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PRESS > ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE

United Nations Conference on Human Settlements. Habitat II "The City Summit"
May 29 - June 1-4. 1996 - Istanbul. Turkey

Where were the Architecture and Planning, professions ?

Dr. Wally N'Dow. Conference Secretary General, in keynote addresses at the forums held from May 29 to June 14 at Habitat II in Istanbul, Turkey, defined both the mission and guiding principles for action: "This is not just a conference, it is a meeting about the future survival of mankind, It is about the human spirit, healing the urban soul and human solidarity," UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali in his opening address on June 4, urged conferees to be guided by the "Spirit of Istanbul", Indeed, the word spirit in various dimensions: the spirit of cooperation as well as human spirituality, seemed to be a powerful current throughout the conference calling for unity in the diversity of human cultures and behaviors it’s addressing and solving urban problems which threaten the fabric of human life on earth - where and how we choose to live on the planet,

The official UN and NGO conference was preceded by several officially sanctioned related forums for local authorities and city mayors, the world business community and others. In all, 171 of 185 nations in the UN were represented as well as 1500 NGO's with over 5000 registered participants in all venues. While overall attendance was 80% less than expected, neither the level of representation nor the number were felt to be a factor in the importance, energy, vision, and significance of the entire Habitat II event. In this last major UN conference of this century, precedents were set for sanctioned participation of NGO's, the business community, and others to have an officially recorded voice by way of the innovation of the new UN Committee 2 established for this purpose, The input and dialogue in the spirit of cooperation to achieve solutions by consensus was termed extraordinary by Martti Lujanen of Finland, Chairman of Committee 2.

The NGO Forum offered a venue for as many as 150 presentations per day as well as display and information booths both inside and outside the Taskisla building provided by Istanbul minority was represented, Chairman Marcello Palazzi spoke of an emerging new capitalism with responsibility for social progress as a necessary ingredient for long term human as well as financial success.

With only a few exceptions, architects, engineers and planners together with their professional organizations were noticeably absent at Habitat II. "Missing, lost or irrelevant" was the lead of an article on architects in the Earth Times co-published for the conference by Hurriyet, a prominent local paper. With a subtitle, "Where are today's great minds {", Executive Editor. Louis Silverstein formerly of The New York Times, noted the contrast to Habitat I in 1976 where design and technology had an important role featuring names like Buckminster Fuller and Moishe Safdie. In Habitat II administrators, developers and bankers who employ the designers were taking the leading roles. An amazingly low number of attendees professed to be architects One anonymous member of the audience at a forum for architects and planners, announced that he was a "Recovering Architect" to a round of applause. When questioned, architects said they were engaged in and searching for new approaches, methods and cross disciplinary skills for dealing with the built environment. Consultation in working with citizen groups and authorities in community development in building a consensus seemed to be one direction. In separate presentations, two women architects from the US received well-attended and receptive audiences with the topics: "The Spirit of Space" and "The Importance of Beauty: a Spiritual Perspective", Nat Nuno-Amarteifio, the Mayor of Accra, Ghana, a former architect and developer outlined at Pratt; said. " Architects are not important in shaping cities. They have a false sense of importance from their schooling. They have no sense of the connective tissue of communities. They have no need for each other or for others in the community". He termed the conference to be "a tectonic shift". There was a palpable sense of a profession transforming into new, yet to be defined, structures.

Steven C.Hall of Farmington. CT; a Project Management consultant for real estate development; and Nousbin Eshan. Principal of Accessible Arcbitecture. PC of New York City both attended the Habitat II Conference. Mr. Hall attended as an official observer for the United Nations Association-USA. He chaired the -Best Practices - Housing- panel in the World Business Forum and was a panelist on the panel -Sustainable Cities: An American Dream or Future Reality- in the NGO Forum. Ms. Ehsan made two presentations in the NGO Forum.on the importance of space.