Urban Designer - Vernacular Architect - Maritime Planner - Owner-Builder - Servant of Piglet - Educator - Author - Revolutionary - Peacenik - Tour Guide 

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Earth Charter Print E-mail

St Julien
When you are lying in a hospital ward you can look around and sort out fairly quickly who is going to make it. Survivors have attitude.



  When you are setting out on a high risk adventure you are well advised to leave behind the complainers, the self-centred, and the control-freaks. Pick team members who are realistic and consistently positive.

Every architect knows that regulations, inspectors and bureaucracy have never resulted in great buildings. Great architecture transcends negative controls because it has positive attitude.

At the moment the planet is sick.  You may not agree with global warming and you could, quite correctly, think that carbon trading is the greatest con-trick of all time, but only an architect in denial would pretend that all is well. Being well means having a decent built environment in which to live, everywhere and for everyone. Being well is an attitude.

Turning around the health of a sick planet is a high risk adventure.  It will never be achieved by those who beat us around the head with tragic tales of doom, only to end up telling us to change our light bulbs. Architects need to surround themselves with positive creative people who know they only have one shot at life and want to enjoy the ride.

Being fit and healthy is about being fully alive, and that applies to the planet too. Driving your Porsche to the gym so you can sweat it out on a bicycle going nowhere is rather like triple glazing which takes away the experience of the universe.

Architects might well be astonished to discover that the sole purpose of local government is to promote the "well-being of the community".  Since when? Well at least since our Local Government Act was passed in 2002. Check it out. The legislation is in place. The problem is just that it has never been implemented.

We need a change of attitude, not another consent to join someone else’s game.  Next time you are at Council, ask them when they are going to comply with the fundamental requirements of their own Act.  

That is where the Earth Charter comes in. It is not about our materialistic consumer society selling light bulbs to save us from tripping over ideas in the dark. It is all about attitude.

The Earth Charter is “a declaration of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century”.

It seeks to inspire, just as architects seek to inspire with their buildings. It is concerned with being well rather than being sick. For architects this means that it is concerned with positive creativity rather than dull conformity. It is concerned with interdependence, picking up on the “Declaration of Interdependence” which New Zealand played a part in having adopted by the architects of the world at UIA Chicago in 1993. It is an expression of hope.

The Earth Charter grew out of the Rio Earth Summit, through the later endeavours of Maurice Strong and Mikhail Gorbachev.  Again the connection to New Zealand is strong. Maurice flew to New Zealand before Rio, and ideas were born as he careered around the Waitemata Harbour in the Queen Charlotte. It was Mikhail who called off the Russian tanks when they surrounded us in Prague during the Velvet Revolution, not only saving a blood bath of architects, amongst others, but also changing world politics in ways we never dreamed possible.
The Earth Charter was launched in 2000 at the Peace Palace in The Hague and since then it has been endorsed by thousands of organisations like the NZIA, representing millions of people.

It will cost nothing for NZIA members to reach meaningful consensus to endorse the Earth Charter, and there is nothing to lose. On the positive side it indicates a change of attitude in the way we see the built environment.  We need to respect life in all we do.

Great architecture already adopts the idealism of the Earth Charter as just another part of every professional brief. It respects the diversity and complexity of life. It is imbued with compassion and love.  It respects rights and freedoms. It protects and restores the integrity of ecological systems. It promotes a culture of tolerance, non-violence and peace.  In this sense the Earth Charter is not new.  It simply raises the bar for the whole built environment and establishes an attitude which will help to make all architecture great architecture.

The full Earth Charter and more detail can be found at www.EarthCharter.org. Check out the fine print, reach for your pen, and join those who believe in the power of a positive attitude.


Tony Watkins makes the case for the NZIA to sign the Earth Charter. 

First published as "Towards a Better Built Environment" in "In Practice" in "Cross Section" April 2008.


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