REFLECTIONS ON THE SPACE FOR PEACE

Kyoto, Iwami-Ginzan, Sasayama and Tokyo, 6th to 13th November 2010



The peace issue: relating peace to space and space to place

Is peace dependent on the quality of space? Or, even, is peace dependent on the quantity of space?

This is an issue that involves two highly charged concepts that can be manipulated, twisted and used in many different forms, not always in the most constructive or honest way.

Considering peace I think we should be clear what sense are we giving to it.
We may have peace of mind, which is an offshoot of a conscience in peace or of being in peace with oneself; we may be in peace with our spouse and family, not always the easiest form of peace to achieve; we may be in peace with our neighbours; we may be in peace within the nation and we may have peace between the nations.

Lack of peace is an indication of an imbalance between our needs and the satisfaction of those needs. It may be of material needs or it may be of emotional needs; it may be of intellectual needs or it can be of social needs.
Intellectual or emotional needs can be satisfied by mental discipline, meditation or religious rites.

Social needs are satisfied through communication, protocol, costume and the following of written or assumed rules of behaviour within a specific culture.

The field of material needs is vast.

It may refer to the frustration of the rich that can’t get the right vintage of champagne or a specific brand of beluga caviar or it may the expression of the shortage of even the barest amount of food to sustain human life.
In modern times, man has come to realize that there is another essential dimension of peace to consider, if the specie’s survival has to be assured: peace with nature.

All aspects of peace have their relative importance, but there is a hierarchy of values to be considered, and a nexus between those aspects to be established, that may help in our debate about peace and the meaning of the spatial issues related to that concept.

The progression of humanity, from discreet groups of a few humanoids, to the present human consensus about the need to work together as a species worth to preserve and reproduce as a unique animal colony in this fragile planet, has not produced, as yet, the correct mechanisms and rules of interaction to lead man to peace within the species and with nature.

We can look at this issue in many different ways, even from the seemingly well-defined perspective of the spatial dimensions.
Space is one, if not the major, ingredient of debate, violence and war.
Space is a political category.

From the beginning lebensraum, or living space, expressed the territory necessary for the satisfaction of food and shelter needs of a specific human group.
The need to defend it and to expand it became more pressing as the group expanded and grew and it became a motivation for war and violence amongst humans and between humans and animals.

The invention of agriculture and the sedentarization of humanity promoted industry, exchange and accumulation of wealth.

Survival was not, any longer, the most and most pressing of the reasons for the struggle for life amongst humans.

Power became the abstract force behind the original impulse for the survival of the fittest.

Social status reflected and promoted privilege and defined and characterized space as place.

Space and location define status.

The three dimensional characteristics of space have no significant value without the definition of its location by latitude and longitude, position in the village or inside the city, in the oasis or the island, the valley or the mountain, the palace or the hut, by foot or on horseback, in the command bridge or the hold of the ship, in the atrium or inside the sanctum sanctorum, in the kitchen or the dinning room.

Space is an abstraction that, with time and attributes, becomes place.

But there is enough space and it can and should be shared in such a way as to provide everybody with the minimum necessary for a balanced and healthy survival.

Territorial planning, at the regional and at the urban scales, are eminently political if not ideological exercises.

Architectural planning reflects the social organization and the degree of social integration or segregation of the society it serves.

Different cultures and different ages feel space in different ways.

A space of meditation will unsettle and even frighten a young person looking for excitement as much as a discotheque will disturb the peace of mind of a mature person looking for calm.

Religious spaces are, almost by definition, spaces of peace.

But do those spaces bring calmness and spiritual repose or can they, many times, be the locus of emotional tension and intellectual agitation?
Can we genuinely believe that there are places (spaces loaded with meaning ) that will inevitably and consistently bring us to a state of peace both as individuals and as a group?

As an architect I believe that space can produce emotion.

And I believe that emotions are conditioned by culture.

Can we find, and create, the cross cultural and universal locale of peace?

Can we find an epicentre for serenity and tranquillity as defined by its physical dimensions?

Natural wonders have definite effects on those that experience them.

The great moments of nature, like the sunrise and the full moon coming out of the sea, have the power to create peaceful states of mind to most observers.

The shadowy depths of the forest or the fury of sea battling the rocky coast are moments and spaces generally felt as superhuman forces that give man the true dimension of his smallness and, as such, they have the power to put in perspective the petty and small problems and sentiments of our daily lives.

The tools of architecture are too small to emulate such dimensions and such moments.

However we must try.

We, architects that believe that architecture is more than construction, are constantly challenged to reach such greatness, but the day to day demands to answer the practical needs of society on its multiform demands may, too easily, lead us to forget that the space of peace must be the space of every moment of every day.

In this we have a heavy and unique responsibility: we must produce those spaces.

It is my personal conviction, and my credo, that the space of peace must not be the exception, the purposely made, the rare and the difficult to find.

It must, simply, be the space of living and it can, also, be the space for dying.

It must begin in the ways we fit and place our constructions in the landscape – and for that we must understand nature and the forces that shape it.

But we must, also, understand the forces that rule, or should rule, society in an equitable and in a fair way.

We must understand the living instincts and the emotional power and weaknesses of man.

We must understand the precise dimensions of man’s five senses and control the effects that the wise manipulation of light and shadow, and of the living materials, will bring to the emotional balance of those that experience them.

We must reflect on the reason why sometimes and somewhere entire built environments have achieved such equilibrium and such peacefulness.

We must reject the ugliness that seems so inevitable around and inside our cities when, with so much less means, our ancestors were able to produce environments of peaceful beauty, perfectly fitting within their natural contexts.

We must be able to find again the belief that the city should be a coherent organism, made of compatible and integrated structures that complete each other and do not need to compete for attention, as a theatre play made only of prima donas.

We must have the courage to produce our most utilitarian, humble and functional structures as beautiful, dignified and respectful of the environment as much as the cathedrals or the monuments that garnish our towns.

We must treat the hut like the palace and give the palace the same dignity that we should recognise in the hut.

We must bring back the human scale to the city.

The present state of the human habitat, each day more homogeneous in its dehumanization, leads to an unsustainable progression of enlarged limits of tolerance for the mechanisms of destruction of the natural relationship between man and nature and amongst men.

Unplanned urban growth is progressing at a uniquely fast rate and pushing millions of families each year into new and ever more unacceptable conditions of living indignity.

Those conditions will continue to foster unrest and discontent and create the perfect conditions for violence and lack of peace.

Urban environments, where most of humanity now lives, can’t be saved by “good” architecture or, even by “good” urban design.

There are no technical solutions if there is no political will.

Peaceful urban environments exist only where human dignity is supported by enough to eat and enough to dress, enough education and enough social intercourse, enough work and enough choice.

Spaces of peace can only happen when there is a will to create a world of peace.

Where those conditions exist, good architecture and good urban design are the tools to create the peaceful place that everybody needs and everybody, many times without realizing it, wants.

In conclusion: it is my belief that we and all must work for the global social changes that will bring about the conditions for the creation of a global peaceful environment, where the design of the human habitat is felt by the professionals as an ethical responsibility and not only as a formal exercise, where there will be no exclusion and segregation, and where nature is used, respected and preserved.

The aesthetics of power and the authority paradigm must be challenged.

In the future there should be more parks than monumental pyramids, more comfortable and dignified houses than slums, more libraries than barracks, more public transportation than tanks and attack helicopters.

The space for peace will be everywhere.

JOSÉ FORJAZ

2010