BUILDING FOR HOPE
Towards an architecture of belonging
224pp. Thames and Hudson. 20 [pounds sterling].
The serving Prime Minister of New Zealand, the former governor of the Bank of England and an architect turned author/philosopher living in Syria would not normally find themselves mentioned on the same page. Yet they share a vision. They want nothing less than a new world order based on values, not profit.
Carney's new book, Value(s): Building a better world for all, advocates "a new international architecture" serving "the needs of the many, not the few". Jacinda Ardern, elected on a promise of affordable housing, has ordered her country's central bank to stabilize house prices, now embarrassingly beyond the reach of the middle class. It is a global problem. The research firm Numbeo surveyed 502 international cities and found that 90 per cent of homes were "unaffordable", defined as more than three times median family income.
Unlikely as it may seem, Syria's capital Damascus is also in that club of unaffordable cities. Marwa al-Sabouni tells us Damascus real estate in 2010 was the eighth most expensive in the world, after Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, Moscow, Dubai, Bombay and Paris. Small wonder that even before the war over 40 per cent of Syrians lived in "informal settlements" round the edges of the cities. That figure has risen to 60 per cent because the Syrian government destroyed so much housing in the suburbs where "social injustice and decay began". Then, in 2018, it introduced Law No.10 to confiscate the land and sell it off to property developers, always "the same handful of people". Al-Sabouni cites the example of Marota City, once home to thousands of low-income Sunni Muslim families, now destined to become high rises and shopping malls. She calls it "Vanity Damascus ... an expression of emptiness and loss of meaning ... a manifestation of inequality".
The ten-year anniversary of Syria's forgotten, unresolved war forms a fitting moment for the publication of this, al-Sabouni's second book, offering a crumb of hope not just for Syria, but for the world, on how to build a better future through inclusive residential architecture. Few indeed are the authors still writing from inside...