Monday, February 26, 2018

University of Moratuwa – Faculty of Architecture, Students – Discussion

On Sunday February 25th, I engaged a group of, up to 10 students, most likely from the first year or second year, who are enrolled at the University of Moratuwa, Faculty of Architecture at their exhibit at the Architect 2018 Exhibition at the BMICH.

Firstly, I was drawn to discussion, seeing the Roll Buds from rolls of paper, like the ones we have of newsprint reels and similar paper used in our Web Offset Machine. Apparently it served no purpose, and only decorative to which I took umbrage to and alleged they were misleading the visitor into believing it could be used in their design and build! That started the very animated discussion with all the students chiming in with me the only one on the other side, as their male equivalent of an ingénue!

So I gave as good as I got. I said that in my opinion, an Architect is just a go between, a Civil Engineer who constructs with the aid of Quantity Surveyor, and a Designer, who provides creativity, and they are trying to be both, as an intermediary, raking off , or creaming money at the top! That got them riled up as they felt they were more than that, real creators of lasting, user friendly attractive buildings!

They I said that I thought many buildings that have come up recently are ugly, to which their retort was that it was NOT built by architects, but by people who had no clue on how a proper building should be constructed.

At this point, I did FORGET to mention my pet peeve (in the heat of the argument) that I felt their Institute mandating a certain fixed percentage fee was their undoing there. Namely that the customer does not believe they provide value for money in charging this fee on the value of the Construction.

So my pet peeve goes like this. If it is a charge on the value of the building, the Architect WILL NOT take cognizance of value for money in construction, trying effectively to make the project as costly as possible as their fees depend on it. Second issue, is that the work to build a Rs10M or Rs100M building is similar, however one project will yield an architect 10 times the FEE of the other. That too implies that Architects will NOT go for small projects as they are not worth his while. So the small man, counting his pennies will NOT use the services of an architect to build a desirably aesthetic building, which he would have liked, but for the 7.5% fee! Additionally, they will not use the most cost effective materials that could save 35% of the Construction Cost!

We then discussed holistic issues of building for lasting, and lifetime or more not lasting more than its expected useful life, but with the lifestyle in mind. So I said they must use their imagination, to further enhance the experience of the user of the building, something even the user may not specify in his original brief, but which is the duty of the architect to ADD to the project, his stamp of added value, comfort and satisfaction.

In order to explain what I meant, I explained that I built my home in Ratmale with NO help from an architect and just the bass in the village. However I designed my own fired brick 8X8X4, 5kg brick that had to be fired more as the basis on which the whole building rested especially the roof and structure. In addition, with no electricity, it was important that there was airflow to allow me comfort especially at night to get a good night’s sleep, and not have to put up with heat and humidity. That too I was able to achieve by the directional placing of the verandah I sleep in and the cross ventilation resulting, partly due to the elevated position, of 4 ft above the ground, which if it was at ground level WILL NOT result in such a comfortable air flow!

My point, was had I employed an architect, he would not have placed AS MUCH importance on that point, which I had did as the final user of the property as my home. Now I go onto the next point, where I accused Architects of inflexibility, especially to their client’s needs, though they pay LIP SERVICE but do not deliver, so the client finally after having paid the bill is NOT satisfied with the end product, but agreed only due to the Architect’s over persuasive insistence that they know best!

I then used the fact that I lived by the Ocean for so many years and am only painfully aware of the number of issues in living close to the sea, especially in maintenance of the property, and the way it is built has a huge impact on maintenance, and architects, compromise aesthetics, for practicality in this instance, as they want to make a show stopper that is totally impractical and will cost the client afterwards in keeping to that style the architect created!

On a related note, I said that different raw materials need to be used, depending on the environment with the Sea being the best example, and with the corrosion close to the ocean, often iron and steel corrodes from the inside, unseen and will only emerge many years after the fact! So it is wise and critical that non corrosive and anti corrosive precautions are taken in this building process, and some consideration made to using cheaper toilet fittings as they may have to be changed every two years due to corrosion no matter how expensive the item is, where the availability of spare parts, outweighs the use of a new style!

I then tackled the fact that so many buildings are presently undergoing major renovation, due to poor architectural design. Be they leaks due to excessive rain, that was not taken account of in Construction and Design, or structural weaknesses or later I saw that the new British High Commission had its open top and glass roof undergoing major repairs due to OBVIOUS PROBLEMS in design and construction by Prestigious Architects.

This resulted in my contention to my niece who is an architecture student, that she write a book on all architectural failures in Sri Lanka, giving reasons for that failure, and that could be used as a TEXT BOOK for the students to know what can and does go wrong, so they don’t make the same mistake in their future work.

There is NO alternative for experience, and these students can only learn from others experience as they cannot wait for them to get the experience. So it is vital that their courses show as many failures as possible with reasons why they are failures so they learn from past mistakes not to make the same mistake again.

I did not say this, but should add that we must learn from our past, our building materials, styles, rationale for their design, in order to BETTER today’s equivalent, be it a house, a hall, an office or a public building, using the reference of the past, as many wish to emulate past angles, concepts and design into their modern equivalents, as we have seen time and time again, to have something unique to Sri Lanka.

I then pointed out to follies of our people, who build homes that are far too large and then leave the foundation for houses 5 times bigger than what they can afford and they then live their lives in one fifth that is complete, dying with the 4/5 still unfinished, because they thought bigger was better, and ONE day they would find the funds to complete. This is an eyesore in every village, full of unfinished houses, UNIQUE again to Sri Lanka and it is their duty to persuade homeowners to be rational and reasonable in size they wish. The future would dictate smaller homes, with smaller families and easier to clean and tidy and maintain being at the top of the agenda, with the Architect being cognizant of that fact too, and not overly indulge in flair and folly, landing the owner with a noose to deal with, repairs, repainting, constant and costly maintenance, and otherwise called a ROYAL PAIN in the rear to live with.

I also made the point that I was painfully aware that every village has empty houses, due to the move from rural to urban, but the Government persists for political reasons to give land in the forest and build houses, to keep people in areas without jobs, when what they should be doing was to buy out the people who have moved for employment, so they can actually buy a property where the job is, rather than renting there when they have a good house in the village, which they cannot use! This then solves the lack of housing in rural areas without building, and they can build urban housing complexes to house these families who have emigrated from villages to towns in search of better employment opportunities. I said urban and town planning was a critical factor here, to ensure that ALL aspects are thought out, like homes, shops, schools, hospitals, work places and transport, NOT ad hoc measure to take account of each piecemeal.

By now a crowd had gathered to listen to the Banter, and they were amused listening to this rather animated discussion.

It was nice that our youth were so defensive of their chosen profession, and mind you this whole discussion was in Sinhala. Then they came up with the real JONAH in the woodwork, which was POLITICAL INTERFERENCE in their work, and in quality raw materials, where poor quality and demand that certain suppliers be used, so these politicians can make their cut from these contracts, that in the end REFLECT badly on the Architect’s own performance as the products finally used were NOT what was specified and the Architect, removes himself from any responsibility thereon.

I said you cannot blame politicians just to absolve you from your duties and responsibilities. I then contended that we in SL build to last a thousand years, with the level of input and strength and then break the building down in 10 because of a myriad of reasons, the main one being they want the expensive land to build an even bigger and higher building and are willing to sacrifice the previous structure in that desire.

I then said that in Japan they build for 20 years and why can’t we do the same, for which they said it was a rich country and can afford, while we are poor and cannot, but that is a fallacy there itself, as we should never build for more than 50 years as so many factors result in the need to tear the structure down, or AT LEAST build it so that it can be removed and reused, or rebuilt using the same materials, so the construction is on a replaceable and removable concept, that the students are NOT taught to do in this MOST IMPORTANT aspect of reuse, and recycle world we live in where all cars now built are expected to have all their parts recycled, and NOT wasted.

Finally I was shown a mock model of a Pola for Panadura, and it was pointed out to me that it had taken the recycling of food waste into account in the planning of it. However I contended that in future, it is important that people have easy access to that place by public transport in order to buy and take home. That needs special service, sometimes people cannot carry all their stuff and go from shop to shop and need to have a some means of storing temporarily for a charge, before taking all their purchases in a bus, cab, three wheeler or car!

They must visit the Pola to look at the refuse and cleanliness, which are the main concerns of hygiene we tend to overlook in our designs as fish needs to be washed out on special surfaces that don’t allow for bacteria to settle and spread to new stock the next day!

My last point was that they MUST think of how they build the new Capital City for Sri Lanka as I contended that within 25 years we must have one fully built!

I told them I am now working on the concept paper for the new Capital City to be most unique in the world, and they should use their imagination to develop one using the expected technology improvements of the future, in order to have a sustainable and efficient Capital that serves the needs of the public as well as the needs of the workers to work productively using all new technology to be energy efficient, transport efficient, access efficient and visually comfortable to enjoy their work, with my contention being today’s Government Servants HATE THEIR WORK!

So I laid into my plan of design on 3 towers, each 50 floors high that will have ALL ministries and all Centralized services in one place. The access there will ONLY be on a loop train, where there are 3 entry stations in three smart towns where people get in from and 3 exit points near the lift of each of the three towers that people exit to get to their offices, within 20 minutes of leaving their homes! A novel concept in a country when the average Government Servant spends 5 hours commuting and at most working JUST 3 Hours if we the public are lucky!

I said my location I had picked was on top of the Flood Plaines National Park, by the Mahaveli at Manampitiya with the Elephants walking down below, while the workers are at work above, as the trains come to the higher level under which the animals lay undisturbed from any traffic and the Mahaweli will also be navigable from Trincomalee for major freight movements, and if necessary even passenger movements.

In conclusion it seemed to me that these students are highly intelligent and I added a dimension of creativity to their thinking they would otherwise NOT have had or be privy to. They may have thought I was from outer space when I said I live without electricity in the Old village, in a open house, with all doors and windows open in the forest, while the villages have moved to where the road and electricity are, living in Asbestos Sheeting closed homes, at oven temperature with no airflow even in windy conditions, having exchanged comfortable lifestyles, for uncomfortable ones, in the name of progress! I showed them how our attitude change is what is needed, and NOT just to blame politicians, who we have elected anyway, so even their WE ARE TO BLAME.

I appealed to their better judgment. Design, build, with comfort and satisfaction being the priority over looks, as that is merely in the eye of the beholder. So wished them all success and predicted half would leave the country in frustration, to which they SAID NO IN UNISON and I said MARK MY WORDS TODAY, all of you who are visionary, intelligent, and creative, you will find little encouragement at home, the frustration that builds will mean you will no doubt seek or be head hunted for jobs overseas, forsaking your motherland with your families for pastures new. 

You are the future, take control of your lives, let no one else dictate it for you, so you can comfortably and happily live in Sri Lanka, without having to go. Do what is necessary to assure you of that at least, only then will I have to eat my words to you today. 


Thank you Uncle, very nice talking to you was their unison reply!


Anonymous said...

an overwhelming experience for the young students, I suspect. interesting to get their thoughts on this discussion in a year's time.

Ratmale,Minneriya,Sri Lanka said...

I never intended to get into a conversation, but their questioning of why I said what I did and persistent counter to my assertions was what did it! I gave as good as I got, one against ten, but it got them thinking outside their comfort zone, that is the main benefit for them in talking to a stranger who is always pushing the envelope on why not?

Anonymous said...

Many topics covered here, useful tool for students in looking at different aspects of real life issues architects should be aware of, and sometimes they don't come in contact with. A great idea to do a book on architectural failures. How come no one thought of that before. Talk about original thought in this blog, what with a new Capital thrown in for good measure, a novel experience I bet.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers, Accountants, Architects, Doctors, are all of the mold to maximize their income at the expense of the people who have to pay. They show no regard for reasonableness. In fact in this context the Lawyers are the worst scum, as their charges are simply outrageous for the value of the service they provide, especially the top lawyers who have the judges in their pockets and have deals with their opposite counsel to extend the case and NOT resolve it out of court, so the well healed clients can make money. Architects next worse and then docs!

Anonymous said...

What is Megapolis doing? Town Planning is critical with a holistic concept that covers the quality of life of each type of individual living in Urban Areas and nothing is currently being done about it. SO architecture has a place there to drastically improve urban planning, with the UDA playing one against the other, and the students complaining that politicisation has ruined eaten any hope of real town planing devoid of commission earning mega projects, but inclusive of simple people friendly minor project to encourage exercise and entertainment, a must for a civilized society and not found to any decent level amongst our people.