Fellow author and Director of Urbis Andrew Olszewski commented that “success to date in winning projects in China has been as a result of having a layer of meaning behind even apparently simple design solutions; that is the essence of “Emotional Capital”. In the same session, W Cecil Steward, President of the Joslyn Castle Institute for Sustainable Communities in Nebraska, USA, argued that “urban agglomerations have become so large, dynamic, changeable, expensive, influential, and inter-connected with other factors and issues, that today’s concepts of planning and management, that was largely conceived from demands of the industrial revolution era, no longer function efficiently. In the past, and up to now, our institutions, organizational structures, and our science and technologies have been approached largely through incremental, often independent, and task-centred concepts of organization.” He proposed that the way to overcome this is to embrace the principles of sustainable development, however he argues that for urban sustainability we must add the domains of cultural, technological and public policy to the usual triple bottom line.The third paper in this theme was by Andrea Peresthu, of the Faculty of architecture, Delft University of Technology. He focussed on the development of Jakarta, and demonstrated that this now vast city has basically been planned around technological needs such as building services and especially road transport requirements. The apparent absence of real strategic planning propositions (that deal with more human values) has lead to new spatial inequalities.
Australian architecture was also very much on show, with Gregory Burgess giving a keynote address presenting examples of his work. Burgess was awarded the 1998 Kenneth F. Brown Design Award which is presented each year at the conference, and it was clear that his sensitive, community-focussed approach was much appreciated. The 2002 award was presented to Shuhei Endo, of Japan, for the development of an innovative house “SpringtectureB”, which builds on Japanese traditions using modern materials and a folded, interlocking form.
The “Liveability” theme for this year (the conference is held every second year) invited a re-examination of modernism and its implications for cities in the region. Hawaii is not a bad place to do that from: apart from being a very nice place to surf, its got the full quota of modernist towers, shopping malls, and of course, the mammoth hotels of Waikiki. There is plenty of evidence of rediscovering the traditional values of urban places, with some of the best streetscape improvements and active frontages you are likely to see. The Kalakaua promenade and beach promenade by local architect Jim Freeman would rank with the best anywhere, with very fine but subtle detailing and landscaping. It’s just a pity that every fifth or sixth shop along the streetfront seems to be a member of a chain, and would be a virtual copy of the previous one. So there is not too much authenticity in the detail, but the structure was certainly there.
A cultural shift
Hawaii is approximately in the middle of the Asia-Pacific and, after this conference, it might also claim to be in the middle of a cultural shift. Whereas cities like Honolulu, Sydney and Melbourne are actively questioning the narrow precepts of modernism and introducing more complex urban forms, developing cities in the region, particularly in China, are possibly moving in another direction. Kent Macdonald, of California Polytechnic State University, described it as “a traditional people’s drive for modernity and a modern people’s drive for tradition”. Macdonald presented a paper detailing a recent competition to develop a New-Urbanism style community in Shanghai. Part of an inter-government program to “showcase innovative American Planning Principles” (how come we don’t have one of those?), the competition ran into a number of cultural difficulties related to the Chinese desire to achieve orderly “modern” environments in contrast to the chaos and crowding of traditional Chinese cities. They ran squarely into the “Solar Access Ordinance”, a policy that prescribes a minimum amount of direct sun to main rooms right down to the winter solstice. The rigorous enforcement of this “modern planning principle” leads to the obvious conclusion – buildings spaced out with very rigid alignments. It seems you can have sun, but you have to live in a cultural desert as a result. This lead to a discussion that emerged consistently at the conference: that the difficulty with modernism was that it under-estimated the complexity of urban life, and gave undue prominence to a small number of factors, such as solar access, at the expense of more subtle issues such as cultural life, local history and character, and so on. We will need to find our way around this if we are to achieve a real degree of sustainability in the emerging cities of the Asia-Pacific.
The resolutions from the symposium were:
- We must advocate the value of design.
- Restructure education programs to reflect and develop skills for the complexity of problems and projects in communities.
- The language of business and design needs to converge
- There needs to be a greater focus on process and getting it right
- Create order and wisdom in all the chaos- the role of designers and architects is to identify order and understanding
- Need to create an authentic experience of place- and that architects should become the context experts
- We need more creativity
- Improve communication skills and express the power of ideas
- Need to measure more, more metrics of value and performance
- Need to knock down borders, increase collaboration.
The conference wrapped up with a couple of panel discussions that included notables such as James Wines of SITE, Carolina Woo of CW Group (ex SOM) and James Dator, who is Director of the Centre for Future Studies, Hawaii.
James Dator concluded that we need to fight for recognition that the experiential-based professions and research have a valid position alongside the so-called “hard sciences”. We have to become better at communicating the importance of the subtle and subjective.