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Coming to America

The International Network for Traditional Building, Artchitecture and Urbanism launches a chapter in the U.S.

By Lynne Lavelle

The International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU) – a global non-profit organization – will launch its first U.S. chapter at the Traditional Building Exhibition and Conference in New Orleans, which will be held October 17-20, 2007. With a mandate to promote "the continuity of tradition in architecture and building and the promotion of traditional urban design, wherever it is found," the new chapter will link U.S. members with a worldwide network of architects, planners, politicians, activists and members of the public.

INTBAU's Charter focuses on the power of traditional environments to address modern challenges. According to Michael Mehaffy, the new chapter's acting chair, those found in New Orleans are perfect subjects for debate. "As the Charter says, traditions convey the lessons of history, enrich our lives and preserve our inheritance for the future," he says. "And we're beginning to appreciate how traditional places have achieved a sustainable balance with nature and society over many generations. Our challenge is to incorporate those lessons into the rebuilding of New Orleans, and the healing of other damaged places too, here in the U.S. and globally. INTBAU offers an important exchange of these kinds of lessons and resources."

INTBAU began as a research project in September 2000 and was formally founded in Rome in 2001. Today, it is an international umbrella network of individuals and institutions, with more than 2,000 members and chapters in India, Germany, Romania, Nigeria, Norway, Canada and England. With the help of its patron, HRH the Prince of Wales, INTBAU undertakes research projects, charrettes and conferences, while raising the profiles of like-minded local organizations.

The recent conference on the Venice Charter – the 1964 International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) document that governs new construction at historic monuments and sites – is a case in point. The conference's final declaration (available at proposes a more organic interpretation that would reflect new concerns about sustainability and local identity. ICOMOS members who were in attendance at the conference have since pledged to incorporate these principles into a refined and updated Venice Charter.

Currently, INTBAU has approximately 400 members in the United States, many of whom attended the organization's recent conference on globalization and local traditions in India. "The U.S. has been an obvious gap in our chapter representation for some years," says INTBAU secretary Matthew Hardy. "I think we've had a lot of members there who are very keen to get involved in programs, preferably closer to home. This will enable them to set up their own programs in the United States, instead of having to travel abroad to take part. And of course, it will reinforce the image of the organization as a whole."

One of the principle roles of INTBAU in the U.S. will be to promote the country's diversity. "Issues such as urbanism are very well covered by other groups in the United States, such as the Congress for the New Urbanism," says Hardy. "But I think traditional architecture within ethnic minority groups, such as the Native Americans, as well as issues arising from America's relationship with the rest of the world, could benefit from a body that is specifically dedicated to addressing these challenges."

By promoting every facet of traditional, vernacular and regional architecture in the U.S., INTBAU hopes to improve the country's reputation as an exporter of bad ideas, such as urban sprawl. "Globalization is portrayed, rightly or wrongly, in some parts of the world as an increasingly American influence, and America is often portrayed by people who complain about that in a very monolithic form. America is not like that, it's made up of hundreds of regions of varying traditions, and INTBAU in America will promote that image of coast-to-coast diversity," says Hardy.

In addition to its own specific areas of interest, the new chapter will seek to raise the collective visibility of allied U.S. organizations, including the Vernacular Architecture Forum, the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America. "We don't seek to replace the activities of any organization," says Hardy. "We seek to help the other organizations get their message out through our worldwide networks. It is also important for new chapters to form strategic alliances with chapters that share something of the same aims."

Mehaffy agrees. "We think this is a great opportunity for INTBAU to help link U.S. partners to global resources, and to each other," he says. "We're honored to be working with great partners on the launch conference, like Traditional Building magazine, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans and many others. There's obviously a daunting challenge before us, but together we can do so much more."  



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