Irish architects showcase in Shanghai
ASIA BRIEFING:SHANGHAI IS HOME to some of the triumphs of world architecture – the French Concession boasts stunning colonial French buildings, while the Bund is a testament to British planning and construction expertise in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
This has been added to by skyscrapers such as the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai Tower on the reclaimed land that is the precinct of Pudong.
All the more reason for Shanghai to be the venue of choice last week for the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) to present the first Irish architecture showcase, Irish Architecture – A History of Culture and a Sustainable Future.
Much of the contemporary work in Shanghai is being done by the big US and European firms, many of which have large representative offices in China. But the RIAI believes there are opportunities on the conservation side, sustainability, design generally, and master planning. And education is also an important area.
The showcase included an exhibition and a week-long programme of lectures, meetings and discussions, looking at promoting Irish architecture among Chinese businesses who are interested in working with or employing Irish architects in China.
“We’re out here primarily to open up channels and make links, primarily in terms of education. We’ve got a lot of positive aspects. Our colleagues are winning competitions and commissions all over the world. We have a very skilled generation of architects who are at a peak of knowledge and creativity,” said president of the RIAI Michelle Fagan.
Ireland’s architects were internationally recognised for their design and project management skills.
“China is done with copying; they are into consumer goods and design, and the next step is innovation. What we design as architects is very bespoke and reacts to needs of a client. And that’s something that we can teach over here, something we can share,” she said.
She said she would like to see more staff and student exchanges.
“Our colleges can work together to offer an architectural base, as we are small and have to work closely together – a proper information exchange,” she said.
The exhibition was shown at Treasury China Trust’s Irish Centre in Shanghai, then presented at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning of Tongji University. It included lectures by director of the RIAI John Graby and the professor of architecture at the University of Limerick, Merritt Bucholz.
Graby said education was a major opportunity, but there was a need for the colleges to work together. “In Ireland, there are five schools of architecture. They have their strengths. Given the scale of operation you need for international work . . . there’s a need to work collectively,” he said.
There is obviously potential for postgraduate courses, with different modules being offered by the schools, drawing on individual strengths.
On the conservation of historical buildings, there was a sense that China was where Ireland had been in the 1950s in terms of historical buildings – which means the old tends to get knocked down to make way for the new.
“We didn’t place any value on historical buildings and the environment, and we had to learn it. And they are saying here that this is a serious challenge. We could exchange information on this as we’ve been through that,” he said.
Bucholz believes the best universities in terms of built environment are working closely with the government on the environmental issues facing the country, which is an opportunity for Irish universities.
“Irish universities in built environment have small schools. We are all practitioners, we’re teachers, none of us are theoreticians. Anyone in our generation has a huge amount of experience and that’s very important,” he said.