiasm and activity- the PPSR (people, places, situation: response) exhibition about refugees, now touring Australian universities- opening in Melbourne on Monday, some curricula redesign in India, some new initiatives in Buenos Aires and Johannesburg, and importantly an ongoing conversation between participants. A generation if you will - the Y’ers I believe- that want to act on a global and local stage, and to contribute to the goals of making poverty history. New networks, new international partners, and new ideas are very much part of the Millennium Project and the MDGs.
The Global Studio project grew out of the taskforce, and universities have taken it on. This June Global Studio will go to Vancouver to take part in the exciting events around the theme of ‘Sustainable cities: turning ideas into action’. 30 years after the historic UN Habitat conference, Vancouver is hosting the UN World Urban Forum or Habitat +30. Much of the progressive urban and environmental thinking traces back to Habitat Vancouver, and can then be traced through successive conferences many of which have highlighted climate change and environmental issues. The city building professionals are joining in and joining forces, and the architects, landscape architects and planners are holding their global conferences in Vancouver, also on the same theme.
I have just been to Vancouver to advance the planning for Global Studio- where we will both learn and contribute. Vancouver, the so-called most liveable city in the world, has depressed areas in its downtown eastside just three blocks from the celebrated Centre for Dialogue and the Versace store over the road. Our project will be one of he main corridors- Hastings St, and we will work with a number of community groups, to see what we can contribute. A key focus will be a first nations housing project. As with Redfern’s Aboriginal community, the right solutions seem hard to find. We will have a final day of dialogue- with participants, community stakeholders, and others, to review, critique and debate, and chart new possibilities for design education, research in collaboration with communities.
The terminology slum was seen as unfortunate by the task force. Indeed Global Studio has changed focus and we talk about the bottom 20%- any city has its bottom 20%- and we hope to influence education and practice to routinely include this by 2020.
In Canada we plan to learn from the urban poor, as well as the many initiatives - from active and effective community groups, the lessons the urban gardeners of Vancouver and the highly innovative UBC Learning Exchange. Can provide. Reiterating the objectives of Global Studio Istanbul we hope to be part of the solution, and to help build the skills and knowledge that professionals and communities need to help realize the MDGs. This is of course just a very small part of the Millennium Project. Returning to the Griffins’ desires for a democratic architecture, nowhere more clearly seen here in Canberra and Castlecrag - if indeed a little thwarted, the cultures of cities, and the ideas of its people, are most powerfully writ in their buildings and their plans.
Without getting things out of perspective and returning to the urban poor’s critique of the architecture and planning professions, whose grand narratives in their minds are often irrelevant at best, damaging at worst, the hope of the Global Studio model is to help make poverty history through creating knowledge skills and awar3eness, and contributing to building global professional citizens who can make a difference. The finale to Sweeney Agonists speaks to us about what will come to us all eventually but for the urban poor the ” hoo haas ” have come too soon too often,
When you’re alone in the middle of the night and
You wake in a sweat and a hell of a fright
When you’re alone in the middle of the bed
You’ve got the hoo has coming to you.
Hoo hoo hoo
You dreamt you waked up at seven o clock
And its damp and its dawn and its
And you wait for a knock and the turning of the lock
For you know the hangman’s waiting for you.
And perhaps you’re alone
And perhaps you’re dead
Hoo ha ha
Hoo ha ha
Knock Knock Knock
Knock Knock Knock
I thank Ian Maxwell and MMG for their magic, and the Clarks who so expanded our vision of this country.
2006 is the year of action for the Millennium Development Goals.
‘Make poverty history” is a call to action. Drawing on the experience
of Global Studio Istanbul this talk will look at ways in which design
professionals might be part of the solution. We are at a historic
tipping point. Soon more people will live in the cities than in the
country, and its likely that the one billion living in slums today
could double by 2020. Global Studio hopes to contribute to improving
people’s lives, and through a ‘globalisation from below’ approach
place people at the centre of environmental and planning decisions
that affect their lives. Shelter , house and home are central to
aspirations for a more sustainable and equitable environment. Some
connections to ,and perhaps some lessons from, the Griffins’
aspirations for architecture and planning as a democratic project
will be made.
About Dr. Anna Rubbo
Anna Rubbo is Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of
Sydney, with degrees from the Universities of Melbourne and Michigan,
where she also taught. She has worked in architectural practice and
academia in Australia, the UK, the USA and South America. Her
doctoral work focussed on shelter and home in rural Colombia, and she
has written on homelessness in Australia. She is a founding editor
of the journal Architectural Theory Review, publishes on architect
Marion Mahony Griffin, works on issues of architecture, culture and
participatory practices in cross-cultural and global contexts.
A member of the National Capital Authority Griffin Legacy Advisory
Panel (2003-04) she was a guest speaker at a Northwestern University
symposium on Marion Mahony Griffin in 2005. A member of the UN
Millennium Project task Force on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers
she convened Global Studio Istanbul 2005, a project spearheaded by
the taskforce which brought together over 100 students, academics and
practitioners from 20 countries to address environmental
challenges facing the urban poor. She is currently developing Global
Studio Vancouver,to be held in conjunction with June 2006 UN World Urban
Forum and related events. She is recipient of a 2005 RAIA Neville Quarry
Education Prize, a juror for the 2006 Berkeley Prize for
Architecture, and invited nominator for the 2007 Aga Khan Award.