Design Sustainability and Green Communities Yavuz Selim Sepin (13/01/2015)

Yavuz Selim Sepin

Architect, Researcher, Professor of Yildiz Technical University, Maltepe University & Okan University

Question: How can architects, Planners and landscape designers intervene to alleviate the human afflictions in the realm of the built environment?
Answer: The idea of alleviation of suffering in the context of the capitalist world we live in perhaps stands for a fairly idealistic if not purely romantic point of view. In an ideal world, the practice of planning intended to promote and maintain sustainability of human lives within the environmental and economic contexts they live. The intention is to find a balanced approach and reasonable trade-off in a way that human development and its impact is controlled and managed. Clearly, in comparison the role of planners is indeed a political one.
Architects and landscape designers in reality are the next in this chain following the path laid by planners in contributing to fulfil the goal of a balanced human development.
While ones ego tends to believe in ones attribution to alleviation of human suffering, the reality of today's unforgiving cogwheel of the modern world says a different story. Although architects wish to believe in themselves as the masters of built environment, the reality is that in fact they often serve as the slaves of the global economy. The intervention to alleviate suffering starts with ones intervention to alleviate suffering from self, indeed, and it must. This however, may be only one side to the fight for survival for those creative minds who push to stay on the industry ladder, in a world that demands competition, demands for growth and demands for efficiency.
Indeed, jumping through these hoops and over these hurdles, the virtuous designer does all in ones power to contribute to making the world a better place to live, whether a master or a slave, whether a dreamer or a hopeless soul, the fight must go on. The most essential step in alleviation of a pain is to acknowledge the pain first, is to understand its extent and to accept its existence.
To beg the question in fact one must ask if and to what extent planners, architects and landscape designers are informed, are prepared, and given the opportunity to voice the human suffering, their own suffering, as after all, "how you may be my cure, you who don't know my pain".
Please follow this idea:
Between the countries from different civilizations in the Asia continent, there has been a constant history of trade, migration and sharing of cultural practices, which has extended strongly, even in the field of architecture.
I realized these countries has a deep and true connection with moral principal, which has affected all aspects of its society (Culture, Architecture, Art and their identity in general), their root and identity has influenced their architecture.
I also understood that their traditional architecture has been naturally developed in a sustainable manner, I believe that the underlying cultural, historical and spiritual values has led to creation of this form of natural sustainability.
"It is the differing uses of history, to create varied sets of architectural languages whiten our contemporary framework that is of interest. This is especially true in the context of globalization, which has a powerful tendency to homogenize."
Hence, I would like to ask you as a member of the jury of Asia Architecture Award, do you consider this thought when you judge the projects?
Once upon a time, architecture was a reflection of nations' cultural practices and their moral principles. The motives and patterns, the forms and shapes, and the space organisation in the Islamic architecture are indeed a testimony to and amongst Asian heritage through such practices. Accordingly also, the natural conditions and local resources had a major impact on the way buildings were designed and built. While this may have been an implication of limitation to and costly logistics at the time, nonetheless, the practice of resourcefulness through reliance on and the efficient use of local resources, indeed was a naturally and organically a sustainable practice.
Our plant however, has been facing the globalisation phenomenon and its dramatic impacts for over three decades. This together with extreme development in information technologies and enhanced, continuous and ever expanding range of communication, both in terms of time and space, which indeed through the competitive nature of our capitalist world have been made available to masses, have changed the practice of reliance of architecture on local cultural practices and moral principles.
Today, through the investment pouring from the western world, into ancient Ottoman's borders to the Gulf and from the Gulf to the Far-East, the land of Emperors, the skyline of Asia, is ever-changing to resemble Manhattan's skylines.
Urbanisation and migration as a side effect of globalisation, has had an immense impact not only on the way we build but also on the way we live. The rush of population from small towns and villages to major cities and the development of compact and somewhat, coffin like bedsits in China and Korea, has seen its equals across the Asian landscape.
Our continent has been heading toward a new age of development for sometimes now. Today's practicing architects must consider somewhat different and current global principles in communicating their local and cultural roots. The sustainability of built environment nowadays is managed differently where management of energy consumption is a key issue for our planet. Today's sustainable architecture needs to account for efficient use of land, water consumption, waste control and management, built-in flexibility, users’ well-being, and indeed, builders’ health and safety amongst others. The homogenisation of the contemporary sustainability frameworks, hence, is dictated by the fact that the world is now a much smaller place than it used to be, representing a cosmopolitan, information technology equipped and mass transport provided network of people and resources.
In order to understand the contemporary architectural and urban landscapes of Asia, in your opinion, what are the emergent manifestations of Asia in contemporary Architecture and Urbanism?
It is impossible to divide Asia's contemporary architecture and urban landscape from the political changes and movements making the recent Asian history and indeed the global account. There are indeed unmissable landmarks, from Bahrain's independence, to Iran's revolution, the ongoing wars over the years in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and the rest of the Golf, to Cold War and the breakup of Soviet Union and more recently the extremism and mass murders of the civilians.
Indeed, the birth of neoliberalism with Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US and the liberation of western market together with loosening of Chinese borders to accommodate western investment has had a transforming impact on our planet and all it holds and its residence. The creeping shift of industrial activities from the west to the east starting in 80s has change the interface of our global community somewhat dramatically.
Architecture, as the serving tool to accommodate these movements, has been subject to swift adjustments and indeed, some trial and error practices. The architecture and landscape design in cosmopolitan Asian cities are now progressing with application of western standards both in spatial design and building specification. The Msheireb regeneration project in downtown Doha with highest concentration of LEED certified developments is in fact one of the current examples of this new interface.
The key point for contemporary architects, landscape designers and indeed all the practitioners and clients of built environment is to keep in tune with the political, strategic and technological waves generated through the globe. To manage and benefit from these waves one must keep one’s eyes wide open.
How important is context in Contemporary Architectural Design? As a professional, researcher and educator working in Asia, what are factors, criteria or even constrains that have influential impact on your profession?
In the age of efficiency and environmental awareness, context is the most important factor to be taken into consideration for built environment in general. Whether is to compliment it, to harmonise it, or to rejuvenate and regenerate it and indeed for a new development on a virgin site, context is the dictating factor both on physical and none-physical elements of the design. Master planning in fact starts with an ecological and baseline assessment of the site and its context before one can insert anything new or to regenerate the site.
The interpretation of contemporary architecture as a position that is anti-vernacular, comfortable, with new and potentially none-locally produced materials and forms which in example not generally stepped in past typologies or traditions is somewhat in contradiction with all that dictated by context.
The battle between contemporary architecture and demand of the context is won somewhat differently in different parts of the world. While European Parliament is into a constant tightening of measures to protect environmental impacts of human development, other continents including Asia are still more accommodating for excessive and out of proportion developments that has little to do with its context both physically and culturally.
In reality context should be the determining factor for the architectural style, building material and site layout and indeed consequently the internal orientation of a building, in achieving continuity between the development and its local circumstances. The climatic context in fact is too costly to be ignored if a development to be efficiently built and used in its particular latitude group.
Going back to earlier definition of contemporary architecture, and the deliberate lack of attention to climatic deign with pure dependence on artificial and mechanical heating and cooling systems, buildings can become too hot in the summer and uncomfortably cold in the winter and to eliminate these problems, measures in place are often come at high carbon cost.
It is the age of conflicts, the age of “grand ideas” which need continuous retrofitting to make it work. A realistic architect needs to know the rules of this game to play it right.

© Interviewed by 2A Magazine, Issue 34, Winter 2016