ZERO: Zone-Neutral Spaces in Locations of War

A new proposal for National Geographic’s Expedition Granted

ZERO provides an opening, a building, where on entering you are reminded of the beauty of being human.

When you live in the midst of siege and destruction and you survive, one of the most difficult experiences is the feeling that you are no longer human; you no longer feel attached to beauty or the beautiful work of human beings. Instead you are too familiar with what it means to survive and the atrocities that we can create in war. The darkest times appear when you cannot even remember that humans are capable of creating or acting in ways that could be described as having beauty. Yet it is remembering this forgetting that allows us to perceive these human qualities again.

The Building

ZERO hopes to create easily identifiable spaces where remembering the beauty of being human can occur.

The building is designed to appear in sharp contrast to the surrounding area. The unique form of the exterior reflects light and can be clearly seen from far away. This makes it easy to locate for those in the community. The building is lightweight and portable and can be constructed in a few hours. The exterior covering is made of strips of a sturdy yet lightweight flexible material with a reflective coating. The strips are designed to attach to each other without tools, so each building may look slightly different. The overall effect is that of a protective space, like an inverted bird’s nest.  It is disorder converted into order and protection.

The interior has a circular structure. Inside the wall is a narrow opening for a thin row of beeswax which overwhelms your senses with color and scent. Beeswax is not a passive substance. It invades its surroundings. It is transformative.

The space is 20 feet in diameter and the walls are 8 feet tall, with a high curved ceiling extending above the walls. This creates a feeling of spaciousness and lightness. The ceiling is translucent; so much light enters the space from above.

Inside is a simple low table and the perimeter is lined with comfortable seating.  Tea is always available. A chime with a delicate sound hangs from the ceiling in the center of the space.

These are nomadic spaces. They are light-weight and can be carried like any temporary tent-like structure. They are designed for community interaction. The exterior construction would be fun to assemble, by merely snapping together the pieces. It is intentionally designed to look chaotic, just as the area which surrounds it will appear. But ZERO spaces take ownership of this chaos and change it, creating a structure and purpose that offers hope, stability and change. This is not accomplished by any overt action, but by inaction; by the offering of an agreed upon open neutral space, filled with warmth and comfort.

It is important to have such spaces in areas of war and conflict that are not provided by large organizations that can become politicized ( like the U.N). The war in Bosnia and Serbia revealed the inadequate support by the U.N. to provide safety or neutrality when dealing with the torture and rape of many thousands of civilians. Although ZERO only offers a simple structure, it will likely be able to maintain a neutral space for the community. It will also offer access to reminders of human creative practice, (literature, art and music).


I am proposing that these buildings appear throughout the world, where ever they are needed.

The initial effort will begin in Washington DC, and then move on to:

Bosnia and Serbia
And Mali, in Africa.

These areas are chosen because of recent events. I will work closely with communities in these areas, to determine if this opening will be helpful for them. This project is collaborative and so will take slightly different forms, as needed, to best serve a particular culture.


Often times, when we have experienced trauma or loss, we focus on what or who was lost. We build monuments to remember those lost. We create laws to feel we will stop what has happened from happening again. But it always happens again. We need to develop practices which help us remember that any action taken is in some sense, our own action; that we are connected. And that any action which harms another is not impersonal.

On the week of August 21, 2014, Project ZERO was the Advisor’s Pick in the Inspire category! While this means little in terms of positive outcome, it is an encouraging step.

National Geographic Adviser's Pick

Screen Capture from National Geographic’s site, showing ZERO as the Advisor’s Pick. Click on the image to view at full size.

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