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A news bureau, an online publication, digital library and ‘workspace’ hub for designers
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    By Jack Travis

    New Orleans 08/29 2005 Monday

    Haiti 01/12 2010 Tuesday

    Chile 02/27 2010 Saturday

    “…Now that you’ve realized the prides arrived We got to pump the stuff to make us tough from the heart It’s a start, a work of art To revolutionize make a change nothin’s strange People, people we are the same No we’re not the same Cause we don’t know the game What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless You say what is this? My beloved lets get down to business Mental self defensive fitness (Yo) bum rush the show You gotta go for what you know Make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be Lemme hear you say… Fight the Power”  -Public Enemy Lyrics from “Fight To Power”

    “…As I thought about tonight, and the honor and responsibility associated with being your speaker I struggled with the need to be relevant because of the profound regard I have for your profession. I decided there were three critical issues, that have very synergistic relationship to each other;

    - Your role in the development and evolution of public policy

    - And the need for a Black Aesthetic

    - How do you get paid?

    Over 2000 years ago Aristotle told us the “CITY IS THE SOUL OF A PEOPLE WRITTEN LARGE”

    Now you may be sitting here wondering, “What this has to do with You” My answer is everything. Cities are not accidents they are conscious creations of humankind.

    Because if the above mentioned is the case, who then is the priest that would minister to this soul? The answer is the architect. The history of architecture is the record of humankind’s march to civilization…”

    It was with great passion and a strive towards assistance to those truly in need that I felt most of the black architects I know and corresponded with in the wake of the earthquake that shook Haiti in the morning hours and afterwards on January 20th this year, 2010. Many of the e-mail messages across the web spoke to the need for the black architects to respond in some unified and dignified effort.

    I immediately began to think of New Orleans and how hurricane Katrina hit that city on the morning of August 29, 2005. There was a similar call to action via the web for “us” to unite in dignity and aid with little or no discussion of benefit, profit or personal gain. But what happened in New Orleans It is probably a very sobering study that we should revisit so that we will have a better understanding of what it will take to achieve a strong effort in the wake of the Haiti challenge.

    Sadly, I must admit, these are questions that I have pondered over and over and the answers of past achievement and potential on the horizon for our “ableness” of cause as a black coalition are bleak ones at best.

    Efforts during catastrophic situations involving loss of lives and property on a scale such as a hurricane or earthquake require those who truly wish to make a difference possess the resources, the power of utility, equipment, empowerment and experience with dealing in similar situations. Part of that experience requires that several contractors or agents have pooled resources or exist on “no bid” contract lists due to proven track records of performance and are thus easily and quickly mobilized.

    In all of the above categories, the existing and proven track records for work of this nature and under these circumstances seem slight if not altogether non-existent for the “black architect” when we present ourselves as such or as part of a group, as an association or consortium of such.

    Of the black architects and firms in the US, precious few got work in New Orleans and even fewer got work in the rest of the Gulf region. None of those getting work (as far as I can ascertain) got work as a part of a black professional group or consortium reaching out in tandem to the powers that be.

    .

    The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) – overwhelmingly a black organization comprising largely both U.S. and Caribbean members- is arguably the largest and most prestigious group of black environmental design professionals worldwide. In 2007, its president, James R. Washington, Jr. along with his partner Lonnie Hewitt, temporarily lost their office which is located in downtown New Orleans. Despite direct involvement and affect due to the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, Even with a “native son” at the helm, NOMA found itself ultimately left out of any significant role in the rebuilding plans for that city. During the first six to twelve months , Mr. Washington,  Mr. Hewitt and I made substantial attempts to connect our organization with several groups already mobilized and connected to bureaucratic decision makers such as Andres Duany and the American Institute of Architects (AIA -both National and Local Chapters).

    The situation seemed to call for and priority was given to those organizations well founded, with the resources, personnel, experience and, already well connected to the bureaucrats, many with “No Bid” contract status. Truth be told – we were not able to “sit at the table” so to speak because we seemed not to understand the kind of preparation and initial resources necessary in order “to play the game”.

    On the horizon of this situation in Haiti, I am asking real questions about preparation and expectation for the involvement of black architects in any significant way – a catastrophe several times that of New Orleans. Therefore, I am presenting the following three (3) notions of “Foundation, Polemics and Praxis”, with ten (10) points of engagement for substantial involvement in the rebuilding of Haiti. I have also added the words of Michael Jones, The noted Black Entrepreneur from his “Keynote” speech at the 2009 NOMA Conference in St. Louis, Mo. As well as my own comments from a commentary sent out earlier this year on this subject. This essay will be in three parts. The second part is in the next installment.

    FOUNDATION

    Our Role

    “…Think about this.

    You see, if a space traveler landed on earth from another universe and there were current signs of human life, what would be the basis for their judgments of the species that lived here?

    Certainly one criteria would be the buildings we left behind. What they looked like, how the space was organized, what materials were used, how they related to their physical environment and each other.

    They would tell our space traveler everything important about how we lived, how we worked and worshiped, how we played and what were our highest values. They would speak to what is or was the Soul of these People.

    John Ruskin, the 19th century art critic, noted, “Taste is the only morality….tell me what you like and I’ll tell you who you are.”

    How do societies define taste in the built environment? It’s defined by the work of architects.

    So when the architect abandons the public square, when you don’t fight for zoning, land use and design standards that are inspirational and speak to the angels of our better nature, then you have abandoned your calling and left our march to a higher better place and to the vagaries of chance…”

    Step One:

    1. Organize those firms realistically capable of seeking work
    2. Set up a committee to present NOMA to those Government Organizations (GOs) and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) slated to coordinate effort
    3. Research and align with as many of the individuals and or agencies currently being considered for work
    4. Contact the reported “Local 48 Architects who reportedly met immediately after the earthquake to coordinate agendas and plans of action.

    Step Two:

    1.   ORGANIZE INTERNAL RESOURCES/FIRMS

    - Format a uniform portfolio for firms to submit work images and credentials

    - Aggressively get the firms to register on site

    - Send out list of architects to the media

    2.   MAKE STATEMENTS OF POSITION + STANCE

    - Media coverage to be periodic and consistent

    - Seek, record +document ALL coverage + interviews

    - Set-up a formidable website link to NOMA/HAITI

    3.   APPOINT SPOKESPERSONS IN A NUMBER OF CATEGORIES

    - To meet with Haitian Architects here in U.S.

    - Liaison to work with the “Local 48” in the country

    - Representative to plan trips to the country

    - Fundraisers

    - Competition coordinator

    4.   MEDIA CONTACTS + LIASONS W/ VIPS

    - U. S. Government Officials

    - Haitian Government Officials

    - AIA National President

    - AIA past National Presidents – Purnell and ALL Others

    - President Clinton + President Carter, Wycliffe Jean + ALL Other celebrities and

    High Profile citizens

    - Architects: Ban, Holl, Adjaye, Mayne, Norten, Addo, Snohetta, Rural Studio + ALL

    Others – Get them all to join NOMA for at least one year

    5.   ACTIVITIES

    - Fundraiser w/ AIA or VIP Black Persons and/or organizations of Note

    - Seek donations from NOMA Members and document commitment to the cause in terms of dollars

    - Competitions + Exhibitions

    - Align with more formidable institutions

    6.  CHARRETTE

    - The NOMA Student Competition slated for Boston in October to become a competition with students working with professional firm members with the STAR Architects in participation at all levels and not just as jurors.

    - VIP Attendance: The past AIA Presidents and one big dignitary from U.S. + Haiti should be in attendance (Two day event (Wednesday + Thursday)

    7. FUNDS + DONATIONS

    -   Donations Drive + Fundraisers – for members to travel + access situations firsthand as well as to meet with dignitaries at crucial events and times

    -   Monthly spot in Architectural Record Magazine, at the AIA Convention in one of the “General Sessions” (morning)

    This commentary by Jack Travis will continue in the next edition.

    __________

    Jack Travis, FAIA NOMAC, is a New York based black Architect and Cultural Design Consultant. He is an Adjunct Professor at Pratt Institute, Department of Interior Design, Brooklyn NY Adjunct CCE Professor


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    by Bettina Byrd-Giles

    Intercultural consultants[1] often get calls from organizations who have invested a number of dollars and human resources in failed projects that cross cultural lines.  The investor is a benevolent organization that has been planning for natural disasters and extenuating human circumstances.  An international disaster is a chance to share its expertise and generosity with the world.  Its intentions are good, but the organization usually doesn’t share the blame for the failure of the project.  The blame is often placed upon the target country or cultural group for not having the ability to manage the donated resources.  This happens in the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds.  This article is an attempt to advise organizations on preparing for successful ventures across cultural and national lines.

    In the for-profit world, organizations or individuals are looking to do business with another culture for a fee.  A disaster gives them the opportunity to provide a product, service or idea that would transform the lives of the target culture.  From their view, the venture is mutually beneficial.  Somehow when negotiations to sell this product have gone awry, they can’t figure out what went wrong or blame the target culture.  The target culture is labeled as uneducated, unsophisticated or too greedy to understand the benefits of the product or service in question.

    This is sometimes true in a nonprofit situation as well.  Although there isn’t a profit motive, non-profits encounter similar scenarios.  They gather items and basic necessities en masse that are ready and waiting to be delivered to the target culture.  Frequently, they are a collective of organizations founded and funded by benevolent individuals.  The leaders of these organizations build PR campaigns around sharing their resources.  Though these non profits are not profit driven, they are often run on a corporate model.  Success is determined by achieving certain goals derived by metrics.  They have reports to file and audits that determine how their funds were used.  There is a pressure to be successful and deliver promises.  If for some reason the donated goods or funds are not utilized properly from the perspective of the donors, the blame is often shifted to recipients.  The target culture is often portrayed as corrupt, inhumane or unintelligent.

    Though this RARELY happens, if intercultural consultants were included in the planning process, perhaps money and time would not be wasted.  Both the donors and target culture could reduce the chances of a public relations nightmare.  Part of the strategic planning process would not only include inventory and logistics but a plan to navigate cultural differences.  Logistics usually includes an orientation to the target country such as State Department briefings, hiring translators, learning about foods and brief information about the people.  Sometimes limited information about culture is included.  However, navigating culture and creating the right climate to insure the desired results is often missing.

    For the purpose of this article, culture is defined as a group of interacting people who have “agreed” upon a certain set of rules, concepts or beliefs to live by.  Culture is very subjective.  It is nearly impossible for outsiders seeking to offer assistance to learn everything they need to know about a culture.  Even individuals who have lived among a culture for years learn new things.  However, by understanding some basic value structures– one’s own culture and the culture one is trying to address– can be helpful.  Also relying on members of the target culture to help one navigate the culture is absolutely imperative. The following template includes general suggestions for crossing cultures.

    1. Hire an intercultural consultant. Interculturalists can help develop strategies for crossing cultural boundaries.  They are experts in facilitating interaction across cultures and providing general information that can anticipate potential clashes.
    2. Engage team in cultural training.  If there is time, send the team through intercultural training and cultural adaptation training.  This type of training helps participants understand norms, values and communication styles across cultures.  It also helps simulate a totally new cultural context.  This is especially if there is going to be a lengthy stay.  Though not all cultural blunders can be anticipated, some cross-cultural experiences are universal.
    3. Orient team to the target culture through research.  Learn as much about the target culture as possible through reading, documentaries and talking to cultural informants–members of the culture.  Read materials by experts the target culture.  Narratives and first-hand accounts by members of the culture are also helpful.  
    4. Seek out members of the target culture.  Members of the culture can give you first hand experiences and information about being a member of the culture.  In the book, Three Cups of Tea, a mountaineer who vows to build a school in a volatile area on the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, allows a local Pakistani to negotiate the building materials, hire the staff, etc.   Make sure you listen to them once you seek their advice and guidance. Try to get as comprehensive a view as possible by finding individuals from different regions and subgroups within the target culture.
    5. Appreciate cultural differences without stereotyping.  Though cultural information is important and usually accurate, it may not apply to everyone that is a member of the culture.  Listen to what people say about their culture and consider diverse opinions.
    6. Build Relationships.  Though your organization has a service to offer, members of the target culture need to know that you have a genuine interest in them.  In addition to impressive credentials, many cultures are concerned with the type of people with whom they are working.  Who you are and your intentions have to be evaluated.  This may take more time than Western sensibilities allow. Perhaps there is an association with a similar mission with whom you can collaborate and begin to build a relationship.  Offer to help and listen to what they believe their needs are.

    Bettina Byrd-Giles is an intercultural consultant with the Byrd’s Nest, LLC http://thebyrdsnestllc.com.


    [1] Intercultural consultants are individuals who facilitate interactions across cultures.

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    COMING BACK: NEW ORLEANS RESURGENT  begins on Thursday, July 8. The exhibition features a moving body of award-winning pictures captured by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama of Hurricane Katrina’s shocking disaster and the community’s resilience of recovery, hope and change.  COMING BACK: NEW ORLEANS RESURGENT contextualizes the fifth anniversary of Katrina with a primary focus on the strength of human spirit and rebuilding efforts in the Gulf Coast, now needed more than ever.

    Tama’s imagery from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina stood out among the vast media coverage and earned him numerous accolades and recognition.  Remarkably, when the catastrophe waned and other press went away, Tama stayed with the support and encouragement of his colleagues at Getty Images and continued to document the process of recovery (and some of its terrible failures).  With a journalist’s determination, an artist’s eye, and a humanitarian’s heart, Tama eloquently captures the resilience of the human spirit even amid such immense struggle, creating an optimistic portrait of New Orleans rather than one of only destruction.


    The book version of COMING BACK: NEW ORLEANS RESURGENT (Umbrage, September 2010) will be released on September 7th, with a moving introductory essay by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper (100% of Getty Images’ royalties from the book will benefit New Schools for New Orleans).

    Coming Back: New Orleans Resurgent

    Getty Images photographer Mario Tama

    Opening Reception: Thursday, July 8th, 2010 6-8 pm

    Umbrage Gallery

    111 Front St., Suite 208

    Brooklyn, NY 11201

    www.umbragegallery.com