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REPORT ON AOF ASIA 2000:
ARCHITECTURE OF THE FUTURE WORKSHOP IN TOKYO, 23RD TO 25TH JUNE 2000


BY TAY KHENG SOON

A SHORT CHRONOLOGY OF THE AOF PROJECT

1994 Start UIA (Union of International Architects) Council Meeting in Tokyo

May JIA (Japan Institute of Architects) for AOF and JIA Working Group

was formed by core members of the JIA Environmental Committee

and the International Committee

1995 Dec AOF International Symposium in Tokyo

Report: Architecture of the Future, compiled by JIA

1996 July AOF International Symposium in Barcelona

Sep Tentative AOF Report from Barcelona, compiled by JIA to be distributed

to UIA national sections.

1997 Aug AOF International Symposium in Helsinki, in conjunction with

Alvar Aalto Symposium

Sep AOF presentation at ARCASIA FORUM 9, in Tokyo

1998 July AOF International Symposium in Kassel, Germany

1999 July AOF Presentation by JIA, at the XX UIA Congress in Beijing

    • Publication of the AOF Document, compiled by JIA
    • BDA (German Institute of Architects) was assigned to host secretariat for AOF until the next UIA Congress in Berlin.
    • JIA declared to cooperate with BDA for further activities of AOF, especially in Asia.

2000 June Publication of the “Global Document 2000” compiled by K. Iwamura.

International Symposium “AOF Asia 2000” in Tokyo

Oct AOF International Workshop, at “Sustainable Building 2000” in Maastricht

REPORT AND IMPRESSIONS

I participated in many of the discussions from the inception of the AOF project. At the 1995 meeting in Tokyo, I formulated a working hypothesis based on the human condition as it affects architecture and the environment. This was presented at a special session of the UIA congress at Barcelona in 1996 among other presentations. I missed the Helsinki meeting but attended the Kessel meeting in Germany which was an eye-opener through a visit organised by the Germans to the Rhur valley to see the environmental repair work going on and the commitment of the German Government and people and architects to the vision of a cleaned up environment after 100 years of industrial pollution. In 1999, AOF presented its findings at the Beijing UIA congress but failed to gain much attention due to the tendency of architects to be attracted to “star’ architect performances. The AOF presentation by Koichi Nagashima was overshadowed by Tadao Ando’s concurrent presentation. The Sec.Gen of UIA however found the presentation important and decided to continue the work of AOF. The recent meeting in Tokyo was very fruitful and challenging. It will form the substance for the Maastricht conference in October this year and then finally presented at the Berlin Congress of UIA next year. Throughout these years, JIA’s consistent support and the efforts of Koichi, Iwamura and many others are indeed impressive. JIA is to be congratulated.

Koichi, in his summary of the recent Tokyo meeting, said that when JIA was approached by UIA in 1994 to lead in the AOF project, the thought then was that since Japan was looking into mega structure buildings that this would be an indication of the future. Far from this, Japanese architects were beginning to take a serious look at sustainability of the environment and its implications on architecture and practice. So very early on in the AOF discussions, the focus turned to sustainable architecture. I gave strong support to this line.

At the recent meeting, several papers stand out in my mind. There seems to be two main strands emerging with the usual third. The first strand is scientific and quantitative. The second is social and participatory. The third is aesthetic.

The first strand is reflected in the paper by Prof. Raymond Cole* of University of British Columbia who gave a report on the state of play on the development of evaluative criteria of Green Buildings. He explained that there was an internationally felt need to have objective criteria and methodology to judge the claims made by architects about green buildings. So he devised “GBC” (Green Building Challenge), a methodical quantitative evaluation system which would attract international submissions. The first round was in 1999 which attracted 19 country submissions. The present round has grown to 28 National submissions. It looks like this is going to be the internationally definitive standard of measurement. The measurement criteria are very comprehensive, they take into account the life-cycle implications of the design, construction, use and post construction modifications. Included are such things as embedded energy in the choice of materials, co2 emissions caused by the processing and transportation of the chosen materials during construction, energy use in the operational life of the building, transportation of workers to and from the building, emissions due to modifiability of the building, waste disposal, water use, recyclability of components etc. etc. Nations voluntarily prepare their own evaluations and then submit to GBC for cross checking. All participants benefit because there is much to be learnt from the exercise nationally through the experience of others.

The second strand is best represented by architect Lucien Kroll* of Belgium and Prof. Ysuhiro Endo* of Chiba University. Both dwelled on the people-factor in the process of making the living environment. The implications are important. The unstated premise is that in the process of participating in designing and managing one’s own housing environment, people are empowered. Their lives change. They become different people. They are capable of living fuller lives and therefore are capable of taking group and personal responsibility for the environment. In both Lucien’s and Endo’s slide presentations, it was shown clearly that people-participation does generate individual and social energy. Some examples stand out. Endo showed children in one of the co-op housing projects taking responsibility for the gardens and greens*, maintaining the ponds and streams, growing herbs and vegetables, old people voluntarily teaching traditional skills to the young. An old woman was teaching the children how to make traditional straw shoes*, and an old man giving weekly puppet shows* and telling stories of the old days to the children on his own initiative. The Balconies are all connected, landscaped, children and neighbours visit one another via the connected balcony, barbecues take place there, there are koi ponds on the balcony. The roof gardens are venue for community activities. We visited a scheme for low-income and retired residents in suburban Tokyo, developed along the same lines by Iwamura*. The up-keep was very good, people care. There is no litter. Roofs are planted, some very well done. Materials from the old houses are reused in the scheme*. People identify with these materials. Old trees cut down are used as paving. Old roof tiles are reused as edging for lanscaping*. Old wells in the area are preserved. Links with the past are remembered this way. There are many touches of self-help and people initiative in the planning and management of the shared environment.

The third strand is aesthetic. Within this strand, one would also include conservation and also new specially designed buildings. The museum of botany by Hiroshi Naito* was an environmentally sensitive design. It stands out as an inspiring spiritual experience. There is certainly a place for the special. These buildings are spiritual markers in our journey through life. They fill a void in the everyday world of pragmatics. Having renewed and refreshed our spirits, the need for quantity is reduced as the need for quality increases. There is thus less need to fill personal space with lots of things. This is a fundamental strategy in achieving sustainability. Reduce, then reuse and finally recycle. These are the three principles of sustainability. Sentiment and spirit are key factors in a changed paradigm.

Whereas in the first strand, the assumption is technocratic in essence, the second and third strands bring out the human aspects, which ultimately are crucial in the necessary paradigm shift. But establishing scientifically measurable performance criteria and having an incentive and disincentive system will also achieve desired results. A balance is best. The two are not mutually exclusive, of course, but whereas the first depends on an impersonal system, the second is totally involving. Probably, a mix of the two systems is necessary. I expressed that although I was in favour of transparency to access green design claims, which can be achieved through application of scientific methods, the results can also be horrific green boxes! Some of the examples from Taiwan seem to indicate this tendency. The dilemma is that while this strategy is effective, it runs the risk of erosion of the architects’ design prerogative resulting in engineer domination in answer to the present claims by some ‘green architects’ who are confusing the public. There have to be pull and push factors. There has to be macro-management backed up by micro-management techniques. Micro-management strategies alone could be too restrictive. New strategies are necessary.

Still, while the debate goes on, industry is quietly pre-empting the situation. We visited Misawa homes, a large system builder in Tokyo, one of five, we are told. We were shown their “Mercedes” class prefab house. It was astoundingly well designed and detailed, and cheap by Japanese standards. It was touted as a “zero energy”, 250 m2 enclosed space, two cars, single-family independent house. The roof is a photovoltaic option costing S$95,000 of which Japanese Government pays 1/3 as direct grant. Energy is pumped into the grid and the owner pays only the difference between the output and the consumption. The interior is thoroughly designed. Everything works to the nth degree. There is a lift for the aged. Everything has been thought out. Workmanship is super. The house gets built in 30 days after signing the contract. Where do architects stand? There are other models capable of erection in 8 hours, all superbly executed. Not great architecture but very functional and decent looking and affordable.

Kyouichi Nakamura, another Japanese green architect has been self-financing research on charcoal concrete. He claims that the internal environment is free of dampness and pollutants due to the charcoal. Due to special hydration effects caused by the charcoal, the concrete gets 10% stronger his research proves. He gets no support from the authorities. I sense he is getting tired after so many years of sustained independent effort. Why can’t there be a strategic alliance between builders, technologists financiers and innovative architects like him? New strategic alliances must be considered.

The challenge is very much on the architect as a profession. The fact is that conditions of practice are changing fundamentally. The opportunities are there if we only know how to use them.

Mr. Shoichi Ando of the housing section of the Japanese Ministry of Construction gave a paper on sustainability policy in Japan having just returned from OECD in Europe. His final question was what is the difference between an engineer and an architect where sustainability is concerned. The implication of his question, from a bureaucratic point of view, is how can non-quantifiable criteria be factored into rules and regulations. Paraphrased, how can architecture be factored into sustainable rules? Within the technocratic assumption, I fear that it cannot. Here is where there has to be a real paradigm shift in thinking.

The tentative answer comes from community-organisation based architects like Lucien Kroll, Kazuo Iwamura and Ysuhiro Endo. Their work suggest that a new balance between quality and quantity of human life and nature can be achieved through awakening healthy human initiative and sensibilities in the joint making of the living environment rather than through the exclusive exercise of rules. In such a case, the architect is the dialogical facilitator with the community. Ysuhrio Endo suggests that there is a fundamental value shift from professional ego to ‘dialogic self’ involved. He says that in community-based design approaches the following values come to the fore. It is definitely slower but more thorough and builds in the sentiments and commitments of the community. From experience the new values encountered are as follows: They are: Chaotic (organic) Open-ended (process driven), Non-repetitive (specific), Flexible (changeable), Innovative (new), Diverse (differences), Experiential (involving), Nurturing (enabling), Critical and creative (not fixated) and finally Explicit (transparent). The acronym is CONFIDENCE. Confidence is everything. It releases pent-up energies. It creates new leaders. It changes the relationship of people with reality. It shifts perception from the ritualistic to the real. It makes better humans. Sustainability can then become a personal commitment and a social goal. Only then will sustainability become a universal ethic. Clearly, acquisition of all these values cannot be through the technocratic method because it will run counter to normal bureaucratic culture. It has to be a new cultural movement. In the Singapore context, it has to be a civil-society project. It will not be easy.

For me the two presentations on community-based housing were truly exciting. The obvious success of the community-based initiatives in design unexpectedly coincided perfectly with the trend of my thoughts on the subject of sustainability since 1994. Suddenly, the truth dawned on me that if robust community is fulfilling and viable, the alienation and displacement of self in the contemporary economy could be assuaged. A new spiritual dimension in human lives could replace the need for obsession with materialism.

I had earlier set out to find the underlying causes for the degradation of the environment due to human action and appetites. I wanted to know what is the internal dynamic that drives economies. I have found that it is human dis-equilibrium. When disequilibrium is excessive, disorders abound. Thus, in 1994, I had posited in Tokyo that disorders in the environment are merely reflections of disorders in the human condition within the specifics of place and time. Analysing this, I could trace the passage of the human condition historically from the 1500s, i.e., from the renaissance to the first oil crisis of 1973 as a curve of rising consumption and materialistic values. I could also see the decline of non-material values in the process. It could also be seen in the re-emergence of non-material values from 1846, i.e., after the publication of the communist manifesto by Karl Marx. This was followed by the new physics and the rise of Eco-feminism and the counter-culture of the 60s. The youth revolt of the 60s culminated in the 1968 Paris Commune in Europe and USA and later in 1973, Thailand and Philippines can be seen as the contestation between non-material values and the dominant material values, which had swept the world since the renaissance.

In constructing this history, I had identified the motor of human action. What is it that makes history? I found this by combining Western psychology and Buddhist epistemology in the theory of ‘self’. Dis-equilibrium is located in ‘self’. Thus the disequilibrium generated economic growth and materialism in history. If self-in-being, (a Buddhist concept) is defined as Noia, (the Greek word for undifferentiated unity of consciousness); self, displaced from being is by definition Para-noia. In everyday life, this condition does not however amount to clinical paranoia, but is the condition of existential anxiety. This is what drives the economy and the excessive despoliation of nature, generates greed and carelessness.

At this recent meeting, this same idea developed further in my mind thus: The situation of self and its distance from being changes with maturation. There are five stages in this. A child’s conscious mind migrates from the centre of its being to the edge of being as it differentiates the world. This is differentiated knowledge. Thus knowledge grows as reality is divided into ever-smaller categories. An adolescent’s mind is thus at its greatest displaced distance from centre. The teenager thus wildly seeks out the world, tests ideas and craves experiences, is in great disorder. This is the condition popularly known as the terrible teens. Adult consciousness returns closer to centre of being. One can theorise that in maturity, consciousness comes back to being, that state of bliss or undifferentiated consciousness longed for throughout life. Thus, the dynamics of self accounts for the shifting perceptions and changing springs of human action. Noting this, it is possible to theorise appropriate strategies. Not being aware of this phenomenon, much misplaced or misdirected actions occur.

ENCLOSED:

  1. AOF GLOCAL DOCUMENT 2000
  2. OUTLINE INTERNATIONAL AOF ASIA 2000 WORKSHOP TOKYO JUNE 23rd - 25th, 2000
  3. SCHEDULE OF AOF ASIA 200 WORKSHOP

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