Saifuddin: Local architects on par with foreign ones
LOOKING AHEAD: Reviving the past glory of architects in Malaysia is one of PAM president Saifuddin’s top priorities, amongst other pressing issues
"History at times is not written by choice but by coincidence. I’m probably making history as the president with the shortest term of presidency from August 2011 to April 2012 with the smallest council last year. But this year, my second term as president from April 2012 to April 2013 will see me having the biggest council,” shares Ar. Haji Saifuddin Ahmad at the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) annual dinner the previous week.
Light banter aside, there are no two ways about it. Saifuddin’s on a mission to achieve the goals he’s set for PAM as he embarks on his second term of presidency which went uncontested
for the year 2012/2013.
“Not many know my background nor my age which is 52. I’ve been around a long time as a corporate member for 28 years,” says the affable president with a laugh.
“Sometimes people see me as a newbie in the industry which I’m not. As PAM president, I hope to use my many years of experience to benefit the institute and society.”
Since becoming president, Saifuddin found himself faced with a slew of issues concerning the profession.
“The role of architects in Malaysia is diminishing and losing its ground. Our traditional territory, its glory - is being taken away by other professions and people at the top who still idolise foreign architects.
“Although there are many developments in Kuala Lumpur, not many realise that buildings here are mainly designed by foreigners. Even if local architects are involved, they’re only (playing) second fiddle. This is not only evident from the private sector as government sectors and government-linked companies (GLC) are also engaging foreign consultants,” he laments.
Not one to mince his words, Saifuddin is calling for a concerted effort to dispel the perception held by many people of local architects. “We need to seriously look into the contribution of our architects because it’s been proven that they have done projects overseas and won awards but on home ground, they’ve been overlooked.
“I’ve gotten the endorsement of my council and I’ll be writing to all government- and government-linked bodies to ask them to let local architects prove their worth by organising design competitions for iconic and public buildings of national interest,” he says.
Saifuddin also intends to address other issues concerning the profession. “My predecessors have done a fantastic job looking into design, innovation and export services but I feel that somehow, while focusing on those issues, we forget the fundamentals of practice. The majority of our members are sole proprietors and their concern is about the practice.
“Whatever I do, I need to look into the concerns of the majority of my members. I can get the committee to still look into the design and innovation aspects but the core concern is about the practice which I intend to focus on,” he asserts.
Expressing concern for matters pertaining to design and architectural exploits in KL, he identifies streetscapes as another area he wants to see improvements.
“PAM is willing to organise the competition to ensure that local architects are given the chance to participate. When it is organised by us, it shows that we are transparent in the procedures because even if foreign architects win, it’s alright with us because it’s on equal ground.”
Having embarked on his second term of presidency, Saifuddin intends for youths to participate in PAM activities.
“I noticed there were fresh faces in the candidates for the council posts. This is encouraging as we need to build up our replacement fast because they represent the future,” says Saifuddin. Besides being on the Board of Architects (LAM) and the Board of Quantity Surveyors (QS), he is also chairman of the Green Building Index Sdn Bhd and sits on the board of University of Malaya (UM).
Catalyst for the future: “I’ve three aims and objectives for my second term. One is to ensure the revival of the Youth Committee as well as the Housing and Community Committee that have been set up under PAM.
“I’m engaging youths to be involved in contributing to PAM… Now, with a committee set up specifically on housing alone, as housing is very substantial for everyone, issues like medium-cost housing and build-and-sell can be addressed.”
Secondly, concerning education, Saifuddin has taken it upon himself to assist in the recognition of graduates from architectural schools or institutions that aren’t formally recognised currently.
“This year, PAM as an institute will champion this matter that is now under the (jurisdiction of) LAM. One of the past presidents of PAM and a few directors of successful firms are from unrecognised schools. They’ve gone through rigorous processes due to the system of accreditation by the board. We’ll propose to LAM a new formula of recognising these graduates. The problem lies with the system that is being employed by LAM at the moment,” he elaborates.
Thirdly, he is looking at an alternative proposal to the minimum scale fees.
“The Competition Act is currently being enforced in Malaysia and at the moment our profession is not included. Once included, the mandatory fees will be obsolete. Even with the mandatory fees, some government agencies aren’t using it. So we need to look into this alternative proposal soon.”
During the first term of his presidency, Saifuddin managed to amend the PAM rules and guidelines that govern architects in Malaysia in terms of competition.
“These include significant changes to protect the profession like how the winner should get the job, be awarded the project and be given fees for the project in accordance with the scale fees.”
All said and done, there’s still plenty of work left to do.
“I intend to bring the profession back to its (former) glory. Especially with liberalisation coming in, I think that the whole profession should engage and work together to get architecture back to the pinnacle of the profession where it was in the 60s and 70s, when architects were consulted over issues related to the building industry and public at large.
Quick takes with Ar Haji Saifuddin Ahmad, PAM President 2011-2012, 2012-2013
Advice to aspiring architects: The architectural profession is not about glamour and making quick bucks. It’s not about great design alone but also involves a lot of social, cultural and environmental issues that impact society. There are two extremes involving high-end and low-end projects, hence the need for balance.
On handling tough issues? One should try and settle things using a soft approach. You can’t gain much by going head-on on issues. Life’s too short to argue. We need to work together.
On PAM’s shift to a new location: In 2011, we were informed that we needed to move out of the PAM Centre by the owners. We’ve been here for about 41 years, so we’re very attached to this building. We’ll move to Jalan Tanduk in Bangsar, a property that PAM bought in 2010 that was originally meant to be the Museum of Contemporary Arts.
Other challenges faced? Last year, there was an amendment to the Architects Act that will have a big impact on our profession. This is to accommodate the government’s commitment to liberalisation of the profession. The draft amendment is still pending at the Attorney General’s chambers and hasn’t gone to Parliament yet. With the amendment, a certain percentage of the equity of architectural firms will be open to anyone.
Currently, there is a provision in the Act that covers a multi-disciplinary set-up. What we’re made to understand is that the proposed amendment is to encourage participation from international firms. Although we are for liberalisation to open up to foreign participation, we feel that it should be confined to the foreigners who are already in the profession or allied professions such as the engineers or quantity surveyors because by opening up to just about anyone, it’ll have an impact on decision-making which involves public safety and health. We’re against it because to open up to non-professionals might actually put financial gain over public interest.
The amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act to confine the submission of the Planning Report (Kebenaran Merancang) to only the planners is objectionable as it contradicts the current Architects Act 1967 which clearly allows architects to do planning submissions.
The next issue is the Construction Industry Payment and Adjudication Act (CIPAA). It’s been decided that the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA) has been appointed as the advisory board and it’s the body that will determine the adjudication procedures, fees and registration.
Unfortunately until today, the institute and many other stakeholders have not been consulted or engaged on this aspect. This will have an impact on the current contracts, one of which is the PAM building contract where there is a provision for adjudication in the event of any disputes.
About going green: In 2009, we mooted the Green Building Index (GBI). I was one of the pioneers long before the GBI was established. In 2000, I designed the Low Energy Office building (LEO) for the Ministry of Communications, Energy and Water that won the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Energy Award in 2006.
For this building, we looked at a lot of passive elements of energy-efficiency in the design. GBI should promote this more. It’s been successful especially after the government’s incentives such as tax rebates for green costs in the construction of the building and stamp duty.