Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Quick lines on paper

At our recently completed food court, the client wanted ideas about way finding signage. There are days when I have all the ideas in my head but not the time to put them down on paper. So, I employ a little trick - I have is to jot them all down in a small sketch book when I am on the plane. Small sheets A5 and a time limit 2 hours between Kuching and Penang did the trick.

Small and thin, I am likely to finish all the pages in a week - most satisfying.

Later, I showed this sketch to Fiona who did her magic
showing the location of this proposed banner

more banners
ideas for the food court renovation

The Food Gallery was originally designed as the generic type of food court found in a shopping centre; one with something for everyone. In recent years, the clientele had changed; moving away from family groups towards young professionals wanting a conducive environment for a working lunch. The client decided to re-vamp the image of their food court - aimed for a more contemporary feel and experience.

Everyday coffee shop items are used in un-usual ways - plastic stools become the ceiling and screens for the dining rooms and enamel crockery from the 70's are used as part of signage and decor.
We wanted to invoke the experience of eating street food; at the market, along the five foot way in the old part of town. Using the more intangible elements - the silhouette of the concertina grilles that allude to the Chinatown shop fronts while the incandescent light tubes are reminiscent of the market at night. 
The new furniture are re-designed with simpler and cleaner lines that might remind patrons of their school days; sitting on benches, sharing stories and food. Perhaps this is more than a re-vamping or face-lift because it goes beyond the skin - it is more like a coming of age.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thinking aloud

In the latest issue of INTERSECTION, I shared some thoughts about the state of our profession body in relation to young graduates and architecture students, to stay relevant or risk being sidelined in the minds of the next generation of Malaysian architects.

Recognition and Relevance
As part of the Liberalisation of Professional Services, the Architects Act 1967 has been amended so that non architects may own up to 30% equity in architectural practices. Non architects mean just that - a group not limited to our colleagues in the building industry such as the engineers and surveyors, but everyone - developers, politicians, businessmen and graduate architects as well.  
This Act has taken effect after it was gazetted on 1st of June 2015.

The fact that PAM does not agree with these amendments means little. Our President has raised the matter with LAM and the Minister of Works, who clarified that the amendments have been passed and cannot be revoked. PAM will address the matter administratively by making amendments to the Architects Rules, and to that end, a Joint LAM-PAM Committee has been set up to draft the Rules.
But one hears the fading sound of hoof beats as the barn door is slammed shut. 

To be positive, one would imagine that the Liberalisation of our profession can be viewed as a healthy move:
1. More foreign competition means that local architects will have beef up their services to get commissions; resulting in better quality of architecture.
2. Foreign firms bring in specialist knowledge; collaborating with them improves our own skill-set.

However, these situations apply usually to larger and specialised projects; universities, hospitals, airports, and not to medium sized projects such as housing and schools, for example. Not all 'imported' architects are of the same calibre; it would be interesting to see how PAM is able to differentiate the masterful from the mediocre using the amended Architect Rules. One hopes that it works, because we have our fair share of mediocre architects already, we do not need imported ones.

In a recent dialogue between PAMSC and PAM President, the key problems facing our professional development and architectural education were highlighted though not discussed in detail. They are summarised here: my comments are shown in italics
1. The declining quality of professional service - many new graduates are opting to work overseas; those from overseas universities are staying on to work, while many local graduates leave to work in Singapore and Australia. This makes it difficult for local practices to groom their second tier; to inject fresh ideas, help with work load and continuity. It is little wonder why the quality of service deteriorates.
2. Low Passing Rate for PAM-LAM Part 3 Exam of between 6-20% - there should be a review of this system of examining the candidates. Perhaps longer time for each exam paper or shorter papers over more sessions. It should not be a test of speed, because that is not what happens in practice. In Singapore, there is an option for candidates to submit a report detailing 5 years of relevant work. We are all cut from different cloth, and there are many forms of practice - there should be more than one way to evaluate the candidates.
3.  Quality of graduates not meeting industry expectations - there are some architecture colleges that use 40% as a passing mark. When benchmarks are lowered this way, it is little wonder that quality of graduates is poor. In Tong Hai University in Taiwan, the prerequisite mark to progress to the next semester is 60. But let's not put the burden on the schools only, practitioners can get involved in school curriculum - as external examiners or by offering internship and training.
4. Architecture is not a popular career choice amongst secondary students -this point comes as a surprise to me, because I understand from my colleagues in academia that intake is still very good. "...why we have two intakes each year!..".
It is quite clear that the above issues are inter-related, so one wonders if this next issue discussed at the dialogue is related as well.

From January 2017, LAM will revoke the automatic recognition of overseas architecture programmes. This means that only degrees from local architecture schools will be recognised. Architecture schools can apply for their programmes to be accredited, whereupon LAM will send representatives to that university to 'validate' the accreditation. We were told that the applying university will bear the cost of this process.

The new Manual of Accreditation for Architecture Programme is available from LAM, but one wonders what the logic for this decision is?  Does LAM think that foreign graduates are lowering the quality of our services? If so, surely LAM can continue to vet and interview them for their eligibility to sit for the Part 3 exams. Is it not simpler to recognise the list of accredited schools in the countries where LAM-PAM has reciprocal relationships?
In any case, all this may amount to nothing.
We all know that the quality of graduate architects are largely assessed based on the strength of their school portfolio and not the school’s degree. So, graduates from non-recognised schools (some of whom are there on government scholarship) will continue to get work where ever they choose. And by not recognizing their qualifications, LAM-PAM simply makes itself less relevant to their graduates. 
With so many hurdles to surmount in order to be registered, it might well be easier for them to buy a 30% stake-hold in an architectural practice.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Talking about Sketching

Last night, I took some of my sketches for a talk at a PAMSC (Local Architect's Institute) gathering. The aim of the presentation was to highlight our chapter's activities especially our study trips to Beijing, Shanghai and more recently Hangzhou as well as the European and local trips.

I thought it would be interesting (and different) to talk about how I record my trips - through the medium of pen and paper instead of film and camera.
There is no time like the present. To sketch and record events - usually the best times to do so are when one is waiting for something to happen - for the plane to take off, in a traffic jam, waiting for luggage, or food to arrive.

I sketch in solitude mostly as this is a chance for me to lose myself. But at other times, I don't mind a bit of company - like when I sat with a row of Primary School children in Hangzhou to sketch their old town. I asked the girl 'Is this a good likeness?' She examined my work and said 'Not really'

Many of our study trips are recorded in here, simple and cheap notebooks made from palm paper.

The Great Wall at Badaling

Wat Arun, Bangkok
With cheap medium such as the Artline Pen 0.4 (RM 2.50).
My favourite breakfast places in Georgetown
...or with ball-point pens from hotel rooms and sometimes with my Hero fountain pen.
3 points of view in the Frankfurt Cathedral
I talked about 'losing' myself in the act of sketching and how it results in actually getting myself lost - detached from the rest of tour group. But there is usually someone to watch over me.

Recording a building this way and at this angle is similar to using a camera but I think the act of seeing and drawing it makes the memory of the place stronger. When I look at this sketch, I remember most vividly the sound of skateboards hitting the concrete.

Helsinki - journal entries
 Most of the time, my sketches are 'notes' to myself and observations about the place and the people - such as what my fellow travelers are eating for breakfast.
Bay Hotel, Singapore
Sketching also allows me to dissect a place - to visually measure and record. I have a collection of 'measured drawings' of hotel rooms.
Pratunam, Bangkok
It does not always have to be a landmark or prominent building - recording the mundane is a good way of seeing beauty in daily life and of ever-day people.
Mind maps of routes taken are a good way for me to get an overview with glimpses of places seen along the way. These 'maps' are done retrospectively, of course - I ran these routes with Louis Tiong in Morocco.
Context and Memory - helped by some props and souvenirs from the 'site' in Valencia
More context - ink on paper, washed with soy sauce because we were in China (this is Wangshu's NingBo Museum of Contemporary Arts)
...and washed with espresso because we were in Florence.
I ended the ten minute presentation with this simple sketch.

I told them about Marcel and how he mentored me (probably without knowing it) and how he left Kuching for Toronto. And later, when I found out that he was terminally ill - I emailed him photos and sketches of his old haunts; usually food places such as this one near a Chinese temple on Carpenter Street. When that didn't seem enough, I mailed these postcard sketches to him. Later on, to add another dimension to his experience of 'home' - I washed the sketches with black vinegar (to evoke the memory of Teochew Kolo Mee which this is traditionally served with). I asked Marcel to smell the postcards - but I never got a reply because shortly after he passed away.

Months later, when his wife visited us in Kuching, I asked her if Marcel received the postcards. She replied 'Yes, he did'.  I asked her 'Did he smell them?'  She replied again 'Yes, he did, what's up with that?'  And I explained.