Subject: AGE: Meet A Day In The Life Of The New Dili

The Age (Melbourne)

October 7, 2002 Monday

Meet A Day In The Life Of The New Dili

William Birnbauer

One of Melbourne's leading architects is helping East Timor rebuild, reports William Birnbauer.

Melbourne architect Norman Day went to Dili soon after East Timor's historic independence vote in 1999 to help rebuild the shattered city.

Responding to an invitation from President Jose Gusmao and Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta, he set up a team of designers and planners, calling the group the East Timor Urban Design Enterprise.

He quickly discovered, however, that urban design had nothing to do with what was really needed.

"We thought we'd get in there and solve the problem," he recalled, "and a year later they'd all have a nice city to live in. That was just crap. We had no idea, honestly, no idea.

"We soon discovered the job was to listen. We spent two-and-a-half years listening."

What Mr Day and his colleagues found was that the key to the future was empowerment of the local community.

They also found a group of about 40 architecture and engineering students who had been studying at an Indonesian university in West Timor, and had arrived with their Indonesian professor to vote for independence in East Timor.

They could not return to their Indonesian university "because they would be beheaded", Mr Day said.

This group became the focus of the Australian team's work. Mr Day established an RMIT degree course in East Timor to help the students complete their studies.

Mr Day, who is the adjunct professor of architecture at RMIT, said: "We're really reconstructing the infrastructure of people who then do the rebuilding."

He has been to East Timor at least 15 times to run the course, which emphasises the need to use local materials and culture.

Mr Day, who writes on architecture for The Age, said: "The one thing we dug our toes in about was skyscrapers . . . they see these as the model of Western civilisation. We said no to that."

Rebuilding cities shattered by wars and civil unrest is the theme of this week's Cities on the Edge conference in Melbourne.

With inter-ethnic conflict increasing, ethnic segregation could be the natural and logical state in some cities, according to one of the speakers, Jon Calame.

Mr Calame is the operations manager of Minerva Partners, a non-profit architectural conservation group based in New York. "Partition may be the natural state of equilibrium for countries and regions with hopelessly entangled inter-ethnic disputes," he said.

His analysis highlighted the global shift in warfare from international to intra-state.

Mr Calame and architect Esther Charlesworth have studied ethnic segregation in the divided cities of Beirut, Belfast, Jerusalem, Mostar and Nicosia.

Originally from Melbourne, Ms Charlesworth has spent the past three years in Beirut looking at how architects might work with politicians, aid agencies and others in rebuilding wrecked cities.

On its own, architecture will not solve much, but where it was used to bring together divided groups of people "it's been a very, very powerful" peace-broking tool, she said.

Ms Charlesworth, who is organising next week's conference at RMIT, said: "The architects' role is vast, from peace builder to mediator, to sort of urban pathologist. It's not just necessarily going in there and doing the master plan for the next Guggenheim museum and pretending that an architectural icon will kick-start the city."

Cities on the Edge Urban Design Conference, October, 9-11. For more information 9658 8624, or visit City of Melbourne website on www.melbourne.vic.gov.au


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