Scandinavian architecture has large export potential in ASEAN

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a heavy Scandinavian presence at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore this October. Where the Scandinavian approach of including citizens in urban development and construction of both private and public buildings was awarded and discussed.

In Asia, Danish architecture firms experience positive feedback on their sustainable buildings that takes the public’s needs serious. But one thing is talk, selling projects to governmental institutions or companies, where they have to integrate pedestrians and plants in or around buildings that would usually be shielded from public is a larger challenge.

At the top floor of the famous Marina Bays Sand’s Hotel conference center the annual World Architecture Festival (WAF) was hosted between 1st and 3rd October. The Scandinavian presence was immense, not only because the Danish Embassy, organized the only country specific promotional platform at the festival, but also because several Scandinavian architecture firms were nominated for awards, four of which could return as winners in their respective categories.

In an effort to promote Danish architecture and design the Danish Embassy in Singapore arranged a showroom and hosted a 3 hour session with Danish architecture firms focusing on sustainable solutions and involving the public in urban development.

According to the Danish Ambassador to Singapore Berit Basse, one of the reasons WAF approved of the Embassy’s plan to educate on and promote Danish architecture and design is because there actually is a great interest in Scandinavian architecture in general.

“WAF wanted to include Denmark because of the country’s relative strength when it comes to architecture and design. Denmark has interesting stories to tell about urban development,” Berit Basse says.

Berit Basse the Danish Ambassador to Singapore.
Berit Basse the Danish Ambassador to Singapore.

Scandinavian ideas are compatible with Southeast Asia

Under the headline “Great Green Living” six representatives from Danish architecture and engineering companies presented examples of their projects to show their perception of what a common Danish approach to architecture might be. While sustainability and energy efficiency was almost taken for granted, the discussion quickly turned to the Danish tradition of involving citizens in shaping the projects and focus on the needs of the people that are going to use the finished projects.

According to several of the architects this “putting people first approach”, where you as an architect have more focus on the architectural process of involving rather than the finished building itself is relatively new in Asia. But even though the concept isn’t implemented around Asia yet Anna Kerr, the head of business development at Schmidt Hammer Lassen’s Asia Pacific department, thinks the idea is received in a positive manner.

“In general the attitude of thinking people first in architecture is very well received in Asia. Equally by the public realm and by the governments we work with, whether it is in China, Indonesia or Singapore. I think the implementation is a more difficult task, because the people and government are further apart in Asia than in Denmark,” Anna Kerr says.

Change is on the way

Two Indonesian architects were among the guests at the Danish session at WAF. Both of them believed in the approach where you involve the people that live around and use the buildings they design. But according to them the demand is modest in Indonesia at the moment. The population is too uneducated know they should demand to be involved and large companies tend to think about their own needs before the needs of the public.

“In Indonesia it is a huge challenge to implement these ideas, and it is not just the technical aspects, the real challenge is to put these ideas into practice, it is a challenge to make the people and politicians understand that this is important,”Soehardi Hartono, director of Hartono Architects says.

Tiyok Prasetyoadi, managing director of PDW architects, agrees but adds that a few private developers have become increasingly concerned about the quality of their real-estate products and that few city mayors around Indonesia has begun to think more about their citizens when they plan urban development.

Great potential

It is not only the Indonesian Architects that are experiencing an increased interest and a new openness. Danish architecture firm AG5 and PDW’s office tower project Grand Rubina are currently being built in Jakarta. When AG5’s proposed to open up the space between the towers to the public, to make it function as a short cut connecting a bus stop to a mall, the proposition was accepted.

While this might sound like a minor detail, it is an important one. Many places in Southeast Asia office buildings are shielded from the public making the life of pedestrians dreadful and this detail shows a will to be considerate towards the public.

Danish Ambassador to Singapore, Berit Basse, sees a great potential for Danish architecture in the ASEAN countries. She believes that the recognition Danish architecture gets at events like WAF shows there is a demand for the Danish approach to architecture in terms of environmental-, social- and economic sustainability.

“The ASEAN countries as a region will within a foreseeable future be among the world’s largest economies, you only have to look out the window to realize that there is an enormous growth here. The middleclass is growing and they want more livability and a greater focus on sustainability, so there is a large potential,” Berit Basse says.

New policy more mobility

By 2015 the ASEAN countries will begin integrating the ASEAN Economic Community with the long term goal of making the ASEAN countries function as one single market and production base.

According to Danish Ambassador to Singapore Berit Basse, this will mean higher mobility for Scandinavian companies operating in the region. For instance it will be quicker for a firm that is already registered in Singapore to get an approval in another ASEAN country or vice versa.  While she is positive about the new initiative, she stresses that change takes time.

“It is important to remember that this is not an internal marked as in EU, it is not going to be fully integrated in 2015, but this is a very important milestone,” Berit Basse says.

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