The River is for Washing Carpets
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Contemporary peacebuilding, notably as it is practiced in Afghanistan, consistently fails to address local needs in favour of international priorities for global security. Despite the significant presence of foreign agencies and aid mechanisms in the country, peace in Afghanistan remains elusive. Any semblance of peace achieved is neither durable, nor sustainable, particularly because of international ignorance of on-the-ground environmental and social realities, with specific reference to natural resource management and gender dynamics. These failures are localised in Bamyan, a small valley in Afghanistan’s Central Highlands, most well known for its historic Buddhist complex, circa 6th century. An anomaly, Bamyan is a pocket of peace in an otherwise turbulent country, a direct result of global interest (and therein foreign engagement) in the preservation of eight archaeological sites in the valley. Yet the valley’s ‘World Heritage’ designation (2003) has ultimately prescribed a development policy that emphasises heritage conservation over local socio-economic livelihoods. In so doing, the people of Bamyan are still today incredibly vulnerable, subject to insecurity in their water resource base, which is further aggravated by a changing climate and transition to urbanity. Critiquing present models of peacebuilding, this thesis is an advocate for the agency of design in fragile states. Specifically, the thesis suggests that the intersection of architecture, infrastructure, and ecology creates a framework for sustainable development that is grounded in local conditions and livelihoods. Herein, peacebuilding becomes a bottom-up, pro-active process, engaging with, and responding to, the needs of local people as a means of building a paradigm of self-sufficiency. That is, the thesis strives for ‘positive’ peace, with the intention of cultivating relationships of solidarity between and among communities. In Bamyan, opportunity for this is found through shared spaces for water. Water has important ecological and cultural implications. Rehabilitation of water infrastructure is necessary to restore the valley’s denuded landscape. Ritual importance of water additionally provides occasion for community gathering and social encounter, both for men and for women. Women especially, are integral to the peace process as their presence, in Afghan society, enables the ‘family space,’ a safe, gender-neutral, and culturally appropriate space for informal, public community gathering. Accordingly, the thesis proposes a network of decentralised physical, ecological, and social infrastructures throughout the local watershed of Bamyan that seek to build enduring social and environmental resilience. Integration of vernacular and modern technologies capitalises on local knowledge and historical models of behaviour. Participation of the community in the building process moreover strengthens social relations, producing a shared sense of ownership in the peace process. This is explored through detailed design of one node in the network, a washing house along Bamyan River, which connects water and women as mechanisms for enduring peace, uncovering the potential of shared spaces for water to mobilise community solidarity, empower cultural identity, and build human dignity. Coupling ecological and cultural systems draws on the existing and the essential, and the thesis thus conceives a practice of design that can appropriately engage in, and foster, sustainable peace in fragile states.
Cite this work
Safira Lakhani (2017). The River is for Washing Carpets. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/12442