Inspired by a the lecture of Prof. Ruth Morrow: Being at Hand
Theory Forum: The Social Production of Architecture,
Sheffield School of Architecture
21st February 2012
Architects are negotiators. That is the nature of our profession.
We negotiate with people, space, time, money, ideas. We have to think laterally, on our feet, forward, about the future, about the past, on top of our head, emotionally, rationally, instinctively, on paper, on site, like an artist, like a scientist, like a citizen, like the person who has a clue, globally, locally, on all breadths and widths of our brainscapes.
Professor Ruth Morrow, from Queen’s University in Belfast, Ireland, gave a very energetic presentation with a title: “Being at Hand”. Prof. Morrow a pioneer in architectural education has long been encouraging architects (professionals and students) to creatively engage with communities.
A lot of the research projects Prof. Morrow has led in the recent past were located in cities or countries suffering from great social division. The erosion of social structure in places like Belfast physically manifest as the peace walls that were erected to avert violence between the two conflicting communities ( Catholic and Protestant).
Similarly to Ireland, Cyprus too suffers from dichotomy. Physically the island is separated by the so called Green Line, or the United Nations Buffer Zone with on either side of this UN controlled zone.
On a brief visit to the walled city of Lefkosia (Nicosia), mosques succeeded churches. Greek flags waved in the breeze, when 100 metres down the same narrow street turkish flags are set in the skyline. This country’s dual identity constantly intersects with each other. A mosque is set next to a church and each street’s name gives away the identity of its former inhabitants. Walking in the maze of the walled city, you always reach an unexpected and abrupt end – a barricade with armed soldiers. The soldiers’s voices always dim in the sight of the deserted houses, the empty streets. It does not matter if these soldiers speak my native language, there is nothing natural about this image, and indeed words are feeble.
I wonder whether as an individual, a citizen of this country, of this island, will be ever able to comprehend the complexity of our origins. I was born fourteen years after the turkish invasion, and yet I feel that I belong in generations affected by this conflict. Growing up in Cyprus, our education system, the church which is still quite influential in the social make-up of our island, and our families instil borrowed political convictions. Despite our parents’ and grandparents’ experience of the war, children were given an explanation which political parties dictated.
We have rarely been given a clean slate to develop an understanding and form an opinion that is completely unaffected by external factors.
If there is ever a possibility to work collectively and in unison, should we not be able to define our identity? Should we able to hear each other’s stories with empathy? Is there enough space to reveal this country’s deep wounds and heal them? Is there a way for the past to be the key for a resolution, rather than a blindfold narrowing our vision?
Could the contradicting perceptions and distorted visions from either side of the Green Line, ever be able to mirror each other clearly? Could we ever go back into being one nation, with one voice?
These words are just a stream of consciousness, speculations about the status of Cyprus and its potential future. Thinking in a creative way, is there enough space for a third perspective? Free of disillusions, hate, prejudice and hurt – can creative thinking and creative actions be a step to bring the two communities together? Could we transform the haunting traces of the war and the invasion, in a celebration of co-existence?
Studio 12 at the university of Westminster visited Lefkosia in 2009. The title of the studio was [re]adjusting territories: Double Takes, Cyprus. Students were asked to design a project that would tackle with the dead spaces along the UN buffer zone. [Blog: http://studiotwelve.wordpress.com/2009/06/01/readjusted-territories/ ]
Given the circumstances in which we live now in Cyprus, the financial strains will no doubt have a direct effect on our culture. Social schisms will be even more noticeable and extreme. The game of blame and guilt will be broadcasted live on TV, from politicians to everyday citizens putting the blame on someone other than themselves to relieve the pain and the frustration they feel.
There are plenty of creative practices around the world (comprised of architects, activists, locals, artists and so on) , which specialise in conflict territories. Creative thinking and consultations will allow locals to voice their opinion and concerns. Creative thinking is able to bridge the differences, because we could emphasise the similarities. What once seemed as an obstruction, could be treated as a starting point for a dialogue. Could the army stations and barricades be transformed from a control check-point to an exchange point, where people exchange and collect stories?
Can we dare think creatively about our future?
Can we transform what we have become?
Can we transform the physical space to ensure a safer environment for its inhabitants? Can the transformed physical space inspire delegation?
* by J. Krishnamurti