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How we will live

With housing one of the crucial pressure points in worldwide development and regeneration, what is its future on a global level?

At a recent roundtable debate, run by the Architectural Review in association with Grohe, leading architects and designers discussed the global residential trends. The event was chaired by AR’s editor Christine Murray and held at the World Architecture Festival.

Our expert panel featured:

Craig Casci, chairman, GRID Architects

Chris Doray, founder, Chris Doray Studio

John Marx, design principal, Form4 Architectures

Gonca Pasolar, partner, Emre Arolat Architects

Sanjay Puri, principal architect, Sanjay Puri Architects

Khoo Peng Beng, founder, Arc Studio

Jonathan Rose, principal, design and planning, Aecom

Michael Seum, vice president of design, Grohe

Tomohiko Yamanashi, principal, architectural design department, Nikken Sekkei

Additional points of discussion included: What are the social changes we should plan for – from a growing population to inner-city density and migration? How do we create thriving communities? What are the challenges going forward – and where are the opportunities?

Below are highlights of the debate.

The global trends

Khoo Peng Beng: ‘More and more we are looking at how to make high-rise more liveable. We are digging deeper about high density and happiness. We’ve started this project – basically the fact that ‘1000 Singapores’ can house the world’s population. The land area would be like France. The food footprint of course is huge if people have a North American diet, so we are now trying to map and understand the land needed to support Singapore, so what kind of infrastructure would be needed.’

Jonathan Rose: ‘I really recommend this project. It is a simple way of understanding the challenges of density and the footprint of cities. At Aecom we are masterplanners, we’ve led the design consortium for the London Olympics, which is a good example of how a city can restructure both its land interests and remediate its land to create six new districts around the park. Part of that is creating value but also it’s about creating accessible affordable housing. We are also working for Cambridge University in the UK, where we are extending the city of Cambridge to meet the needs for a growing university – one of which is to meet affordable housing for staff.’

Gonca Pasolar: ‘We design projects for all scales. We have been facing the problems of housing for about the past decade or so. In Turkey, ”gated communities” are an issue and a problem. Particularly in the region north of Istanbul. It is almost all gated communities. Who are they protecting themselves from? There is a long way to go.’

grohe RT residential 2

grohe RT residential 2

Chris Doray: ‘I was born and raised in Singapore. I’ve lived in a lot of places. Now I’m based in Vancouver, which is striving to be the third largest real estate city in the world after New York and London. I’m an immigrant, and you’re sensitive to issues that architect offices usually ignore, and developers don’t give much thought to as long as the property sells. Vancouver suffers quite critically from an absent population. It is basically a warehouse as a city. Celebrity architects are entering the city. In one way they doing a good thing, because they are increasing the aesthetic quality of the built environment. But they are not engaging because they are transient. Because of their high-end design, real estate has now shot sky high. Which means locals have to move out and the investors buy the properties and then leave too – so what’s left? But this is a city which is playing a big role in the world right now in terms of the way cities are fashioned. I think architects have a responsibility.’

Tomohiko Yamanashi: ‘We are a multi-disciplinary practice. In Japan, all residential work is controlled by developers. That is the biggest problem. Few citizens make a complaint about this. Now that’s OK, but in the future it will be a problem, that is my worry.’

Christine Murray: ‘Does that result in a lack of public space, but also no social housing?’

Tomohiko Yamanashi: ‘There’s no long view or philosophy, it’s a big problem. We need to think about the future. No-one is have a long vista.’

Affordability

Khoo Peng Beng: ‘Housing is a huge crisis. It is an emergency, actually. In the next 15 years we will have 1billion people born within a four hour radius of Singapore by flight. One billion people go to sleep without a home and without enough food, and in the coming years that is just going to get worse. We need to reinvent and examine where we came from and break away from all of this – we are in danger, but also there is an opportunity.’

Christine Murray: ‘When you say break with it – is that in terms of affordability.’

Khoo Peng Beng: ’In housing terms we are at the point where Ford made the first Model T. Housing is becoming more and more elite and it needs to become more and more accessible. We need to think about manufacturing. The fear is that we will lose a lot of jobs but we need to reinvent the wheel. Chinese companies have started to build high-rise residential towers in a number of days. We need to combine speed, cost and affordability. And to prevent urban migration we need to also look at the rural problems. No-one is left in the rural areas.’

Christine Murray: ‘The population of the United States migrates from rural to urban every year. So that’s 300 million.’

Tomohiko Yamanashi: ‘Japan is homogeneous. The housing market is stable. One of the problems is that because the housing is affordable, many Chinese and Singaporeans are starting to buy it as an investment. They borrow the money from banks to do this? But what will happen? We don’t have an experience of diversity. There is no problem at the moment but we don’t have a very big picture.’

grohe RT residential 3

grohe RT residential 3

Sustainability and quality of life

Khoo Peng Beng: ‘The quality of life, the happiness quotient is also significant – what is the true measure of happiness in a high-density urban environment? We need to humanize the entire city. Wellness incorporates physical, social, emotional, financial, occupational and spiritual aspects. We need to have a more holistic view. It is time, for example, that cars took a back seat to planning. In terms of infrastucture, we need to create no-car zones. Cars make the urban environment too fast and unsafe. This is where architects can come in because it is a design problem.’

Craig Casci: ‘Our practice focuses on residential. Our industry is tied up with house-builders. It’s important to look at social sustainability. There’s no point, for example, having stick-on environmental sustainability without social sustainability.’

Sanjay Puri: ‘In Mumbai where I’m based, there are 400 new cars on the road every day. And these are largely the same roads that have been in existence for the last 50 years. You cannot imagine the traffic chaos, dust, pollution, the housing shortages. Thirty five per cent of the population of the city lives in slums. The government is doing nothing to take care of the housing shortage. Ninety per cent of building in India is by private developers. The government doesn’t do anything – art buildings, residential buildings. Neither do they facilitate making life easy for all these guys to do what they’re doing. So there are a lot of problems. Real estate is highly unaffordable. For most people, houses are out of reach. What happens is, all houses are getting squeezed in size. The developers squeeze the size to get a profit. At the same time you have ridiculous planning rules. For example, the south-west breeze saves Mumbai from pollution, but terraces are not allowed, because they count as the built-up area. The rules are a knee-jerk reaction because people were enclosing terraces. So because of land scarcity Mumbai is going higher and higher. More than 100 buildings are now crossing the 80 storey mark.’

Michael Seum: ‘I’m an industrial designer, so I try and understand what are the habits and practices of people I’m designing for. But I’m designing on a different scale. But from a production level it’s at another level of scale. There are parallels – the things that are driving the world of architecture are driving our world. For example there are macro trends about the lack of water and sanitary health issues which are major challenges.’

Jonathan Rose: ‘I think it’s very important, as Peng Beng suggested, that technological production and scale and how solutions need to be cultivated.’

Michael Seum: ‘In the US, how do we change density? To create living spaces for populations that work in much more urban situations? Urbanization is one of the big topics around the world.’

Density

John Marx: ‘San Francisco is very dense and vibrant, there are micro-apartments which reduce scale – but in Silicon Valley there is a lack of cultural vibrancy and lack of facilities but there is a lot of low-rise housing. It is densifying now. I’m interested in the Vancouver versus Singapore story, because it feels like Singapore has been able to develop that vibrancy and culture. I’m curious to see how these two cities evolve because the worry is that San Jose and parts of Silicon Valley will evolve more like Vancouver than Singapore.’

Chris Doray: ‘But its not comparing apples with apples. Singapore has got a citizenship. I’ve lived away from Singapore for 25 years, but I’ve still got a Singaporean passport. In Vancouver there is an influx of people, but the moment they get the passport they go back home.’

Cultural vibrancy

Christine Murray: ‘What makes a vibrant city? I think we would all agree that you need a mix of people…’

Chris Doray: ‘People who stay.’

Christine Murray: ‘.. and that mix of people probably earn very different amounts of money. So that ties into affordability, and the idea that cultural vibrancy is having artists and musicians as well as bankers and oligarchs. So what makes a vibrant city and how can architects impact that?’

Jonathan Rose: ‘A lot of what we are discussing is about the fundamental restructuring of the city. The key challenge is governance and the capacity of the cities’ authorities.’

Christine Murrary: ‘The public responsibility to set regulation that initiate change.’

Jonathan Rose: ‘We need to ask the question: “Whose city is it?” As citizens, we delegate power to authorities in order to structure our cities. As citizens and cities, we need to contribute. For example, in Singapore, the architect’s role and leadership role is crucial. Singapore is maturing.’

Christine Murray: ‘So cultural vibrancy - it’s about community. In many cities you have the hollowing out, the vacant apartments. Although I think Vancouver scores top on the happiness chart!’

Chris Doray: ‘Vancouver is a beautiful city, we’ve got the mountains, and if you relate happiness to beauty then Vancouver is a happy city. But I think it’s deeper than that, I think happiness is about social sustainability, and social sustainability is directly linked to financial status. If you can afford a place where you want to be rather than where you don’t want to be then you are happy.’

Christine Murray: ‘How do we unpick the affordability question. Is it location, size of apartment, will on the part of the developer?’

Craig Casci: ‘It’s also market land prices.’

grohe RT residential 4

grohe RT residential 4

The role of government

Jonathan Rose: ‘Cities are made of housing. Singapore is 50 per cent open space. So is London. London’s density in the 1930s was higher than Singapore’s now. Growing cities must look to mature cities to understand the full cycle. City authorities are accountable to their citizens. It is about converting immigrant populations to make heterogenerous, socially sustainable cities. A city must serve its citizens. In London, urban districts can deliver 40 per cent affordable housing at a density which is reasonable and sustainable. I come back to the role of authorities. They are our government. There’s a lot of government in India – but they are ineffective.’

Sanjay Puri: ‘Sizes are squeezed. Mumbai by default has actually become a very good mix. There are pockets of slums all over the city. Now slum areas can be redeveloped as long as 75 per cent of the people living in the slums agree. The balance of the land is free for developers as long as they build flats for people living in the slums. These people living in the slums get to own the flats.’

Gonca Pasolar: ‘That’s the same thing that is happening in Istanbul.’

Sanjay Puri: ‘However because the buildings are so small it will always be called a slum redevelopment project. It will always be less expensive than other housing. Now the government is saying you can’t sell for 10 years.’

Craig Casci: ‘In Norway, at one time you could only sell within a council tax band, so you couldn’t accumulate wealth from property. In the harbour area of Hamburg the authorities owned the docklands and infrastructure, so the free market way into it was the plot. The public realm and the building mix were all determined by the municipality. The developer made a beautiful box and handed it over. South of Canary Wharf in Tower Hamlets in London, in 1999, they tried to do the same thing, called the Millennium Quarter. But they didn’t see it through – they created the masterplan, but didn’t put the infrastructure in, didn’t buy the land, didn’t own the land, didn’t control the masterplan. Now there is nothing to show but bad housing.’

Sanjay Puri: ‘Governments can make some good rules but they don’t enforce them.’

John Marx: ‘It’s crucial to consider how the government deals with housing and cultural vibrancy. It is interesting to see the end result from different places. In Mumbai, there are unintended consequences. We as designers can provide guidance.’

The human aspect

Michael Seum: ‘You have to turn the discussion back to the person rather that the object. The responsibility of architects is immense in the light of changing populations. We have to be switched on to talk about the human aspect of what’s happening.’

Jonathan Rose: ‘And how the industrial process affects the human goal.’

Michael Seum: ‘Dialogue is the key.’

Craig Casci: ‘All of us need better governance. In Britain, we have housing ministers with no experience of housing. To bypass that we need people who know how to build cities to govern our housing to allow us to do a better job. We keep using the same solutions to brand new problems. There is behavioural change, there are new typologies. In Britain we all believe in having a house, garden and a tree. That’s got to change. In Scotland 60,000 people are homeless. In Singapore, 2,000 people are homeless. There are other ways of using the housing stock we’ve got.’

The role of the architect

Chris Doray: ‘There is the old fashioned idea of the architect at the top of the pyramid. The realtor is actually at the top of the pyramid. If the realtor isn’t there, the meeting is cancelled. They demand 7 ft of kitchen, 7’8” high ceilings. That is the situation. We live in denial. Architecture is a celebrity thing. You design for the elite – elite homes. We seem to celebrate this. I wonder how long we will play this game. We know that affordability and housing is one of the biggest issues. It is social terrorism. When do we stop celebrating and start acknowledging the pain that our jobs cause.’

Christine Murray: ‘Are architects in a gilded cage?’

Chris Doray: ‘The profession is too afraid. They need to be hired and given the authority they used to have. The realtor gives the brief.’

Gonca Pasolar: ‘I’m not in agreement that celebratory architecture is a problem. It cannot be solved by the architect. We do design for the elite but we also design affordable housing. It is a matter of the position of the architect. Not being hired may be another position. We quit many jobs. We worked on one project which was an elite high-rise project. We fought to open up the ground floor to the public. It took six years. The client is now a convert to public space.’

This roundtable was held in association with Grohe. Visit www.grohe.com for more information