Rethinking the Hierarchy of Theory and Practice

Thursday, 13. September 2012


Madeleine Imbeck / Arpad Hetey

With their project AMHARA model town Marc Angélil and Franz Oswald (NESTown) question our assumption that theory has to be put above practice. The AMHARA model town project tries to find new ways of generating knowledge by combining theory and practice.

Ideas are developed in collaboration with local people, with politicians, architects, farmers, teachers, students etc. The approach shall explicitly not be colonialist. Africa today lives another era of colonialism: investors and private companies take over the lucrative production. By creating platforms where knowledge is shared an international group of experts sets a counterpoint to this development.

The AMHARA model town shall be self-governed and self-sustaining. Thus, infrastructure shall provide room for living and room for agricultural production. To respond to the town’s food demands, water has to be managed carefully during dry periods. Shelves are built to collect water and to provide soil from being dried out.

The whole project is based democratic principles. Plans are discussed in community and decisions taken by voting. Cooperatives have a long tradition in Ethiopia. Therefore, an international dialogue between cooperatives was initiated in order to share knowledge.

The interdisciplinary approach of this project and the aim to create a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) is impressive. Initiating international sustainable projects raises many questions: questions concerning ethics, politics, intercultural communication, finances, sustainable development, nature, ecology, health, education, society, empowerment, methodology, responsibility, tradition, autonomy, hierarchical structures, schools of thought and many more. Often, a great deal of these questions is disregarded, classified as less important. However, the success of sustainable projects might depend largely upon these questions. By definition, sustainable projects should be long-term. The so-called secondary questions will decide on how much all the involved people, stakeholders, parties and communities identify with the project. There needs to be a long-term interest in pursuing a project. Globalization speeds up many processes, but creating confidence and building up group identity might need even more time and patience today in our globalized world.

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