“My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people. Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see,” says Muhammad Yunus.
What is the mindset of 21st century architects? What actually is 21st century architecture? Is it just about designing buildings, landscapes and interiors? Is it about creativity, innovation or working with people? Is it about influencing society to understand the meaning of ‘living’ rather than just designing its accommodation? Is it about being visionary and empowering other human beings with that vision?
Between 9‒15 October 2014 all these questions were addressed by one of the greatest minds of our time, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus. “It is all about our mindset,” he says. “Architects: the professionals who can change the world.” It is a view he highlights in all his speeches.
Professor Yunus challenged us in his keynote speeches at Focusing People’s Architecture, an international conference and exhibition in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne organised by the Bangladeshi Architects in Australia (BaA)¹ in association with the Institute of Architects Bangladesh and the Australian Institute of Architects NSW Chapter. He shared his thoughts, philosophies and unique concepts on microfinance and social business to complement affordable housing, social empowerment and economic entrepreneurship, including building long-term financial and social entrepreneurship.
Focusing People’s Architecture was the continuation of a series of seminars and exhibitions hosted by the BaA and the Institute over the past five years. The previous three events being Architectural Excellence in Bangladesh, hosted in Sydney in 2008; Sharing Our Achievements, Canberra 2011; and Bringing Architects Together, Melbourne 2012.
The purpose of the events has been to raise the profile of architectural excellence in Bangladesh; create opportunities for architects from Bangladesh who live in Australia; share the work of Bangladeshi architects with Australian architects and vice versa; and reinforce the ongoing relationship between Bangladeshi architects in Australia, the Australian Institute of Architects and the Institute of Architects Bangladesh.
The 2014 events in particular sought to challenge traditional myths surrounding architecture and explore the nucleus of its creative aspirations. The role of architects as social activists, masters of creativity and leaders of innovation was directly complemented by Professor Yunus’s vision: the eradication of poverty from our world. In 1983 his Grameen Bank project pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, in which loans are given to people too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. “Grameen”, he claims, “is a message of hope, a program for putting homelessness and destitution in a museum so that one day our children will visit it and ask how we could have allowed such a terrible thing to go on for so long”. In addition to the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, Grameen was awarded the Aga Khan Award For Architecture in 1989 for designing and operating Grameen Bank Housing, a program that has helped 60,000 poor members of Grameen Bank to construct housing units, each costing on average AUS$300.
To coincide with Professor Yunus’s visit, the BaA launched two flagship projects during his time here: Social Business and Affordable Housing in Bangladesh; and the Housing Guide to Complement Cultural Capital in Australia.
The BaA is working to deliver positive outcomes for these projects within the next two years. In particular it looks forward to working with local Australian architects to improve the living conditions of some of the remote village communities in Bangladesh.
On a personal level, spending time with Professor Yunus and sharing his wisdom was a once in a lifetime opportunity. The five things I took from his visit that will redefine my mindset of 21st century architecture are: be humble; work to solve a problem; work with/for the people whose life you would like to improve; have a big dream but start small; and it is never too late to be an entrepreneur. The week was a life-changing experience I personally wish I’d had 10 years ago. But, as Yunus says, “it is never too late”.
FOOTNOTES 1. http://baa-arch.org/