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Tony Watkins

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Design for Peace Print E-mail

From a Pacific Perspective: Design is a Pathway to Peace.

by Tony Watkins 1




He iti ra,he iti mapihi pounamu.

It may be small,but it is the finest greenstone.


On 10 July 1985 explosions rocked Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour as French government saboteurs sank the Rainbow Warrior, killing Fernando Pereira. We were not a nation at war.We were a nation which had taken a stand for peace and justice.3

In 1973 Prime Minister Norman Kirk had sent the Naval frigates Otago and Canterbury to Moruroa to peacefully protest at French nuclear testing in the Pacific, far away from France.4

In 1975 New Zealand, along with Fiji and Papua- New Guinea had sponsored a resolution at the General Assembly of United Nations advocating a Nuclear-Free Zone in the South Pacific.It was passed by 110 votes to 0 with 20 abstentions.5

In 1976 David Lange was a crew member on one of the Peace Squadron boats protesting as the US attempted to sail the nuclear cruiser ”Long Beach”into the Waitemata. By July 1984 he was elected Prime Minister with a clear mandate to keep New Zealand nuclear free.

”New Zealand must be punished” said US Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger.6

Certainly there was apprehension in New Zealand at that time.Through threats of trade embargoes the US attempted to cripple our economy, but the people ‘s resolve was strengthened rather than reduced by the attacks on New Zealand by both France and the US. A fleet of small ships sailed across the Pacific to Moruroa to continue the protest against the exploding ofnuclear bombs.7

Peace through architecture

In New Zealand both artists and architects played, and continue to play, an important role in the peace movement. Beyond strategy and mediation skills there were banners to paint, photographs to take, books to write, and the media to seduce. It was a colourful time filled with laughter and comradeship.8

In 1987 France exploded eight nuclear bombs in the Pacific, and the dark threatening cloud of the Cold War hung over the world as architects gathered from around the globe for the UIA, International Union of Architects, Brighton Congress.9

At that time the UIA was not strong,but there is always great strength in the uniting bond of a common love of architecture.

Peace begins with respect for diversity. Brighton went much further and celebrated diversity, as only architects can. The Polish contingent responded to currency restrictions by bringing vodka instead. The global street party went on for days. When any nation forgets to make music and dance it will not be long before they are seeking power and making war.

Creative design is always concerned with peace. Peaceful solutions to potential conflicts. Peaceful relationships with place and history.The ambience of peace, which gives solace in nature. In this context it seemed possible that designers might achieve more than politicians. They might bring peace to the world through architecture. IADPPNW, International Architects Designers and
Planners for the Prevention ofNuclear War, which was later to be rebranded as ARC•PEACE, was born. Yuri Platonov (USSR) and Tician Papachristou (USA) sat down together, with architects of every political persuasion. Tony Watkins was invited to join the Executive Committee to share the considerable New Zealand experience of confronting nuclear superpowers.



Caption: The logo by New Zealand architects for AANA.This organisation later became ARC•PEACE Aotearoa. 2.

Caption: Tony Watkins is one ofthe founding members ofIADPPNW/ ARC•PEACE  and a leading peace activist in New Zealand

ARC•PEACE was part of the Velvet Revolution

No one at that time could have envisaged how quickly, after more than 40 years of Cold War confrontation, the world might change. The mood of revolution however was everywhere as ARC•PEACE delegates gathered in Czechoslovakia from 7-10 November 1989  for The International Prague Assembly of Architects, Planners and Designers to discuss ecology, homelessness and the armament race.10

Discussion and debate quickly gave way to action as the Velvet Revolution gained momentum. Artists were at the forefront, and eventually it would be Vaclav Havel, a playwright, who would lead the new Czechoslovakian government. The Velvet Revolution demonstrated what Margaret Mead had said at Habitat in 1976. Everyone can make a difference. When the first revolutionaries were killed the cleaners refused to obey instructions to remove the blood, candles and messages from sites, which had quickly become shrines. The police were instructed to do the job. They refused. The Czechoslovakian military were commanded to step in. They disobeyed. It seemed inevitable, as so many foreign academics fled the country for the safety of their universities, that the Russian tanks would roll in to the city, as they had done when the country was first occupied. Gorbachev refused to give the order. In an instant the world had changed. Meanwhile on 10 November the Berlin wall had collapsed. It would be as soon as December when Lithuania declared independence and began the break up of the Soviet Union.

New Zealand architects push for environmental policies

ArcPeace Aotearoa was now able to turn its attention more closely to environmental issues, with a particular emphasis on the built environment. Ideas which had once seemed marginal quickly became mainstream. The NZIA, New Zealand Institute ofArchitects, adopted an Environmental Policy which committed architects, among other concerns, to reducing CO2 emissions, reducing ozone depletion, reducing non-renewable resource depletion, and refraining from the use of tropical hardwoods.11

The NZIA also committed itself to a programme of advocacy at a local level and active participation in legislative processes. In 1990 the UIA Congress was in Montreal. Rod Hackney was at that time UIA President and he brought forward the proposal by ArcPeace Aotearoa that every Institute in the world should have an Environmental Policy. It was adopted and the New Zealand Policy was sent to some 90 countries as an appropriate template. Another revolution was under way. Meanwhile the NZIA Policy was being developed back in New Zealand through an ongoing series of Position Papers on issues ranging from energy use to healthy buildings. These would lead to publications in other countries, such as the Japan Institute of Architects (JIA) Sustainable Design Guide, edited by Akio Hayashi, another member of the ARC•PEACE Executive Committee.12

New technology changes ARC•PEACE

ICED ‘91, the International Conference on Environment and Development, was organised in Argentina by Oscar Margenet, another member of the ARC•PEACE Executive Committee, to encourage architects to prepare for the Earth Summit. Another revolution was on the way. It was a time when communication was by written letter, with the need to allow a week or two for mail to get from New Zealand to New York. Telephones were haphazard. In Argentina media interviews were likely to be conducted by subversive radio stations, constantly on the move.

With the rapid development of the Net NGOs, and individuals found they could participate in global debate with only a computer.The Personal Computer and the cellphone were both subversive and empowering. An entirely new form of structure became possible for international organisations such as ARC•PEACE. By Nairobi in 1995 documents were uploaded and downloaded several times a day,making remote participation in United Nations decision making a reality. New groupings became possible. Small Island Developing States, once linked only by common concerns such as sea level rise, became a powerful political force. The vast Pacific Ocean seemed a little smaller.

Vernacular architecture a peace issue

Increasing globalisation led to an increasing awareness ofthe importance of vernacular architecture and urban design. Placelessness was identified at Habitat II as the key issue facing cities in the coming decades, but there are other even more compelling reasons for enhancing a sense of place. Vernacular architecture is a peace issue. It is the peaceful relationship between landscape, culture and occasion, and built form, which enables a person to know who they are. Knowing who you are is primary for Maori.13 Whakapapa 14 is everything. Knowledge however is sacred and not to be shared with all.15

The primary form of racism within the globalised academic industry is the presumption that everyone has a right to know, particularly those making money from research.16 Universities however are not known for respecting knowledge and so for First Nations there is an insoluble problem. Sacred architecture conceals as much as it reveals.

Sustainable architecture will always bevernacular architecture.

At a technical level achieving perfect harmony between building and context is the primary way of conserving energy, but of even greater importance are questions of cultural sustainability. From as early as 1975 New Zealand had led the world with discussion on sustainable design.17

Fifteen years later the 1991 Resource Management Act became law.This Act promoted ”the sustainable management ofnatural and physical resources”.

Growth cancer or sustainability?

Around the same time the Brundtland Report brought the concept of sustainability forward to UNCED, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.18

It would soon become de rigueur, but almost as quickly the language would sadly be captured and rendered meaningless. Environmentalists first used the term to talk of sustaining the planet, and sustaining life, in all its diversity. It was useful, for example, to be able to talk of sustaining the built environment as a means of sustaining culture. The term however began to be used to justify sustaining the unsustainable. ”Sustainable growth” can be seen as an oxymoron. When the cells in our bodies continue to grow in an uncontrolled way we call this ”cancer”. 1992 brought UNCED, the Rio Earth Summit. It seemed as though the built environment would be left off the Agenda, but a small group of architects from Wellington, New Zealand were successful in having architecture recognised as a user of energy, a generator of waste, and a source of greenhouse gases. Thanks to Jim Morgan and Simon Reeves, among many others, the draft concepts developed by ArcPeace Aotearoa appear in Chapter 7 of Agenda 21.

This document proposed an Agenda for the twenty-first century and was one of the major outcomes of Rio, along with the Biodiversity Convention.

Democratic architecture

Key Agenda 21 concepts included ”the enabling approach” which would lead planners away from writing policy, and creating ever more restrictions, to helping people to house themselves. There was to be an emphasis on ”indigenous practices”, ”technologies appropriate to local conditions”, the use of”locally available natural resources”, ”small scale and informal operatives”, ”self-help housing”, the ”conservation of waste energy in building-materials production methods” and ”capacity building”through ”specialised training” and ”technical training”.

These concepts of a vernacular, democratic, empowering architecture seem to have been too threatening to a disempowering building industry, and every reference to the built environment was deleted from the documentation brought forward to WSSD Johannesberg. The bold vision, which seemed so full of hope at Rio, did not even gain a foothold in history. The WSSD Conference, which was intended to bring renewed commitment to Agenda 21 marked instead the death of Chapter 7 of that Agenda. The text however only seemed to die. The built environment is not so easily dismissed. It ”is responsible for almost 50% of global energy consumption, around 40% of global waste production, and a correspondingly major share of greenhouse gas emissions”.19

No other environmental action will be of significance ifthe design ofcities and the design of buildings are neglected.

Influencing the International Union of Architects

In July 2002 around 5000 architects gathered at the UIA Berlin Congress. New Zealand initiated a motion which stated in part that ”The General Assembly ofUIA urges the countries present at WSSD Johannesburg to make the issue of sustainable building and architecture an essential element of the ongoing work of WSSD”. The motion was passed without a single dissenting voice.

The motion went further than suggesting what others ought to do. It also made firm commitments.”The General Assembly of UIA acknowledges that bringing about changes of practice in the building sector is a responsibility of the sector itself, and thus also of planners and architects. The UIA is working constantly to make architects all over the world accept this responsibility as a basis for their work”.

As if to lend weight to the motion’s contention that ”profound change...will only be possible with political actions” Jaime Lerner20 was elected to be President of the UIA for the next three years. In 1993 the Papatuanuku 21 Conference was held in Taupo, New Zealand. The whole conference moved through a dramatic landscape marking each pause with ritual and architecture. In the great tradition of the Pacific architects became voyagers again. Papatuanuku was also a preparation for the 1993 UIA Chicago Congress. Susan Maxman, the American Institute of Architects President, had been at the Earth Summit with Graeme Robertson and she exercised her President’s right to focus the Congress on sustainability. It was a significant move for the US, and a triumph for the ability of small initiatives to leverage great change. More students attended Chicago from New Zealand than from any country other than the host, and to everyone’s astonishment they became leaders rather than followers. Sean Lockie and Verney Ryan, who had slept the night before in the park with the homeless, challenged the ”big name” panelists to say what they were going to do to make their own lives more sustainable.There was a dramatic pause. Richard Rogers picked up the baton and talked about his children and the local PTA, Parent Teachers Association. The whole conference took a dramatic turn towards a more humane architecture, to the delight of the NY Times and the NY Herald Tribune.

It was significant that the American Institute ofArchitects, presented an award to the ARC•PEACE member Architects Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), in Chicago. The realisation that architects need to be socially responsible and environmental leaders was becoming mainstream.

Influencing the United Nations

The cycle of United Nations Conferences which began in Rio concluded with Habitat II in Istanbul in 1996. Significant changes took place over this time. In Rio there was talk of partnership, but nothing more, as the NGO Forum was far distant from the meeting of Governments. At WSSD, the World Summit on Social Development, in Copenhagen in March 1995, the delegates linked hands to form a human chain joining the two venues.

ArcPeace Aotearoa, among others, advocated that in Istanbul the two venues should be one and the same with the area fully pedestrianised, and this was achieved. Through creative urban design the talk became real. The concept of Partnership was also realised in even more important ways with peaceful sharing rather than adversarial competition. WSSD Johannesberg almost completely divorced governments from NGOs by holding the gatherings at different times, and it was felt by many that Type Two Partnership Agreements were only used as an excuse to avoid multi-national agreements. Environmentalists know only too well that saving habitat does not mean that it is actually saved but rather that it has been preserved so that it can be threatened by some new challenge. In 1995 Megan Howell, Mark Tollemache and Heidi Mardon, all from ArcPeace Aotearoa, attended the Second Preparatory Committee for Habitat II in Nairobi.The oldest person on the New Zealand delegation was less than half the age ofthe youngest other person at the PrepCom. With the unstoppable energy of youth they soon had a xerox machine operating and a hot link back to New Zealand, and at the end of the gathering they put forward the concept of the Peaceful City.

Megan and Mark went on to the Third Preparatory Committee in New York to defend keeping the concept of peace in the documentation. Twenty five members of ArcPeace Aotearoa went to Istanbul, representing a very wide mandate from local government right through to the University of Auckland. It was possible to work as a team with representatives in every
venue. For the first time in the history of the United Nations an NGO document was presented as an official document. Computerised documentation made it possible to mesh changes into documents in hours rather than months. ArcPeace students were leading the revolution. NGO speakers addressed Committee One. They were chosen by Megan and Mark. No one was surprised when Megan was headhunted from New York.

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Caption:Mark Tollemache and Megan Howell in front of the Arakainga House.

New Zealand peace initiatives

On his return from Istanbul Bob Harvey, Mayor of Waitakere Eco City, was awarded the UNESCO Cities for Peace Prize for the Asia Pacific Region, after being nominated by ArcPeace Aotearoa. Bob’s book ”Rolling Thunder” recently won the environmental section of the Montana Book Awards, and it acknowledges the Cities for Peace Prize.22

At the Plenary session ofthe ”Cities Summit”, as Habitat II came to be known, the New Zealand Ambassador announced the Peaceful Cities initiative. The 1996 UIA Congress in Barcelona was only weeks after Habitat II and it developed the same themes. A student riot resulted in a change of venue, but another equally dramatic change occurred when a questioner challenged Richard Rogers. A hushed crowd of perhaps 5,000 expected the man in the stripped red socks to be dismissed. Instead Richard said he agreed with every word the ”stranger”had said about the need for architects to take responsibility for ecology. The questioner was Arthur Erickson, who now leads a very simple life in a house which does not even have electricity. 


Caption: Gallipoli Peace Park. Chunuk Bair is the name ofthe highest hill.


An International Competition for the 33,000 hectare Gallipoli Peace Park was announced in 1997 and judging was in May 1998. The UIA made a considerable commitment to exploring the meaning of peace, and the documentation prepared by Raci Bademli was astonishing. Glenn Murcutt represented Australia on the judging panel, and Tony Watkins represented New Zealand. The Peace Park was formally opened by John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, and Helen Clark, Prime Minister of New Zealand. Glenn Murcutt won the Pritzker Prize,which is regarded as the Nobel Prize of architecture, in 2002. It was the first time the prize had been won by a solo practitioner, let alone one who had no secretary and no computer. The Award has drawn attention to other architects from ”down under” with a passionate sense of responsibility to both place and people. Ric Leplastrier and Paul Pholeros, for example. When World Architecture talked of ”modesty” and featured a tiny house with no bathroom and no kitchen it was clear that a new breeze was blowing. Sustainability is a spiritual question, not a technical question.The New Zealand bach can only be understood as a spiritual building.23

Oceania  was populated by mavericks, adventurers, navigators and voyagers. Everyone built their own houses. They were confident enough to want to be free, and willing to take the risks.24

It is not by chance that New Zealand has developed into a country,which plays an important role as an international peacekeeper.25

Peace is threatening

Power, privilege, and the fear of losing them, frequently seem to lead to anger and aggression. Frail egos seem to lead to intolerance. Self-centredness can lead to rules, which assert values rather than commitments. 26 

Insecurity leads to criticism rather than laughter. Envy leads to a fear of creativity and new ideas. These are the human dimensions of peace. Peace is much more threatening than war because it is so difficult to understand. Why should people love one another? Selfish privatisation seems to make so much more sense than giving and sharing. It seems logical to suggest that competition brings out the best in people, while whanau 2 7  leads to inefficiency. It is interesting to consider why the third greatest nuclear power in the world should have been so afraid of the Rainbow Warrior?



1 Practicing architect and lecturer at the Planning Department, School ofArchitecture, University ofAuckland, New Zealand. One of the founding members of IADPPNW / ARC•PEACE.

2 The title is a whakatauki,which is rather like an English proverb. Whakatauki enshrine traditional wisdom. A wise person knows that a small country can be much more effective in bringing political change than a large country.

3 Robie: Eyes of Fire, the last voyage ofthe Rainbow Warrior,1986, Lindon Publishing. Many New Zealanders had died defending France in 1914-18 and again in 1939-45.

4 Edwards,Helen: Portrait ofa Prime Minister, 2001, Exisle Publishing.

5 Newnham: Peace Squadron.The sharp end ofnuclear protest in New Zealand.1986, Graphic Publications. p8

6 ibid p55. It is interesting that New Zealand gave the saboteurs an open trial. They were convicted ofmurder, but released into custody on Hao. From there France spirited them home to a hero’s welcome. The US is holding in Cuba without trial men against whom no terrorist charges have been upheld.

7 Pond Eyley: Protest at Moruroa, first hand accounts from the New Zealand based flotilla, 1997, Tandem Press, p 18

8 VAANA, Visual Artists Against Nuclear Arms, brought artists together. Gil Hanly’s photographs record much ofthis period.

9 Pond Eyley: Protest at Moruroa, first hand accounts from the New Zealand based flotilla, 1997, Tandem Press, p 

10 IADPPNW, What architects can do for peace and development, Proceedings from the Prague International Assembly of architects, planners and designers, 1989.

11 NZIA Environmental Policy Position Papers, New Zealand Institute of Architects 1992.

12 Sustainable Design Guide, 1995, JIA News.

13 Maori are seen as the ”First Nation”of New Zealand, although other peoples may have preceded them.

14 Whakapapa is sometimes translated as ”genealogy”, but the term is much more encompassing than the concept of ”blood line’.

15 The concept ofsacred knowledge is not peculiar to Maori  Almost all ”First Nations” have sacred knowledge.

16 This is a difficult and complex question. Universities once sought knowledge for its own sake, and they were repositories of knowledge. Almost all universities now seek financial support from industry, and their research is market driven.The global debate about the ownership ofindigenous knowledge remains unresolved. New Urbanism is an example of the ”capturing” of indigenous vernacular architecture knowledge for the purpose of financial gain.

17 Watkins:The Human House, Auckland Star,1975-1979.

18 It is significant that UNCED was concerned with ”Environment and Development”. This language was subtly changed over the next ten years to become ”Sustainable Development”.T his shift is probably more significant than any ofthe thousands of pages of WSSD documentation, but it has largely gone unrecognised. UNCED was concerned with a strategic debate. WSSD became concerned with an insoluble problem.

19 From the resolution adopted by the General Assembly ofthe UIA in Berlin in July 2002.

20 Jaime Lerner became Mayor of Curitiba, a poor city in Brazil, at the age of 33, and he transformed the city into one of the great planning successes of our time. Through design and political skill, rather than money, he set an example for all to follow.

21 Papatuanuku is the Maori Earth Mother.

22 Harvey:Rolling Thunder, the Spirit of Karekare, Exisle 2001.

23 Male: Good old Kiwi baches, and a few cribs too, 2001, Penguin. The bach is the definitive sustainable building. It represents a returning to roots and the idealism of a simple life in close contact with nature.

24 Anyone concerned about peace must expect a little opposition.It was perhaps inevitable that in December 1996 Tony Watkins was beaten up by four thugs and badly injured.

25 Helen Clark, the Prime Minister who led the New Zealand delegation to WSSD Johannesburg grew up marching in protest at the Vietnam war along with other peace activists

26 A distinction needs to be made between rules, which clarify and rules which oppress. A sustainable peace can never be founded on the suppression of diversity and complexity. The use of rules simply to control other people can never be condoned in a truly peaceful society.

27 Whanau is the extended family. The concept means,for example,that an individual cannot be considered healthy unless the whanau is also healthy. No human being exists in isolation from other human beings.




Published in Architecture as Politics, Stockholm 2002 

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