400m Imperial Tower designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

The Imperial Tower Competition  has been won by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill of Chicago, the same team that designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill have confirmed that ‘the project is on hold and most likely will not get built’ however should it be seen through to completion, the Imperial Tower would be the tallest residential tower in the city, with 116 storeys at 400m tall.  And that sounds splendid in aspiration, however conflicted it appears in the context of extreme conditions. But then cities like Mumbai never poised themselves on humanitarian grounds. It’s a city of aggressive entrepreneurship, capitalistic in spirit with a heady rush not usually found, so far, in any other city in India. It conflates this conflicted human spirit of dualism and that is remarkably evident in its architectural aspirations.

Copyright: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

The Imperial Tower is poised as softer yet taller – much taller in height – and is said to minimize the negative effects of wind. There are sky gardens with access to natural light, views and a connection to the Arabian Sea like never before. The tower would offer the most spacious and luxurious residences in Mumbai. The 76,272 sq m tower includes 132 residential units of between 195 sq m and 1,115 sq m, along with serviced apartments of between 72 sq m and 252 sq m. It’s a project with superlative adjectives in the built environment.

Copyright: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

According to the news brief from AS+GG, the Imperial Tower aims at highest form of sustainability standards with rainwater harvesting and high-efficiency mechanical systems and use of green wall podium with native plants in landscaping.

Copyright: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Looking at the juxtaposed impressions of the Imperial Tower to the existing neighborhood buildings, there is something contrarian in their styles. They do not give you a unifying feeling, just like the city they belong to. Buildings don’t talk to each other or to the site. Once, such many varied aspirations take shape in the Mumbai skyline, I wonder if its schism will be of a concern to the City and its people? Or the magic of token rise in building heights will be sufficient for now and in future?

Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill are design architects on this project.

Interview: Jenni Reuter

Jenni Reuter is an architect from Finland and part of Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects. She has been a strong proponent of working with neglected and marginalized peoples, encouraging these communities to create an architectural expression of their own which is locally rooted, participatory and affordable to the very people it serves. Jenni also teaches at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture in, Helsinki, Finland. Jenni was in Mumbai for 361 Degrees conference where WAN’s Mumbai correspondent Pallavi Shrivastava had an opportuniy to speak to her. Edited excerpts from the interview:

How and when did you decide to become an architect and growing up as an architectural professional whose work inspired you in forming your own philosophy and creative style in architectural expression?

When I was young and thinking of what to start studying I was interested in many different fields and wasn’t at all sure that architecture was my thing. But when I started studying, having really inspiring teachers such as Juhani Pallasmaa I understood that the field is so broad that you can combine very many interests in the same profession.

Tell us a little bit about your architecture practice (its goals and vision) and any inspiring projects along the journey that led to the formation of Ukumbi NGO?

We, the Finnish architects Saija Hollmén (born 1970), Jenni Reuter (born 1972) and Helena Sandman (born 1972) started our collaboration in 1995 with the Women’s Centre project in Senegal. After the completion of the Women’s Centre in 2001 we understood that the fundraising for these type of projects is possible only through an NGO.

Women's Centre

Ukumbi is a Finnish non-governmental organization established in 2007. The word Ukumbi is Swahili and it means a forum, veranda and a meeting place for dialogue and interaction. Our mission is to offer architectural services to communities in need. Our architectural strategy employs the use of local and traditional building techniques and customs during the planning and the construction process. Ukumbi empowers communities by involving them in the design process. Our projects are ecologically sustainable, using locally manufactured, recycled or grown building materials whenever possible. Today Ukumbi is a larger platform for several teams of architects, organizing seminars and sharing information through articles and lectures.

Our office Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects’ projects span from interiors to urban planning. We work in Finland as well as with several underprivileged communities around the world. Apart from working as visiting critics and lecturers, we also teach at the Aalto University in Helsinki.

You have chosen a road less travelled to pursue architecture and your goals are not commercial but are more rooted in affordable and sustainable/indigenous practice for communities where such services are not easily available or have been neglected. How did this journey happen and what made you take this path?

I’ve always liked traveling and getting to know new cultures and places. My mother worked with an education project in Namibia in southern Africa for several years. At that time I studied architecture in Helsinki and when visiting my mother I started to study the local building traditions in Namibia and write about them. The following year there was a course organized from the department of Architecture in Helsinki University of Technology that went to Senegal on a field trip. I joined the course and started to work together with Saija Hollmén and Helena Sandman on the Women’s Centre project. We got so involved with the people and the place that we started to look for funding for the project. Six years later the building was ready. It was a hard but rewarding journey.

Women's Centre

You mentioned a project in Senegal and it was truly inspiring to see you go through the entire life-cycle of project from striving for funding through designing to execution. The video you showed us at 361 Degree Conference was a high point, where end-users partake in celebration with a sense of belonging. Has it been difficult to conceive such projects which serve marginalized communities and what have been your lessons building such projects?

To get projects really rooted in a community and a place the process usually takes a lot of time. The fundraising is often slow as well. Unfortunately we have several projects that are not executed yet because of reasons we have little control over. For example, the revolution in Egypt that is taking place in the country. Our Learning Centre in Cairo is already designed, with the Egyptian fundraising made but we have been waiting for the building permit for several years because of the unstable situation in the country for the moment.

This question was raised in conference as well and I have heard several varied opinions on it. Why do you think we do not see more women in architecture and its allied services? Do women themselves choose to opt-out or it is something systematic that women choose not to aspire to for leadership positions. Do you see changes happening in terms of the industry becoming gender neutral in days to come?

I have been teaching architecture in Finland for over ten years and have seen very talented female and male students throughout the years. For the moment approximately half of our students are women. When I was studying we didn’t have any female professors, today we have several of them. I do see a change happening, but very slowly. There is still a very strong male dominance on leadership positions which I think partly is due to the ‘good brother’ system where men, probably unconsciously, help other men to proceed in their careers. Women very often have to convince even more to get the same position.

Snow Show

What would your advice be for young and emerging architects and what is your one big tip that you give to your students as a teacher while teaching at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture in Finland?

I do think the most important thing you can do as a teacher is to get your students want to know more and get inspired by this broad and interesting profession.

What has been your experience traveling to India and how have the landscape, people and its built environment affected your broader understanding of architecture?

This was my first trip to India. It was a long time dream coming true. Even though the trip was very short I had the time to see many different environments. I was privileged to give a talk at the beautiful CEPT Architecture School in Ahmedabad with some interesting professors and nice students showing me around in the wonderful city. My friend, Indian architect Bijoy Jain, was kind to invite me to his extraordinary home and workshop outside Mumbai, showing some of his extremely haptic and strong buildings.

I really hope that we will be able to work with some projects in this lovely country in the near future.

Image Courtesy: Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects

Q&A(rchitect): A discussion on how emerging architects see the future of our profession

Guest Contributor: Priyanka Rathod

The profession of architecture is as versatile as that of an artist. In fact, an architect is an artist of the built environment. This was quite clear throughout all of the presentations and discussions at Q&A(rchitect) arranged by Darch last month. On the evening of 23 April, Tuesday, 5 young practices in Sydney presented the ideas, projects and hopes for the future of their practices, and none of them were similar to each other.

Penny Fuller of Silvester Fuller was awarded NSW Institute of Architects Emerging Architect Prize last year. The practice has produced a range of simple yet elegant projects. What I found most interesting is their vision for the future to be more proactive, i.e. to find a solution to built environment issues and then find a client to make the project happen. She believes as architects we are designers, but at the same time, we are entrepreneurs too.

Joe Snell of Snell Architects is also a creative director for the Goods Tube, the product he designed himself for gifting his corporate clients. His recent venture includes being a judge for TV show House Rules soon to telecast on Channel 7. He strongly believes that as architects, we shape not only spaces but also business, culture and the future.

Claire McCaughan and Lucy Humphrey established Archrival in 2011, a non-profit organisation that unites the creative community through unsolicited projects. Archrival creates various projects to unite creative professionals with community, technology and business industries which in turn explore the possibilities of collaboration and innovation. Their most recent project is an installation ‘Mirror Mirror’ at Australian Technology Park in Redfern. It is a stage for Vanishing Elephants for their showcase during MB Fashion Week Australia.

Amelia Holliday of Neesan Murcutt Architects presented her research and explored a very interesting idea – a practice of doing nothing. Sometimes doing nothing can also be a solution for built environment and as architects we need to recognise the right solution for our neighborhood.

Felicity Stewart and Matthias Hollenstein of Stewart Hollenstein, recent winner for Green Square Library Plaza, have been exploring the idea of developing natural spaces for interactions and performances in the public realm from their university years. Now, they will be able to transform their ideas into practice with the plaza that they have planned for construction in 2017. Our previous blog ‘Green Square Library Plaza won by Stewart Hollenstein and Collin Stewart Architects‘ explores their competition design in detail.

From the past and present projects and ideas of future from all these practices, it was quite clear that today, young architects cannot be satisfied in simply designing buildings. They want to, as always, explore and contribute to various creative fields and we’ll be seeing architects in many different roles exploring, innovating, resolving, engaging, entertaining and contributing to the community.

Souta de Moura defies critics and accepts Israel’s Wolf Prize

Eduardo Souto de Moura (seated first from the left) and Israel's President Shimon Peres

Portuguese architect Eduard Souto de Moura received the prestigious Wolf Prize in Architecture at a private ceremony held at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament building, on 5 May. In the months leading up to the event,  a group of architects organized under the banner of Architects & Planners for Justice in Palestine (APJP) urged Souto de Moura to reject the prize but that was not to be.   In his acceptance speech Souta de Moura said he was saddened by this action of his friends and he went on to say that his name roughly translated means love.

Souto de Mouro was awarded the Wolf Prize for “the advancement of architectural knowledge in showing how buildings can philiosophically and experientially engage with the natural world, and for his exceptional skills as a designer.”  He is the 13th architect ever to be honored with the prize which was founded in 1978.

Israel and the Architectural Narrative

Old City of Jerusalem as seen from the rooftop of the Mamilla Hotel

Just arrived in Israel today for a week long architectural bloggers tour courtesy Vibe Israel.   Tonight’s dinner conversation held at the rooftop restaurant of the Mamilla Hotel overlooking the Old City of Jerusaelm, kept circling back to architecture and how it tells a storey.  A colleague from ArchDaily commented on how the Holocaust Museum in Berlin by Daniel Libeskind and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem by Moshe Safdie have completely different narratives.  And indeed they do.  This week we’ll be touring various architectural sites in Israel, mainly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to uncover that narrative.  Tomorrow and the next day,  we’ll be visiting the Old City of Jerusalem, including getting an exclusive tour of Yad Vashem led by insider and long time Moshe Safdie Associate Irit Kochavi and attending the Wolf Prize Ceremony at the Israeli Parliament, where Portuguese architect Eduardo Soto de Mora will be awarded the 2013 Wolf Prize in Architecture and join a prestigious group of laureates in the field including Frank Gehry, Jorn Utzon Denys Lasdun, Frei Otto, Aldo Van Eyck, Alvaro Siza,  Jean Nouvel, David Chipperfield, Peter Eisenmann, Fumihiko Maki, Giancarlo De Carlo, and Ralph Erskine.

High-Performance Facades: Performance Attributes – What to Consider & Measure

Mic Patterson (President & Director of Strategic Development for Enclos) and Jennie Matusova (Zaha Hadid Architects)

Article originally published 7 March 2013 at enclos.com

While Extended Industry Standard Architecture (EISA) develops a set of attributes for high performance and green high performance, qualitative terms like “integrates, optimizes and outperforms” are subjective and relative measures that yield no concise metrics for evaluation. The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) is one of the organizations working to define these needed metrics, baselines, benchmarks and verification strategies, specifically with respect to the building envelope. The building envelope is the nexus of many, often conflicting, functional demands, or as NIBS states: “many high-performance attributes interact at the envelope” (National Institute of Building Sciences n.d., 4). NIBS has leveraged EISA 2007 to define a set of performance attributes relevant to the building envelope, with an emphasis on enhanced security. The following attributes are similarly derived.

Attributes for Determining Performance of the Building Facade

Building energy performance is significantly impacted by various attributes of the facade. The building skin provides thermal insulation, mitigates air infiltration and controls solar energy radiation, providing daylighting opportunities to reduce electricity consumption and heating loads resulting from artificial lighting. Solar energy harvesting technologies will one day contribute to net-zero and net-plus energy buildings. Natural ventilation through the facade can play a significant role in building energy efficiency.

Environmental impacts of the building facade include energy consumption and resulting emissions over the operations phase of the building lifecycle, as well as larger, more lasting impacts. The lifecycle context requires that embodied energy, disassembly and end-of-life impacts also be considered. Waste generation through the building lifecycle is another important consideration.

Safety and security are provided to the building occupant by the facade systems (at the most fundamental level, keeping bugs and burglars out, and babies in). Protection from weather extremes includes impact resistant design practices. Blast loading criteria is now commonplace in facade design. NIBS references ballistic, chemical, biological and radiological protection.

Durability is an often neglected but fundamental aspect of performance and sustainability for all building systems, with special significance for the facade in its protective role of separating inside from out. In the majority of cases, a predicted service life for a building and its facade system goes undefined. Most damage and deterioration in a building can be traced to moisture penetration and migration through the building skin. Weathering is a particular concern for the exposed elements of the facade. Renovation requirements should be anticipated and planned for over the full building lifespan.

Cost-benefit, or economic efficiency, is yet another important performance consideration, which takes into account at what cost performance attributes are being amplified, verses the benefit the improvement provides. High performance and green programs are often motivated by promotional and image interests (greenwashing) and may ignore simpler and less costly solutions capable of providing equal or greater benefit at less cost, solely because they do not provide a high-profile green “wow” factor.

Human comforthealth, and productivity are profoundly affected by the facade system. The facade provides thermal and acoustical comfort, daylight, visual comfort and glare control, as well as connection to the natural environment. Natural ventilation through the facade can greatly enhance indoor air quality. Favorable biophilic facade attributes are well documented in providing a more productive and healthier indoor environment (Terrapin 2012). Even small improvements in productivity can quickly trivialize related first costs.

Sustainability criteria are included by the EISA in evaluation of high-performance systems. This opens the evaluation to the wide and varied considerations – and the inexact science – of sustainability. Many of the issues discussed here are fundamental sustainability issues. These considerations also include emergent issues like resilience, or the ability of a system to withstand extreme and unanticipated future conditions. Sustainability considerations will drive future development of facade technology. Water harvesting, for example, will become an increasingly important function of the facade in many geographic areas as supplies of potable water diminish. Lifecycle Assessment (LCA) will become the framework for the sustainability metrics that will drive future development of facade technology.

Operational considerations for the building facade include its integration with other building systems, the user interface, and maintenance and renovation requirements over the operational phase of the building lifecycle. Provisions must be considered to keep a building operational during planned renovation cycles, including disruptions to fuel and water supply, extreme weather conditions, and political instability.

Using the EISA definition then, a high-performance facade would be one that integrates and optimizes the above attributes on a lifecycle basis. A high-performance green facade is a high-performance facade that outperforms similar buildings with respect to key sustainability metrics as described above, again, on a lifecycle basis. Context, however, will determine the attribute set and the priority of those attributes as represented by the project specific criteria adopted for each attribute.

The EISA definition effectively leaves no performance attribute off the table when it comes to evaluating high-performance systems. But is it reasonable to “integrate and optimize” all of these attributes in each application? What if a facade application optimizes one area–energy efficiency, for example, but ignores durability analysis or acoustical performance? What about greenwashing? If a facade design employs high-performance materials and technology in an application where near equivalent performance could have been achieved with a simpler and less costly strategy (i.e., an expensive double-skin system where triple-glazed IGUs would have sufficed), is the system still deserving of the high performance designation? One begins to recognize how easily the term high performance may be applied with inadequate discrimination. High performance and green are terms that should be protected from dilution of meaning by clear definition and standards of practice.

While helpful to have some relevant performance attributes identified, related metrics are still lacking. The evaluation of some of these attributes may be inherently subjective, while others lend themselves to quantitative measure. In either case, appropriate evaluation criteria must be developed.

National Institute of Building Sciences n.d. “High Performance Based Design of the Building Envelope.” Accessed 11 February 2013: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.nibs.org/resource/resmgr/HPBC/HPBDE_Workshop-Project_Overv.pdf

Terrapin 2012. The economics of biophilia: Why designing with nature in mind makes financial sense. New York: Terrapin Bright Green, LLC. Accessed 8 June 2012:
http://www.terrapinbrightgreen.com/

© Enclos Corp 2013

Interview: Peter Rich

Peter Rich is one of the most significant architects based in South Africa. He has extensively documented the indigenous African settlements during the Apartheid in the 1970s and this is very much the influence on his work. His work came into international focus when his documentation and analytical sketches were made public, which he deeply feels is an integral part of architectural inquiry.

He has been affiliated as the Professor of Architecture at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for 30 years and he was recently a keynote speaker at 361 degrees conference in held in Mumbai. WAN’s Mumbai correspondent Pallavi Shrivastava had an opportunity to speak to him. Excerpts from the interview are presented below:

Do you believe architects can be or should be geography specific with their distinct inquiry, process and solutions?

Yes, I believe geographical physical, climatic and cultural context, provide the clues to, if responded to in an intelligent way, an enriching architecture. The challenge in a globalising world is to not be creating synonymous environments, which could be anywhere.

When did realize you wanted to be an architect? What other architects/ thinkers have greatly inspired you in your journey of architectural inquiry?

I was born an architect – my parents saw me as the successor or re-incarnate of my mother’s brother whose architect life was cut short at 29 years old – there was something mythically heroic and wonderful about being an architect.

Where do you derive inspiration in your architecture work? You mentioned in your talk at the 361 degrees conference about engaging with a local community and listening to them carefully and thus moving towards to solve it architecturally. Can you elaborate a little more on it?

I derive inspiration from observing and through drawing trying to gain deeper understanding, be it from how ordinary people live, or good examples of architecture or from my heroes. There is much to learn, from the ordinary people who we are designing for- from the delight ordinary people experience using our creations.

Globalization is being seen as a one of the disruption just like wars were previously looked at. Disruption can be a great time for re-invention of people and a nation as well. You mentioned that the world is looking at India to come up with unique architectural philosophy to respond to solve some of the challenges. Can you talk a little bit about it?

India is in a unique position in the world. It is benefiting from the infrastructure and institutional structures put in place by the British and a really good educational system at all levels of learning. India some 70 years after Independence NOW has the confidence to discover itself – its Indianness – and be proud of just that. It is the place of the fresh and the new. It has its Masters in Doshi, Correa, Neelkanth Chhaya and the late architect Raje. It has its emerging masters in Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai, Rajeev Kathpalia and Rahul Mehrotra, to name a few. In other words it has more depth of good architects who are alive than the USA.

What is your advice to young architects and designers? And which young architects you are looking up to from recent times?

Know who you are. Respect your circumstance culturally and climatically. Learn from your masters; learn from your ancient culture and from what peasant cultures attuned to their circumstance.

Young architects I am looking up to Alberto Kallash of Mexico, M3 of Australia, Bijoy Jain, Sanjay Mohe of India, Palinda Kannangara of Sri Lanka, Li Xianodong of China, Arturo Franco of Spain, Estudio Barozzi Veiga of Italy/Spain.

Hand-drawn sketches from your travels seem to be a large part of your practice. To what extent do you use digital technology (e.g. AutoCAD and BIM) in the design process and do you think that a careful balance between the two is important in the education of the next generation of architects?

Use the computer intelligently as a tool. Draw your way freehand into your ideas as it gives you access to the library of your autobiography, which is not in your computer.

What do you think of 3D printing?

It is a very useful tool.

Any particular project that you would like to talk about in brief and why is it dear to you?

The Amazwi Project – the first Womens Museum in Africa – to be built in the Valley of a thousand hills, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The project has evolved into a centre, which is representative of both the feminine principle and its logical extension as a centre of the Environment. It is at a stage where the stakeholder dialogue is giving rise to potential built form and a dialogue between the making of the Women’s Center and the Center of the Environment.

Images: Peter Rich, Iwan Baan and 361 Degrees

The Face of the Future: Façade Engineering and Environmental Performance

Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. Courtesy of HOK and Parsons Brinkerhoff

Sanjeev Tankha, Facades Group at Buro Happold West Coast

In an era defined by a need to do more with less, new approaches to facade design offer an optimistic counterpoint to tight construction budgets and climate change. As advances in computational design and analysis enable greater integration between building components, facade design has shifted focus from aesthetics and waterproofing to a pursuit of optimal building performance that encompasses design intent, structural efficiency, interior comfort, and energy performance. Most critically, this systems approach allows for a win-win scenario—vastly improved performance while controlling costs. Lessons learned from recent projects suggest that taking these innovations to the next level will demand a concurrent re-conceiving of traditional boundaries between disciplines.

The future today. Envisioned as a symbol of California’ leadership, the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) will serve regional transit lines including Amtrak, Metrolink, Greyhound and OCTA as well as the state’s future high-speed rail network. Undertaken in 2009, a time of heightened public scrutiny of project budgets, the $184m, 67,000 sq ft project demanded some new thinking, tools and technologies.

Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. Courtesy of HOK and Parsons Brinkerhoff

The complex geometry of ARTIC’s enclosure establishes the public facility’s iconic resonance, but it also composes a large percentage of the construction cost, making it imperative that the facade achieve levels of efficiency not possible through conventional design processes. Facade design used to prioritize structural efficiency; giving environmental performance equal weight forced new considerations and a new parameter for optimization.

Based on initial analysis, the design team led by HOK zeroed in on a three-part enclosure system composed of a structural glass high transparency wall, metal rain screen system, and ETFE roof cladding system, a light-weight, translucent fluorine-based insulating polymer.  The facade team developed 14 unique scripts and routings to enable interoperability between software programs. This integration allowed the team to model for architectural visualization, material structural analysis, energy and daylight simulation, lighting simulation, geometric rationalization, clash coordination, cost estimation, digital fabrication and construction sequencing. Because ETFE’s thermal and structural performance relies on the air pressure of its cushions, the integrated modeling was crucial to gaining approval of its use, especially given its unprecedented scale for North America.

Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center. Courtesy of Buro Happold

While familiar in Europe, use of ETFE remains relatively uncommon in United States, making it a more challenging choice from a building codes, cost and constructability point of view. But when evaluated in concert with structural and MEP systems, ETFE had clear advantages, especially given the cost premium of meeting California’s heightened seismic requirements. It’s three layers of foil with varied frit patterns maximize daylight while reducing solar heat gain, while its ultra-light weight – just one-tenth that of glass – greatly reduced dead loads on the supporting steel structure.

The modeling also included the building’s ongoing operation. ARTIC’s two high-transparency, glass curtain walls, soaring to 120 feet high at the North end, feature operable glass louvers controlled by a central building maintenance system to provide natural ventilation for the large atrium space.

Manhattan Beach Library. Courtesy of Johnson Favaro

A scalable approach. While critical for large-scale complex structures, the advantages of an integrated  systems approach to facade design applies at all scales. For the Manhattan Beach Library designed by Johnson Favaro, collaboration across disciplines and structural glass analysis in ROBOT made possible an elegant, high-performance double glazed wall, completely transforming the symbolic presence of this new 20,000 sq ft public building.

While Europe has shown that higher performance standards can drive innovation in building technologies, we have proven that a holistic analysis that considers building systems, design and cost simultaneously can rationalize bolder measures regardless. So why wait?

Manhattan Beach Library. Courtesy of Buro Happold

Sanjeev Tankha leads the façades group for Buro Happold West Coast and was a key member of the design team for ARTIC. An architect who has specialized in facade design for nearly 20 years, he has led research and development of high-performance building envelopes for projects worldwide.

Conductors Project

Guest Contributors – Vin and Priyanka Rathod

While there are many new developments taking shape as means to provide infrastructure for the rapidly growing multicultural community in the City of Sydney, the city is also seeing variety of adaptive reuse projects in old abandoned buildings e.g. Carriageworks at Eveleigh, where an old carriage repair workshop has been transformed into a Contemporary art centre, and Cockatoo Island where the Convicts, Industrial and Ship building precinct of the past attracts a lot of campers and art lovers now. One such recent project is creative reuse of the stations of St James and Museum.

The Conductors Project has transformed the disused display cabinets of these two very busy train stations into an exhibition space. Daily commuters, on their way to work or home, can engage in a cultural experience through displays by various emerging and established artists. Such creative reuse shows the potential of transforming a building that was primarily used for transport to also have an element of art and creative exchange.

Currently showcasing photography of Andrew Quilty, the cabinets of St James and Museum have many interesting upcoming exhibitions.

Text by Priyanka Rathod. Images by Vin Rathod.

Vin Rathod is an architect and a photographer. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture from KRVIA, Mumbai and Master of Construction Project Management from UNSW, Sydney. Vin is an Emerging Member of Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) and works in Sydney, Australia. For Vin, each photograph is a design; a design for the subject, be it an art, architecture, city, or a sculpture. He thrives on creativity and imagination and is always developing new ideas. The photographs speak of his vision to see built-form as an artwork. A collection of Vin’s fine art photographs are constantly evolving as seen on his website Through Vin’s Lens

As an architect, Priyanka is very much interested in exploring designs with sustainable initiatives. After completing Bachelors of Architecture from KRVIA, Mumbai University, she did her Master of Architecture with major in Design from UNSW, Sydney. In her professional career, Priyanka has worked on variety of projects – urban and rural; commercial, institutional and healthcare both in India and Australia. Her volunteering initiatives include participation in the event organising team of Archikidz! Sydney 2012 held during Sydney Architecture Festival. Currently, Priyanka lives and works in Sydney enjoying her time between professional work and some personal initiatives including writing for Through Vin’s Lens

Interview: Kevin Low, smallprojects

Kevin Mark Low, an architect based in Malaysia whose work has gained global recognition, left his corporate architecture job to reclaim and pursue old dreams and established his practice, smallprojects in 2002, which he runs singlehandedly. He has since lectured internationally and conducted workshops and design critiques at various universities. Recently, Kevin was in India as a speaker for 361 Degrees conference where WAN’s Mumbai correspondent Pallavi Shrivastava had an opportuniy to speak to him. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Q: What inspired you to be an architect? And growing up as a professional architect, whose work you looked up to?

A: Many things really – my mother who taught geography, encouraged my ability to draw, without knowing that some of the worst architects in the world draw beautifully and some of the best, awfully. My father, being more taciturn, didn’t appear to bother much with what I decided, but the important thing was their both supporting the decisions I made – especially my mother and whatever she saw in me at the time, which pushed me just that bit further.

Throughout architecture school and my working years, I found I was less fascinated by architects than the specific buildings they did – over the course of my life, these were Cimitero Brion (carlo scarpa), Zimmerman House and Clooney Playhouse (Frank Lloyd Wright), Barragan House (Luis Barragan), Lunuganga and the Alfred Street house (Geoffrey Bawa), the Louvre Museum intervention (I.M. Pei), Exeter Library (Louis Kahn), the St. Louis Gateway Arch and MIT Chapel (Eero Saarinen), Casa En Valle de Bravo (Alberto Kalach), Chapel of Hope (Sigurd Lewerentz), Chapel at Ronchamp (Le Corbusier), Maison de Verre (Pierre Chareau), Commerzbank headquarters (Norman Foster) and the Cabrer house (Lacroze/Miguens/Prati). I feel that these architects built each work with a profound understanding of their specific context.

Of these, the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Luis Barragan and Geoffrey Bawa are the only three whose architecture consistently engaged the aesthetics of age in the way of time passing. Perhaps, this as yet undocumented understanding had the deepest impact on my own development.

Q. You mentioned something intriguing in your talk about natural state of ways and materials in architecture and your ongoing query on why buildings can be as imperfect as human beings? Can you elaborate on this?

A: In the way sixty-year-old people look a touch strange when they try to look like sixteen-year-olds, buildings that attempt to defy the passage of time puzzle me. I have a greater affinity for architecture that looks its age, architecture designed with sufficient confidence such that the knocks and scrapes of its making and use add instead of detract from how it is ultimately perceived. There is something about the wrinkles and lines of an old face that is beautiful, that tells its own rich story of scars, tears, joy and pride. In the same way some of us age with dignity and grace, so architecture too can – the question is what one does to encourage the circumstances under which such gracious aging happens. As such, I select materials and engage methods of construction less for how they are able to hide inaccuracy or imperfection, growth and decay, or the ravages of use, than for how all these aspects find their natural place as part of the aesthetic character, the life of the building. Perhaps I can quote from a passage I had written in smallprojects (adaptus 2010) –

“The way in which I interact with my architecture is total; friends are made of contracts and contractors, of detritus, building culture, materials and their manufacture, the act of use, of maintenance and the tectonics of construction. As friends, they are less there for the act of building than for what they intrinsically are, evidenced in the final product; one chooses not hide the nature of one’s friends but to discover them over time. Design thus becomes less the act of showing than of revealing – that of the details of space and its assembly, of production, of weaknesses and strengths of materials, and the character of elemental finish. A construction effort observed to be less skilled through act or appearance is not always rectified, but is instead given integrity through the design of its relationship to its immediate physical context – the materials and processes of construction, each understood for their basic characteristics and specific applications, find expression in the tectonics of what is created. And the simple issue of time passing becomes natural; that familiarity and sense of scale that only comes with age guide my deliberations and decisions, as time has considerably less impact on the quality of light and space (as volume) than it does on the materials that reveal them. Architecture, as a process does not end when the building is done, it barely begins. People age, as do materials and buildings: I am predisposed not merely to make their transition as gracious and dignified as possible, but to reengage them in ways I never realised were possible.”

Global culture has become somewhat of a beast obsessed with the novelty of form. It has certainly grown past its previous romance with the spectacle of it, but the problem still remains that if the form of a work fails to excite or stimulate and present formal experiences in some fresh way, it warrants less attention. And a great part of this zeitgeist is driven by the immediacy, the instantaneous nature of the Internet – nothing is new or fresh if it is posted a day later. As such, we have evolved an architecture of the photoshoot, of work that has to be imaged as soon and as quickly as it is completed, an architecture intended to be experienced in completeness from the first day it is inhabited. For the work I do, it is not possible for me to think of architecture as ever complete with the completion of the contract – with something as dynamic, unpredictable, and human as architecture, as architects I believe we can only ever begin what time alone can complete.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your project Sibu Pavilion? Thought process, context and your suggested solution…

A: For the Malaysian Garden Festival held at the Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur in 2006 the Sibu Municipality of Sarawak in East Malaysia requested a local landscape architect for a design that was to be their pavilion. For all their lack of exposure as a somewhat marginalised logging town, the enlightened clients made request for a public toilet facility as a garden pavilion. Through his many years of work acquaintance with smallprojects and affinity for its completed work, the landscape architect took the opportunity to recommission a working concept and design for the project.

The problem first lay in the fact that most, if not all, public toilets simply look like public toilets all over the world – commonly expressed as three blank walls with high level windows for privacy and the last remaining wall with a door for access. Unless one was to get perverse, or hide the facility behind in some manner, it was simply impossible to escape the aesthetic ubiquity of a public toilet. And so they got the original global toilet, a bush.

The site for the Sibu pavilion was in the precinct of the Lake Gardens, a green enclave and city park presided over by a single large water body – the namesake for the park. Located at the foot of an old-growth Tembusu tree, the site was endowed with panoramic views across the lake to heavily verdant surrounds; a gentle slope of well-tended lawn from the access pathway to the revetment wall of the lake’s edge. The north end of the pavilion became a lounge for a sofa and armchairs under the shade of a grand old Tembusu tree, with views of the lake, while the other end became a tearoom. Nestled between the two was the ‘bush,’ a grove of a hundred and twenty apple green Eugenia aromaticum trees sourced from a nursery in southern Malaysia. A narrow maze ran through the tightly packed trees to a squatting pan commode at the heart of the grove, guarded by the trunk of a gnarly, Indian coral tree selected from the same nursery. A compost wall of steel mesh and dead leaves, with basin niches cut into the mesh to facilitate the washing of hands, gave privacy to the entrance. Fashioned after the Archie Bunker chair from a lawn furniture competition years back, the wall was to function as a recycled leaf repository for the local council as they swept the grounds of the Lake Gardens; the dead leaves would be disposed of efficiently, with the added value of replenishing the privacy required of the toilet entrance. The temporary pavilion may have been novel, but its significance went beyond its conceptual overtones of a pun – in built form, it served as a practical template for the screening and dignity of a functional garden and park toilet facility.

Evenly textured and neatly packed to the limit of its confines, the idea of the compost wall was not merely one of privacy for the bush bathroom it concealed and simultaneously announced; it was intended as a dump for park leaves and detritus, reducing the need for botanic waste transfer to a dumping ground elsewhere. The leaves and green garbage, piled on and compacted over time, begin their humid journey to decay and decomposition, to be removed at the end of the natural cycle for use as garden food; a functional and symbolic processing of park ecology. In its working form, the compost wall would have been designed with hinged lower mesh doors, from which the composted layers would be taken as a convenient source of fertilizer within the precinct of the park.

Q: Do you feel there is a larger theme unfolding beyond this east and west divisive discourse that is taking place to understand our field of architecture? What do you think of this distinction as we try to enforce traditional, modern, post-modern labels of architecture?

A: The idea of an East/West divide is a little banal really, being predicated on where someone arbitrarily decided to draw a middle line – if that longitude had been hard-lined just off the Californian coast for example, East would have been Europe, the former Soviet Union and China would have been the West, and the United States of America would be located somewhere right by the Middle East.

In preparation for a talk at the recent International Conference on Tropical Architecture in Singapore, I realised upon shading the tropical belt between the Tropic of Cancer and that of Capricorn, that the world actually found division by latitude rather than longitude – that besides the southern tips of South America and Africa, New Zealand and the nether parts of Australia, nothing was really left over of the southern hemisphere with the tropical belt shaded in – its really either Northern Hemisphere or Tropics. The discovery made me think about the differences of each; the northern hemisphere with its predictable and gradual temperature shifts from moderate to extreme, and the tropics with its consistently even temperature, but with more drastically changing weather patterns. And I began to figure a slightly different way to understand the global divide.

The people of the north had their lines drawn from the very beginning regarding survival – one either prepared for the long winter during the summer and fall, or died trying to keep warm and fed, since both food and fuel were scarce during the deep winter. The rigors of survival simply ensured that certain exacting concepts of order would evolve and be deeply ingrained in northern cultures and societies since life depended on it. The tropics conversely, with its moderate temperature swings and being the land of milk, honey, ukuleles and shish kebabs, has never truly developed formal systems of order of its own – if it flooded, one simply climbed a tree; hunger was merely fed by fruit; and dwelling was accomplished by the most temporary of materials since these were found in such great abundance year long. Humanity in the tropics was not bound by survival to any sense of deeper formal order. Barring exceptional conditions of filtering influences, political/cultural/social upheaval or the natural dictates of land mass in specific regions (China and central Asia, as examples) the tropical belt has resulted in cultures and societies with architectural traditions that basically took longer to develop with the same rigor, exactitude, and systemised industry of fabrication and production as that found in the northern hemisphere.

I believe that a deeper understanding of architecture cannot happen through broad and arbitrarily drawn distinctions of form – it can only be sought through deeper questions we choose to ask about content – the specificity of place, time, culture, and language. The architectural distinctions we currently have, all concern labels as related to the generalisation of formal considerations which create diametrically opposing ideas, whether it is about the east or west, traditional or modern, post-modern or deconstructivist – although some may have begun with deeper philosophical basis, they have all been reduced to, and identified by formal outcomes of expression. As such, I find architectural labels a touch silly as they mystify through formal categorisation rather than clarify through deeper involvement of content. I would rather the foundations of architecture be rooted in content and the specific context thereof, and all those issues that go beyond mere texture, colour, shape, material, space, and size.

Q: What would be your advice to young and emerging architects?

A: The world is broadly made up of two kinds of practitioners, commercial architects and critical architects. It matters less what sort of architect you decide you wish to be, but that you are absolutely honest about the decision you make. Too many architects decide that the business and branding of their architecture is what they are best at, and yet speak about their work as though design is their priority – most especially when whatever talent is available to them has brought them a measure of global success and attention. It is not wrong to compromise in life, but it is wrong to be dishonest about that act of compromise.

Conversely, if critical work is what one has decided for oneself, the understanding that patience is the deepest pursuit of true passion becomes necessary. Not fame, not success, not recognition, since none of these are about passion, nor relate to it. Passion is, not knowing where you will end, since your only care is the journey, not where it will ultimately lead you. An architectural project is like an expedition to the top of the world, Everest. If your goal is to summit for that money shot and the experience of reaching the top, then that is all you will take away with you. The most accomplished and respected climbers in the world never look at a summit as their goal, but merely as a guide for where they have to take their very next step, and strangely enough, every step focused on, creates that patience which feeds the passion. And all the best climbers in the world reflect on exactly the same experience upon their reaching the top – less the jubilation of having succeeded in what they set out to do, than the absolute surprise and excitement at finding themselves at a place they never thought they would arrive at. In the same way, commercial architects look at how far they have come, build on what they have accomplished, and are amazed at what they intend to do next. Critical architects are amazed simply at what they are currently involved in doing. But whatever the case, I believe that it is ultimately less important what one chooses to do; only that one is absolutely honest about that decision.

Q: How has Indian landscape and its cultural conditions affected you in this trip. what learning and unlearning you are taking back as architect?

A: India is very much the centre of the world. I believe the raw dictates of its culture amid the sheer mass of its population provide the perfect combination of empathy to provide a way forward for the rest of humanity, but only if it realises the way forward is not the one prescribed by the developed world – that of free capital markets, advancing the brand, pushing the boundaries of one’s selected market, and sustaining the global culture of acquisition. Specifically, I have learned that on Indian roads, men, women, children, cows, pushcarts, motorcycles, cars, lorries and buses are not different types of things, but part of the amazing life of a street, and there is little difference between being nudged by another human being and a cow, or a bus, because life is simply too rich for such distinctions to matter. It is this delightful ambiguity that I will take away with me.

Q: What is state of women architects in Malaysia. Is it culturally progressive or regressive for female architects to thrive?

I do not believe one’s sex plays much of a part in one’s ability to thrive professionally in Malaysia, though it very well might in another country. Through my years working in Malaysia, I am quite glad to say that I have never experienced an intelligent statement, comment, or question by a female or male architect that was not given deep regard, and with that individual earning the greater respect of others. Perhaps the deeper aggression associated with men enables certain advances and opportunities denied women, but I believe that culture here has little to blame for.

Having taught at the University Malaya in Kuala Lumpur over the past ten years, I have found female students to actually have an edge over male students with respect to a quicker understanding of concepts, ideas and issues of content over those of form. I do believe women have it in them to be greater architects than men. However, I also believe women to be better nurturers than men, and when it comes to raising a family, a woman will make sacrifices few men would ever consider, let alone undertake. The fact is that many of us do grow up, get married, and ultimately produce children – if there exists fewer women than men in architecture performing at the very highest levels of the profession, I believe it is only because the very best women architects are doing their best work caring for their families as a sacrifice they cannot see any other way but make.

Images: Sibu Pavilion, smallprojects