In November 2016, a call went out to AIBC members to participate in the 2017 International Young Architect Workshop, a six day event which took place in Shenzhen China from January 14–19. Hosted by the Architectural Society of China (ASC), the purpose of the workshop was to strengthen exchanges and cooperation amongst young architects. The conference brought together 40 architects and facilitators representing China, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore and Canada. Workshop participants explored, examined and presented innovative ideas for one of the world’s fastest growing cities – Shenzhen.
The AIBC sent out a call for participation seeking one experienced architect to be a mentor for the workshop, as well as two young architects under the age of 40 to take part in the design work together with other participants. Architects AIBC selected included:
Kevin Yiyong Pan Architect AIBC (centre): Registered as an architect since 2007, Kevin was a workshop mentor and presented a report on the state of architect education, examination, registration, practice and Canadian market conditions. He facilitated the Shekou Old Town group.
Nicholas Waissbluth Architect AIBC (left): Nicholas, who became an architect in 2015, was a workshop participant on the Castles in the Air team, which looked at the Oct-Loft district of Shenzhen.
Fang Liu Architect AIBC (right): Registered as an architect since 2013, Fang was selected to work on the Bao’an 1990 project, which looked at the redevelopment of a culture complex.
In total, eight groups were assigned to explore, design and develop an architectural proposal that responded to a unique context and theme. On the last day of the workshop, each group presented their project to a jury of national and international architects.
The AIBC supports initiatives that promote collaboration and partnership amongst architects around the world, with the 2017 International Young Architect Workshop being a most recent example. Other examples include the AIBC-led 2015 APEC Architect Project Mutual Recognition Agreement between Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and the APEC Architect Project Secretariat role it continues to play where it processes incoming and outgoing MRA applications on behalf of the other provincial jurisdictions. The AIBC works with architectural regulators across the country, with the B.C. provincial and federal government as well as national and international architectural organizations on matters of professional practice and labour mobility. Both the Canadian federal and B.C. provincial governments have applauded the profession of architecture for its commitment to reducing barriers for national and international workforce entry.
Below is a brief report co-written by Nicholas and Fang about their experience at the 2017 International Young Architects Workshop:
What We Learned from Our Shenzhen Experience
Prepared by: Nicholas Waissbluth & Fang Liu
In early 2017, fellow Vancouverites Fang Liu, Kevin Pan and I were invited to participate in the inaugural 2017 International Young Architect Workshop in Shenzhen, China. Hosted by the Architectural Society of China, the event brought together 40 young architects and facilitators representing China, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, Singapore, and Canada. Over six days the group toured, explored, questioned and offered innovative new ideas for one the of world’s fastest growing cities. As attendees we left with many takeaways, but none more important than reaffirming the need of integrating cultural diversity, knowledge exchange and new technologies into the architectural process. In Canada, we understand development and growth in our own sense of scale, but a visit to Shenzhen quickly showcases how such cities require different strategies to support a population that has grown four per cent annually since the early the 2000s. In the 1990s, the growth rate was almost 19 per cent. For reference, four per cent would be the equivalent of an additional 100,000 citizens in Metro Vancouver every year. Our current rate is just over 30,000. As an architect in Vancouver, I hear a lot about how global cities reference our urban planning strategies, yet this event made it increasingly evident that the younger generation of architects, urban planners and designers in Canada can learn a great deal from Asia. This is especially true as our new urban centres continue to densify at higher rates, and we struggle with how to accommodate housing needs, traffic infrastructure, public services and economic growth, while simultaneously maintaining a sense of innovation so our cities don’t remain static identities.
The conference began with an opening ceremony and series of lectures held at offices of Huasen Architectural & Engineering Design Consultants, one of the city’s largest studios. We learned about the history of the city, new strategies and developments to cope with the ever-expanding technology industry, as well as plans to improve public space around the city. One of the most interesting presentations was on population growth, specifically the city’s need to accommodate the increasing independence of the younger generation and as result housing needs for the older generation who traditionally lived with their children. The ongoing economic growth of the city in technology and engineering, as well as its proximity to Hong Kong, has attracted young citizens from all over the country. Today, the average age of Shenzhen residents is 28–29 years old. This migration has had a major effect in family culture and as a result, cities throughout China, Shenzhen inclusive, are now exploring the concept of senior residences and how to integrate these typologies into their urban masterplans.
In response to the changes happening in the city, the group was divided into eight teams (five architects and one facilitator). Each group was assigned to explore, design and develop an architectural proposal that responded to a unique context and theme. Over 72 hours, each group was hosted by a different architectural studio, and given the resources of the office – 3D-printers, plotters, drones, model shop and meeting rooms – to create a three panel and visual presentation with models and videos, which were to be shown to a jury of national and international architects on the final day of the conference.
Kevin was a facilitator for the group exploring the Shekou Old Town, Fang was selected to work on a project titled Bao’an 1990 which focused on the redevelopment of a cultural complex, and I was a part of the Castles in the Air team, which looked at the Oct-Loft district of the city.
At first glance, Oct-Loft appears to be a collection of abandoned warehouses filled in with wild trees. In reality, this neighbourhood is home to some of the biggest design studios in the city, including Aube and Urbanus, galleries, local manufacturing for designers and a space where builders can create full-scale mock-ups of facade systems and test concrete formwork systems and finishes. The district has some similarities to Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, however the Oct-Loft district focuses more on creating a commercial design district. Since 2003, Urbanus has been responsible for overseeing the revitalization of this former industrial park and has been successful in creating an important landmark for Shenzhen. Our team was asked by the workshop coordinators to explore what was missing from this increasingly popular district – how does one improve a place that is considered to be “done” and already filled with successful cafes, restaurants, businesses and manufacturers?
The workshop was filled with sketches, long conversations and debates about tourism, local economies and architecture. For the formal proposal, the group focused on the roof plane of the existing warehouses where we would create a new landscape connecting the dozen buildings. Working in the offices of Aube Architecture for the three days, we explored the rooftops of the district in-person and used drones to understand its greater context in terms of massing, perspectives and landmarks. While movement was the guiding factor in laying out the program for the new landscape, the architectural expression of the proposal focused on integrating ecological systems and modular construction strategies, while creating nodes to enhance the visual connection between the ground plane and new roof-level environment.
Fang Liu and her team developed a project that responded to a context that required a much bolder urban design response – the Bao’an neighbourhood of the city. The conference leaders challenged the group to develop an urban revitalization proposal that would include a library, cultural centre, concert hall and public space that would allow for different types of events to take place. The five team members worked within the studio of Hong Kong Huayi Design Consultants and developed a project responding to in-depth site analysis, community engagement with stakeholders in Bao’an, and the traffic flows and pedestrian movement (above and below ground) throughout the historical neighbourhood. The result was a design that balanced new and old – formal gestures connect historical landmarks while the layout of new public walkways and plazas create a stronger social environment where the public can gather, celebrate and move freely between the various cultural nodes.
It was remarkable to see what each group was able to produce in 72 hours… the goal of the workshop was to stimulate new ideas between architects from various cultural backgrounds, and the final presentations proved that collaboration is one of the most important ways to tackle difficult questions.
Throughout the week, each group built their projects at their host design studio. The last day was dedicated to presentations for all conference members and invited guests. Taking place in the large gathering space within in the office of Capol International, the panel included MENG Jianmin from the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE); ZHUANG Weimin, Dean of the School of Architecture at Tsinghua University; LIU Fuyi, Secretary-General of The Civil Engineering and Architectural Society; ZHANG Baiping, Executive Vice Secretary-General from the Architectural Society of China (ASC); Larry Ng Lye Hock from the Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority and John Van de Water from Next Architects (Netherlands).
It was remarkable to see what each group was able to produce in 72 hours. Beyond preparing three panels and a 10 minute visual presentation, a few teams, such as Fang Liu and the Bao’an group, produced an impressive five minute animation, while others made scaled models of their proposals. A few teams remained very conceptual in their ideas, while others were on the other spectrum in creating feasible projects that could be implemented very easily into the city. As the committee had explained to us at the opening ceremony, the goal of the workshop was to stimulate new ideas between architects from various cultural backgrounds, and the final presentations proved that collaboration is one of the most important ways to tackle difficult questions.
Conferences of all formats have always been a great way to connect with professionals, and the 2017 International Young Architect Workshop was a starting point in developing greater connection for young architects working in the Asia-Pacific region. My experience differs a lot from Kevin’s and Fang’s as both were born and raised in China, and I was the only English speaking member of my team. We are fortunate to be in a profession where drawing is universal and technology has evolved to a point where there is no excuse for not being able to communicate and create rich dialogue.
Fang Liu is an Architect AIBC at W.T. Leung Architects; Kevin Pan is an Architect AIBC and Senior Project Manager at Fraser Health, and Nicholas Waissbluth is an Architect AIBC and Principal of Waissbluth Architecture.