Cameron Sinclair

Interview: Paul D. Miller AKA DJ Spooky

Paul D. Miller: How was Afghanistan?

Cameron Sinclair: Seeing Kabul in the winter is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I simply couldn’t refuse, so I’m glad I went. It was certainly more dangerous than I was led to believe, but it’s a beautiful and amazing country. As a builder, it was stunning to see a city that has been defined by security, and as someone who believes that the places we live in can become vessels of peace, it was a pretty tough space to try to occupy.

PDM: I understand you are looking at restoration and educational initiatives. Could you tell me more?

CS: After two decades of reconstruction work, I want to work on projects that lay at the intersection of cultural diplomacy and national identity—ones that empower local communities to define progress, not have it sanctioned by others. Success will only happen with Afghans leading the charge, and it is far, far more important for Kabul to create and support a purpose-driven school of architecture than to invite a high profile designer to build.

PDM: Post-Architecture for Humanity, can you talk about other building initiatives you’re working on?

CS: The Re:Build project to build re-deployable structures for Syrian refugees is perhaps one of the most important projects that came out of Architecture for Humanity. We often discuss housing refugees, but not how you help return refugees back to their home countries. As a result, in a post-disaster or post-conflict situation, we end up with intractable refugee camps that end up staying for decades.

So a small team of us developed a solution that can be built quickly with local materials and a core frame and can be re-deployed as refugees return home or are displaced yet again. Additionally, the structure—whether a home, school, or health clinic—can grow its own food via an integrated roof garden that also houses rainwater catchment and solar power.

PDM: There are more refugees in the world than at any other time, some of the largest displacement since World War II. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the role architecture can play in creating not just a coping mechanism, but actually a creative response.

CS: In the next thirty years, we could see upwards of 170 million people displaced. Rather than zeroing in on the lack of housing, or education, or health—all of these things are deeply interlocked. Families want their child to get an education; families want safe access to healthcare; families want a roof over their head. When we silo issues, we end up with solutions that are in conflict with each other.

“In the next thirty years, we could see upwards of 170 million people displaced. Rather than zeroing in on the lack of housing, or education, or health—all of these things are deeply interlocked.”

PDM: What are other architects doing that inspires you?

CS: For me, I think the most exciting thing in architecture is the re-emergence of the locally-focused architect. In Kabul, I was lucky enough to meet with Ajmal Maiwandi, who is doing incredible work with a team of dedicated architects with the Aga Khan Foundation. Truly stunning, stunning work. Some of the best work that’s happening right now is from architects who have remained in their home countries and who have focused on a local or national identity and the idea of critical regionalism.

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