This is a virtual interview with Architect Edwin D. Uy of EUDO on his thoughts about architecture in a post-Covid world.
What kind of world do you see after Covid, and how will architecture support that kind of world?
Ideas about the future of architecture before the pandemic were mostly utopian in nature. But I always thought that this could no longer be the direction for the future because we have had a long stage of envisioning our future to be utopic.
From the mid to late 20th century, the companies in the US showcased in the Worlds Fair Expos what our future looked like with all the idealisms of a perfect city, a perfect world. That future they were referring to is already here today. If you take a closer look, has the vision matched reality? Or should we wish for something more?
I think that the picture of a utopic future will never change unless we learn to accept the world that we live in today, that it is what it is. With this pandemic, perhaps this view about the future will finally change.
I would rather focus on what we can do to correct the mistakes we made, and mitigate the repercussions of human inventions that destroy our planet. The issues that you see in my profession right now call for us to protect Earth. Our designs can offer solutions but first we need to aspire to have a greater consciousness about our world.
We know that how we live our lives impacts on the planet. Most structures that have been designed consume so much energy to build, thereby increasing our carbon footprint. For example, we should move away from a world with so much capitalism and competition in who can build the tallest structure in the world.
Instead, we can focus the competition in who can build something that directly answers the environmental issues we have today. One that can rectify our wrongs. I personally do not believe in BERDE or LEED where you have to obtain a certificate that your building is sustainable. We should stop doing this. Instead, our actions should have the guiding principle of respecting the only planet we have, the only home we have.
The future in architecture that I see has its roots in that of the pre-industrial revolution. The biggest difference is the extent of utilizing technology primarily to protect the environment, and not necessarily to use so much energy to further ease our lives.
I want to adopt technology in building a home or whatever structure it may be, and have environmental design as the basis. I want to see technology becoming more affordable so it can be accessible to majority of the people, unlike today where the LEED and BERDE-certified structures are only for the upper crust.
Building sustainable structures should not be a reward or a status symbol. It should be the norm.
How can architecture contribute to better living conditions and better indoor environments?
It starts off with the design and planning, in seeing how one can achieve better living conditions and better indoor environments based on the current conditions of the surroundings. I’ve always believed in context when it comes to the design process of any project.
I don’t mean this literally where a structure looks and feels the same way as its context, but more in the concept and application of design philosophies. How can context affect the interiors of a space? How should the space itself react to the environment? A good space is a good reaction to the environment. For example, if the location of a house is surrounded by a not-so conducive environment for residences, make the house introverted and create more visual spaces like gardens in a courtyard setting.
Clearly, architecture plays a dominant role in creating ideal living environments so it is very important to carefully consider the needs and requirements of the users, which should then be reflected in the structures that are being built for them so that they can maintain their lifestyle. As each person is unique, the architectural design should satisfy both the client’s needs as well as the basics of design that the architect brings in. Experience has shown me that when both are well-considered, a wonderful space is created. Chances are, satisfied clients would prefer to stay indoors rather than spend time in malls for example.
I believe there will be changes definitely as this current situation gives us a lot to reconsider when it comes to emergency shelters.
Material is one thing that product developers should consider well into the future. Materials that are readily available locally and that can be used quickly and easily in construction due to the rapid requirements of the situation—these are directions that can drive the development of materials.
Design-wise, it may boil down now to simplicity and basic needs. Nothing futuristic, utopian nor aesthetics-focused, but simply pragmatic. Design should be used in a more logical way with a deeper meaning to it. It may not necessarily be visual but definitely more conceptual with a lot of research about the user’s needs.
Observation is one thing that becomes a very useful design consideration. We cannot just rely on mere experience anymore, but instead look at things more closely, especially those that we may not have encountered before.
How do you see a shift in material development for furnishings and systems?
Attention to materials will also change in response to the needs now. We should be questioning ourselves what we have in our backyard as imports would be a problem with the closing of borders. It is good to therefore rely on what we have. A stockpile might work for the time being but does not offer a long-term solution. I think looking into a more domestic approach on material development should be considered in the near future.
In the distant past, we did not rely so much on imports since logistics was not as easy as it is now. With this pandemic, facilitating the import of goods may be a problem. We have to learn from this and in the future, avoid relying heavily on foreign-made products.
Design Authenticity Matters in Philippine Architecture
When I took my masters program on Design Strategies at HK Polytechnic University, the learnings were not entirely focused on the business of design but on understanding our society more, as well as looking into the future and how these would affect design. The learnings allowed me to see with a deeper understanding observations which I might have given a cursory glance in the past.
When I considered all the electives I took, from Design and Culture to Future Contexts for Design, I decided to research about Design Authenticity in relation to Philippine architecture for my capstone project. Recent articles from Architectural Record and Architectural Review gave a number of insights, which also validated the way I practice architecture.
Authenticity in design did not come about only in this decade but has been around since the 1950s, specifically exemplified by Paul Rudolph, one of the leading Modernist architects in the United States.
A term Critical Regionalism was coined in the 70s. In this approach to architectural design, the components of the environment and the natural landscape or of one’s local culture are integrated into the architecture of a building, instead of utilizing the typical global elements of one type of architecture.
How do we, as architects, find ways to make the buildings and urban landscapes revere the details of a particular region, the materials available, and what the environment calls for? I think we should pay more attention to these and look into local resources and climate more than ever in a post-Covid world.
This capstone led me to publish the book entitled Design Authenticity Matters in Philippine Architecture, a personal contribution to fellow architects and designers where design references and innovations can easily be derived from our own locale. That there is no need to always refer to international designs and materials. That we should have a more introspective look at our own.
My initial response on the impact of this pandemic on my industry is to look at the successful practices of the past, examine what worked and what can still work today, and modify those to have the least impact on our environment.
Technology should be used in material innovations without necessarily coming up with new materials but instead engineering existing local materials to make these become more useful and relevant in addressing today’s environmental issues.
(Read other quarantine stories here.)