Black Snow in Summer
An Interview with LA Prof. Shishir Raval
LA Students at UGa Complete Design Project
Our Thanks To
It was late summer. I was sitting in my garden. It's usually okay there, unless there is war going on.
Suddenly, black snow started to cover my garden. At first I didn't recognize that these were my memories carried on the wind. I tried to pick up one little black piece. Then I realized that what I held in my hand was burned treasure of my dear library.
You see, in my happy days, in secondary school, I went often to the City Library because I worked there in the department of the librarian. The staff liked me a lot, so they gave me keys for rooms where no one comes usually. These were interesting rooms indeed. I went there with two friends of mine with the Bible, and we read the Armagedea.
The atmosphere was special for all three of us. You should see how it looked inside. It was so very old. We couldn't have enjoyed it more.
A piece of black thing was still floating in my palm. Could it be that I was holding all my happy days in my hand?
I can't believe that anyone can understand this. Might be you.
(The above is an excerpt from a letter from Ljerica, a friend in Sarajevo, seen above in the ruins of Sarajevo's ancient public library.)
Then he asked them to imagine living in the rubble for 1,000 days, with artillery rounds still smashing into the walls and sniper rounds still felling pedestrians.
Remember Sarajevo? It's still there, still getting pounded daily. Craig, an urban designer in Birmingham, Ala., cannot forget, nor will he let others. Powerless to stop the internecine war, he asks American design students to help plan the rebuilding of Sarajevo.
And that's how the founder of the Birmingham Bosnia Task Force got the NCSU design students to surrender last week to a "charrette" on the Bosnian capital. About 30 students worked on the charrette, title "Healing...Hoping," on Friday and Saturday. Craig led a similar design session at the University of Georgia earlier in the week.
"We're sending this information to Sarajevo and have people responding back," said Craig. "They're inspired that they haven't been abandoned."
Craig, who holds a landscape architecture degree from Louisiana State University, is a former editor of a community newspaper and a designer for the City of Birmingham. A year ago, he used his former press credentials to visit Sarajevo. His 10-day trip stretched to one month, because fighting closed the airport. After touring the city, sharing privations with its citizens and meeting with military and civilian officials, Craig returned with maps, charts and photographs to use during charrettes--design sessions used to identify and solve problems in a project, such as the one at NCSU.
His visit to NCSU and the charrette was organized by landscape architecture professor Shishir Raval, who has arranged charrettes involving all the disciplines of the design school--architecture, design, landscape architecture, graphic design and industrial design--since he came to the school in 1991. He said Craig contacted Art Rice, chairman of the landscape architecture department, in January, and that Rice passed along the idea of the charrette.
Raval got $400 from the design school to support the session but could not pay to bring Craig to Raleigh. Instead, Craig drove nine hours from Birmingham. About 30 students worked with him Friday and Saturday.
Two disasters could follow the horrors of war, Craig told the students before they started Friday afternoon. One would be to have no money to rebuild the capital; the other would be to have the money but no plans. Hastily rebuilding a bland, lifeless capital would amount to "the final ethnic cleansing," said Craig, referring to the Bosnian Serbs' systematic eradication of Muslims and their culture.
In fact, the Serbian siege of the capital has specifically targeted its most prominent elements of architecture and culture. The city hall, erected during the 19th century heyday of the Austro-Hungarian empire and later converted into the city's library, was a prime target. People who tried to save the priceless volumes were shot by snipers, said Craig.
During a slide presentation in the Kamphoefner Auditorium, Craig showed a slide of a Sarajevan Mosque whose minaret had been toppled by Serbian gunners, who had ruthlessly shelled it until it fell.
A secondary form of destruction has been inflicted on the city by its hapless residents. Desperate for firewood, they have stripped their parks of trees. Desperate to bury their beloved, they have turned the parks into cemeteries.
Parks are among the targets for Craig's charrettes. He told students that one challenge they may face is finding ways to rehabilitate parks without reducing their status as cemeteries.
Other areas Craig asked the student designers to consider include the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics, much of which has also become a cemetery; the infamous "Sniper Alley," a central boulevard connecting older and newer districts of the city, over which hilltop snipers have a superb view; and the city's old town religious district, where Christians and Muslims have lived and worshiped in peace for centuries.
Craig wanted charrette participants to focus beyond mere rebuilding and concentrate on fashioning a city that fosters multiculturalism. "What can we do as urban designers to help people live together?" Craig asked. He requested that the NCSU students devise "a master plan of a Sarajevo for the 21th century that the whole world can learn from."
In devising such a plan, they had first-hand help from a Bosnian colleague. Nedim Spahic, 26, was nearing the end of his studies as an architecture student in Sarajevo when the siege began in 1992. After fighting for several years with the Bosnian army, he had to flee the city in the fall when enemies in the city targeted him. "I am not in good relations with the nationalists," he said.
Like many others, Spahic fled through a 4-foot-tall tunnel Sarajevans dug under the airport to connect themselves to Bosnian-held territory to the west. The city is something of a peninsula in an enemy sea.
Spahic said he is a Moslem, but it doesn't matter...I belong to the people of Sarajevo who try to save that multiculturalism. His girlfriend, whom he met since he moved to Birmingham to work with Craig, is of mixed parentage, Moslem and Christian, he said. She is from Tuzla, another besieged city.
Although it is difficult to show American students the reality of life in Sarajevo, Spahic thinks their contributions will be helpful in rebuilding his city. In turn, helping them is one way for him to help the city, where his parents still live, from afar.
Spahic said he hopes to complete his studies--possibly at N.C. State--if he can find the money, perhaps through a scholarship. He drove to Raleigh with Craig, but took a bus back to Birmingham on Saturday night, said Raval.
Craig and Spahic spent Friday night at the design school to help students who stayed late Friday to work on the project. Students said they appreciated the opportunity to work with the pair. Mary Woltz, a first-year graduate student in landscape architecture, said she also found the chance to work with students from other disciplines valuable. "It needs to be encouraged," she said.
The students split into groups addressing five areas of concern--environment and economics, sculpture and monuments, parks and cemeteries, the riverfront and the old town.
Woltz worked with the old town group, trying to connect a pathway connecting various cultural sights that tourists might take. The group addressing "Sniper Alley" tried a similar approach.
"We wanted to turn it into a whole cultural ribbon," said David Gordon, also a first-year graduate student in landscape architecture. His group turned a bombed-put warehouse district in the center of the city, where a Serbian push toward an old army barracks was foiled, into a park that would open a north-south axis through the city. The boulevard called "Sniper Alley" runs through it.
Craig said he plans to organize charrettes at other universities in the United States, constantly feeding the results to friends in Sarajevo. One means of contact he uses is e-mail through the Internet.
Woltz said the N.C. State students' plans might never reach fruition, but the charrette lays the groundwork for others.
"Whether this will be built is not the fundamental issue," said Woltz. "This is just a stop along a very long path, obviously, but they're all very important stops."
Participating in such sessions will help make American students better designers in addition to helping Bosnians, said Craig. Sarajevans have already learned some important lessons.
"They know the value of architecture, the value of the urban environment...because they're watching theirs being destroyed," said Craig.
BN :Why did you think it was a good idea to do a charrette on Sarajevo?
RAVAL: I knew it in my gut that this was a good idea. I had no doubt, since the day that Art Rice, the head of my department, said that somebody named James Craig had called up and sent some information and he wanted me to look at it. I looked at it and knew that this could be a great charrette topic that would encourage many students to participate in it.
It is a topic that has an international focus, it will give our students wider exposure, and it is a topic that many people just neglect. They only read about this in the newspaper; I felt like by participating we could bring some realities closer to home, perhaps understand the frustration many people are feeling, and through our efforts design something useful.
BN: Was the charrette what you expected?
RAVAL: Oh yeah, a charrette is an uncertain endeavor. Especially where it is at a school and it is a voluntary one. You must have a grand mission for a charrette to work, but you cannot have grand expectations. And what the students turned in was very satisfying to me. The charrette was great, and let me add that it was great because Jay Craig and Nino Spahic were here.
BN: I believe this is the third annual charrette you've done. How would you compare this to other charrettes?
RAVAL: In terms of working on issues, all the creatures were different. The first one involved redesigning the indoors and outdoors of our school premises. The second one was a shopping area, the only food co-op we have here in Raleigh; we designed the indoors and outdoors for them. This one, I had no notion, because I didn't know much about Sarajevo. But I relied on your expertise and I was glad that some Bosnians were involved with us.
In that respect this was a completely new and different experience for me, in terms of the content and the kinds of topics we tackled. And the logistics were totally different, the way we would split into different groups (to study various aspects of a Sarajevo master plan) and come together again (to achieve an overall consensus on each group's ideas). But I took the risk on the positive side.
You were with us, so in that respect it was different. For the first time, an outside professional and a person from a needy foreign country, who knew about those places, came together as resource persons and helped put together an event. In that respect it was one of the greatest experiences. I hope we can repeat this kind of experience in future.
BN: What would you like to see from the Bosnia Network? And how do you see its future?
RAVAL: With your kind of commitment and energy and purity of purpose, I have no doubt about the positive future of this network. I always believe in purity of purpose, and that you have shown very clearly and apparently.
How should this continue? There is so much to do. Let us each do our own part in the best possible manner that we can. Somebody can contribute through money, somebody can contribute through ideas, somebody can contribute through time, energy. I do not know many people in the network, but I offer them my best wishes and prayers, not only for the Bosnia Network but for all peoples of that part of the world.
Serbs, Bosnians, Croatians, they all need to come together and realize their mistakes, and realize their dreams. That may sound philosophical, but with this kind of topic you can't help but get philosophical.
BN: What can urban designers do to help unite people?
RAVAL: I'll paraphrase something I heard in your slide show: "If you want to envision peace, you must plan for peace." Whether it is urban design or a small community garden, you must have some purpose...Design is everywhere--not just in urban design--in policy making, planning, the design of individual buildings. My dream is that it happens not just in the US, but right there in Sarajevo, throughout the country, Bosnians participating, not just us...Our work should only be a trigger. It can not be blindly adapted for Bosnians. The Bosnian people--architects, designers, artist--should look at our work, improve on it, change it, do their own.
BN: How do you think the students responded to the charrette?
RAVAL: Your slide show and introduction implanted into us, myself and the students, the passion and commitment that you are feeling. Through your presentation and involvement, this topic had a much more strong emotional impact than other charrettes. That's why the experience the students got was very worthwhile. This method can be used in our own backyard. We can go to our own neighborhoods and do something here.
On March 20, students of Professor William Mann's fifth-year landscape architecture design studio at the University of Georgia's School of Environmental Design presented visionary projects focusing on reconstruction of Sarajevo's riverfront.
The presentations were a culmination of a six-week course that began February 6, when BN director Jay Craig gave a lecture and slide show featuring photos taken on a recent trip to Sarajevo.
Bosnian design student and Network staffer Nehim Spahic took part in the question and answer period that followed. He returned at mid-term with Craig to check the class' progress.
The course was offered in conjunction with The Global Network for Rebuilding's "Bosnia Network" project, utilizing GNR resource materials and firsthand knowledge of Bosnia Network personnel.
The students' work was innovative and exciting. Especially interesting was the use of computer imaging to project planned improvements onto site photos supplied by GNR.
Craig and Spahic were also present at the project judging. Titles included:
LLOYD CLAYTON, owner president of Dr. Clayton's Herbs, for his generous contribution to help the people of Bosnia.
JENNY RUSSELL, LA professor at Purdue University, for inviting a BN representative to speak before the ASLA Board of Trustees. And the INDIANA ASLA for a $100 donation.
DALE DUNHAM of GIS, Inc. in Birmingham, who has loaned us the invaluable use of GIS software and a digitized map of the world, and ESRI rep JOE RUBISCH for giving us a licensed copy of ArcCad.
DAVID COOK, a lawyer in Memphis and a good friend, for his generous $2,000 donation on behalf of peace and reclamation in Bosnia.
A Prayer for the Balkans
The Newsletter, Winter 1995
The Newsletter, Fall 95 / Winter 96
A Note from Sarajevo
Classes and Workshops
A Letter from the Founder
A Peaceful Mobilization
An Endorsement from the ASLA President
Sarajevo Survival Guide
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