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

Tony Watkins

 ~ Vernacular Design 

Copenhagen 2012 Print E-mail

ImageMy deepest apologies. I would love to be with you all to celebrate 25 years since the founding of Arc-Peace, along with all that has been achieved over that time, but sadly it is not possible.




New Zealand is a long way from anywhere, and a particularly long way from Copenhagen. Indeed, on this world, about as far as you can get. Travelling is not as easy for me as it once was and, having kept hope alive right up to the wire, it has all became too complicated and more than I could afford.

I have a particular affection for Copenhagen. When I went to WSSD I was able on the way to visit Kobe just after the big earthquake there. Some 16,000 people were killed and the centre of the city was devastated. I shall never forget the insights which Akio shared with us all when he also came to Copenhagen. The work of Arc-Peace at WSSD laid the foundations for the global changes which took place at Habitat II in Istanbul. Those at WSSD will remember how we formed a human chain to link the two venues. In Istanbul we at last brought governments and NGOs together in the same pedestrianised venue. That was a very considerable achievement, with a major impact on both power structures and architecture. So many wonderful memories.

My first message to everyone at Copenhagen would be to remember that you can make a difference. Arc-Peace always has. Those of us in Prague for the Velvet Revolution will remember meetings where people were purple with rage, just as much as the withdrawal of the Russian tanks. The world was never going to be the same again. Thanks to my wonderful friends in Arc-Peace I had a ticket in my pocket to get me back to Moscow, and eventually I made it all the way home to New Zealand.

My second message would be that you must make a difference. We live in a peculiar world. Most Western people have been reduced to a comfortable passivity. They sit in front of a TV screen and watch the world falling apart, but it never occurs to them to do something about it. Arc-Peace has always focused on action.

My third message would be to go for the big issues. Most writers and academics seem to have an astonishing ability to focus on the insignificant concerns of the middle classes, while ignoring the big changes needed. Most architecture serves those with concentrated power. A democratic architecture of the people demands a totally different way of practicing architecture. Most buildings are not only prisons but they also lock people into a cycle of debt which takes their lives away. Architecture should set people free. Most planners talk about the future because that gives them an excuse for doing nothing now. Our environmental choices need to be made now. We need to trash the anthropocentric attitudes of the Bruntland Report now, and realise that sustainability means sustaining the life of the planet. In Vancouver, for example, we focused on convincing the United Nations that we need architecture and planning which "does no harm". I could go on, but you know it all. My contention is that if we get those big environmental and social issues right the rest will fall into place.

My fourth message would be that the need for Arc-Peace has never been greater. We should celebrate what we have achieved, but also recognise how much still needs to be done.

My fifth message would be to have fun along the way. I cannot describe how grateful I am for the friendships I have made through Arc-Peace. The laughter, the dinners, the parties, the debates and discussions. My Copenhagen friends will smile at me saying this, and raise their glasses of good wine for a toast. I wish I could be there.

My sixth message would be to recognise that commitment means making personal changes. I had no idea at the time when we formed Arc-Peace in Brighton in 1987, that my life was never going to be the same again. Everything changed. I changed.

My seventh message would be to take risks. Change takes place at the edges. If you are a small group then you will always need to be subversive. I think of meeting Fidel Castro in Copenhagen. A very funny story which I will not bore you with. Arc-Peace made it possible for me on the one hand to spend time with people like him or Nelson Mandela, and on the other hand to get lost in fetid slums beyond human imagination. Take the chance. Grab the opportunity. Never think what the outcome might be. Aim only at survival. In the long run people will respect your integrity, even though you get knocked around a bit in the short term. Never expect anyone to understand you. I know I have always been a complete mystery to the Swedes. Even Jim Morgan had to go on a crazy trip around New Zealand before before he could make sense of me.

My apologies. This is starting to sound like a manifesto. I certainly have no intention of telling anyone else what they ought to do. Those who have known me for the last 25 years will realise that I have enough trouble leading my own life, so that I do not need to spend time running other people's lives for them. We would say "you make your luck". I have always loved the way Akio calls me "Lucky Tony". Embrace Arc-Peace. Go for broke. You have nothing to lose.

My real message is to say thank you to all the Arc-Peace people all over the world who have been so kind and generous to me over the last 25 years. What wonderful, inspiring people. Thank you for being so tolerant of me.

In New Zealand we always end a speech with a song. We say it "lightens the tongue". My song is that Arc-Peace people never give up, and they never retire. While there is work to be done we hang in there. I would encourage everyone at the Copenhagen meeting to do the same. You will never regret saying "yes".

Good luck.



A message sent to the 2012 Arc-Peace Meeting in Copenhagen, with greetings and apologies. 

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