Designing for Sustainable Future

Disk 55

Designing For A Sustainable Future – A Malaysian Proposal For The Crossroads

Asian Architects in general, but Malaysians in particular, whilst emulating Western values and ethics, must not lose the “Asian-ness” of their work. It may be difficult as many Architects in Asia had sometime or other been trained in the west; and those trained locally at their National schools are often staffed by western trained Architects. That many Asian cities bear similarity to their Western counterpart, results from the misconceived notion that a high-rise ‘aluminum and glass’ manifestation is the symbol of success and ‘having-arrived’ at the forum of respectability equitable to the West. Influences of the great ‘masters’ of modern architecture are still being felt and it is this ‘dominance’ over the works of Asian architects’ that require urgent re-focusing.

Since the Modern Movement and the establishing of formal architectural training, the methodology, theoretical and teaching approach to architecture has not changed greatly. Fleeting theories have come and gone. Past heroes of architecture are still been venerated as ‘undying gurus’ in some schools and referred to in the ‘present’ tense; values postulated during the post world war one era are still being taught at graduate schools. Global technology has since the Industrial Revolution gone through the Electronic Revolution and we
Are at the threshold of the Environmental Revolution. The aftermath, impact, residue and consequences of industrialization is now being felt. Alarm and concern about global warning, depletion of the ozone layer, increase in carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, an awareness of sustainable developments, quality of environment etc; has caused a re-evaluation of existing values. The realization and refocusing on a global basis towards conservation and preservation of earth’s natural resources to counter-balance the non-sustainable and renewable resources has become a compulsion.

Steel and concrete hailed as a ‘breakthrough’ in new technology for construction, in late 19th Century was celebrated all over Europe with great elation; manifested by the numerous great exhibitions housed in pavilions of steel and glass and with the construction of steel bridges and steel edifice like the Eiffel Tower. Today that ‘celebration’ which propelled the developed countries is fast exhausting and depleting the natural minerals and raw material reserves. Debris of this great ‘celebration’ can be seen all over Europe – great relics from the past. The fuel and energy consumed in order to sustain the production of these materials must now evoke careful evaluation with respect to the deterioration of the environment and the quality of the atmosphere. In the production of one tonne of:

Energy Consumption






Coal (Ton)



The need to re-discover, re-orientate and re-focus on building materials, construction technique and traditional values which will improve the quality of air and environment becomes a primary concern for architects; the present route without foresight will lead the profession into a cul-de-sac.

During the 13th International Earoph (Eastern Regional Organization for Planning & Housing) click here Congress in Malaysia recently on “Planning towards a Caring Society” the recurring theme was a concern for the community, ecology and development which is sustainable towards the Year 2020. Also, the previous values established for planning and housing are outdated and non-workable and a need for new solutions to existing problems, especially for solving the problems of Asian urban growth area and traditional cities. I quote from a paper presented by Paul Downton: –


“The goal would be to create cities in balance with nature. Such an approach
is a far cry from the model for urban development that architectural theorist like Le Corbusier put forward in the early influential days of the Modern Movement. Corbusier has had a profound impact on urban and architectural theory and practice and his work is still revered in some planning and architectural quarters, yet:
‘In 1925, the French architect Le Corbusier proudly praised the fact that cities were an assault on nature’ (1)
There are now few people who would openly embrace such sentiments!”


The burden on the Architect is enormous. Asia accounts for more than 50% of the world’s population, and of this almost 90% of the people are classified as living in ‘under-developed’ conditions. The shift of economic dominance and importance towards Asia will stimulate growth and improve the quality of life of the people living below the poverty line.

The survival and continuity of Archasia depends on the architectural and moral will of those dedicated to the task of promoting architecture in Asia. Arcasia has been in existence for 22 years and the membership has grown to embrace to nations with the inclusion of Mongolia, Macau and Japan last year. Arcasia had grown from strength to strength based on close cooperation, understanding and sensitivity towards each other problems. Like the Malay saying, in a mouth you have the tongue and teeth. The tongue is to talk and to communicate and the teeth to chew and bite food for the well being of the body to survive. As we know sometimes when we are in a hurry or eating too fast the teeth might bite the tongue. It would be inconceivable for the tongue to refuse to function in the same mouth as the teeth; or to request that all the teeth must be extracted before it would cooperate. Arcasia is a little like this mouth except that it has an assorted total of 15 sets of teeth and tongues.

Recently, Television Malaysia erroneously broadcast a programme about the Dili incident in Timor which offended the Indonesian Government, but upon Malaysia’s Information Minister explaining and expressing regret to his Indonesian counterpart, the matter was put to rest and good relation and cooperation between neighbours was maintained. This spirit of cooperation must prevail in Arcasia that a new era of architecture will take root.

1. Gardner, Jean: Keynote address at the First International Ecocity Conference,
Berkeley 1990