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The Down-Under Project

In Sydney’s Centennial Parklands, a unique undertaking named the Peace Pavilion has created a new spiritually-oriented enclave just east of the central city area. Sponsored primarily by the Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Centre of Australia, the Pavilion was designed to concur not only with last year’s Olympic Games and the Centenary of Federation along with their associated programmes but with the Centre’s Silver Jubilee in Australia

Dadi Prakashmani, Administra-tive Head of the India-based Brahma Kumaris World Spiri-tual University and the Honourable Gordon Samuels AC, CVO, Governor of New South Wales, formally opened the Pavilion on September 4, 2000.

Several Olympic events were staged in the Park which draws 3.6 million people annually, mostly for informal recreation. A grand park in the European tradition, its features include gardens, ponds, grand avenues, statues, heritage buildings, picnic and play areas, and a wide range of sporting facilities.

The Pavilion is a concept envisioned by the Sydney-based architect and the Project’s Manager, Greg O’Donnell, during a period of meditation. A specialist in spiritually inspired designs and a teacher of Raja Yoga with the Brahma Kumaris, he explains briefly how the pavilion came into being: “I felt that the spiritual need for the power of peace should be reflected in a material way.” Adds he: “As the Project Manager, I knew I would have enough on my plate to keep me busy so, in line with our policy on community involvement in projects, we held a competition inviting seven of Sydney’s top architects to submit designs for a Peace Pavilion for use during the Olympic period. All entrants came up with amazing designs but we felt that Tonkin Zulaikha Architects gave us the feel and look we wanted.”

The Pavilion is dedicated to the ideal and practice of peace on three levels: Peace of the individual, peace of the place and universal peace. It is a place where programmes can be held in beautiful surroundings for people of all ages and beliefs to come together to celebrate the diversity and continuity of Australia’s communities and to experience rest, spiritual values and a state of well-being.

The structure itself, sitting gently on the land, reflects the very nature of peace. The design is formulated on an upturned leaf open on all sides to take in the surroundings; the roof appears to be floating above and gives the needed shelter. It is a self-sustaining facility and requires no external power.

The Brahma Kumaris have been actively organizing community-based peace initiatives for the past 25 years including the International Expo in Sydney’s Martin Place Ampitheatre in 1998 — a one-week presentation of the philosophies of 8 major religions including performances by singers, dancers, musicians and actors as well as other special ceremonies.

They have been associated with the 1986 International Year of Peace; a United Nations initiative; the Million Minutes of Peace Project created in Australia, which became the largest non-fund raising project for the International year of Peace, resulting in seven UN Peace Messenger Awards. They have provided principal speakers at the Earth Summit in Brazil, played host to the International Forum of the Arts in Sardinia and are members of the Coordinating Committee of the World Parliament of Religions, among other worldwide activities. In Australia, the Brahma Kumaris have seventeen teaching and retreat centres. The first was established in Sydney in 1975.

Among patrons of the Peace Pavilion are UNICEF Australia, the Women’s Muslim Association of NSW, the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Sisters of Mercy of Australia, the Buddhist Federation of Australia, the Hindu Council of Australia, the Australian Zoroastrian Association of NSW, the Unitarian Church of NSW, along with a score of well-known professional journalists, entertainers, public luminaries and University professors. It is designed to be a temporary structure located in the park for a proposed period of 6 months.

The year 2000 has been declared ‘The International Year for a Culture of Peace’ by the UN General Assembly and the period 2001-2010 as the ‘International Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World’.

Greg O’Donnell elaborates on his approach to spiritually inspired architecture:

“The bottom line is consciousness. The word is often used in relation to awareness; in particular to our feelings and personal identity. Many of us experience this as a constantly fluctuating state in a sea of myriad changing daily events and personal reactions to our environment. For an emerging breed of architects, interior and graphic designers, however, consciousness is being explored in terms of it being a more creative tool. Heightened consciousness through, for example, meditative techniques, can enhance their ability to be inspired and gain added insight for specific design projects. Our perception and ability to express creative ideas is not only amplified, but a greater sensitivity is gained towards people, the environment, and the materials involved in the design. The special role of architects and designers is giving form to function; creating beauty and crystallising in their work the essence of the times. Ideally, the aim is to touch the user on a deeper level; to produce something distinctive and unique, which is becoming increasingly expected. A tuned consciousness is able to access the preferences and aspirations of a client and better meet those expectations. The physical and psychological needs of a client are of equal importance.”

This essentially eastern approach to creativity, projected from his studio in Mosman on Sydney’s Lower Borth Shore is not without firm foundation.