1. Better Apartments – A discussion paper
This week, the Victorian Government published a discussion paper, “Better Apartments”, as a preemptive step in tackling future development & population growth. The paper looked at 14 issues affecting apartment designs & amenities, addressing some key concerns: Should there be rules to ensure a majority of apartments receive sunlight? Should all apartments have balconies? Should internal corridors have views and provide daylight? How important is a car space in an apartment? Should larger developments be required to include different types of apartments? The Australian Institute of Architects has shown support for the proposed model, which somewhat resemble the New South Wales SEPP 65. The paper will be followed by a 2-month online public survey, and one-month stakeholder consultation process. Read the full paper here.
2. Grand tour granted
“Grand Tour” has been a tradition long embraced by architects. While young graduates in the past traveled to Rome or Greece making sketches of classical buildings, today architectural students have more diverse itineraries, looking to Africa & Asia for inspirations. This month issue of Architecture Record compiles a list of scholarships and fellowships within the States for students and emerging practitioners for travelling research. Recent winning projects are extremely diverse, namely A Luoi Valley project in Vietnam by Ylan Vo documenting the conflict, ecology, and memory of the toxic Agent Orange hotspots (Deborah J. Norden Fund winner), Michelle Tianhui Chen’s study of the architectural shift from a diverse fabric of expressive design languages to a politically and ethnically neutral vocabulary (Robert A.M. Stern Architects Travel Fellowship winner), Andrey’s research on “bio-inspiration in structures” and biomimicry in architecture throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand (SOM Fellowship winner), and so on…
In Australia, the most well known program is the ‘Dulux Study Tour’, which annually offers 5 emerging architects, designers a chance to travel to global architectural firms and renowned buildings. This year recipients will be travelling throughout Tokyo, London and Paris. Follow the tour here.
Beside universities and institutes programs, architecture firms also influence design education by setting up non-profit structure to fund students’ research travel. David Sokol wrote an interesting paper, titled “Architects give back”, explaining how these systems work and what are some of the obstacles.
Figure 1-4 (left to right, top down): Lethal Injection; AK-47 machine gun; Mine Kafon ; teardrop tattoo
Professional discourse and the general public, for a long time, have been associating “design” with positive connotation, too often that a history of violent and destructive designs has been shadowed. To amend this handicapped perception, Antonelli and Parsons professor James Hunt have co-curated an initiative at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) called “Design and Violence”, encouraging discussions from both experts and the wider public. Each case study features a particular design object, project or concept, which will be discussed with an expert from fields such as science, philosophy, literature, music, film, journalism or politics. Examples include AK-47 machine gun, menstruation Machine (Sputniko), lethal injection, drones, 3D printed guns, Halden Prison etc… Interestingly, most of them were designed after 2001, the year in which 4 historical events have strongly affected the evolution of violence in general: the War on Terror, a global shift from symmetrical to asymmetrical warfare, the emergence of nation-building as an alternative to military supremacy, and the rise of cyber warfare. Follow the discussion at @desviolenz
Figure 5-8 (left to right, top down):
The article by Bryan Finoki, criticising anti-homeless design, has certainly touched the nerve of many readers. City-making is as social as it is political, and architecture sometimes find itself at the crossroad. The discourse talks about egalitarian, sustainable, ecological ideologies yet cities of today has been aggressively taking back public spaces, implying policies & designs that prove detrimental to the impoverished communities, condemning them offensive to the globalised, commercial cities images. Urban design has been transformed into inhospitable surfaces, hard edges and exteriors that prevent homeless inhabitation. The discipline priding itself on place making for the people has turned its back on those who suffer the most.
After attending the Institute of Architects’ seminar on planning, apartment quality regarding families living in the cities, Darcy Allen, an economist, had concerns. He feels that the planning industry, with its prescriptive rules & mandate, has made building more expensive. Initiatives such as apartments design regulations, or the compulsory use of architects for certain building types, will only push house prices higher in the midst of a housing affordability crisis. So the question proposed is who should do the planning, individuals or regulators? Or should there even be planning at all? It sounds like chaos in the making, yet some cities & states have been practiced non-central planning to some extent, namely as Houston, Texas & Guragon, India.
Michael Smith, author of the blog Red+Black Architect, has since responded to some of Darcy’s concern regarding the ‘protected’ architect label & planning regulations. Michael stated that architects are in fact in the middle range when it comes to salary. There are contracts & standards that protect the clients and ensures architects perform diligently. Michael believed that mandatory use of architect is needed for professional understanding and knowledge of quality design, sometime against developers that have little interest in the end-user and the urban context. The architects’ interest is not to exploit their clients but to solve complex problems and deliver good projects. In response to the concern regarding planning regulations, what should be focused and assessed is not whether it will incur more costs, but whether those are of good values. Similar examples can be found where individual & private planning backfired on the city. Being solely concern with cost can be a shortsighted approach, and sometimes it has to cost more to do better.
Project of the week
The Commons – Breathe Architecture
In accordance with the conversations around apartment design, this project is without a doubt the leading examples which cleverly merges good design, innovative finance model & sustainability. Breathe Architecture is both the architect & developer of the project. The normal scenario sees a developer purchase the site, set their desirable profit margin (usually 20%), find the architect & work with him/her to squeeze the costs/quality of the design to get as much bonus return as possible. The Commons’ financial model not only caps the developer (which is also a group of architects) profit at 15%, but also slashes unnecessary costs such as marketing (-$50k), real estate agent(-$250k), display suites(-$100k) and hand it back to the purchasers. Design-wise, the building further reduces construction cost by having no basement carpark (-$500k), providing shared laundry area instead of individual ones (-$150k), natural ventilation & no air conditioning,… the list goes on. The apartment prices are among the cheapest you can find considering its close proximity to the city. Breathe Architecture has collected numerous awards for the project and is currently working on its 2nd child, “the Nightingale”.The group of investors includes architects such as Six Degrees, Andrew Maynard and Clare Cousins, and has raised $2.7 million to kickstart this 20-apartment development across the road from The Commons. An unprecedented 177 letter of supports during town planning process proves that thoughful design does not need to cost more while improving affordability and quality living.