arch-peace editorials

12 May 2007

London to Ulaanbataar

In 2003 I migrated - temporarily- from Perth, the world’s most isolated city, to one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, London. After ten years teaching architecture in Perth and Kuala Lumpur, I was taking a career break. I had travelled in Europe, having spent three years working as an architect in Austria, but it took time to appreciate London, and l have gradually immersed myself in the city.

Visits to architecture students and graduates around the UK have made my job exciting, and I have developed newsletters and awards with this dispersed community, spread among forty-one universities. Communication with and travel to some of the ten thousand people in this community have been made easier with the UK infrastructure and technology. I do most of my travel by train and bicycle. My partner and I have been able to squeeze domestically and financially into a Georgian studio flat in central London, enabling us to live a short cycle away from work, within the congestion charging zone. So many people around us spend an hour or more, morning and evening, commuting on underground and suburban trains. We have also developed a fondness for the community in our street, which after enduring the nearby bombings in 2005, has resurrected the decade-long dormant tradition of a summer street party.

After the Tsunami, the debates about architectural education and international work escalated among students, involving UK groups Architects for Aid, Architecture Sans Frontieres and Architecture for Humanity. Emergency response and international development processes might be expected to have value in educating architects, and in improving their co-operations with others. But how could these broad interests be harnessed to effect training and practical change? Could international development processes even help with more sustainable planning the 2012 Olympics and Lea Valley regeneration?

In late 2006 I noticed - amid chuckles in the office - that an ‘architecture teacher trainer’ in Mongolia was sought by the organisation Voluntary Service Overseas VSO, and I later successfully applied for the voluntary post. Beginning in August in Ulaanbaatar, I will be based at CTC, an independent construction college working in conjunction with training facilities on several building sites. I am looking forward to learning more about the purposes of architecture and architectural education in Mongolia, where as they have for the last thousand years - the majority of the population still live in the traditional dwelling, the circular felt tent called the ‘Ger’.

Gregory Cowan
Architects for Peace, April 2007

Photograph by: Denny Walther


arch-peace said...

This sounds like a fascinating and inspiring experience Greg. I would be interested to find out more about your impression of the city and of the work you will be doing, so please keep us in the loop.

Best of luck,

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