School of Architecture

Thursday 6 April 2017

The Mobility Matters Colloquium, part of the 2017 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum, was an engaging exploration of converging spheres of mobility that affect architectural study and practice. A selection of UQ School of Architecture academics and two guest architects presented positions on mobility in the Asia-Pacific region by asking: what types of mobility should be considered and how mobility shapes both historical and contemporary economies, cultures, and identities.

To begin, Dr Manu P. Sobti presented, 'Asian Motilities and the Idea of the Home'. Sobti illuminated issues of cultural identity and cultural 'memory' in peripatetic populations in India. There is a continual interplay of contemporary and historical values, which influence concepts of 'space' and 'home'. Sobti focused the way interstitial spaces are occupied, not just in a physical sense, but also between cultural values. Sobti concluded with a powerful photograph of the Taj Mahal in Agra - projecting a historic and national 'image' - yet as a backdrop to struggling city dwellers. By ironically calling this a “monument to displaced populations", Sobti drew attention to the two poles of national image and local identity, and how these populations occupy an indefinite space between.

Dr Pedro Guedes continued this conversation on Asia with a historical overview of the globalisation of trade. Various types of trade took place within the Silk Road, a locus for the often-forceful exchange of foods, diseases, animals and people between cultures. The presentation covered 500 years of globalisation: from the European discovery of the Americas in 1550 to the following centuries of capital driven trade wars, through which anything new or different was commoditised. Slaves harvesting cane were literally worked to death, while Dutch painter Rubens, flaunted wealth and wobbly women fat from sugar. Although trade allows for industry and positive cultural exchange, Guedes reinforced that the morally questionable consequences of trade should not be overlooked.

Bringing us back to the contemporary world of design was a presentation by visiting architect and scholar Dr Thomas Daniell. Daniell described the rapid development of Macau, providing historical context and supporting maps. He discussed his experiences as Head of Architecture at the University of Saint Joseph, Macau. For over five years and aspiring to "reunite and restructure" the curriculum, Daniell has organised a highly mobile design school: through a teaching staff of visiting professors, and global design studios in Japan, China, Pakistan, and Milan. This cultural exchange broadens perspectives while developing a sense of "critical distance and objectivity". Students tackle issues of cultural space, ownership, as well as contingent economic and political forces that shape their wealthy casino city. The challenge remains how students can create culturally specific work in this "iconic, historical, ephemeral" city, where the “authenticity is its artificiality".

Finishing the talk series, Associate Principal of Populous, James Pearce discussed how human mobility is intrinsic to the design of large civic infrastructure and stadia in which Populous specialises. Pearce discussed several projects in the Asia-Pacific region—most memorably, the Philippine Arena. For this project, currently, the world’s largest arena, different scales, patterns, habits and movements for crowds as large as eighty thousand were considered. This work also considered the stadium’s cultural significance and lasting image value for the city. For Populous, stadia celebrate an innate human desire to gather as a collective, and thus, their designs aspire to meet the cultural and emotional needs of people within their city.

To conclude, Dr Silvia Micheli led a panel between the four speakers and the audience. Questions and comments orbited an underlying issue that with mobility comes instability and uncertainty. Indian atelier clans are unsure if their crafts will endure. Global cultures contend with a fluctuating sense of place, identity, aesthetics, and climate. Architectural students are unsure what their design futures will hold. We are optimistic about expanded digital mobility through data transference and automation, yet wary of the negatives impacts of this new brand of globalisation. The title proved incredibly fitting. Mobility does matter, as students, academics and practitioners must consider the risks, opportunities, and outcomes of operating within a constantly evolving and mobile world of contemporary design.

In support of the Colloquium, during the two-week Asia-Pacific Architecture Forum, UQ School of Architecture exhibited student work from recent travel studios to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India and a speculative studio based in North Korea. 

The Mobility Matters Colloquium and Exhibition were initiatives of the UQ School of Architecture, with assistance from a|t|c|h, the Architecture, Theory, Criticism, and History Research Centre in the School.  

Annalise Varghese is a PhD Candidate at the UQ School of Architecture.