ARCHITECTURE IN CRISIS

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XIII BA 13 Bienial Internacional de Arquitectura  
de Buenos Aires, October, 2013


Today, I am inviting you to see beyond the box.  Instead, we need to think inside the circle.
 
Our world is presently facing an enormous environmental and humanitarian crisis beyond any previous proportion and we are on the verge of  a total global collapse.
 
 
Our global population has increased from 2.3 billion in 1955 to 7 billion in 2011.
 
 
Between 1950 and 2050, our planet’s population will have tripled topping out at over 9 billion.
 
Concurrently, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased 37 percent since pre-industrial revolution--with half of the total since 1979.
 
A 2010 study from the World Bank found that the 50 largest cities and urban areas on the planet are now home to roughly 500 million people and spew out some 2.6 billion tons of greenhouse gasses every year.
 
Every U.S. citizen accounts for 21 pounds of carbon emission each week and five metric tons of carbon each year, which has major implications
 
As urban migration continues, the amounts of world pollutants is only expected to dramatically rise. Every year, every decade more, more and more pollutants are being pumped into the air causing massive disturbances in our biosystem and expediating climage change. This combined with the shrinking sources of more and more fossil fuels to feed growing cities is only worsening the crisis
 
Scientists this week issued their starkest warning yet about the mounting dangers of global warming. In a report to be handed to political leaders in Stockholm last Monday, they say that the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation have now led to a warming of the entire globe, including land surfaces, oceans and the atmosphere.
 
Extreme weather events, including heatwaves and storms, have increased in many regions while ice sheets are dwindling at an alarming rate. In addition, sea levels are rising while the oceans are being acidified – a development that could see the planet's coral reefs disappearing before the end of the century.
 
Climate change is starting to have major impacts on ecosystems. With global temperature rising, there is a decrease in snow-fall, and sea levels are rising. Ecosystems will change or evolve to cope with the increase in temperature. Consequently, many species are being driven out of their habitats.

Polar bears are being threatened. They need ice for hunting seals, their primary prey. However, the ice caps are melting, making their hunting periods shorter each year. As a result, the polar bears are not developing enough fat for the winter; therefore, they are not able to reproduce at a healthy rate.
 
Since 1979, more than 20% of the Polar Ice Cap has melted away.
 
Fresh water and wetland ecosystems are dealing with extreme effects of the increase of temperature. The climate change could be devastating to salmon and trout and to other aquatic life. The increase in temperature will disrupt the current life patterns of the salmon and trout. The cold-water fish will eventually leave their natural geographical range to live in cooler waters by migrating to higher elevations.
 
While many species have been able to adapt to the new conditions by moving their range further towards the poles, other species are not as fortunate. The option to move is not available for polar bears and for some aquatic life.
 
Vast numbers of species are being annihilated. Every year between 17,000 and 100,000 species vanish from the planet. The speed in which species are becoming extinct is much faster than in the past. The last mass extinctionwas caused by a meteor collision 65 million years ago.
 
The loss of new species in an ecosystem will eventually affect all living creatures. In the U.S. and Canada, there was a dramatic reduction of shark population along the U.S. east coast. Since then, there has been an increase in population of rays and skates, which in turn has decimated the population of shellfish. The loss of shellfish has reduced the water quality and the size of sea grass beds. Biodiversity is being lost at a fast rate. The more species there are in an ecosystem, the more resilient it is to evolution.
 
Seven million square kilometers of tropical forest have vanished in the last 50 years. About two million square kilometers were used for crops, while the remaining five million square kilometers is poor quality land.
 
Mature forests store enormous quantities of carbon, both in the trees and vegetation itself and within the soil in the form of decaying plant matter. Forests in areas such as the Congo and the Amazon represent some of the world's largest carbon stores on land.

But when forests are logged or burnt, that carbon is released into the atmosphere, increasing the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and accelerating the rate of climate change. So much carbon is released that they contribute up to one-fifth of global man-made emissions, more than the world's entire transport sector.

Deforestation has such a massive effect on climate change that Indonesia and Brazil are now the third and fourth largest emitters of carbon dioxide on the planet. This dubious honour comes not from industrial or transport emissions, but from deforestation - up to 75 per cent of Brazil's emissions come solely from deforestation - with the majority coming from clearing and burning areas of the Amazon rainforest.
 
While 97 out of 100 climate experts agree that humans are causing global warming, our out-of-touch political leaders and in serious total denial.
 
THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS
 
The 2012 World’s Worst Pollution Problems Report sets out to quantify the human health impacts from major sources of hazardous pollution in low to middle-income countries. In particular the focus is on sites in the developing world where toxic pollution has occurred because of industrial activity.
 
 
Close to 125 million people are at risk from toxic pollution across 49 low to middle-income countries. The global burden of disease from toxic pollution as on par with better-known public health problems such as malaria and tuberculosis.
 
 
Our own man-made environmental disaster are adding severe consequences to this already deepening crisis
 
Exxon Valdez is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters. Immediate effects included the deaths of 100,000 to as many as 250,000 seabirds.
 
The oil, originally extracted at the Prudhoe Bay oil field, eventually covered 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of coastline, and 11,000 square miles (28,000 km2) of ocean.
 
Some twenty years after the spill, a team from the University of North Carolina found that the effects were lasting far longer than expected. The team estimates some shoreline Arctic habitats may take up to thirty years to recover.
 
Not only are we polluting our earth, but we are polluting our atmosphere. Space junk is starting to fall onto the planet at an alarming rate.
 
In the wake of global warming, our fragile earth is already responding with record international disasters
 
Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic tropical cyclones caused 53 different levee breaches in greater New Orleans, submerging eighty percent of the city. The confirmed death toll was 1,836, mainly from Louisiana (1,577) and Mississippi (238).
 
Federal disaster declarations covered 90,000 square miles (233,000 km2) of the United States, an area almost as large as the United Kingdom.
 
Record Tornados, hurricanes, and other severe weather disturbances are already taking their toll on lives and property and scientists seem fairly certain some weather elements like hurricanes and droughts will worsen
 
The main climate change connection is via the basic instability of the low-level air that creates the convection and thunderstorms in the first place. Warmer and moister conditions are the key for unstable air. The oceans are warmer because of climate change.
 
In Japan, 1.5 Million people have been displaced by the Earthquake Tsunami, 4.4 Million Without Electricity for an indefinite period of time. Death Toll expected to reach over 20,000.
 
Though Fukushima and Chernobyl are both level 7 nuclear accidents, the health consequences in Japan to date are much less severe. In part, that's because far more radiation was released at Chernobyl. So far, Fukushima Dai-ichi has released about one-tenth of the amount of radioactive material that escaped Chernobyl, according to an official from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
 
Traces of radiation are showing up in food and rain-water in other parts of the world. The “official word” is that levels outside Japan do not pose health hazards. If you live on the Western Coast of North America I would monitor the situation closely. I have found an expert source of information on nuclear power plant situations.
 
A high-ranking Japanese official has termed the nuclear situation as “Grave and serious.” Physicist Michio Kaku has said that a meltdown would create a “permanent dead zone” in the most affected areas of Northern Japan.
 
The tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan have rendered vast agricultural areas in that nation unusable. In fact, there are many that believe that eventually a significant portion of northern Japan will be considered to beuninhabitable. Not only that, many are now convinced that the Japanese economy, the third largest economy in the world, is likely to totally collapse as a result of all this.
 
Will there be a Japan 20 years from now; I don’t think so.
 
HUNGER
 
Incase, you haven’t noticed, the world is on the verge of a horrific global food crisis. At some point, this crisis will affect you and your family. It may not be today, and it may not be tomorrow, but it is going to happen. Crazy weather and horrifying natural disasters have played havoc with agricultural production in many areas of the globe over the past couple of years. Meanwhile, the price of oil has begun to skyrocket. The entire global economy is predicated on the ability to use massive amounts of inexpensive oil to cheaply produce food and other goods and transport them over vast distances. Without cheap oil the whole game changes.

Topsoil is being depleted at a staggering rate and key aquifers all over the world are being drained at an alarming pace. Global food prices are already at an all-time high and they continue to move up aggressively. So what is going to happen to our world when hundreds of millions more people cannot afford to feed themselves?

According to the World Bank, 44 million people around the globe have been pushed into extreme poverty since last June because of rising food prices.

The world is losing topsoil at an astounding rate. In fact, according to Lester Brown, “one third of the world’s cropland is losing topsoil faster than new soil is forming through natural processes”.

Due to U.S. ethanol subsidies, almost a third of all corn grown in the United States is now used for fuel.

This is putting a lot of stress on the price of corn.

Due to a lack of water, some countries in the Middle East find themselves forced to almost totally rely on other nations for basic food staples. For example, it is being projected that there will be no more wheat production in Saudi Arabia by the year 2012.

Water tables all over the globe are being depleted at an alarming rate due to “over-pumping”. According to the World Bank, there are 130 million people in China and 175 million people in India that are being fed with grain with water that is being pumped out of aquifers faster than it can be replaced. So what happens once all of that water is gone?

WATER SHORTAGES
 
Fresh water is a renewable resource, yet the world's supply of groundwater is steadily decreasing, with depletion occurring most prominently in Asia and North America, although it is still unclear how much natural renewal balances this usage, and whether ecosystems are threatened
 
Climate change will have significant impacts on water resources around the world because of the close connections between the climate and hydrological cycle. Rising temperatures will increase evaporation and lead to increases in precipitation, though there will be regional variations in rainfall.
 
Both droughts and floods may become more frequent in different regions at different times, and dramatic changes in snowfall and snow melt are expected in mountainous areas. Higher temperatures will also affect water quality in ways that are not well understood.
 
In the United States, the systematic depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer could eventually turn “America’s Breadbasket” back into the “Dust Bowl”.

Diseases such as UG99 wheat rust are wiping out increasingly large segments of the world food supply.

The price of oil may be the biggest factor on this list. The way that we produce our food is very heavily dependent on oil. The way that we transport our food is very heavily dependent on oil. When you haveskyrocketing oil prices, our entire food production system becomes much more expensive. If the price of oil continues to stay high, we are going to see much higher food prices and some forms of food production will no longer make economic sense at all.

Food inflation is already devastating many economies around the globe. For example, India is dealing with an annual food inflation rate of 18 percent.  According to the United Nations, the global price of food reached a new all-time high in February. According to the World Bank, the global price of food has risen 36% over the past 12 months. The commodity price of wheat has approximately doubled since last summer.

There are about 3 billion people around the globe that live on the equivalent of 2 dollars a day or less and the world was already on the verge of economic disaster before this year even began.

In addition to the environmental crisis there is also a ever-increasing humanitarian crisis which will dramatically effect an ever-growing near history catastrophe.

Political unrest and other examples of humanitarian crises such armed conflicts, epidemics, famine, natural disasters and other major emergencies are overtaxing our already limited global resources to assist large groups of people to access their fundamental needs, such as food, clean water or safe shelter.

The conflict in Syria has resulted in a severe and worsening emergency.

Two million refugees have now fled violence in Syria and are in desperate need of shelter, food and water.

2013 has already been one of the craziest years since World War 2. Revolutions have swept across the Middle East, the United States has gotten involved in the civil war in Libya and possibly in Syria, Europe is on the verge of a financial meltdown and the U.S. dollar is dying. None of this is good news for  our current world.

HOW HAVE WE RESPONDED?
 
The Failure of Modern Architecture
 
We, architects, are the single-most profession that is absolutely paralyzed by these overwhelming problems and statistics, crises and emergencies.
 
Instead of being “problem solvers” we have been the servants to global catastrophe and have supplied our technical and professional expertise to enhance an already explosive situation.
 
In an attempt to find solutions to this doomsday scenario, our profession has come up with some of the most irrational, psychotic, and neurotic solutions such as “social housing.”
 
This is Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis Missouri built in 1954 by the architect Yamasaki, the same architect as the World Trade Center, which was a solution for low-cost public housing—massing thousands of helpless people and cramming them into some of the most twisted perverse dense buildings.
 
By the late 1960s, the complex had become internationally infamous for its poverty, crime, and segregation.
 
Its 33 buildings were torn down in the mid-1970s, and the project has become the world’s most infamous icon ofurban renewal and public-policy planning failure.
 
This failed plan has and continues to be the “solution” repeated globally from cities such as New York and Chicago to Sao Paolo and Cairo.
 
We architects have been the “masterplaners” of our own environmental doomsday.  We have led the charge to find the “next global hotspots” of overbuilding and overdevelopment worldwide,
 
Designing and building new cities as Dubai and megacities in China.  Chinese megacities for millions of people with no populations in sight.
 
As these new cities grow, the older cities as New York and Detroit become abandoned or put into total disrepair.
 
Our traditional cities are shrinking in an alarming rate while capital and finance continue to chase new markets and architects continue building mega-buildings and skyscrapers larger and bigger than ever before realized.
 
Even these new global hotspot cities such as Dubai will, in 100 years, become the next cycle of ruins for the next new cycle of global economic hotspots for new capital, new development, thereby further exhausting our global resources and create another wave of new abandoned cities.  It’s a “burn and build” mentality that is further depleting our natural resources and causing immense global environmental pollution.
 
We have engineered urban density to alarming proportions adding much chaos and disorder in our contemporary cities and urban sprawl settlements choking and depleting our natural resources.
 
We have and continue to create anonymous living spaces that have a devastating effect on the psychological conditions of humanity.
 
Destroying our rural environments with over-development and further polluting our world with more and more carbon emissions and waste.,,from India…to Los Angeles…to Shenzhen China.
 
We architects have come up with some of the most shallow and desperate symbols of our world in decline from corporate offices…mundane useless buildings that reflect our crisis rather than offer any real solutions.
 
One-line social commentary—Disneyland for Distraction.
 
Architecture of Excess and Excessive Tricks and Gimmicks.
 
Our “Star Architects,” such as Frank Gehry, have led this charge creating some of the most useless, Brave New World solutions that only a products of our now new  identity crisis.
 
Richard’s Meier’s Getty Complex is an antithesis to the real-world experience of slums and immense and growing poverty.  Irrelevant would be a kind word.
 
Zaha Hadid’s geometric exercises of self-indulgence and an architecture of egoism are environmentally and socially irresponsible and contribute much to our global crisis.
 
And the trend continues as architects build more and more buildings in excess…further expanding overdevelopment and over consumption.
 
We architects are the world’s most profound prostitutes.
 
Our Architecture Stars and our profession are like Nero playing the violin to the decline of civilization.
 
As architecture goes down like the sinking of the Titanic.
 
NO MORE ARCHITECTURE
 
We need a moratorium on architecture until we, as a profession, can come to our senses about the realities of our environment and the worsening conditions we are experiencing globally.
 
Rather than “Architect”…We should think of ourselves as GLOBAL CRISIS MANAGERS.
 
Who else is better educated, better equipped, and has more vision than an architect to find the short-term, stop-gap solutions of this ever growing environmental and humanitarian crisis we are facing today.
 
START SMALL THINK BIG
 
As Global Crisis Managers we have the ability to change this Mumbai Slum into something more humane and deserving of its residents..making even the worse habitat more civilized and tailored to the real needs of its people.
 
As Global Crisis Managers we can transform the worst world slums into more meaningful public environments as this vocational school that wisely uses sustainable and natural resources while respecting energy costs and providing future training for local residents.
 
As an Italian journalist friend told me last week, there is something perverted about buying $8,000 Prada Pink Deerskin hand bag.
 
Particularly when you can house a family in Africa for $6,000. 
 
How much longer can we sustain buying Prada?
 
For the Syrian refuge camps, Architects at IKEA Foundation, the Swedish furniture maker’s philanthropic branch, is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a team of designers from the Refugee Housing Unit (RHU) to completely overhaul the current housing situation for millions of refugees.
 
Much like the IKEA bed or IKEA shelving unit, these flat-pack shelters will come deconstructed in cardboard boxes.  
 
GRAFT Architects, winners of the The European Prize for Architecture in 2011, who were in Buenos Aires for the last Biennial, have designed a “Solar Kiosk” --a compact, autonomous modular business unit with integrated solar panels 
which is meant to provide affordable energy, products, tools and services. approximately 16 per cent of the world's population lives in off-grid regions,
and the 'solarkiosk' aims to offer the infrastructure for individuals in these rural communities across the globe that are not
connected to an electrical grid. many people in these areas are currently using expensive and toxic solutions such as kerosene lamps
to illuminate their homes during night hours.
 
This Solar Kiosk won The Chicago Athenaeum’s 2013 International Architecture Award.
 
The young Norwegian architecture office, TYIN Architects, who were given the European Prize for Architecturelast year have dedicated their entire practice to developing ecological and sustainable solutions to building projects in the Third World…stressing community architecture and using local building materials.
 
The office was established in 2008 and has built projects in poor and underdeveloped areas of Thailand, Uganda, and Sumatra.  Solutions to fundamental challenges call for an architecture where everything serves a purpose, an architecture that follows necessity.
 
Projects include Soe Ker Tie House, 6 sleeping units as a solution to shelter 24 children of an orphanage in Noh Bo, Safe Haven Library or the Bath House also in Safe Haven, both with a budget under the 5,000(USD).
 
As Global Crisis Managers were can use our real education and our real professional practice to further the world’s most important human concerns.
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