Wacky banking + wacky buildings

One of the best things at Cityscape 2009 was the erudite Peter Rees

One of the most enjoyable things at Cityscape 2009 was the erudite.
One of the most enjoyable things at Cityscape 2009 was the erudite.

One of the most enjoyable things at Cityscape 2009 was the erudite and droll presence of Peter Rees, city planning officer for London. Rees chaired the World Architecture Congress, as well as presenting a paper entitled ‘Wacky Banking + Wacky Buildings = Global Meltdown’.

Rees pointed out it is not just bankers who have gotten us into this mess, meaning the global financial crisis, but the fact that we have also been producing ‘wacky’ buildings. These are aesthetically-pleasing structures divorced from any social context.

“Never trust a bank with property or a developer with money. It is time for architects and planners to show real solutions rather than changing the wrapping paper on old ones. We are still busily exporting bad technology to the Middle East. It is no good building a sustainable building in an unsustainable location,” was Rees’s profound advice.

What he implied was that buildings and cities have to respond to their specific environments and locations, from both the point of view of the ‘big picture’ and the smaller scale of communities themselves. “Any fool can design a good building, but it takes a genius to design a good space. We need to remake spaces that have ceased to be places.

“Dubai is still relatively new, comprising individual buildings with nothing much in-between. We have got to figure out what to do with these spaces. We have to have living communities. We cannot think we are like Dr Frankenstein and create life out of nothing.”

So what does this have to do with MEP? Everything, as it turns out. Construction technology has long reached the stage where, if an architect can imagine it, it can be built. However, the economic crisis has resulted in the market moving from a developer-driven to a tenant-driven focus.

“People are now starting to looking at the real worth of buildings.” Which means quality; and quality is the touchstone of MEP, without which any modern building cannot function properly, let alone be energy-efficient or in any degree sustainable.

And the lack of consistent build quality in Dubai resulted in some harsh appraisals of the built environment at the World Architecture Congress. Hines MD Dr Jurgen Herre stated the general execution is so bad that in 10 to 15 years “many buildings will have structural problems.”

So what has gone wrong? “Architecture is not the solution to sustainability. What is lacking is wisdom,” architect James Law said plainly.

The architectural challenge, according to Dr Herre, is to transform urban spaces into living places. This means that property management is going to become critical, with more emphasis on FM and long-term maintainability in terms of MEP components and systems.

“In Dubai developers like to look at the pretty picture upfront, and are not interested in the technical side per se. Now this process is being rethought in the light of sustainability,” said FXFOWLE International LLC MD Steven Miller.

Senior partner Sudhir Jambhekar added: “We have to encourage architects to take more of an interest in infrastructure. They are trained fundamentally in urban design, to design buildings. They are generally not trained in infrastructure work, and tend not to acknowledge, or they even ignore, the fundamental contribution of this to the built environment.”

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