Alien Geometry Invades Kigali, Africa

by Øyvind Holmstad

Our generation has willingly chosen to promote and build anxiety-producing buildings, while at the same time destroying what is left of life-enhancing geometries. The media is successful in convincing the rest of the world to import these designs into the remotest regions of the world, and to erase their own architectural traditions. The developing world has been sold the image of anxiety-producing architecture as the key to modernization, and as being essential for social and economic progress. – Nikos A. Salingaros, Twelve Lectures on Architecture, page161

Kigali’s master plan. Illustration: World Architecture News

The “starchitects” and their soldiers (with Le Corbusier as their evil idol) are about to invade the very core of Africa, dropping silent bombs of terror and anxiety onto the African landscape. This is now to be done by altering Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Their mission is to make the city part of the global monoculture of economy and architecture, reducing Africans to being subservients of corporate laws and structures. To fulfill this process they have to eradicate all traditional African architecture, ripping the heart out of the African soul.

Africans, please revolt against this crime against your heritage and character. Don’t allow yourselves to be enslaved again by white man’s dogmas — this time in the evil shape of Modernism.

Further reading:


  1. It seems that Any Where must end up looking and feeling like Every Where else.
    The same shopping centre with the same brand shop in the same spot!
    Where am I, which country? Why have I bothered to travel here??
    No reason for the sausage machine architecture, unless high energy foot print western products have top be used.
    Is just one example of a building method. The Sudan has had multi storey earth buildings for many hundreds of years.
    We in the west are destroying the world with this enforced architecture and building products.
    Are lobbyists paying into secret bank accounts to sway countries ‘leaders’ to build the same.
    Multinationals only benefit.
    The above web site shows many are fighting the trend.

  2. Sadly, I endured two summers working in an ultra-modern office building in Glasgow. We had state of the art air conditioning, that constantly spouted jet streams of moist hot air, interspersed with Arctic gusts. Having had just about enough of this, I demanded something be done. Believe it or not, we had to call ‘central control’, in India. We had no control over our own working environment, it was all managed (by big brother) from afar. Feeling slightly freaked out and claustrophobic, I tried to open a window, only to discover that not one single window in the entire building was designed to open. They were ‘sealed for your comfort and safety’. Yeh right. Its all designed to cut you off from the real world and make you more receptive to their agenda.

  3. In what is clearly a rapidly changing world, where we need our focus directed toward solution and where leading by example is the name of the game, the only response to this sort of insanity is to build a different world, save your energy for the positive and not channel anger towards what are probably well-intentioned people trying to capture some admittedly skewed vision of the good life. The heart and soul of Africa can’t be destroyed by any act of corporate greed. Thanks for this article.

  4. I feel the post is absolutely racist. This is westerners romanticizing what is and isn’t in the best interest of Africans. Wha do you expect dub and mud huts? Don’t people have the right to options, don’t people have the right to get employment of any kind ? Shouldn’t a country have a right to enter in globalized economies.

    The damage has been done; when the first white Belgian made a step onto Rwanda is was set, the people for ever changed. There is no need to go back, esp. for this nation who is an extremely important example of Western Imperialism, where in the not too distant past Western Nations turned a blind eye and gave a helping hand to the genocides and massacres between too factions created by Colonists.

    End the mindset of the Noble Savage; Africans no matter how isolated, natural, and “sustainable” are not like their ancestors. No brown people are; from the Aboriginals of the Americans, Australasia, and Africa.

    Also are there any writers of Color for this website; for years I have been reading this website often wincing at the articles and rhetoric of the commentors. I feel its time the PoC get representation in the White-Ivory Towers that is the international Permaculture movement (In terms of recognized leaders and intelligentsia), Its our time to take back our contributions to Permaculture.

  5. Lev, Think it through for a moment. Look at the picture in the article. Where are those raw materials coming from? Who will profit from this project? Although my reaction was more tempered than yours the original post made me wince a little, but these are complicated areas of discussion. Appropriate architecture (permatecture) implies a lot about inputs of all kinds just like appropriate agriculture (permaculture). Take your passion and do something positive with it my friend.

  6. Hi Lev! I’m sorry for your disregard of earthen building; please take a look at this speech by David Sheen:

    Hope you also noticed the article about Le Corbusier I linked to, a very interesting read indeed.

    Yes, every country has a right to enter a global economy, but the local economies should and must be the dominating. Just like with agriculture.

    Maybe my former article about modernism could be of interest as well:

    As you can see on this post from my blog I irony about such kind of stupid modernist projects for my own country as well:

    Unfortunately modernism in architecture is an ideology that needs to be fought down worldwide! Norway or Rwanda makes no difference to me.

  7. I am a permaculturist; I have worked on permaculture sites and have several times made earthworks however I quit my position because the lack of effort of my coworkers outreach to people other than the wealthy people in the gentrifying neighborhood and not the surrounding projects or former black inhabitants (They did not see themselves as creating a exclusive space).

    I do not believe in this potential project as being helpful for the citizens of the city or nation, I don’t believe in the style or the eurocentric “artistic and beauty” standards nor am I a fan of monolithic structure made for Westerns using the raw untapped minerals of the African Continent.

    However I although a black-American am speaking from a place of comfort (even though by most western standards I am in absolutely terrible living conditions). Who am I to tell folks wat is right and wrong; who am I to tell Africans how to improve their own lives, hasn’t the West done enough in tell others how to live and exist?

    Where are the Rwandan Permaculturists point of view; where is their article? why are their no Black-African writers or contributors? Why is it I am being given the opinion of a Norwegian man?

    I have a sister in law; she is Congolese a child of one of the most influential Mulatto Families before the civil war, I have gained much insight from her directly and indirectly in terms of the effects of the European colonial system on brown peoples. I have been around and befriended American Aboriginal kids from the reservations, oklahoma, california and alaska, with the effects of limited oppritunities they are given. I have lived with Latin American migrant teenagers when I lived in a homeless youth house; their stories of hardship, struggle, and death which to me are based on the decisions and actions of Americans and Europeans strong-arming.

    I have come to see that the point of view from a homogenous group of people leads nothing to chaos and mismanagement.

    The permaculture movement, now I feel getting out of its infancy is being hindered because of its so called “Leaders”, “elders”, and faces refuse to acknowledge

    1. the Racial and Hemisphere/Cultural priviledge they have and actually do something more than tokenize, exotify, or misappropriate

    2. the need to truly widen the circle of competent individuals from all gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds to lend their own voices for this and other permaculture information forums

    and 3. The need to radically change the course that permaculture is flowing towards, a green carbon-copy of the wider world with its unwillingness to acknowledge the foundations from which it sprang (In the case of permaculture the origin of its leaders and their use and misuse of Knowledge based on many people from throughout the world and capitalizing on it) and begin working together to find solutions to bridge the inequities of all peoples may that be mental, spiritual or physical.

  8. Dear Lev,

    Do you belong to this list? If not, please write yourself up, I think
    you will enjoy it.

    Best wishes,

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Myriam Mahiques
    Date: Mon, Apr 25, 2011 at 9:08 AM
    Subject: [P2P-URBANISM WA] The importance of participation
    To: [email protected]

    I completely agree with Michel, we, theorists could be mistaken if we
    don´t take inhabitants´ thoughts into account. It happened to me in
    1985, I was in a group at the University trying to design a ¨great¨
    urban intervention in the South of Buenos Aires. We walked around in
    an isolated area with a few tall buildings, and asking neighbors about
    their necessities, we were astonished to see their main concern was a
    better transportation, sometimes they couldn´t arrive at work; then,
    they needed local stores. And we were thinking about the last fashion
    urban ¨design¨!.
    Worst was the case that told us Victor Pelli (Cesar Pelli´s brother)
    in 2003. He is a great architect working in El Chaco, the poorest
    province of Argentina, with participation. He showed us some wood
    frame ¨cupolas¨, that were designed in order to help people to easily
    build houses by themselves. Architects explained them the technology,
    built a model, only to find out that the inhabitants had burnt them
    later to make ¨asado¨ (a kind of barbeque), as they considered they
    ¨looked like tits¨ or ¨big boobs¨, evidently, architects had failed at
    seeing the collective memory of a house in El Chaco.
    Professor Ron Eglash, in his book ¨African Fractals¨ also explains the
    failure of a fractal urban design for a tribe in Africa. The designers
    didn´t understand the idea of recursive circles that were in
    Africans´minds. They didn´t want to move to their new houses.
    It´s not so easy to apply a software and wait for the results…
    Best regards,

    On Sun, Apr 24, 2011 at 7:17 PM, Michel Bauwens wrote:
    > Dear Michael,
    > I’m not an urbanist and have not even thought deeply about the topic, so I’m here mostly to learn, and once in a while, voice some concern when I have a feeling some approach the matter to dogmatically … ; for example, Jan’s attitude to the revival of urban agriculture disturbs me … of course, he may be right, who knows. So below, just the very basic intuitions of an average citizen.
    > What I like about the bio-urbanist approach is what I see as two constituent elements.
    > One, there is a science there, a set of rules which can be ‘offered’ and which is open to peer review and discussion based on evidence; second, it’s centered around human participation. In other words, a true p2p approach, where the ‘expertise’ is there to help and facilitate a democratic process, not to direct and impose from above; but also not just an ‘anything goes’ approach where everything depends on individual preference, without any basis of adjudication.
    > Regarding the latter, this is very much constrained by our social structures, the power of money and property and so this becomes a political question, a question of democracy and social mobilisation.
    > Apart from all the differences, if participation is there, and you ask most people what they want, I’m pretty sure a number of basic demands emerge, (if propertied and moneyed interest do not interfere), i.e. access to green, good transportation, the availability of local stores, playgrounds and entertainment for the children; money to restore old buildings and repair decaying infrastructures, the ability to refuse buildings that destroy the convivial logic of the neighborhood; I’m sure there is a list somewhere. These set of simple measures, would be beneficial for any local community. Add to that ecological and energy constraints that should be of a regulatory nature. It seems to me there is a minimum program out there that most people would agree on, provided they dialogue as citizens, not as representatives of property.
    > The second thing, I think I’m missing this so far, though it must be present in many people’s thinking and work as a hidden template, is what I would call the necessity of a integral approach, i.e. its never just a matter of buildings and technology, but must address subjective, intersubjective, objective, inter-objective concerns, concernf for both the ‘exteriors’ of things, and their ‘interiors’ (individual and colllective intentionality). This must somehow be integrated in the very methodology, in one way or another, as there are many ways to be ‘integrative’.
    > Michel
    > On Mon, Apr 25, 2011 at 8:34 AM, Michael Mehaffy wrote:
    >> Dear Miguel,
    >> I was thinking more of Richard’s vision of very dense cities which are greened, such as that of San Francisco – see attached.
    >> What I am getting at (and probably not getting across to you, it sounds like) is that I think we must change our understanding of what it is to design, from linear implementations of visions of some imagined idyllic vision of the future (no matter how appealing), to an understanding of how we must change the “operating system” that actually brings about these places, and makes them great or terrible. From designing product to designing process, if you will. If we don’t deal with that, we won’t be able to make places that are great. And so, I would argue, we are not at all good at it now.
    >> Why, for example, were we once so good at making buildings that lasted 500 years, as you note, and cities that people loved for 500 years — and we are so manifestly bad at it now? Was it really a failure of imagination? Was it just that Le Corbusier wasn’t a good enough visionary? Or was there something wrong with the whole approach of BEING a visionary — of envisioning a future and then building that vision as a linear exercise?
    >> Was the problem, in other words, a failure of linear methods of design, which do not take into account process, emergence, co-adaptation, iteration — and yes, collaborative processes, including peer-to-peer ones? Did we fail to account for complexity, for unintended consequences? Has our technology gotten too narrow, too linear, too unable to learn, to adapt and transform? I think so.
    >> This comes under the general topic of resilience. How do we design for resilience? And of course the best model is natural systems, so we ask, how do natural systems do it? They don’t make a blueprint, or a “vision,” and then assemble the parts of that. Rather, they allow structures to be transformed, to be adapted, to grow and change and become something extremely well-organized, through a coded genetic process.
    >> In our own urban history, something very similar has happened (as Chris Alexander, Besim Hakim and others have argued and demonstrated). A “culture of building” has developed a kind of genetic software, or operating system, consisting of patterns and other genetic, DNA-like information. These were then adapted and transformed to fit and to be able to continue adapting. This is a comprehensible process, and exciting to be able to see and tease out some useful lessons for today.
    >> So this resilience (as I have recently argued) has a number of structural properties, from the designer’s point of view:
    >> 1) Diversity, overlap, redundancy, network properties. One thing is not just one thing. (Which is different from the way human thinking often works, as Chris Alexander argued in his famous paper “A city is not a tree.”
    >> 2) Fine-grained adaptivity, flexibility, repairability, ability to “learn.” Again, one thing made as one thing is not likely to have this ability, or to be able to recombine with other things in an adaptive process, as happened in many older cities. Buildings will not be able to “learn.”
    >> 3) The hallmarks of self-organization. Characteristics of emergence, gradual growth, iterative change, agent-based processes, capacity-building, and peer to peer collaboration. This is where P2P can be useful. (And no, not a silver bullet – there are no such things! We must use many tools and processes, I think…)
    >> These three kinds of characteristics are closely related and mutually supportive. But I think they all mean a major change in what it means to “design,” from the prevailing view today — the view at the core of our technologies.
    >> I think it goes to Herbert Simon’s definition, to transform existing states to preferred ones. But the preferred state is not only a “vision” of what things will look like or be shaped like. That would be getting ahead of ourselves. Rather, it is a set of goals and criteria, and a process that can learn how to achieve them – as living systems do. Again, we design the process, not the specific outcome. That must be emergent.
    >> Again I think so much of what we must do if we are going to make it is to study the difference between current human technology, and the “technology” of living systems — and to learn the key lessons from the latter. This is a very promising, even thrilling avenue forward for us.
    >> Best, m
    >> On Sun, Apr 24, 2011 at 4:28 PM, MIGUEL ALOYSIO SATTLER wrote:
    >>> Dear Michel and Michael,
    >>> I do not fully agree with Michael, on what concerns Richard Register´s ideas and proposals. Most of us know his book Ecocity Berkeley, that, by the way, is one of our references in our classes on sustainable urban engineering, every year, as well as his new “visions”, periodically reported in Ecocities Emerging, an initiative of his group´s newsletter Ecocity Builders. In his book you can appreciate what would be his proposals, either for the development of multiple centers in the San Francisco area, gradually replacing the sprawling city by green areas (with the first being connected by efficient public transport) , or some of images presented in his book (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). What I understand from the author is that he tries to humanize big cities, by bringin nature back to them.
    >>> But I totally agree with Michel, when he says that p2p is a preferential approach, but it is not the ultimate answer to everything, and what local people want and desire, along with pre-existing infrastructures, must be a large part of the equation … And I understand that people, even when they do not expressed it directly, ultimately aspire felicity, happyness… And in the huge matrix of necessities for the whole of the planet´s population, one fundamental necessity would be that of healthy cities for healthy people (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually..), or the other way round. And I believe that one of the most powerfull tools to get there is to observe Alexander´s Pattern Language (in addition to others of his more recent contributions).
    >>> Also I do not know to whom Michael is referring to as Utopian planners and what would be a more realistic approach and what are the solutions that Michel would propose to cities like the one in Fig. 3 (again returning to São Paulo, but the same could be said about other cities, Brazilian or elsewhere). As a civil engineer I was taught to design buildings structures (mostly those in reinforced concrete) to last for 50 years (very differently from buildings using many other materials and not so tall. Robert and Brenda Vale “New Autonomous House” was designed to last for 500 years! Not much different from buildings built in the past in Europe and other continents). This is also their average expected life, as found in the literature. Many of the buildings you see in Fig. 3 have already reached that age. What happens to them? They more and more become disfunctional… They more and more present problems, not only in their structural frame, but also in many services they provide (lifts, electrical, plumbing,…). Slowly those that can afford it, move no new buildings. Those who remain are those that are less and less able to afford retrofitting them, until those who can do so, eventually move. All their invested capital there is gone. In my city we have hundreds of examples like this. As referred by a colleague, in Rio, there are tens of thousands in this condition. According to another colleague construction companies have no particular interest in investing in such buildings, as their repair would cost at least 25% more than to build a new one… What would you do in such cases, considering they are in a “developing country”? What would be a Realist and an Utopian approach in such cases?
    >>> Look again at São Paulo. The population of the municipality has more than 11 million inhabitants. In the year 1900 it was nearly 240 thousand! To get accross the city sometimes takes hours, due to traffic jams. Air pollution is also very high due to this. The same could be said about poor quality of water and of food, in general, due to conventional methods of production that aim at quantity with little regard to quality (problems that certainly are not only restricted to THIS city but to the majority of cities in the world)! Can you achieve quality of life in such cities? Can you provide HEALTHY CITIES and, as a consequence, have HEALTHY POPULATION (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) in such environments? You might say YES! And I would ask AND FOR HOW LONG? In face of the present perspectives: What is their Resilience to PETROL shortages? And what is their Resilience to Food shortages? Would the local population be able to overcome these shortages in the same way Cuba did (again the sugestion that you have a look at the Film on “How Cuba Survived the Peak Oil”)? Does this more to an Utopian vision or to a Realist vision?
    >>> Again I return to what Michel refers, when he writes that p2p is a preferential approach, but it is not the ultimate answer to everything… Shouldn´t we be looking for a more efficient way of using energy? Dealing with the wastes of any sort, for the liquid wastes using a type of John Todd´s Living Machines? And this, in order to continue to have access to high standards of water quality? And looking for ways of providing our families only food produced without chemicals and the minimum of artificial fertilizers (in recent Brazilian news scientists call our attention to contaminated breast milk – just making chorus to what is been said for decades, starting with Rachel Carson – how many years ago)?
    >>> And all the above would much better if we all had listened and taken as a serious stuff all Alexander has been recommending in his language (and all the rest) for many years…
    >>> Regards,
    >>> Miguel
    >>> 2011/4/23 Michel Bauwens
    >>>> I personally think this is the most sensible approach …
    >>>> p2p is a preferential approach, but it is not the ultimate answer to everything, and what local people want and desire, along with pre-existing infrastructures, must be a large part of the equation ..
    >>>> for example, Detroit communities seem to be very creative in reviving a declining cities, and others are working on making suburbs sustainable (some actually arguing they are potentially more sustainable than cityscapes) .. in any case, we may not like them, and should avoid new ones, but the ones that are there, with people in them, need solutions ..
    >>>> Michel
    >>>> On Sat, Apr 23, 2011 at 12:37 AM, Michael Mehaffy wrote:
    >>>>> Dear Franz,
    >>>>> I know Richard well and I think he is safely described as someone who thinks dense cities are the answer. So he is in the “recentrist” camp as opposed to the “decentrist” camp.
    >>>>> But I think there is a flaw with both positions, if they are not mercilessly realistic about how we will actually effect any given transformation. Otherwise it’s pie in the sky (sometimes literally!) So we may be wasting our breath — or worse, feeding a few special interests (nonsense projects in Dubai, for example). Therein lies the danger: fiddling while Rome burns indeed.
    >>>>> And I think that in turn means we have to recognize the fundamental flaw with utopianist “imagineering” and change our focus to the way nature actually does things — and that includes human nature. And develop a set of practical transformation strategies around that. They may not be sexy, they may not amount to starchitecture, but they actually might work for a change!
    >>>>> Hence I think that (for example) we have to take into account the power laws of city formation, and the likelihood that neither centralizaiton by itself nor decentralization by itself is THE answer. (For who would enforce such a scheme? What dictator?) Instead a new basis of doing both, and doing so with what we might call “settlement efficiency” – acquired through empirical methods, which examine nature and human nature – might actually suggest grass-roots, politically and economically feasible strategies for gradual change.
    >>>>> This “science of social change” is fascinating and important, I think. It includes game theory, behavioral economics, and many other related fields. It shows how certain truisms can actually be overcome in spite of solid convictions otherwise. A few examples:
    >>>>> The US will never elect a black president.
    >>>>> Ireland will never ban smoking in pubs. (Or Italy/UK/etc.)
    >>>>> Drivers will never use seat belts.
    >>>>> etc…
    >>>>> (Some local versions I myself have overcome: American suburbanites will never accept 12 units to the acre/will never ride light rail/will never willingly give up their cars and walk to shopping, etc – I can give you research on all these for a project of my own…)
    >>>>> I think we as designers have to enter this realm of design too – the “operating system” of culture and technology, and look for the points of dynamicism and change. I think then we are talking reality, instead of wonderful imaginative schemes that are either impossible to implement, or even if were possible, would likely play out with unintended consequences…
    >>>>> As I think someone quoted Einstein recently, you cannot solve your problems at the same level at which they were created… IN our case, I think this means we cannot fix broken Utopian planning with more Utopian planning…
    >>>>> On Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 2:40 AM, Franz Nahrada wrote:
    >>>>>> Dear Nikos and all,
    >>>>>> I can rarely intervene here due to my current professional and health situation, but I followed the latest posts and also Nikos warning concerning the images of green high tech buildings. Maybe he also refers to projects like Entangled Bank in Dallas, Maybe also the futuristic Visions of Vincent Callebaut etc. I like these visions of floating habitat, but currently they are only thinkeable for a few people. But there must be a solution for the vast majority.
    >>>>>> When I did the Global Villages Conference in 1995, I had three special people with me for a retreat to the countryside: it was Richard Register, Tony Gwilliam and Joseph Smyth, I do not have to introduce the first.
    >>>>>> Tony Gwilliam is a former member of Archigram and had layd out the first “Global Village” Design (you can find his unpublished book at under Highlights 1995 “Bring your Mind Home”). It was a huge organic Structure that he named “Synchroni-City” – That could really expand widely but yet was fractal, complex, when you looked deep into the neighborhood level. The Book is downloadable as pdf.
    >>>>>> Joseph Smyth is a masterplan-directed type of architect who seeks to combine beauty with sustainable patterns. He currently works in central Arizona, where after his retirement he continues his work in planning, designing and developing ecologically sustainable communities.
    >>>>>> There was a very interesting controversy going on between the latter two, which could not productively be dissolved and ruined much of our reunion, but which I think has very much to do with the controversy discussed in this list right now. Joseph blamed Tony of simply justifying suburbia by creating the outline of a green city as a meshwork of pedestrian greenways and miniaturised service ways as you can see in parts of his book “Bring your Mind home”
    >>>>>> To cut the story short, I think there are entirely diffenent languages spoken. Tony tried to create a pedestrian oriented circumstance even within the framework of existing larger urban areas that really work as human habitat. The point is that even within the so-called suburban structures circumstances of wholeness and completeness can emerge, and it is this microcellular model, this microcosm of cells and neighbouring cells that we should study.
    >>>>>> Thats why I insist on the paradox concept of “Global Village” as architectural pattern, which ultimately also meant for McLuhan that the electronic media have the potential to give the smallest space an incredible wealth of human experience and endavours. Biophilia, the wish not just to be near plants, but also live in an organic structure, protecting, nurturing, exciting, soothing, is indeed an important element of this relation. Technology can mediate autonomy, and the best way to achieve this is to build it on P2P principles. The interplay between life (which is itself the ultimate technology) and the artefacts of human ingenuity should be governed by the common interest of thriving in any corner of this planet, not by economical competition.
    >>>>>> The fractal microurban neighborhood is the best biotope for global networks of problem – solution. Its an incredibly intelligent cell that we have to imagine, augmenting its capabilities by the very process of knowledge exchange, shared experimentation and local application that the P2P Paradigm proposes. Imagine communities, but not only single persons as the peers.
    >>>>>> Our friend Gleb Tyurin is just starting up the first practical projects of this micro-urbanism in Russia. I hope he can report more on that, I urged him to use the opportunity to show that there is historic ground to all this – thank you all for diiging into this matter.
    >>>>>> Franz

  9. Hei Lev!

    I just found an interview with Nikos Salingaros that explains what I want to say much better than what I can do myself. Please borrow an ear to Nikos words!

    Nikos Salingaros on Peer to Peer Urbanism:

    Q1: We’ve been covering some of your work on a new ‘peer to peer’ urbanism in our blog. Perhaps we can explore this connection further. First of all, do you agree with that assessment of your approach being in line with the peer to peer ethos. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to your current thinking and practice. Finally, could you also what you think of my characterization of your work as neotraditional. What I mean is that premodern and what I would call ‘trans’modern thinking are both concerned with the primacy of value and the immaterial, and that freed from the modernist rejection of all things traditional, we can now have an open mind and freely draw from thousands of years of human experience.

    NS: At the basis of my approach (and my team of collaborators on architectural and urban issues) is the empowerment of the individual. That is certainly at the heart of the peer-to-peer ethos. It is also a fundamental reversal of what has been the norm for close to a century; namely the rule of a self-appointed elite to dictate the tastes of the people as far as what living and built environments ought to be like. Generations have been told that they had to live in a certain type of house that was unpleasant to be in, to live in cities with an unpleasant, often inhuman form, and we can go further. Generations have been forced to go against their natural, instinctive responses to an inhuman environment, and to accept it as “modern” and “contemporary”. This has been happening since the 1920s. The end result is massive cognitive dissonance, which confuses a person’s instincts to the point that they are then very easy to manipulate.

    Now there are two schools of thought as to how this happened. If you are going to be kind, you can say that well-meaning, nice people with good intentions wanted to build new types of buildings and cities so as to better humanity and create a more just society. If you are going to be harsh, you can claim that those very same people collaborated in a dangerous mass experiment in social engineering, with the goal of creating a submissive consumer class of people who are easily brainwashed. The end result is the same: an inhuman built environment founded upon energy wastage and a neurotic class of people who everyday have to put up with urban and architectural stress. The beneficiaries are the so-called experts who sold all the utopian ideas, and who were well-rewarded for their role, and of course, that section of society that created all this inhuman urban structure.

    To get out of this disastrous mode of life — and it is really a philosophy and world view, not an architectural choice — we need to go back to traditional values. Sure, the social revolutions around the First World War rejected tradition precisely at the time these new “experts” were selling their utopian ideas, but that was the key to the manipulation. People were ready to reject everything and adopt a new way of life, and were not paying attention to the possible dangers of being manipulated. If we look back to all the architecture and urbanism of the past 3,000 years, we find human-scale solutions that can be adapted for today’s society. For the moment, the constant attacks from those who accuse us of going back to the past have prevented people in general from appreciating the wealth of solutions available. I’m talking about small-scale, both low and high-technology solutions that break out of the stranglehold of the consumerist society. I’m also talking about satisfying basic human emotional needs, such as a human-scale environment, a healing environment, that we can create with very low cost once we jettison the fashionable or dogmatic architectural “statements”.

    The modernists rejected all things traditional, as their basic cult dogma. Thus, they threw out solutions developed over millennia, which can never be substituted by any high-tech images. Some of my friends think this was simply an industry trick to sell all that steel and glass being produced in mass quantities from the new factories. In that view, the Bauhaus was simply a publicity outlet for industrial materials, which is ironic considering how Marxist most of the Bauhausler were. But then, the Left embraced industrialization wholeheartedly, just as fervently as did the consumerist society that was supposedly on the political right. Communist countries erected vast, inhuman buildings and cities, and the same typologies were applied in the capitalist countries. A curious ideological agreement between the two antagonists on the industrialization and dehumanization of human beings!

    Peer-to-peer solutions represent the opposite of this dehumanization. I see an attempt to regain value for the individual, and hopefully to enable solutions to evolve outside the controlled industrial system. There is nothing wrong with industry, but I do not condone the massive manipulation of entire populations, and the forced consumption of inhuman building and urban typologies. People will buy industrial products, and will build their houses and cities: what I want to see is a vastly improved range of choices and the ability to make individual decisions. I expect the latest cutting-edge industrial techniques, such as just-in-time production, to play a major role in this revolution. We are now promoting a curious and unexpected combination of tradition with the latest technological possibilities made available by the Internet. I don’t believe that it was even possible to think about implementation before, even a decade ago, but now the whole process of information, coordination, distribution, linkage, and expertise, can take place on the Internet. That’s why I support an open publishing environment so strongly. Information that can change people’s lives, that can change the lives of entire population, must be freely available.

    What we have not been able to break through, so far, is the brainwashing. The vast majority of the world’s population is suffering from an inhuman built environment, from inhuman living spaces, from inhuman building surfaces, from inhuman furnishings, and it is putting up with it because of a basic terror. Psychological manipulation has convinced them from birth that to go against the “modern” iconography will mean economic collapse. Those images have become religious in their hold on people’s minds. Just try to suggest to someone that steel and glass may not be the best materials in a desert or polar climate (only to mention the heat losses). But they cannot envision a world without those iconic “glass and steel” qualities, because that image represents “progress” since the 1920s. Slum dwellers make do with waste materials to build their homes, but when they can afford to, they move out into an inhuman house built in “industrial” style, often in an inhumanly designed high-rise, or worse, in a socially dead suburb. That is their ultimate success: they have made it out of the favela and into the inhuman utopian environment, and now they can contribute as a pawn in the global economy.

    Q2: Here’s the next question, and I’d like to play advocate of the devil for a while. I hear your charge that modernists build inhuman cities and spaces, but I wonder if they were not just reacting to tradition, which was already gone in the 1920s and perhaps more against industrial dehumanization itself? I’m just assuming that there was a emancipatory charge to the work of many, but that the law of unintended consequences did not allow them to foresee all the results of their ideas and plans. Similarly concerning tradition, it is steeped not just in positive and communal ways of living, but also in authoritarian social structures. My question is therefore, if you look at tradition, by what method can you distinguish the wheat from chaff, what is the operating procedure or methodology you can use to do this kind of selection. Is it related to the patterning approach by Christopher Alexander? Tell us a little more about the latter, as not all of our readers may be familiar with that important work. In addition to him, who else has been of major inspiration to you and your colleages. An additional question: how do you react to the fact that the new moderns in East Asia, seem hell bent on repeating the mistakes that you describe, on perhaps an even grander scale?

    NS: Every generation has reacted in some form (positive or negative) to tradition, and different social classes react in different ways. It is wrong to conclude that only the oppressed react negatively to tradition, since we have seen ideas that destroyed a society emerge from those who were well off — they did it for the fun of it, as an intellectual exercise, because those persons were psychopaths, or just to “be different”. While changes after World War I might be attributed to a reaction against industrial dehumanization, they actually drove the world into a more complete industrial dehumanization, so I don’t know if this is ironic or tragic. Here we move from design into the minefield of politics.

    There is a very simple criterion for how to judge the positive qualities of tradition, or specific pieces of tradition: if it empowers the individual to lead a healthier, more fulfilling life. Not necessarily happier, or more just, since all the right conditions in the world cannot guarantee that, but a full life without affecting other human beings negatively. Rather than utopian promises that can only be fulfilled by a state revolution — and which invariably turn around an oppressive system into another oppressive system — I see the value of peer-to-peer ideas of a personal validation of human beings. By contrast, reaction to oppression channelled into a mass movement is often commandeered by another elite to construct its own power structure.

    Clearly, one can write down a set of patterns that have been used successfully to manipulate or oppress people, so we must include a value system in evaluating patterns. In computer science, it’s straightforward: patterns are those solutions that help a program run better, while anti-patterns are those recurring pseudo-solutions that keep making things worse. I have classified patterns that manipulate the majority of people for the benefit of a small group, as “anti-patterns”. Most of what we see as architecture and urbanism today, as taught in schools and shown in the media, consists of anti-patterns. I do not ascribe “oppressive” intention to them, however, since in many cases they were actually developed with the best of intentions, and are often linked tightly to an attractive ideology of political emanicipation. Their result is oppressive despite all the good intentions. Both cynical and naive practitioners just apply them for fun and profit, and like to re-use the original claims of “liberation”.

    Christopher Alexander gave the Pattern Language to the world, and if people had read it, it would have liberated every individual from the tyrranical dictates of an architectural and urban machine (in the sense of an oppressive system). The patterns in that book are a true liberation, establishing people’s own deep feelings about the built environment as sound and valid. The reason this is so important is that architecture schools, the media, and most architects have been implementing the very opposite for close to a century. And they have been justifying their inhuman product by a massive advertising campaign, exactly like soft drinks and junk food replacing genuinely nutritious food, because some people make a lot of money promoting them, and those same persons would make a lot less money selling and distributing wholesome foodstuff. We now have a significant percentage of the world’s economy driven by the soft drinks and junk food industry, just as we have another major percentage of it driven by the construction of glass and steel skyscrapers and dehumanizing concrete buildings. The architectural/urban situation is “soft” oppression, where a vast power system geared to promoting an unhealthy and dehumanizing built environment is driven by subconscious suggestion. In only a few instances is brute power used, as in monofunctional zoning, and bulldozing owner-built houses so that someone can make a profit by building concrete high-rise blocks.

    The situation with the new Asian states awakening from their competitive slumber is absolutely tragic. They are swallowing all the deceptions that originally sold city-destroying, soul-destroying, and culture-destroying architectural and urban typologies to the West. If this were the 1950s, then OK, we might excuse this error as a lack of experience. But we have several decades of mistakes, endlessly documented, endlessly discussed and debated. Why are the new Asian states copying the worst that the West did to their own people and to their own cities? Probably, the reason is that the West itself is still promoting the same destructive typologies — only a minority of us are condemning them, whereas the system is still stuck in a heroic city-destroying mode. We have a bunch of western “experts” that have advised the new Asian states to do precisely what they are doing now. And those experts are making huge fortunes from the ensuing devastation… many people are profiting financially from all this construction, and it churns the country’s economy. But the product is toxic. Incidentally, many people don’t see this in this way; all they see is exciting new buildings and highways going up in the East. The devastating realization will occur when the energy costs are added up, and people realize that they have destroyed their own society.

    Some additional explanation of the pattern concept:

    Identifying any type of pattern follows the same criteria in architecture as in hardware or software.

    1. A repeating solution to the same or similar set of problems, discovered by independent researchers and users at different times.

    2. More or less universal solution across distinct topical applications, rather than being heavily dependent upon local and specific conditions.

    3. That makes a pattern a simple general statement that addresses only one of many aspects of a complex system. Part of the pattern methodology is to isolate factors of complex situations so as to solve each one in an independent manner if possible.

    4. A pattern may be discovered or “mined” by “excavating” successful practices developed by trial-and-error already in use, but which are not consciously treated as a pattern by those who use it. A successful pattern is already in use somewhere, perhaps not everywhere, but it does not represent a utopian or untried situation. Nor does it represent someone’s opinion of what “should” occur.

    5. A pattern must have a higher level of abstraction that makes it useful on a more general level, otherwise we are overwhelmed with solutions that are too specific, and thus useless for any other situation. A pattern will have an essential area of vagueness that guarantees its universality.

    Read the original version here:

  10. Lev, I will try to replace Asia with Africa in one of Nikos answers above, I hope this can make you understand what is now to happen in Kigali and Africa:

    “The situation with the new African states awakening from their competitive slumber is absolutely tragic. They are swallowing all the deceptions that originally sold city-destroying, soul-destroying, and culture-destroying architectural and urban typologies to the West. If this were the 1950s, then OK, we might excuse this error as a lack of experience. But we have several decades of mistakes, endlessly documented, endlessly discussed and debated. Why are the new African states copying the worst that the West did to their own people and to their own cities? Probably, the reason is that the West itself is still promoting the same destructive typologies — only a minority of us are condemning them, whereas the system is still stuck in a heroic city-destroying mode. We have a bunch of western (and now Chinese too) “experts” that have advised the new African states to do precisely what they are doing now. And those experts are making huge fortunes from the ensuing devastation… many people are profiting financially from all this construction, and it churns the country’s economy. But the product is toxic. Incidentally, many people don’t see this in this way; all they see is exciting new buildings and highways going up in the South. The devastating realization will occur when the energy costs are added up, and people realize that they have destroyed their own society.”

    Personally I find these people rasistic as they don’t respect the Worlds innate form languages, and to condemn it is an obligation for everyone!

  11. Øyvind,
    Permatecture? It just sort of happened as I was typing. And now it has entered its own life with its own blog. Quite amazing. I should be thanking you. I am passionate about the built environment and believe it deserves as much attention as permaculture. The should be woven together and become one. BTW, I am beginning a project in Jalisco, MX implementing some permaculture & permatecture principals in a very small village. We plan to make this a test bed for sustainable practices throughout the area, which is high (1,500 meters), volcanic and starkly beautiful. The area is home to several indigenous groups that lack certain amenities which we hope to provide through our project, which encompasses water harvesting, aquaculture, a large diverse orchard, and structures made entirely from volcanic soils and ash (something that I developed in my laboratory in Berkeley, CA).
    We are an interesting and diverse group of ernest folks hoping to make a difference, and we are looking for like-minded people who would like to get involved. I will send you a link to our website in a week or two. Maybe it is something you would appreciate.
    p.s. The weather is amazing during the northern winter.

  12. Wow Donald, I’m impressed! Much respect to the work of you and your group. Look forward to the link for your project.

    I also found an interesting speach by Nikos A. Salingaros yesterday.

    A presenatiion of the ideas and methods of p2p urbanism by Nikos Salingaros, for an Italian conference about reviving the urban fabric in Rome:

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