How does your design approach differ when you are working on living or commercial spaces versus when you are executing a civic or an industrial project?
The design approach is definitely not the same for commercial and institutional projects. Having said that, I believe the design approach for two or more projects is never the same, even if they belong to the same category. The form and function of each project is governed by multiple factors which includes the site, the end users, the owners etc. Hence a standard solution which will work for everyone is simply not possible. Each project is akin to a new kind of evolution and an architect has to apply his knowledge and professional wisdom to work.
In an urban civilization where vertical sky rises seem to be the only answer to the burgeoning populace, what are the challenges an architect should be ready to address?
Urbanisation will consistently add challenges to the existing realm of architecture and design. The burgeoning populace will make it eminent for them to design vertical high-rises and bigger buildings. It will also lead them to introspect. The introspection will lead them to question their role in the society at large. Society is made up of people from different economic strata and the architect will have to think if he is addressing everyone’s need. Designing affordable homes, creating purposeful communities which work in tandem, making the world a safer place will be some queries they have to address. Architects will have to work closely with scientists, economists, politicians and engineers to resolve different problem areas.
Which was one of those challenging projects which offered you a great deal of professional gratification and why?
In Hong Kong, as it is in some other parts of the world, owning a house is nearly impossible. It is very expensive. In this situation, the economically weaker people are the most affected. For this segment, I envisioned a house designed using concrete water pipes ideally used for draining rain water. This project titled OPod was designed to ease Hong Kong’s affordable housing problems but it received a lot of global attention. Experts believed this solution can be implemented in other parts of the world, too.
OPod allows the economically weaker sections of the society to live with dignity. The project was designed to alleviate people’s suffering. It has been one of the highlights of my career. Project OPod gave me a lot of gratification in personal and professional terms. More so, since it allowed me to address a pertinent issue faced by the lesser privileged.
What led to the inception of Cybertecture and how has the journey been so far?
When I was studying architecture, Professor Peter Cook, (who also was the founder of the avant-garde architectural group Archigram) used to teach us; he consistently asserted the fact that we, as architects, can change the world. It made a considerable impact on my mind. In an effort to initiate this process of change, I felt it is necessary for me to lead from the front. That finally let to the inception of Cybertecture.
The journey has been exciting. It has allowed me to learn more about different people and cultures including India. It has allowed me to understand how technology and aspirations can alter the course of our day to day existence. I must say it has been a very fulfilling journey; we as a firm and I as an architect have learnt a lot and we are still continuing to learn. We are really enjoying the journey and remain optimistic about the future.
What according to you are some of the new age materials and technologies which are redefining the face of architecture in this millennium?
Materials, I believe, are old, unless of course a new material is discovered. If you look closely traditional materials like glass, wood, timber which have been used to design have existed since ages. Then there are materials like aluminium, plastics etc which we are well aware of.
I believe more than the materials, the usage of the existing materials in novel ways will directly affect the faculty of architecture and design. This change will be driven by emerging technologies. Technologies like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and virtual reality will allow an architect to craft a new story using the same material in a different way.
If there is one thing you want to change about how architecture and design is perceived in this millennium, what would it be, and why would you desire to change it?
Architecture in itself represents the human civilization. The principles of good architecture and design govern our lives too. Hence there is a connection of sorts. As we move further towards the next millennium we should not lose sight of these principles, which allow us to lead purposeful and happier lives. We should be in a position wherein every building should be well-designed; every building should reflect the essence of good architecture.
So if I had a chance I would change the way architecture and design is being perceived today. Once that is done, people will have the clarity to understand architecture and design in new light. They would be able to finally comprehend that our way of life, interactions, relationship with people and the society in general actually has a lot of effect on the built environment.
Is there an Indian architect whose body of work you adore?
It has to be BV Doshi. A Pritzker Prize Laureate, Mr Doshi has succeeded in addressing the architectural challenges in the Indian ecosystem very skilfully. He has created buildings which are relevant to the Indian landscape yet modern. To be able to arrive at a middle path which combines both tradition and modernity so seamlessly is a difficult task. And in doing so he has made the improbable, probable. I would also like to add that I have been fortunate to execute a few projects in India too.
Who are the architects and designers you revere, the ones you look up to as your idols?
I have met a number of architects in my journey till date, but one individual who continues to be my role model is Mr Peter Cook. Like I mentioned earlier, when I was in architecture school, Mr Cook used to teach us. I was greatly influenced by his personality and philosophy. He always advised us to stay optimistic and voice out our ideas even if they were outlandish or improbable. He believed that an architect should always strive to think beyond the existing realms of creativity and always stay positive. I think his teachings had a great effect on my thought process, both at a professional and a personal level.
In recent times have you come across any book or a novel which you believe would appeal to the mind of an eager architect?
I have recently read a book called AI Superpowers. The book is written by a Taiwanese American computer scientist Kai-Fu Lee who talks about the impact of AI will have in our day to day lives. AI will change the way we communicate and relate with other people. It will redefine the way we live; it will redefine how societies, communities and cities interact with each other.
I think it has lot of relevance to architects because the projects we are executing now will become obsolete in the future. By understanding the impact of AI at an individual and collective level, can we stay relevant in what we do? So that’s the book I feel architects should consider reading.
What is your advice for the younger breed of architects?
Eagerness to learn is the key, one must not assume that they know everything. For the younger breed of architects who will be scripting the future of architecture and design, I have just one piece of advice “Stay hungry Stay Foolish.”
Yes it’s a quote by Steve Jobs but it makes a lot of sense to every professional including the young architects and designers. As they start executing their professional assignments the hunger to learn more needs to be intact. It will allow them to be in sync with the latest developments and stay relevant to the profession. Likewise it is important to be foolish sometimes and raise the right queries. In a way the younger generation of professionals needs to have the audacity to investigate, innovate and improvise rather than accepting the established norms and values.
In a conversation with Vikas Bhadra, James Law, CEO and Founder of Cybertecture, shares his opinion on the finer aspects of architecture and design.
CEO and Founder of Cybertecture