Letter from Kenya (one)

From the house where I am staying *George, my guide for the day and now-coworker, and I took the #40 bus to the center and then took a Matatu. I’m a bit leery to take the Matatu, mainly because I don’t know if I will feel ready to take one on my own next time. A Matatu is a van (seats about 15) that is a mode of public transportation. All public transportation in Nairobi has fluctuating prices but the day before Morrison, my other guide/co-worker, told me that because I am white they may decide to charge me more. Maybe when I can defend myself in Swahili I will feel more confident with the idea of taking a Matatu by myself.

We take the #46 to Mathare Valley. Once we get our feet on the ground George announces it, “Mathare Valley Slum”. We walk a bit further down the road to a building. He wants to show me a view of the entire slum. I find it unsettling that he continually uses that word. Perhaps it is because I am used to it being used in a derogatory manner, when really it is simply used to described sub-standard living, to describe the place. We walk behind the building and on the steps there are three children. The older sister is putting cornrows in the younger girl’s hair. The little boy looks up at me, Hello, he says in English. Hi, I respond. Fine thank you, he replies. I’m a bit confused why he said that. Later I find out that what I have been taught as “hi/hello” in Swahili (habari) functions as a greeting and also asks “how are you?”. George thinks that behind the building will be a good spot for a comprehensive view of Mathare Valley, but then quickly realizes that where we were before was much better. We climb back up the steps and the little boy runs after us. I vaguely hear him say something, but I can’t make it out. George points and says, This is all Mathare Valley. Over there too? I ask – even though I know the answer, but it is obvious that George is proud of his home and that it is immense. Kenyans all seem to deceive their age, but it is clear that George is quite young, perhaps the same age as the other youth in the program. He is proud and happy to share his home with me. I feel very welcomed, and want to demonstrate my appreciation of his time and openess.

We return to one of the entrances to the slum, close to where we de-boarded the Matatu. George opens and goes through a wooden doorway; I follow. It opens up to an open grassy area. About ten feet after the door is a shack made with scrap metal corrugated sheeting. Inside are about seven young people – well, at this point they are all young men -two in a pair, a group of three talking quitely in Swahili, and two are sitting on their own texting. I go around to greet them. I am a bit unsure about my barely existent Swahili. I say “hi” to the first young gentleman, in English. Then tells me his name, and we shake hands. In my self-conscious state I forget to return the greeting not telling him my name but simply moving on to the next person. Though I correct my mistake with the second young man and say, I’m Nicole. By the third student, I’ve gathered my confidence and greet him with “Habari” and follow up with “I’m Nicole”.

Some of the handshakes are long, I just smile and continue shaking until they let go. George steps out for a moment and the students become more animated. Several ask my name again and where I am from – which is confusing to explain. Because I mention that I live in Chile last – after stating that I am American – they stick with Chile, maybe this is because there aren’t usually volunteers from Latin America. One young man knows Chile well – a big soccer fan – in fact he knows about Chile because he loves the Argentinean team. Later on, in confidence, he tells me that he really doesn’t like Messi, the Argentinean soccer player, but in spite of that he’s a big fan. They ask about the weather in Chile; “It’s in the south. Is it summer there?” one young man asks. I tell them that when I left it was 35 degrees Celsius – they all nod their heads, agreeing that yes indeed it is summer in Chile.

More students start trickling in, and each one greets me first, since I am strategically placed right next to the door – total accident, but it served me well. They then make their way around to all of their peers. Some receive more exciting and/or complex handshakes than others. After they have greeted everyone, they take their seats and chat with their friends in Swahili. I try to make out words, but on day 2, this is difficult. One girl sits alone, not because she doesn’t have friends, but because she is waiting for someone, a boy in particular. I realize this later – once the session is over – when everyone leaves the meeting room to socialize outside. I really want to talk to her because during the debate (more on that in a moment), she tried to participate several times, but the boys tended to drown her out. After the session, when I saw her intensely engaged in conversation with said boy, coyly digging her shoe into the ground, it became clear why she had been waiting on that bench before we started. There will be time to get to know her. I didn’t interrupt that conversation, only observed quietly from nearby.

The debate, activity for the day’s session, was lively. George asked them to think of a topic. A few sex-war topics were thrown out, then a girl said “traditional lifestyle is better than modern”. The students count off 1-2-1-2 to make the teams of pro v. con.

I was well impressed with the young adults – their knowledge of current affairs, history, the environment … There was no preparation – they separated into groups and then started with points and counter points. They discussed pollution, transportation, life expectancy, medical advances, politics … obviously there was no fact checker, but that made it that much more impressive. Additionally it was all in English – I know that Swahili is more comfortable for them: there was one lapse into Swahili.

After the session quite a few of the students came up and introduced themselves to me. So bright and expressive. I have recently been told that they have a lot of footage – documentary of the program – that they want to edit into finished videos, but no one knows how to edit.

Let’s see if I can help change that.

Currently, I am Artist-in-Residence at Maji Mazuri and also volunteering in their Youth Media Program in Mathare Valley, the second largest slum in East Africa. The goal of the program is to help the youth improve the quality of their lives by working with each other, and with counselors, to acquire skills. The program is also designed to provide a conducive environment within which youths can grow and develop into responsible adults. Within this program a “media” program is in current development, where the students (aged 16 – 27) can gain soft and hard skills related to media (i.e. blogging, website design, video production…). February 6, 2012 – my second day in Kenya – was my first visit to a program that I will be closely working with for the next few months.

Maji Mazuri was founded by Dr. Wanjuki Kironyo in1984. She still currently serves as its director. I met her on Monday, after this first visit, and shared these thoughts with her. She said, Thank you. And it was at that moment that it truly became clear to me that it is because of her and her work – additionally, everyone here on the ground, donors, past and future volunteers …, but it was her vision that started this – that I can say this about these young men and women. I feel very honored to be a part of this. I can only hope that I will be able to contribute at least as much as I will gain from this experience.

*I’ve changed all names except my own for their privacy.

Nicole Rademacher is a currently in Nairobi, Kenya until the beginning of May doing research and documentation for her current project investigating domestic ritual (made possible by the North Carolina Arts Council, USA and many private donars/patrons).

official website • Nicole’ blog • follow her project on Facebook


New Zealand Herald Columnist Deborah Hill Cone triumphed US billionaire Julian Roberston and the Teach for America programme he backs through one of his charitable foundations in her recent column. Hill Cone says that Robertson is set to bring the re-named American programme Teach for All to New Zealand. This is not the case and misinformation may have come from New Zealand Herald reporter Audrey Young’s interview with Robertson while she was in New York trailing Prime Minister John Key.

Young stated the Robertson Foundation, his charitable vehicle, were planning to set up a version of Teach for America in New Zealand – Teach for All. This is not the case Teach First New Zealand have confirmed with the PPTA that Teach for All will not be coming to New Zealand. The charitable vehicle Aotearoa Foundation is one of Julian Robertson’s many foundations. Robertson has little direct involvement with it and the foundation did not know he had an interview with Audrey Young, thus the information he gave about Teach for All coming to New Zealand was incorrect. Teach First New Zealand have also confirmed that the woman who established Teach for America and developed a “rock star-type reputation”, Wendy Kopp would not be coming to New Zealand.

The proposed Teach First New Zealand is a collaboration with Auckland University’s Faculty of Education. If approved it would recruit a new group of teachers to work in hard-to-staff low decile secondary schools for two years. Graeme Aitken, Dean of Education at the University of Education told the PPTA the scheme proposes an initial six-week residential summer intensive for top graduates. The scheme is not closely modeled on Teach for America but draws closely from the Teach First Britain scheme which has the backing of a university.

When the PPTA were asked by Deborah Hill Cone about its position on her volunteering in her daughter’s school we replied that we had no issue with this as a qualified teacher would be supervising. Hill Cone claimed the PPTA were against members of the community “chipping in” to help schools. This is simply incorrect. PPTA president Robin Duff said it was problematic when unqualified members of the community started teaching in a core capacity, full-time as this would see a return to the 1960s and 70s when there was no policy to have trained and qualified teachers.

Hill Cone misquoted and stripped the context out of PPTA’s response with little regard to the consequences, she revealed a blatant disinterest in understanding the factual details that lie behind Teach First New Zealand and failed to make contact with them to clarify how they intend to operate their programme if approved.
She dismissed the PPTA’s attempt to help her understand and clarify that Teach for All is not coming to New Zealand.
She failed to mention that PPTA work alongside Teach First New Zealand and that we’ve commissioned a literature review to find out what is working well nationwide with similar schemes and what is failing countries.

The New Zealand Herald have conceded that they made a mistake and have agreed to publish a correction and give the PPTA space in the paper to state its position accurately.

The Unaccounted

A cross-posting to re:speak, but there’s a freerange under-current to my thoughts on the survey below, which documents the trajectory of architecture graduates in New Zealand who seem to be disappearing from the coutnries official Register of Architects.

Some background to familiarise you with the architecture profession in NZ.  In NZ, practicing as an Architect (to design, document, consult on, manage contracts with, administer contracts, and supervise the construction of buildings) is legally protected by the Registered Architects Act (2005), which essentially ensures that Registered Architects comply to ethical, professional and quality standards in their practice, ensuring that when you employ a Registered Architect (or simply ‘Architect’ -which is also covered by this Act) you can expect a professional service (like a registered Nurse, licensed Doctor or Lawyer, etc etc).  You can of course participate in the construction and design of the built environment without being a registered architect, and there are organisations which represent these designers (like ADNZ, Architectural Designers New Zealand Inc) -but like I say, you can’t call yourself an Architect.  Anyhow, if say, like me, you get the idea you want to be an architect when you grow up, and your twelve, you study physics and maths, and maybe design, or art, at highschool, and you look at going to one of our three schools, because to become an Architect, you need to get a recognised Degree (now a Masters of Architecture -used to be a 5yr Bachelor Degree) from an accredited programme (accredited by the Australasian Architecture Schools Association, who are in line with the International Union of Architects – but the whole accreditation thing is another story – needless to say, they have to tick their disciplinary boxes.   So, with your degree in-hand, and presuming you still want to be an Architect [this is where my story deviates], you must prepare yourself for the Registration Examination, which grants you the coveted place on the Register.  A prerequisite for this exam is at least 140 hours of practice experience, all categorised/allotted across a number of areas of competency (and there are MANY), and other documented cases which exemplify your skills and capability of being an architect, and you have to satisfy a committee at interview, and you have to have some money to pay for the application fee (incidentally, this fee tripled recently).  Anyway, if you employ a Registered Architect, they are guaranteed to be an on-to-it muthafucka.

So the discussion below is based around a survey recently published which looks at the activity of architecture graduates and the architects register for the last 20 years, as well as looking at gender, and also throws in some stats on membership to the architects representative institution, the NZIA.

It’s a very nice survey, with some really interesting outcomes, you can download it too, see the links below.

There are a few lines of trickery or subversion which have been alluded to in another post, regarding how one is active in our wonderful discipline/practice, but one statistical outcome which I am glad to have my hands on now – so that I can ponder more accurately – is that only 24% of the total architecture graduates between 1987 and 2008 are now on the Architects Register.  Its a loaded stat, but the author re-estimates a more accurate ‘representative’ figure is maybe 38%.  I’m really interested in the Unaccounted 62%-76%, not so much to dream up elaborate and idealised illegal architects or whatnot, but to consider how this figure could be fed-back to schools who craft their curriculums towards an appreciation of architecture, the professional practice of architects, and a liberal comportment for ethics, representation, craft, discourse, community, etc…

Anyway, that’s a mean preface, here goes:

Errol J Haarhoff, Professor of Architecture at the University of Auckland, has published a new survey of NZ architecture graduates, revealing some great relationships between the architectural institutions of NZ.

“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=123] (Auckland University, 2010) extends Haarhoff’s previous, and similar, survey completed in 2001 – and if you’re interested, extends two older surveys of Australasian architecture graduates undertaken by Peter Johnson and Susan Clarke in 1979 and 1987, and supplements Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’ comprehensive survey of architecture education across Australasia (see the end of the article for these references).  Fortunately, the study can be downloaded from the NZRAB here [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=123] (look on the left-hand column for the link).

I don’t want to go into a full analysis or discussion of the findings here (but I encourage you to), but I did want to point out a few interesting statistics which I had always wondered about, but never really knew the numbers…

Firstly, and most striking is a comparison Haarhoff makes between graduating (architecture) students and those Registering with the NZRAB (the New Zealand Registered Architects Board [http://www.nzrab.org.nz/default.aspx?Page=1] administers the Registered Architects Act 2005, and maintains the architects register, obviously), and he finds that in 2009, only 24% of graduates (from the 3 NZ schools) are Registered Architects.  Statistically, this is a drop from 30% which was achieved in his 2001 survey.

Clearly this is a complicated statistic.  Firstly, Ostwald and Williams (2008) show a current trend in our schools for international students to make up about 20% of the population, it’s possible a considerable proportion of these students emmigrate upon completion.  Another consideration is that more recent years will obviously drop off in registrations (given the 140 weeks of experience required).  Haarhoff also suggests that the registration itself has changed, especially with the introduction of the 2005 Registered Architects Act.  I won’t communicate the full translation of all that here, but Haarhoff does suggest the ‘real’ figure might be around 38%.

Even so, a quick scan of the results shows that never has more than half of a graduating class registered as an architect.

Haarhoff also goes on to show that even when considering the trail-off of registrations in the last five years (because of the experience required in practice), there is still a significant drop in the proportion of graduates who register, given the fact that the average annual cohort of graduates across NZ hitting the scene has jumped from 115 to 165 (43% increase, most of which is attributed to Unitec’s new programme).

A few more factors are discussed by Haarhoff, namely that graduates may now be progressing through practice careers without feeling the necessity for registration, achieving fulfilling working environments alongside other registered architects.  Another critical aspect which Haarhoff confirms, is that a disproportionate number of females never register (where graduate proportions are approximating 50% – although strangely all three schools show a drop in this over the last 2 years – while only 18% of registered architects are female).

Undiscussed here, but really interesting, is Haarhoff’s more detailed analysis of gender in the profession, as well as some curious insight into membership to the New Zealand Institute of Architects – a really great piece of cross-institutional research (which suggests for example that there are 300 unaccounted Registered Architects who aren’t Architect Members of the NZIA).

Unfortunately -and reasonably, given the breadth and value of this survey- it is still very difficult to trace where the architectural graduates really might be.  This is a piece of research that I think would be very very valuable.  It would be a bit of a headache to find everyone (1,850 of us perhaps), but reasonably empirical right?  I suspect there are a few interesting factors which account for the apparent 76% of us Unregistered (or 62%, or 1,850, by Haarhoff’s conservative figure).

1. We travel overseas.  A million New Zealander’s live outside of New Zealand, which by my proportionate calculations of registered architects to population, means about 440 of those ex-pats could be architects.

2. Recent diversification (or ‘fragmentation’!) in the discipline (in the last decade even) – into urban design, city planning, digital fabricating, and all sorts of hybrid practices, means a fair few may never benefit from registering as architects.

3. We research.  Haarhoff correctly identifies, although never puts a figure on, those who follow academic careers in architecture (or other related disciplines).

4. We change careers.  This one I quite love, and although we can’t all be Italians and imagine studying architecture as a generalist education in worldliness –or more accurately, convince others to– I am pleased that there are architecturally educated peers out there, because I believe there is an ontology, and a discipline to architecture education, something important to Being, which is not necessarily about registering as an architect.

Images are Copyright 2010, Errol J Haarhoff.
Email: e.haarhoff@auckland.ac.nz

Errol J Haarhoff
“Practice and Gender in Architecture: A survey of New Zealand Architecture Graduates 1987-2008” Auckland University, 2010.

Peter Johnson & Susan Clarke.
“Architectural Education in the Commonwealth – A Survey of Schools”
1979 & 1987, University of Sydney.

Michael Ostwald and Anthony Williams’
“Understanding Architectural Education in Australasia”
2008, NSW, ALTC.