CASUALTY. I've been lucky. I grew up surrounded by prominent builders and magnificent, inspiring buildings. In the 1920s, my grandfather helped build the once-prominent Ministry of Justice, across the street from where I later went to school in a village some 10 km southwest of Kabul. Today, the justice building stands as a casualty of war.
The past two decades of warand more than 10 million land mineshave claimed the lives of more than 2 million Afghans, made refugees of another 6 million and left 1 million disabled. With 80% of the country's homes and villages destroyed, 80% of the population has been displaced. In the worst kind of poverty, children have suffered the most. Many have been taken to neighboring countries to be auctioned off.
In 1992, before the Taliban took power, I visited some of the refugee camps just outside Afghanistan and saw young children fighting for a donation of cooked rice. In the struggle, it fell on the ground. They picked it up, by then dirtied with sand and clay, to take to feed their families.
Although I haven't been able to return since then, I've been in contact with relatives and colleagues there who have witnessed America's defeat of the Taliban. Whenever I've spoken with them, they've pleaded for my help. Now I'm pleading with America's designers and builders to help build shelters and villages across Afghanistan.
In my California architecture firm, my colleagues and I have identified the most common construction types and building materials suitable for various regions of Afghanistan. We propose what I describe as the "Village of Hope" conceptconstructing numerous villages, each with a school, orphanage, health clinic, mosque, park and playground, all within walking distance of 500 to 2,500 dwellings, enough for 4,000 to 20,000 residents in each village.
Traditional Afghan buildings consist of earth construction. Where designed and crafted well, many have lasted for hundreds of years. But in the past 23 years of war in Afghanistan, the quality of construction has deteriorated considerably. Many of the earthen structures, even newer ones, have failed in recent earthquakes, killing thousands of residents.
My colleagues and I propose helping Afghans build earthen shelters that contain cement in adobe bricks, mortar and plaster to enhance strength and water resistance. To add seismic resistance, we propose laying barbed wire or bamboo in the brick courses.
With the Village of Hope as a model, as can be seen online at www.a-architects.com, we intend to provide instructions in the proper design and detailing of all the necessary building components. To provide a "refresher course" for local builders, we also intend to prepare detailed, illustrative drawings with step-by-step instructions for building shelters. We envision building them in something of the Santa Fe style of architecture, similar to what is already common in Afghanistan.
For the construction of a shelter to house an Afghan family of eight to twelve people, we estimate the cost at $5,500 for three rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. I figure that Afghanistan could use 960,000 such homes for $6.6 billion, not counting the undetermined cost to build supporting infrastructure. I hope to raise a significant percentage of the dollars from the U.S. construction industry. For that purpose, the U.S.-based, nonprofit Afghanistan Rescue Effort is accepting donations. Furthermore, I'm in the process of organizing something akin to Habitat for Humanity to get U.S. construction expertise into Afghanistan to help train locals in how to build earthen homes properly. I hope to lead the first such tour of volunteers by year's end.
RISK. But in planning such an effort, I am all too aware of the risk of becoming a carpetbagger like those that invaded the American South after the Civil War. In Afghanistan, we must take care not to change its way of life, but to help improve living conditions in keeping with the people's level of comfort. We shouldn't force Afghans to be prisoners of our contributions, and shouldn't impose unfamiliar, prefabricated building systems on them. We should help them construct their own buildings, and to earn their own shelter. And we should help them plan communities for careful growth.
So far, I have enlisted more than 2,000 skilled builders to begin constructing these shelters and give Afghans on-the-job training. Would you please join our effort? I'd like to raise $20.6 million and organize a group of 50 volunteers by July, to get at least 3,000 homes built before winter and, hopefully, inspire more Afghans to help themselves with our support and encouragement.ven as an architecture student at the University of Kabul, I wanted to help preserve my cultural heritage. But in 1978 I left for Denmarkwith a scholarship to study historic building restoration. Soon after, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, causing unfathomable destruction and bringing restoration projects to a complete halt. Of course, my plans changed. In 1980, after completing my studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, I came to visit my brother in the U.S. and for the first time became aware of the atrocities taking place in Afghanistan. Advised not to go back, I stayed in the U.S.