2016 National Architecture Conference Day 3

how Soon is Now

After and action packed 2 days in Adelaide, the 2016 Australian Institute of Architects national conference had one last day in the now. If you some how missed The Red+Black Architect coverage of day one or day two, because they happened to soon, you can review them now.

First up for the day was Astrid Klein with a journey through the design thinking and philosophy of Klein Dytham Architecture in Tokyo Japan. Her presentation emphasized the ambition of providing work that was ‘more than architecture. Perhaps what became most apparent from the collection of high quality projects was the highly graphical content within the architecture. The type of graphics and the way it was integrated into the architecture varied project to project. There were printed graphics in glass, T shaped graphics cast into glass reinforced concrete, and animal silhouette’s incorporated into cross laminated timber structures.

Astrid Klein

Astrid Klein explaining the expanded possibilities arising from a post crisis environment

Toward the end of the whirlwind tour, Klein discussed her invention of the worldwide sensation known as Pecha Kucha. This event takes the format of 8 to 14 creative speakers each giving a presentation of 20 slides for 20 seconds per slide. Starting from Tokyo, it has been wildly successful and there are over 900 cities where Pecha Kucha has taken off.

Klein’s argument for architects to do more than architecture was both compelling and inspirational. It highlighted the importance of engagement and communication in both buildings and architects.

Next to the podium was Urtzi Grau & Cristina Goberna Pesudo from Fake Industries Architectural Agonism. Discussing their somewhat provocative approach to the practice of architecture, the dynamic duo provided a short critique of where the architecture profession is at. They noted that after the recent financial crisis, young professionals are rethinking the practice model. In the case of Fake Industries Architectural Agonism this has been in the form of repeated international collaborations specifically set up for the life of a single project.

The highlight of this presentation was the discussion surrounding their shortlisted entry into the Guggenheim Helsinki Competition. Rather than accept the highly restrictive requirements on the climate within a gallery space, this stipulation was challenged. The proposal instead offers a variety of internal climactic conditions which sequentially blurs the extremely cold temperatures externally with the required conditions in the final gallery space. The spaces in between therefore facilitate artwork of a different nature, that is not possible in galleries anywhere else. This idea was a masterstroke, that clearly impressed the competition jury, as it did the conference audience.

Perhaps the most insightful of the morning presentations was that of Kevin Low of smallprojects. Beginning with the problem of steps leading up to a house entry, low broke down one of the essential dilemmas in design. Do you start with form or do you start with content? Starting with form can assist the delight and elegance of the solution, yet sometimes at the expense of the commodity or purpose. The solution for Low’s entry stair problem was to design a seat which could fold out to act as an access ramp when necessary and fold away when it was no longer needed. This clever solution is symptomatic of a deep thinking architect working hard to solve problems for a client.

Kevin Low

Kevin Low discussing the raw finish of his extraordinary work

As low continued on to talk about his work in Malaysia he made some very profound comments on architecture and designing for tropical environments.  Flipping through the images, Low emphasized the rawness of his built work, allowing construction marks to tell a story of the building rather than being concealed behind paint or plasterboard. An architecture that is like people, imperfect but full of personality.

After the tea break the audience was given the choice of two panel discussions, Building Resilience or Transforming Populations. The Building Resilience panel featured Angelique Edmonds from the University of South Australia,  Nick Tridente of Tridente Architects, David Sanderson from the University of New South Wales,  Gabrielle Kelly from SAHMRI Wellbeing and Resilience Centre and Maree Grenfell from the City of Melbourne.

With the increasing impacts climate change, making our cities more resilient to disasters will be one of the biggest challenges to urbanism in the 21st century. As Sanderson explained, for every $1 spent on ‘resilience’ preparing for disaster, about $7 is saved when disaster strikes. But how should we be preparing? What strategies should we use? The panel suggested that the options to improve resilience could be categorized into three aspects: environment, people and systems.

From an environment perspective, architecture will have a massive role to play. Buildings that can be flexible in use and less reliant on community infrastructure will be inherently less fragile to disruptions and sudden change. The role of people in resilient city’s will also be crucial. When disaster strikes, government agencies are not always able to help. This means that it may be up to the community to mobilize themselves. If they are to do this education and a level of social connectivity will be required.  Maree Grenfell provided a statistic that 41% of respondents to a City of Melbourne survey thought that neighborhoods would not ‘pull together’ if a disaster were to strike. This might indicate that significantly more work needs to be done to make our built environments more conducive to social cohesion.

building resilience panel

The final keynote speaker for How Soon is Now was by the extraordinary Thomas Fisher from the University of Minnesota. His book, In the Scheme of Things (reviewed here by Sonia Sarangi) is a brilliant piece of writing discussing the problems and opportunities of the architecture profession, in comparison with that of other professions. For those who have read the book, there were very high expectations about Fishers presentation. Needless to say, those high expectations were easily met.

Connecting the dots through the history of architecture, Fisher made some bold predictions about where we are headed. Describing the third wave of architecture, triggered by the media revolution of the smart phone.

Thomas FisherFor architects Fisher foresees massive opportunities to use design thinking within systems. Whilst the full extent of this future is speculative, Fisher hypothesized that maybe as little as 5% of work undertaken by architects in 30 years time will be on physical building design. To back this bold claim up, he cited multiple examples such as the Centre for Disease Control in the U.S. hiring Fisher’s team to educate their staff in creative thinking.

Another example of a new form of architectural consulting was in the financial and spatial modeling of neighborhood infrastructure. In this case, an architect had developed a software solution that enabled highly complex spatial information to be communicated to the local government who were trying to plan infrastructure. This point connected brilliantly with Nasrine Seraji’s opening argument that ‘we need to create better tools for reading our cities’.  

With Fisher leaving the audience full of ideas to digest it, was time for an end of conference wrap up discussion. Tasked with this difficult duty were: Sandra Kaji-O’Grady from the University of Queensland, Timothy Hill of Partners Hill, Kerstin Thompson from Kerstin Thompson Architects, Charles Rice from the University of Technology Sydney, Thomas Fisher and Nasrine Seraji from Atelier Seraji Architects and Associates.

Here on the last panel of the day the ideas kept coming. Rather than just a neat summary or critique of what had been, further ideas about advocacy, architectural education and the role of drawing in the making of architecture were put forward. From past experience the end of a conference can be somewhat strange. Having sat through two very intense days of discourse, the audience is often after a fitting conclusion. Whilst the conversation here may have frustrated some, it was both insightful and intelligent.

wrapping things up

Looking back at it, How Soon Is Now had a few key messages. Firstly that we should be focusing on content and function over form, this is where we can do the most good. Secondly that the considerations of urbanism and the city will be as paramount as ever to architecture. Finally that we need to prepare for rapid change at all levels. Change is happening now, even greater change will be happening soon.

Once again many thanks and congratulations to creative directors Ben Hewett, Sam Spurr and Cameron Bruhn for putting on an excellent conference that was rich in content.

How soon is Now? Now is in the past, and architecture Christmas is over for another year.

Architecture is for Everyone.


About Michael Smith

Architect and Director of Atelier Red + Black based in Melbourne, Australia
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