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

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

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ImageInternationally, through a combination of work, skill and luck, New Zealand architects are riding the crest of a wave. We hold in our grasp the opportunity to make this our moment in history. Politics is not only the art of the possible. It is also the art of perfect timing. For architects concerned about the global environment that time is now. Internationally, through a combination of work, skill and luck, New Zealand architects are riding the crest of a wave. We hold in our grasp the opportunity to make this our moment in history.

When I arrived in Copenhagen recently for the World Summit on Social Development "Sasha" Alexander Kudriavtsev, the President of the Moscow Architectural Institute, broke off his conversation to walk over with a beaming smile. "How do you New Zealanders do it?" he enquired as he enveloped me in a great Russian bear hug. "All of us in Russia were astonished at the quality of the work you displayed in Venice. We had not even entertained the possibility that Auckland should be acknowledged as the leading University in the architectural world."

Within minutes of arriving at Akio Hayashi's Tokyo office the newly appointed Professor of the Lake Biwa Environmental Sciences University showed me the "Sustainable Design Guide" book he recently edited. A second volume, also to be published by the Japan Institute of Architects and distributed to all 7000 members, is already in preparation. "We followed your example" explained Akio proudly.

Masamitsu Nozawa, who recently published the book "Environment-oriented Architecture" insisted that I should stay in his house and share his hospitality. He is planning the next "Passive Low Energy Architecture" Conference which will be held on a ship travelling from Tokyo to Hokkaido. The Bay of Plenty Branch of the NZIA will recognise that the idea is not a new one. Internationally architects remain inspired by the 1992 PLEA Conference, held for the first time in New Zealand, and hosted by Auckland.

On Danish television Wally N'Dow, UN Secretary General for the Habitat II Conference, referred to "my good friend the New Zealand architect" before responding to my questions about the relationship between indigenous cultures and indigenous habitat. It was not a personal acknowledgment, but rather an expression of his hope that New Zealand architects will continue the role they have already played in Montreal, Chicago, Rio de Janeiro or Copenhagen, in the lead up to the most critical architectural conference of all time.

We do not deserve to be seen as environmental leaders, with our poor record of environmental destruction, any more than we deserve to be seen as architectural leaders with our dismissive attitudes to "eco-waffle". However we live in a world which is more forgiving of us than we are of each other.

As Nelson Mandela said to me at WSSD "Everywhere you will find small people with tiny minds. Do not allow yourself to be absorbed by their negative energy. Associate rather with the positive people because these are the only ones capable of transforming the world."

New Zealand's participation in the meetings in Copenhagen of Arc-Peace, the International Union of Architects, and the Habitat Secretariat made it very clear that the astonishing opportunities for creative transformation now open to us may not come again for a very long time. The moment is now.

Tony Watkins


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