RECONNECT AND RECONCILE: An annual event for young aspiring architects helps them deepen their understanding of the discipline, widen their network and prepare for the working world
FINAL-year Architecture student Chong Chun Jiat had not enjoyed a good night’s sleep in days.
As the programme director of the 24th Architectural Workshop — the recent instalment of the most anticipated event among architecture students in Malaysia — Chong was understandably under immense pressure to perform.
“It was not just me. The entire crew had been working hard and skimping on sleep to make this project a success,” says the 24-year-old Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) undergraduate.
Indeed, hosting some 800 participants — from 24 tertiary institutions including Institut Teknologi Bandung (ITB) and Universitas Katolik Parahyangan (UNPAR) in Indonesia — was a daunting prospect for an organising committee of only 130 students.
Chong admits that it was all worth it when the six-day affair, organised jointly by UPM Architecture and Design Faculty and Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM), ended on a successful note recently.
Themed PADI — an acronym for Passive Active Design Intervention — it had attempted to “reconnect architecture students to the root of the discipline” and to “reconcile the differences between passive and active elements of the built environment that trigger polarising changes to the study of architecture”.
“The word PADI reflects the Malaysian way of life. It is part of our tradition and a source of sustenance,” says Chong.
Bridging the conflict between passive and active designs is crucial as present-day architects’ obsession with “building iconic imagery” has resulted in “a loss of architectural sensibility and responsibility”.
Chong believes the solution is going back to basics and examining the kind of construction that would truly serve mankind.
“It is important to revisit history and draw inspiration from basic designs as everything we see now had evolved from simpler times and ideas,” he adds.
In keeping with the theme, UPM’s Architecture and Design Faculty, the venue for the workshop, was transformed into a festive village with participants as the villagers.
The itinerary was filled with activities designed to promote teamwork, put young designers’ creativity to the test, hone their soft skills and open their minds.
“We organised a photography contest in two categories — captured moments and monochromatic — because we know many students enjoy it as a hobby. We think photography encourages people to look at things from different angles,” says Chong.
Participants also spent a day in Putrajaya putting themselves in the shoes of the disabled.
“Some were blindfolded and others had to walk with their feet tied to their teammates’. We wanted them to experience the difficulties faced by the physically challenged when moving around places that have no facilities for the disabled,” he adds.
Contests and talks were interspersed with performances, karaoke sessions and traditional games, which were aimed at discovering hidden talents among the participants.
The message is that architecture students should live balanced lives by having diverse interests.
Chong believes participants came away with not only an enhanced understanding of their discipline but also new friends.
“Networking is important for students. Architects work in teams. The industry in Malaysia is not that big; we will end up collaborating with each other in the future,” he adds.
Muhamad Hakim Muhamad Edris, a final-year diploma in Architecture student from Kolej Kemahiran Tinggi MARA Pasir Mas, Kelantan enjoyed his time at the workshop.
“I was inspired and impressed with the level of work that some of the students had produced — their technical drawings and presentation skills were excellent. It is a project that students should not miss,” says the 21-year-old.
Clement Cheam, a third-year student from UPM agreed, adding that “the interaction with peers from other institutions” is the highlight of the event for him.
“This is the time to share ideas and look at what students from other schools are doing,” says Cheam, who is part of the organising committee.
Patriot Negri, a final-year student at ITB, Indonesia was happy to be part of the workshop.
“We had no idea that PADI is a big event. We have forums and conferences for practising architects in Indonesia but nothing like this. We would be happy if we get invited again. We will be better prepared next time,” says Patriot, who is in Kuala Lumpur on an exchange programme hosted by University of Malaya (UM).
Christian Chia from UNPAR, Indonesia lauded the organising committee for a job well done.
“It is great that all the universities are here and we get to share our ideas. We definitely need a meeting like this for Architecture students in Asean. This will determine the future direction of the discipline in this region,” he says.
Chuah Sock Kean, a final-year student from UPM, considered acquiring leadership skills as reward for the hard work that she had put as a committee member. “Organising this event is much like being in a project at work. The architect is the team leader who guides the engineers and quantity surveyors in his team. I took my responsibilities as a leader seriously by treating the crew well in order to fulfil the participants’ expectations,” she says.
As for Chong, his biggest challenge as a programme director was keeping his cool. “Although many of us were functioning on little sleep, we had to remain professional when things went wrong. I can take this experience and apply it to times when I am busy juggling projects and deadlines, and have to maintain my composure,” he says.
Chong and his team can get their well-deserved rest now that the event has ended. But his commitment to the project is far from over.
“We will provide the next host (UM) with feedback on the recent workshop and suggestions on how to improve the 25th series, the same way that UTM (host of the 23rd workshop) had helped us last year,” he says.