Mauritian authors make it to World Top 20 Best Articles

Mauritian authors make it to World Top 20 Best Articles
Zaheer Allam & Zarrin Allam
Their paper entitled: “Invasive Aesthetics: A manifesto for reviving architectural identity in developing nations” featured among the TOP 20 Best ARTICLES of 2013 by Archdaily, the biggest architectural platform in the world with a billion page views per year. “This article, submitted to us by Zaheer and Zarrin Allam, two residents of Mauritius, is an important examination of how globalisation is effectively eliminating local vernacular architecture: a trend that is only becoming more widespread and pernicious as our world becomes more and more urbanised,” writes Vanessa Quirk, Managing Editor, Archdaily.

Zaheer is an independent scholar with a background in Architecture and Project Management and Zarrin is a medical doctor. They were the only Africans whose views were featured in the top 20 alongside world renowned architectural, urban and social theorists and critics. News on Sunday finds out more.

What is your article about?
My paper is a retrospective on our current Architectural trends and explores the blind adoption of modernist approaches in the built environment. It is the result of adaptation and design of visual analogies instilled by mainstream media and fashion. This slowly erodes the very foundation of civilisation. My paper encompasses a global perspective and emphasizes the importance of every country having its unique culture and tradition branded on its infrastructure. Mindlessly re-creating modernist approaches is progressively contributing to a uniformity of form that reconstructs culture and identity. As our culture fades, so does our sense of belonging.

What are your views on our current system and ethos?
When I look back at our current design ethos, what I see troubles me; we are feeding our towns & cities with instability and feeding our society with doubts and irrationality. We are promoting a behaviour that is unsustainable and even criminal at certain stages.
It is very important to realise that we are inevitably becoming victims of globalisation and even sadder; victims of our own ideologies. It seems our policy makers are blinded by visual mantras of modernity and dangerously equating it to economic success. We are slowly driving away from our goal; that was to design for the people. Eventually, there will be a time in the future when we will be forced to realise that we were promoting a mechanical and unnatural system, but then, it will be very hard to realign ourselves to support a cohesive & sustainable framework.
I do know that certain of my views can be unconventional but all research evidence turns to the same conclusion; we are reconstructing culture and society. It is time to re-evaluate our country’s stand towards sustainability.
Is this your first paper and where did your inspiration come from?
I have been writing on Architecture, Urbanism & Ecology on the Mauritian and global context for quite some time. My paper selected for the Top 20 best articles of 2013 was originally focused on the Mauritian context and entitled “The slow death of the Mauritian Architectural Identity: A call for a regenerative Architecture”. Through my research, I came across the works of a true genius; Prof Nikos Salingaros. His works changed the way I viewed architecture and the built environment. I immediately saw the potential of extrapolating his ideas on the local context and the numerous benefits of adopting his philosophies in our current design ethos. Since then, I am in contact with him and pursue my interest in improving our local and global society through the implementation of ideologies focused on practicality and purpose.
Since our built environment is the foundation of all human activities; it is only logical to promote a design philosophy that accentuates productivity at all levels.
What goal are you trying to achieve through your articles?
I am driven by two powerful forces; hope to promote sensibility and awareness, and faith in our community and the upcoming generation to advocate for change. Through my works, I do not intend to blindly criticise but instead to provide ideas and possibilities on how to resolve the issues at hand. There have been incredible resistance to the philosophies I write about as people are often blinded by what other “modernised” countries are doing. . What they are doing is not necessarily right! This resistance to change is being fuelled by a short-sightedness which is dangerous to our community. I am all for the economic development of our island but it would be a shame for it to happen at the detriment of our culture. My aim is to promote truly utilitarian values that highlight humanistic approaches and hope to translate them into practice through policy implementation by our ministries.
The paper was co-authored by your sister who is a medical doctor. Zaheer, you are from an architectural background, how did your sister end up co-authoring with you?
My sister was always among the first ones who I’d turn towards to initiate a conversation on sociological issues. She was a platform for me to bounce ideas and endlessly debate theories and possibilities. Her passion for literary works is an asset to converting my ideas into a language suited for a popular audience.

Zarrin, how did you end up with an interest in the subject?
I always had an interest in the environment and have noticed with concern that we will not be leaving much to our future generation should we continue along our current trends. Moreover, I am passionate about travelling and seeing as much of the world as I can. This is fuelled by curiosity about how different cultures and traditions interact with their surroundings. I firmly believe it would be a sore loss to our world should all diversify cease to exist. Also, I see all too often every day, in my line of work, that the built environment has an extensive impact on people’s health. I cannot treat every single person, but I can certainly sensitise them about their environment. Sometimes knowledge can help set historical changes in motion. My brother’s interest in the field provided me with the perfect medium to voice my concerns out.

You both seem to have a lot of drive and passion. How do you stay motivated in the face of resistance?
It is quite simple. We both love our country and our environment. And as it is for your own children, we just want what’s best for them. Why should we settle for a passive acceptance of what currently is instead of actively striving for improvement? Change is hard but it is also a rewarding process; one that forces us to face our shortcomings and helps us overcomes it. With that in mind, we keep trying to awaken our community towards the need for change. As the belated Randy Paush so wisely said: “Brick walls are not there to keep us out, the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show us how badly we want something.”

Acknowledgement: News on Sunday