Magazine / 4th Quarter 2020


The sustainability roadmap that emerged two decades ago has failed us. Yes, more buildings in Asia are certified Green. And yes, more professionals and developers now buy into the need for change. But the situation is escalating faster than the pace at which solutions are generated. There is also a substance gap here. Are things that we do the same as what must be done?

We invited a panel of experts to tell us where we are, and if they see a fork in the path ahead. Here is a summary of what they say:

It’s a systemic problem.

We’ve grown accustomed to tinkering with parts; we need to tackle wholes. This means expanding the canvas beyond site and shell. It means fostering generosity. The architects at WOHA talk of generosity, how a project gives back to the neighbourhood, the city and the ecosystem. This does not obviate the case for building efficiency or occupant wellness; it adds a layer to what is already done. Critically, generosity is a clarion call to policymakers. System-wide changes will happen if there is a new DNA for urbanism and planning. This means raising the bar on planning and codes, and incentivising private actions that create public good.

It’s about our relationship with Nature.

Michael Grove, Sasaki and Bill Browning, Terrapin Bright Green say the rethink here starts with knowing what we have, how natural systems are vital to our survival. This leads to the protection of ecosystems, inside and outside human settlements. It alters how we design buildings and neighbourhoods to forge a partnership between the man-made and the natural. This is how design becomes a force for good, and an agent of change.

It’s time for courage and some outrage.

Big change is hard work. There are some who must be gently persuaded; others who must be aggressively refuted. The role of designer expands to educator, activist and agitator. Anna Heringer talks of how she founded a company that commissions hand-stitched textiles from women in Bangladesh villages. It was the only way they could stay in their community, and not have to move to a city to make a living. Nikos Salingaros decries self-delusion and aggrandisement of the design community. These are harsh words, meant to jolt us. Dr Nirmal Kishnani deconstructs the Green movement, which has lulled us into complacency. Challenging path dependencies is the first step to knowing what’s next.

Collating these views into a single issue has been a milestone for FuturArc. We’ve always advocated critical thinking and positive change, mostly through the curation of past projects. This time, we step outside our comfort zone and, with the help of experts, signpost the journey ahead. We hope this manifesto triggers optimism and urgency in you, as much as it has in us.

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