“A contrarian with a big idea for mankind”, The Age, 14/8 (scanned in as I could not find the article online). The architect profiled here, Austin Williams, surely is the embodiment of arrogance and hubris, and reinforces my general dislike of his profession. His attitude is still prevalent amongst business and governments.
The British architect is a firm believer in global population growth and disdainful of the green building movement. Where many see hopelessness in huge slums, he sees hope.
Architect Austin Williams is one person among 6.8 billion, The size of the world’s population alarms some people, particularly in light of the planet’s finite resources, but Williams champions growth, seeing in it increased opportunities to transform the world to our benefit.
“For me the enlightened response to population growth is to celebrate it,” the London-based architect and author says. “More people is a good thing: the more we attach value to humanity the more human we become.”
He has the mindset that human ingenuity and “cleverness” can somehow overcome any problems caused by such growth. Not always! Trying to engineer one’s way out can sometimes lead to worse problems in the future, causing inadvertent enviromental disasters (dams are one example).
With assertive rhetoric about architects moulding the world according to their own aesthetic values, ManTowNHuman reads at times like the brainchild of a bunch of arrogant architects who have taken a leaf out of Ayn Rand’s individualist novel The Fountainhead.
That is the most accurate paragraph in the whole article.
Williams and his colleagues were not merely playing agents provocateurs in attacking sustainable design. “The fact that I found so many people reciting the mantra of sustainability without even questioning its meaning alerted me to its political problems,” he says. He saw in the “mantra of sustainability” the pernicious idea that people’s presence in the natural world is problematic. “Seeing the enviromnent as sacrosanct and humanity as somehow despoiling it is anti-human, in as much as it puts nature first and puts humanity second,” he says.
Without a liveable environment, humanity will cease to exist. We are not independent of nature, no matter how some try to pretend otherwise.
Williams deplores this kind of “miserablist” take. Where many see hopelessness in the huge slums of Mumbai or Lagos, he sees hope, and evidence of humanity’s great march of progress in action.
“You go to Lagos, they are living in utter squalor. However, even within the squalor there’s a potential for them to create industy and experience the ambition to get out of squalor,” he says. Even without effective government planning or adequate infrastructure, Lagos is developing as people work to improve their lives. It’s the same in other Third World slums.
How many will manage to escape their poverty, though? Slums are miserably unhealthy places to grow up in, and romanticizing them does the inhabitants no favors.
He says we are fortunate to be able to debate desirability of growth – and the problems it creates, such as congestion and sprawl – from a position of strength.
“Cities grow. That’s what they do… you have some of the world’s most liveable cities.”
Australia’s cities are liveable because of their low population density. Unfortunately, that is changing due to uncontrolled growth. And governments are almost never able to provide adequate infrastructure to cope – they are continually trying to catch up, and never quite manage to (my state of Victoria being one example).
Resolving the issues of population, cities and housing is not easy, but we have the ingenuity to do it: “I see humanity as a source of fantastic creativity and potential, a source of wonder that has made the world today.”
Ruined the world today, more like. No point arguing with him, though – he is utterly convinced of his rightness. We hope that some day he will be made to eat his words.