The Adventurers and the Champion

The Adventurers and the Champion

The 2015-16 Loeb Fellows were introduced to the GSD and wider University community this week in a lunchtime series of presentations in which each set out goals for their Fellowship year. The passionate first-person narratives were compelling, and I found myself casting superhero roles for each of them in the yet-to-be-released GSD blockbuster “The Loebs: Avengers of Global Gotham.” Brett Moore (Victoria, Australia) and Arif Khan (New York City) are the cohort’s Adventurers; Liliana Cazacu is the Champion.

Brett Moore characterizes his peripatetic career working at the intersection of civil society, government, and the private sector as a “process of inquiry.” His Loeb year quest is “to interrogate the status quo of what architecture is and what architects do and how they’re educated,” specifically regarding global humanitarian relief and reconstruction. A registered architect whose work for the last 14 years spans 120 countries in the developing world–from Africa and the Middle East to Southeast Asia, with a network numbering 44,000 staff on call to be on the ground within 24 hours as needed–Moore does not flinch as the world churns in the aftermath of increasing incidences of natural disaster and conflict. What you discover in this work, he reveals, is that critical technical skills are “not enough. You need to give humanism to the work to do it properly, and in the end you realize there is a shared humanity. The built environment is the point of entry.” For his Loeb year, Moore will be affiliated with the Risk & Resilience concentration of the MDes program and will examine urbanization and the post-disaster American experience of Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.

Arif Kahn introduces himself as “a schemer”–and who else to contrive the undercover transformation of a portion of the UN’s 17-acre New York City headquarters into a working garden-farm? It now composts UN food wastes and recently served as official venue for the inaugural Nelson Mandela Day, hosting luminaries such as the Prime Minister of Uganda and the President of the General Assembly. Kahn managed the covert planning of this sly “sleight of spade,” running afoul of UN security guards three times, but nonetheless prevailing. Garden expansion is currently underway, now at the official behest of the UN Secretariat, where Kahn has been working on the Secretary General’s initiative to overhaul its humanitarian system.

With a Masters in Urban Planning and a BS in “Human Factors Engineering,” (his self-created undergraduate degree), Kahn’s life-abiding grail is Truth in a journey he dedicates to “realize truth, pursue joy, and deepen the ability to love.” Before joining the UN, Kahn worked at the forefront of the bikes and trails movement in Portland, OR. Then, prompted by the 1994 Asian tsunami, he turned to humanitarian disaster response, working for five years with the faith-based organization Islamic Relief. Kahn's recent work at the UN culminates with the spring 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

Kahn proposes some projects to launch his Fellowship year: expanding his ongoing food production and composting campaign at the UN and broadening his now-international project “De-Pave” to remove concrete hardscape in the American urban realm. “Development,” he clarifies, “doesn’t cause flooding, paving causes flooding.” He also envisions a site-specific, campus-wide “rake in” for Harvard Yard — just in time for the New England leaf season. “I want to make raking sexy” is Khan's come-on for participatory Harvard and GSD community action.

Liliana Cazacu, from Sibui, Romania, is the cohort’s Champion. She is applying her training as an architect and the technical and critical know-how gleaned from her Masters studies in building conservation and architectural history to preserving Transylvania’s treasure of 12th-century stone church fortresses. Transylvania is the site of Europe’s only intact repository of medieval architecture at such scale, built by Saxon colonists to defend the outermost eastern borders of the Kingdom of Hungary. Yet since joining the European Union in 2007, the region, as with Romania as a whole, suffers from the economic emigration of skilled labor which has drained the country of present-day opportunity for prosperity and is beggaring its future.

Cazacu’s Loeb-year quest asks how Transylvania’s legacy might serve as a magnet to attract and catalyze opportunity, return Romania’s economic émigrés and invite international talent and investment. Her pioneering work to leverage 12th-century architecture to attract 21st-century knowledge and technology industries aligns with ongoing GSD research into global community-based development initiatives, including Professor Rahul Mehrotra’s “Extreme Urbanism” 3-part Urban Planning studio on informal settlements in India. Last year’s Loeb Fellows joined the “Extreme Urbanism” studio for fieldwork in Agra, India.

During her Loeb Fellowship, Cazacu is looking to discover entrepreneurial opportunities and alliances in design, engineering, science, and education that promote exchange and revitalization through heritage architecture.

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