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Political Visioning Through Design and Architecture

Cameron Sinclair helps societies build while putting people first. He's speaking to us from a 14th century castle in Scotland, but his thoughts are in Saudi Arabia.

Cameron_1SinclairCEO of the World Changing Institute, architect, designer and a leader in socially-responsive building, humanitarian and community planning, he lights up when he describes what’s happening in the Kingdom. 

“Whole new cities are being planned. The country is changing every nine months. There are seven giga projects right now in Saudi. Historic buildings have always been constructed to represent power – to convey the idea you are still a powerful force in the world. Saudi began building that way. They wanted to show off their power with huge construction projects and taking over golf and tennis. But then they also realized they wanted to protect their unique heritage as well. They want to build people-centric cities. The giga projects are for Westerners. They are building not to pierce the skies but rather to deepen communities."

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Who is building them is also changing. “In some of these projects, 60% of the staff is female, and often run by a female. Six months ago, women weren’t even permitted to drive.  Now they are both Uber drivers and they lead industry!”  

Change consumes Sinclair. “By 2044 there will be a billion more people and they won’t be lounging in Malibu estates. They will be in urban centers and architectural planning has to lead the way. Right now there are more people living illegally in Bombay than legally! In the US, cities are shrinking.

In Japan, villages are disappearing every week. The divide CameronSinclairIMG2MMDbetween rich and poor is growing. Global warming is real. It was heat and famine that caused the chaos in Syria, now a broken society. There is mass migration – 117 million people were displaced this year which would make them the 14th largest country in the world. By 2044, 300 million displaced people will be on the move. Resources will continue being more scarce.  We need to create the systems for people to build their lives in safety.”

Saudi realizes this and they are “future proofing” with their enormous construction projects. “They are willing to take risks on human centered design strategies. We don’t have all the answers but the kind of systems thinking we do is like a fig: you don’t need to know all the things that make it work – just that it tastes good.”Cameron Sinclair MMDIMG3

Sinclair’s work spans the globe, and he is encouraged by so much innovation. He explains how in Pakistan, for example,  bamboo and earthen-designed houses replaced 400 tents with 4000 homes for the same amount of money, involving an incentive program where you’d build the next house to earn one.  He tells of an innovative African “medical office” on a camel’s back that has brought healthcare to desert outposts otherwise neglected or overlooked.

“Designers can be the next ambassadors of this generation, design citizens, city planning.  Water, power, shelter - if you don’t handle them, conflict comes. Humanitarian and community-based architecture is not just about building pretty structures. It’s a political movement to meet the enormous challenges we face now and that are coming down the road.”

Today's email was brought to you by Adam Gilad.

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