Nov-Dec 2015

Table of Contents
Nov-Dec 2015
Year-end Issue | Building Community

I asked Dr Milinda Pathiraja what was the design vision behind his project, the Global Silver Award winner in the latest Global Holcim Awards cycle (Post-war Collective: Community Library). He replied with modesty—not uncommon in those who seek sustainable solutions—that the building was an act of intense collaboration with the client; it emerged from concerns about site and material; it was all about the induction of soldiers into the craft of building. In other words, he, the architect, had receded. He was facilitator, trainer and midwife.

I asked again, where were you in all this?

I had reason to persist. I could see there was a strong design vision in his community library. The way this building comes together; its transparency and lightness; the way materials were assembled—these were not accidents. They were not the work of a committee. They spoke of a personal vision.

The reticence of architects in asserting their vision of sustainability is disconcerting. Few dare to say that a sustainable building must be beautiful; that it must convey a narrative of place; that we do not want to live in faceless boxes with Green certificates!

The community library is all about the human condition, on how to make it better. What makes it come together though is Milinda. It could have been a thousand times less attractive but his vision met his ethics in this moment, this space.

Milinda did eventually answer my question (interview); what got built was the result of negotiations between the client and the artist in him. He let the artist speak.

I hold onto the belief that sustainable design—the sort that will take us into the future—will be created by artists, like Milinda, who imagine a more equitable, more beautiful world. And, yes, of course, this must be anchored in questions about consumption and waste, collaboration and process, carbon and climate change.

Otherwise what is achieved is mere aesthetics, not beauty.

In this issue we have put together a few projects that seek beauty, often in the simplest way. Look deeper, you will see attempts to deliver passive performance, use low-impact materials or integrate greenery. Beauty, however, is more than the sum of these parts. It draws you; it makes you want to visit the project. And that is no small feat. We need more of this in Asia.


*The Cam Thanh Community House won in the World Architecture Festival 2015 for the category Completed Building: Civic and Community. On 24 October 2015, the Pani Community Centre has been awarded winner of the Dutch Design Awards 2015 in the Habitat category.


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