Tuesday, September 23, 2008


In short, staff "...developed their understanding about Accessible and Energy-Efficient construction, about Project Management principles, like time management and team planning, about Site Analysis and Architectural Project Planning, how to organise client meetings and briefings, and how to research and write architectural programme briefs for projects."
(see Change - 434 words)

The stated project aims were
1. Support and develop the skills of teachers in the college
2. Teach architecture to architecture students
3. Cooperate on development of the architecture and construction professions in Mongolia
4. Encourage teachers and students to learn English as a tool for professional development
5. Assist in the developing the architecture profession.."
(see the Report -1929 words)

CTC (pictures)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nomadologist milestone

Upon arrival at Pudong Airport, I will have completed my journey from London to the 'Far East', via Ulaanbaatar, which started in July last year. Travelling by train halfway across the world has been a great personal and developmental journey.

The year working on architectural education in central Asia, and learning about and practicing 'international development' is fresh in my mind, and I do not yet know what it will all mean in the long term. I have seen some interesting job opportunities and been offered work on an RIBA project for a week. A new research project on public space in London also caught my attention. I am thinking about how to bring my experience to bear in my future work, and have promised to report reflections on this to VSO one year hence.

"You have achieved nothing" - the farewell from the drunken Director of the college on the day before I left - still irks me, although I know it was meant 'ironically'. I was pleased that an experienced and highly capable Mongolian colleague, someone who is at arms length from the college, has kindly undertaken to translate the final report and my 'significant change' story. But the language alone will not convey the messages of the report to the 'stakeholders'. Understandably, they will be reluctant to consider the implications of sustained investment- much needed time planning, staff development and pursuing processes of organisational change, as they are busy in the everyday life of teaching (and administering) in a growing college, and finishing construction of the new college building.

Correspondents and colleagues have recently written to me and supported the blog project and I look forward to seeing what can come from it. As I leave for a visit to my birthplace, I am reading 'Wolf Totem', a novel about Mongolia which brings ancient layers of animal myth and nomadic practices into focus. With my recent experience I am able to continue learning more about the sedentary and nomadic ways of life and survival.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Accessible, Mobile in China

After passing paralympian tourists circling the Forbidden City (pic) on my bicycle in Beijing, I am in Shanghai, a city of 15-20 million whose sheer population density prompts amazing adaptations for mobility of the most diverse modes of transport of goods through the city. The subway system is incredibly complex and the bicycle seems to be for traffic experts, so I have been riding in taxis, trying to comprehend this city's 'urbanatomy'. I visited the Urban Planning museum (Youtube) with its enormous model of Shanghai. The form and the presentations are mostly spectacular, but I wonder about the real cultural processes of renewal, regeneration and 'development' here. I thought perhaps I might take to the river, for another perspective.

After leaving landlocked Mongolia, I have also just read, on Tour Watch, of some soon-to-be published "Waypoint - Backstrom" Principles for accessible maritime architecture, and it reminded me of architects' role in widening the accessibility of environments, not only on land in the developing world but also on water. I enjoyed sailing on the Swan River on my last visit to my home town Perth, where I will visit again this month.

Excerpt from the Waypoint - Backstrom Principles:
1) Begin with Universal Design
The principles of Universal Design are an essential element of seaworthiness. Assumptions of the abilities (physical, mental, or sensory functionality) of crew or passengers as constant over time in any single individual or uniform throughout the population of owners and users of the watercraft throughout its lifespan are to be questioned.

2) Design for Self-Sufficiency
Watercraft are the insertion of a terrestrial into a maritime environment. Pay attention to both social sustainability (Universal Design) and environmental sustainability (green design).

3) Design for Extraordinary Conditions
Maritime practice traditionally assigns clearly-defined shipboard roles and responsibilities. Design assumptions follow. Assumptions about the abilities (physical, mental, or sensory) of the idealized role-holder as they are designed into products, spaces, and practices may prove to be disastrous in emergency situations.

4) Design for Modularity and Revision
While a core tenet of Universal Design is that the design be sufficient "without special or separate design" the frequency of maintenance necessary for watercraft, especially in a saltwater environment, leads to frequent opportunities for upgrade to accommodate the range of abilities in crew and passengers.

5) Design for Seamless Intermodal Transfer
Sophisticated and efficient systems have been developed to load and unload watercraft, haul them ashore, or transport them.

- see Tour Watch
more information:
The Rolling Rains Report
Dr. Scott Rains, Consultant, San Jose, CA srains@oco.net ,
Sherri Backstrom, Director Waypoint Yacht Charter Services
4648 Lakeway Drive Bellingham, WA 98229

After Mongolia, I have again been appreciating bicycles - a simple and ingenious form of urban transport ;
Some links -
Recently featured in AJ, The Architects Journal
Alex Moulton, creator of Moulton Bicycles a favourite of Reyner Banham and Norman Foster and
Improving London's Bicycle Spaces - an ideas competition
and from Banff's Art Centre; Art on a Bicycle
Songbike - Touring Banff on a bicycle

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Forbidden City

I read some of Master Chu's 'homilies for families' while in UB, preparing for China. Recently, arriving in Beijing, I also read this, cited in Sidh Sintusingha's noteworthy editorial musings for Architects for Peace; "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." (Olympic creed, Pierre de Coubertin) At AfP I also read great news of Sonya Redman's (UNSW) Berkeley Essay Prize win for 'Shaping Identity and Place in Australian Indigenous Housing'.) I read about the list of schools participating in the World Architecture Festival, originally billed as the 'ten of the world's best'. I don't quite understand the criteria for this little league table when I see the list; Bartlett, University College of London (UK); Hafencuty Universitat (Germany) -sic; School of Design and Environment (Singapore); Ravensbourne College (UK); Kazan Architectural University (Russia); Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de la Universidad CEU San Pablo (Spain) (..six schools, not ten...)

Anyway, I am glad I didn't come to Beijing for the Olympic Games, but I feel like I have fought well for the past year, albeit in a far less glamorous way. The city seems relaxed in the calm after the games and in the lead up to the paralympics. I even feel slightly guilty for enjoying the effortless architectural informality of the labyrinthine Beijing Hutongs. In my mind I have been trying to compare them to the ger districts of Ulaanbaatar... Meanwhile I have been to see the Ancient Architecture Museum in Beijing, and the spectacular 'Birdsnest' Stadium, photographed across a highway. I feel 'philosophical' about the year in Mongolia and have made my first speaking appointment to talk about it near Perth on the first of October.

I have realised the old city and the new city of Beijing are at loggerheads, as I experienced while circumnavigating an enormous city block 'under renewal' on foot - in order to get to the beautiful Ancient Architecture Museum, walled deep inside the super-block. Using the internet here makes for another wearying experience, waiting for the many filters and firewalls to check through every site I request. I'm going back to the Hutongs.