Tessellar Blog

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Naypyidaw

This is Myanmar's new administrative capital. A city built on superstition, megalomania and paranoia.

The first despot of Burma, Ne Win, who seized power in 1962, “insisted on walking backwards over bridges at night and performed other rituals to avoid bad luck. He introduced the 45 kyat and 90 kyat notes because they were both divisible by nine and added up to nine. He believed that this move would ensure that he would live to the lucky age of 90! The decision to change the name Burma to Myanmar as proposed by Ne Win’s soothsayer was announced on May 27th (2+7=9).”

The general died in 2002 at the ripe old age of 92.

“Each of the leading clans in the junta has his family astrologer. The army has its own zodiacal experts, but it is a dangerous job: astrologers who make negative predictions are liable to arrest and imprisonment.”

“The astrologer of current strongman, Than Shwe, warned him of impending disaster that could only be averted by moving the capital.”



And so they quietly planned and built a city in the jungles of central Myanmar. The vision is grand: it would cover more than 4,600 square kilometres, 78 times the size of Manhattan. Naypyidaw’s new city hall stands at the end of a road so long and wide it could almost serve as an airport runway. The name Naypidaw means "abode of kings".


From Austin Andrews


From Austin Andrews


From Austin Andrews

But Naypyidaw remains a mysterious capital. Access is still tightly controlled. Two local journalists were reportedly jailed for photographing government buildings without permission in 2006. Yangon is now seething with discontent that can only be quelled by brutalizing the population.


From www.hfxnews.ca

The paranoia of Myanmar’s military rulers is quite justified.

Quotes from Ben Macintyre, The Times

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Funeral in Sumba Island

Ten years ago, British traveller Richard Cain was in the island of Sumba in Indonesia. He thought he might have a look at the famous megaliths on the island. Here is his story:

“........ what I didn’t know was that they are still making them. As it happened, I was in time for the laying of a new tomb and the accompanying funeral of one of the local chiefs."


Megalith in the foreground, from Anders Poulsen

"I was fortunate enough to be invited to the funeral and to stay in a nearby village. When asking about the deceased, I was surprised to be told that I could see him the following day, the day before the funeral. After all, not many foreigners come by, and he would be very interested to meet me."


From Richard Cain’s Global Wanderings

"So I met the chief, who seemed to be in glowing health. He told me that he was having his funeral now, as it was a very expensive affair and why should he miss all the fun? He also couldn't trust his family to stump up the cash for it when he died. Apparently this is the custom for chiefs in these parts. We also talked about this and that, and he offered his condolences for my recent loss. When I showed my surprise, he told me that his people shared my grief at the loss of one of my royal family, namely Princess Diana. This was September 1997."


FromAnders Poulsen

"On the day of the funeral, I went to the chief's village. I saw a huge group of men pulling an enormous chunk of rock. It must have been 30 feet long and 15 feet wide and about 3 or 4 feet thick. Tree trunks were being used as rollers and they had been manhandling this slab, to be laid on the chief’s tomb, for many months as it had come from a quarry far away. Standing on top was a very fierce man, with a colourful sarong and bandana and an enormous machete in his belt. He was calling out time through a megaphone. There was also a sail on the slab to help them on their way. This was to be the final day of heaving, as they were to pull the slab the final few metres to its eventual resting place."


From www.sumai.org



"Every now and then from the village square came music from a small band. This was a signal to stop pulling and to meet another delegation from various local villages. They had come to pay their respects to the chief and to offer presents. These were mainly pigs and buffalos, which were led ahead of the delegation and then ritually slaughtered in the tiny square. There were also a few modern gifts, including a few cartons of cigarettes and bags of sugar."


From Richard Cain’s Global Wanderings

"I must admit after the 50th (animal) was slaughtered, I think I had seen enough.”

Excerpt from community.iexplore.com

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Mud Houses vs. Prefabs


My interest in mud houses is only about as old as this blog. But I was fascinated by the examples of mud- houses that I found, and writing about them was fun. Nadir Khalili's work was especially interesting: such a simple idea – sandbagging – added a lot to the ancient art of mud-building.


But I have one criticism of the modern experiments in mud-houses: they were building mainly one-room houses. Ok, in California, they were also building some extended combination of rooms to form bigger houses. But today's problems are mainly urban, and these small scale solutions are only suitable for rural situations.


In a sense, these efforts in furthering mud-house technology are not much different from the enthusiastic efforts to promote prefab houses, which are all the rage in the architectural blogosphere. The 5 tiniest prefabs featured by Inhabitat are really eye-catching! The problem here is that the prefabs only look good in beautifully landscaped acre lots, in isolated countrysides, or on deserted rooftops above the urban scene.


If mud-houses are to become more than just nostalgia for traditional architecture, we must develop the concepts for modern mud towns and communities. Many cultures, like the Hakka clan in China, have shown how; the grand example must be Shibam in Yemen.


Similarly, if the prefab houses are to become more than just a celebration of high tech minimalism, designers must show how these houses combine with others in dense urban situations to form neighbourhoods, towns and cities.



Xhosa Mud Hut

Bangladesh

Panama

Yemen

Mud House for Mars

Tiny Prefabs

Hakka “Tu Lou”

Shibam, Yemen




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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nurin

AL-FATIHAH

إنا لله وإنا إليه راجعون

Last week Malaysia was gripped by the tragic end to the search for Nurin Jazlin. This 8 year old girl had gone missing a month earlier on August 20th after going out to the night market near her home in Kuala Lumpur. It was the first and only time she had done so by herself. I first knew of this case during my business trips: pictures of her smiling bubbly face were posted at almost every petrol station in the country.

On Monday 17th September, the body of a girl was found in a large sports bag outside Kuala Lumpur. Pictures were released; Nurin’s parents said no, this was not her. The girl in the photo was not at all like the Nurin on the posters: this was a picture of a corpse - gaunt, lifeless and with a pained look. Indeed police found evidence of sexual abuse and torture.

But DNA tests were carried out, and confirmed that the dead girl was Nurin. The parents finally overcame their denial, took Nurin’s body home and, in accordance with Muslim practice, gave her a prompt burial.

To add to the parents’ grief there were some who blamed them for not looking after their children well enough. The Chief of Police was quoted that the parents might be charged for negligence.

This raises the question: to what extent should parents keep their children safe?

This month in Britain, 1100 teachers, psychologists, authors and childcare expert wrote an open letter to a UK newspaper. Overprotective parents were warned that they were denying youngsters a proper childhood by keeping them indoors playing video games instead of letting outside them play.

They said that loosely supervised play was crucial for keeping children active, teaching them to deal with risk and learn to get on with others. But parental anxiety over “stranger” danger, traffic in residential areas, commercialized toys and screen entertainment were all working together to rob children of opportunities to enjoy “real” play. And this they claimed was endangering the health and well-being of the coming generation: “real play – socially interactive, first hand, loosely supervised – has always been a vital part of children’s development, and its loss could have serious implications.”

I love children. I have five of them, two of about Jazlin’s age; and concern for their safety does pose a dilemma. I would like them all to have the childhood that I had. Life was more carefree in those days (though I suspect that those who survived intact like I did, have fonder memories than those who were unlucky). But the circumstances of life for children in the city have changed.

The police haven't arrested anyone yet, but suspect links with earlier cases of abduction and abuse of other small children; parents will be more careful with their children. The evil deeds of a sick demented psycho have will victimized not just a few children but perhaps every child in the country.

In the deep corners of my website you will find my theory and ideas about how architecture and town-planning can make children happier – with green semi-private courtyards in front of every house for children to play in full view of their parents and neighbours. It’s hidden there because I worry that it might be perceived as wishful thinking and naïve.

But in these dark days we need all the optimism we can get. Aristotle was reported to have said that the purpose of town-planning is to make people happier.


Childhood in the City


The Children-Friendly City of Delft


References: nurinjazlin.blogspot.com
news.bbc.co.uk

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