Saturday, March 20, 2010

Re-designing Disaster: Calgary Unites for Haiti

In Calgary last month, tens of thousands of dollars were raised for the earthquake shattered country. A concert at Jack Singer Concert Hall on March 10 raised $40,000 alone, for the Le Foyer de Filles Chretiennes Orphanage. It was a joint effort between Calgary and the City of Windsor. Local bands The Dudes, Woodpigeon, and The Polyjesters, played alongside the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, DJ Rob Faust, and Curiously Canadian Improv Theatre among others. CBC’s David Gray hosted the event.

At the city’s third PechaKucha night, themed “rebuild”, guests gathered at the Glenbow Museum to share ideas and inspirations. The event raised over $3,000 (donated to Architecture for Humanity) and connected via live satellite technology a group in Tokyo hosting a similar event. PechaKucha is a style of event invented in Japan by architects who wanted to share their ideas and portfolios in a timely fashion. At any given gathering, a speaker will present twenty slides, or photographs, and talk about each one for twenty seconds. That gives each presenter exactly 6.6 minutes to get their ideas across.

PechaKucha Rebuild attracted a diverse group of speakers. Catherine Hamel, a professor of architecture in the environmental design faculty at the University of Calgary, delivered a moving and poetic narrative which slide gracefully over the heart wrenching photos of her partner, Lawrence Eisler.

Jim Avery, vice-president of Sprung Structures, talked about his company’s innovative response to emergency shelter needs. His family-run business opened in 1887 as a manufacturer of chuck wagon covers, tepees and other Western-style coverings. Today, Sprung Structures provides unique and easy engineered structures which can be erected within hours and withstand the elements. Avery showed pictures of the structures at work in Cuba, New Orleans, and right here in Calgary.

Anila Umar, a youth counsellor and diversity trainer, talked about refugees who rebuild their lives in Canada; Olivier Mills of CAWST – the Centre for Affordable Water Sanitation and Technology – spoke about the relationship between organizations like his own and local, indigenous associations on the ground. He also pointed to women in any given community as the breadwinners and leaders.

Johann Kyser, a masters student in the faculty of environmental design at U of C, spoke about the power of sustainable design to transform and rebuild communities, beyond the physical infrastructure, and pointed to the parallels between the resiliency of a design and that a community. His focus was on socio-economic change, and creative, holistic approaches to it. His was the final presentation of the night. His last words were, “As we’ve seen by tonight’s presenters, even in the most dire of circumstances, human creativity and passion prevail”

Published in National Post on March 20, 2010

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