Dialogue between Ammar Khammash & Bianca Jagger
50 Minds for the Next 50. Safeguarding Heritage against Climate Crisis Session
Architect, photographer, designer, and artist.
President and Chief Executive of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation
Vision for the Next 50
In the Next 50… Sustainable architectural practices adopt the knowledge of indigenous communities and their way of living with the surrounding environment. New technologies can be used to enhance their traditional knowledge.
In the Next 50… We must use all of our technologies to support indigenous peoples and their wealth of knowledge. They are the best keepers of mother earth, especially biodiversity, water and the rainforest.
The dialogue between Ammar Khammash and Bianca Jagger focused on indigenous peoples and their link to technology. Ammar and Bianca agree that the knowledge of indigenous peoples should play a significant role in responding to the climate crisis. Bianca pointed out that indigenous people are vulnerable to the dangers from climate change and their fundamental rights to life are being violated. She highlighted that international organizations should ensure that the voices of indigenous peoples and youth are heard to envision a more hopeful next 50 years. Ammar explained that he is inspired by the way indigenous peoples interact with their surrounding environment for his architectural work. He also added that we must use new technology to review past decisions of local communities in a more contemporary way. Considering the power and innovation of local communities, Ammar and Bianca concluded that technologies should serve indigenous peoples to safeguard them from dire threats of the climate crisis.
I think it is almost impossible to imagine the 50 years to come. In the 1970’s and 1980’s we could comfortably think of the future, but now with artificial intelligence and what’s happening in science, it is getting beyond our abilities as humans to use our Paleolithic brain to envisage what is to come.
How do you imagine technology will transform the way we look at natural or cultural heritage?
I am a great believer in the power of social media and technology. I am the founder and president of a human rights organization, the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation but I wear many hats. I am a Goodwill Ambassador for the Council of Europe to abolish the death penalty, I am a member of the Director’s Leadership Council of Amnesty International, and I am also IUCN Ambassador to the Bonn Challenge, an initiative to restore 360 million hectares of land by 2030.
As you can see, I address many different issues in my work, including indigenous peoples. Through my research I recently came across an indigenous man from Australia who talked about indigenous knowledge and traditional knowledge. He said that traditional knowledge should be called scientific knowledge and called out the importance of scientists working very closely with indigenous peoples to use their knowledge to tackle climate change.
We should use all of our technologies to support indigenous people throughout the world and realize that they are the best keepers of mother earth. They use the word mother when they talk about the earth. They are the best keepers of biodiversity, of water and of the rainforest. It is important that we understand how technology, instead of being destructive, should be used to protect the environment and to support communities and indigenous people throughout the world.
Technology is a great tool for me, including social media to communicate about crimes that are being committed around the world. I am a great believer in using technology to protect people throughout the world as well as the environment.
The link between indigenous people and science is fascinating. We are equipped with more tools and more technology to go back and rethink the innovation of indigenous peoples. They are the living record of accumulated knowledge of the past, including in archaeology, natural history, theology and the older record of paleontology. All of these sciences have to be revisited. Indigenous people remain the guardians of a time when there was more of a symbiotic relationship between humans and the earth. Much more symbiotic than the parasitic relationship that has appeared in the last century.
If we look at the great achievements of the Mayans, the Incas and their technology, I think that we should not be so arrogant as to think that we have developed technology. Three thousand years ago or more, we were all indigenous people - this is what we seem to have forgotten.
How does your architecture respond to the natural and cultural heritage of the community?
I use the site as the architect. When I have a project, that larger site includes the flora and fauna and the people, including their heritage and culture. And then there is how the people view the materials: how they dealt with them in the past and what they’re doing with them now. So I allow the site to make the decisions, and I try to be a modest draughtsman under the command of the site. This includes the local population, their interpretation of space, light, material, gravity and structural solutions, and I use all of that together to do something that is novel and innovative. I don’t copy traditional buildings just as a style; I actually look at the process that created those traditional buildings and try to use the amazing power that we have right now with modern technology and tools. I like to take extremely high-tech and modern abilities and go back to the local indigenous people and the indigenous flora and fauna - I even look at how botany and trees behave on that site. I learn from all of this together to create an architectural decision that is rooted in the location, away from fashion and the latest style in architecture, media or publications.
I’m deeply interested in architecture. I admire efforts to use sustainability and traditional ways, such as creating air or heat without using electricity.
Indigenous peoples are vulnerable in some ways and have been victims of extractive companies, oil companies, and mining companies that have violated the fundamental rights of vulnerable communities throughout the world. It is important for governments and world leaders to understand the importance of indigenous peoples and what they can contribute. They are at the forefront of the struggle against climate change and protecting biodiversity, protecting the rainforest, and protecting our waters. It is all interconnected - the number of indigenous people and indigenous human rights defenders who have been killed trying to protect their land is well known. It’s something that we should never overlook. World leaders and defenders of human rights struggle to protect them from destructive companies that are destroying their lands and are a threat to our survival.
I studied anthropology and archaeology to bring a solid base to my architectural decisions. I look at how they look at materials and the environment, and how they add value to what nature has given them. Their examples are very rich and somehow the more challenges nature gives, the more innovative people were in the past. I am a student of the local community, and how to use new technology to re-understand and re-think the decisions of the past in a more contemporary way.
We are now more equipped with the amazing power of artificial intelligence. The telescope is an extension of our biological eye and vision, and the power they give to our eye is beyond imagination. And I think artificial intelligence is an extension of our brain, and in the near future it will start bringing solutions to climate change. But I’m an optimist and I don’t think it’s the first time that the globe has gone through mass extinctions such as the end of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. This is the only one that we are actually witnessing - but it’s nothing new to mother earth.
As defenders of human rights we have to be optimistic, but I think there is very little room for optimism. Despite the Paris agreement, where we were meant to stay below a 1.5°C increase in global average temperature, we will soon be reaching 2 degrees which is an extremely dangerous place to be. We see how dependent the world is on fossil fuels even though we should be embarking upon a renewable energy revolution. We have seen that renewable energy is really the future. We are still not committed enough to embark upon that revolution.
The only hopeful aspect of all of this is young people and indigenous peoples. And it is people like Mr. Khammash who, despite the fact that architecture is one of the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions in the world, is looking at a new avenue. Such people need to be the majority. We need to have a new approach. It is organizations such as UNESCO who can lead the way for the next 50 years so that we can avoid catastrophic climate change in the world. That is the hope: that the voices of indigenous peoples and of young people will not be drowned out.
Watch the dialogue
Explore other sessions
Five dialogue sessions covering five themes take place in 2022, each joined by thinkers in paired dialogue from diverse regions. The interdisciplinary dialogues inspire new visions for the next 50 years of World Heritage.