By Morgan, Jim
UN Chronicle , Vol. 37, No. 4
TOWARDS CREATIVE ADAPTIVE REUSE
Can the word "architecture" be used legitimately to describe the workings of globalization, that inexorable march of capitalism? In a technical sense, it fits--as in this generic definition of architecture: "The act of organizing a series of complex systems within a coherent structure so that the result is functional, comprehensible and elegant if not beautiful." Consider a Bach partita, with its elaborated dance-forms gracefully integrated into a larger conceptual framework, as an example of architecture in this sense.
"Global Financial Architecture" (GFA) describes the present interrelationship between a number of complex financial instruments--World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)/World Trade Organization (WTO))--originally devised by United Nations-sponsored planners in 1944-1948. They were intended to rebuild a northern-based financial system shattered by the Second World War in a way that might benefit everyone. As such, its design drew upon the UN Charter and other expressions of a need to reconstruct the human community, especially to repair economic chaos in war-torn areas.
Eventually the needs of peoples freed from colonial domination became the focus of attention but, it is fair to say, in this case the original concept has been utterly perverted, especially by the IMF: "structural adjustment" seems all along to have been about reconstituting and reapplying colonial methods of resource and wealth extraction. Furthermore, as GFA has developed over a half-century, United Nations control of the resulting behemoth has weakened immensely. GFA now represents a force far more powerful than its parent. In the interests of capital, it is capable of nullifying any and all UN efforts to serve the needs of a vast majority (80 per cent) of the planet's human population which now struggles to survive on less than 15 per cent of global resources.
Four comparisons of "architecture" to GFA follow. Decide for yourself how well the two coincide. In the end, however, it cannot be denied that the philosophical basis of GFA, as presently construed, fails to serve the positive purposes for which the word "architecture" is normally reserved. So until GFA is greatly reformed, it is a misnomer. Since nothing as unjust or environmentally destructive as GFA could ever be called "beautiful," please don't call it "architecture" either.
Architecture's relationship to culture (history, politics, economics, literature, etc.) is as an expression of its highest strivings, often religious values that imply harmony, equality and community, as in the ancient temple complexes and cathedrals all over the world that are so greatly cherished today.
GFA grows out of a 250-year-old pattern of political economy, loosely called "the industrial revolution", and based upon philosophical concepts originated during the Renaissance. As such, it reflects the dominance in western culture of capitalist values since then: competition, materialism, striving for individual wealth and power, self-interest as the supreme virtue. Thus the culture of GFA is essentially at odds with past human progress or, more precisely stated, with human social development up to now.
Architecture, in its highest form, is utterly subject to environmental laws: response to the site's ecology; efficient use of energy in all of its aspects; specification of environmentally-sound materials and methods of construction; planning for compact and optimally self-sufficient communities; utilization of appropriate technology; minimization of pollution and toxic waste; discriminating employment of non-renewable resources; in short, the balancing of human desires and undertakings with the long-term health of the planet-"sustainable design". …