Fractal Components of a Peace Process


Are the approaches used to address a natation's built heritage after conflict, fractals of technocratic peacebuilding process?


During the last 10 years, there has been an increased interest in shaping and re-shaping the built heritage as an approach to peacebuilding within post-conflict communities in transition from a negative to a positive peace.


Lombaerde and Foqué suggest that “we are increasingly conscious of the role that our heritage plays in improving the sense of identity and integrity of individuals and societies” (Lombaerde and Foqué, page 89. 2009), and as a result Bevan argues that “[t]he virtue of a built record to this method of ideological production lies in the apparent permanence of brick and stone.


Buildings and shared spaces can be a location in which different groups come together through shared experience; collective identities are forged and traditions invented. It is architecture’s very impression of fixity that makes its manipulation such a persuasive tool” (Bevan 2016 p24). Echoing Hannah Arendt’s observation that “[t]he reality and reliability of the human world rests primarily on the fact that we are surrounded by things more permanent than the activity by which they are produced” (Arendt and Canovan 2012 p96)


Working with the perceived permanency of architecture in post-conflict conditions is an approach in response to what Barakat suggests are “changes in the nature of war from interstate rivalries to internal instabilities and civil conflict which have radically altered our perception of reconstruction and the role of the architect in post war recovery processes” (Barakat, 2010).


However, this contemporary approach to peacebuilding seems to suffer from a varied and conflicting set of methods. There is an apparent divide between the occasional projects realised by those who welcome local stake-holder contributions, have well-honed intuition and a context driven interest, and others who deliver signature projects which challenge and confuse the historic fabric in their eagerness to meet budget, political agendas and client demands. Sadly sites are developed with a lack of vision, patience and a dogmatic understanding of peacebuilding principles (Spirindonis, Voyatzaki and Hay 2010 p175). According to Charlesworth, “[y]ou quite often have a manmade disaster of war, then there is the political disaster afterwards of incompetence and then there is the third disaster: the design disaster. Architects rarely know about reconstruction in terms of psychological reconstruction, they tend to go for the classic heritage approach, by rebuilding what-it-was-where-it-was, or they use funky 3D fly-in software, which has nothing to with the architectural context” (Charlesworth and Oosterman 2010 p25).


A condition augmented by a worrying trend known as ‘Trauma Glam’ described by Hyde as “the current interest architects have with operating in zones of post-conflict as an experimental laboratory”. Moreover, Hyde continues, there “seems to be a basic tension between architects working to re-establish basic services and infrastructure, and architects working to re-establish identity and community”(Hyde, 2010 p28).


I suggests that, more often than not, “architects and designers see their responsibility towards significant buildings in anthropomorphic terms - as performing surgery, breathing new life into and restoring the soul and heart of culturally significant buildings. These are dynamic and dogged acts which require the building to adopt a submissive role, to remain prone while work is visited upon it...Anthropomorphising the building in terms of voice and memory however, reverses this relationship, if only in the short-term, the act of listening enables the building to become an agent in its own reinvention and the designer has to work hard to hear what is said” ( Hay, 2010).


Lederach echoes the importance of listening as he “Constantly found that most essential is hearing and engaging the struggling, sometimes lost, voices of identity within the loud static of the conflictive environment” (Lederach, 2003 p55.). Hence, Barakat argues that “[i]t is imperative that a new definition of the architect is offered and that skills are taught in enabling community survival and supporting local coping strategies”. ….. A greater understanding of recovery processes, skills like empathy, understanding and diplomacy will be central to training generations of conflict sensitive architects (Barakat, 2010 p22).


Furthermore, Hyde states that “unless we re-evaluate architecture’s contribution based upon impact rather than image, the ability of the discipline to achieve social good will be crippled” (Hyde, 2010 p29).


Currently then, the peacebuilding approach to architecture and in particular the methodology relating to the modification of cultural specific buildings is fundamentally flawed and as a result, struggles to engage local communities and poorly addresses issues of trauma and post-conflict emotional entanglement. An institutionalised approach which currently signifies interventions seen as elite driven, politically manipulated that impose a synthesise of western- style values, promoting poor local participation and ownership as argued by theorist such as Selby, Mac Ginty, Hoffman and Richmond but also recognises the merits of a pro-liberal peace argument of timely and sincere plans for institutional infrastructure prior to liberalisation by Roland Paris. As a result, this architectural approach accurately reflects the critique of the liberal peace process in general and amplifies the problems of using template-style international peace interventions, labelled as an “Ikea Peace” process by Mac Ginty. Therefore creating an architectural based fractal or microcosm of the liberal peace approach.


A fractal which echos the challenges of the liberal peace process and leads one to reflect on McDowell and Braniff’s suggestion that “space and place …. are never neutral, they are socially constructed and will always embody political power, values and symbols, and, moreover, these will be contested between different voices and interpreters” (McDowell and Braniff, 2014 p.5-6).


Interestingly Barakat argues that “It is imperative that a new definition of the architect is offered and that skills are taught in enabling community survival and supporting local coping strategies”. ….. A greater understanding of recovery processes, skills like empathy, understanding and diplomacy will be central to training generations of conflict sensitive architects (Barakat, page22. 2010). Furthermore, Hyde states that “unless we re-evaluate architecture’s contribution based upon impact rather than image, the ability of the discipline to achieve social good will be crippled” (Hyde, Page 29. 2010).


I think the key to any approach to addressing trauma in the built environment lies with acknowledging the building’s profile or as I call it “The Building’s DNA Profile”, I think that hypothetically the DNA profile of a building is no different from the DNA profile of a human in that it dictates character, build, physical ability and its ability to accept an intervention without rejection. Once that profile is understood then the building can be ‘genetically’ manipulated, modified or even cloned (Hay, 2006).


Drew Endy an Associate Professor of Bioengineering, Stanford University explains that, “if you can write DNA, you're no longer limited to 'what is' but to what you could make” (Endy, 2016).