Architects Need to be Engaged Early in New Urban Agenda

By Sandra Zettersten, AIA, Attendee of Habitat III Pre-Conference, Berlin, June 2016

Sandra Zettersten, AIA, Treasurer and Corporate Sponsor Chair of the AIA Europe Chapter, attended the Habitat III Preconference in Berlin in June 2016 representing the AIA. This was a pre-conference in preparation for the third convening of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development will be held in October 2016 in Quito, Equador. Over 1000 persons from over 60 countries participated in this Berlin conference and compiled their recommendations in the Belin Recommendation for the Quito UN Conference. The aim of UN Habitat III is to reinvigorate the global commitment to sustainable urbanization and to focus on the implementation of a New Urban Agenda, building on the 1996 Istanbul Habitat Agenda. A New Urban Agenda is urgently needed, timely and should be vigorously pursued and normalized in cities and surrounding areas. The current patterns of urban development are unsustainable as cities are unable to cope with environmental, economic, social, political, shocks and stressors. 

What Ms. Zettersten reported to AIA HQ from her participation is that architects and urban planners are largely absent from this global conversation about the unsustainable path of urbanization. In this forum, the only reference made to an actual architect or architecture, was a slide from one of the speakers showing Le Corbusier in the 1920´s next to a model of what he visualized for Paris in terms of new high rise and low rise rectangular modern buildings to be built after razing neighborhoods of Haussmann´s nineteenth century wide boulevards, parks and unified 5-story architecture. The implication was that architects are arrogant, destroying cultural heritage and city images for their own aggrandizement. 

It is her opinion that Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda are important to architects because these are issues important to the industry, and we can offer creative and technical solutions. This can begin by architects becoming more involved in volunteering in grassroots movements, citizen participation in political, environmental, infrastructure and building environments and in the related social, financial and cultural heritage issues. They should be guides and facilitators of creative solutions to day-to-day and future problems and developments in urban areas. Their technical knowledge is invaluable and could provide great assistance.