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Panharith Ean

Architecture Student,

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Architecture cycle between developing and developed nations.

I have been quite curious (sometimes confuse) about this for a long time. It seems as though the cycle of developing countries and developed countries always tend go in the same cliché route from eco-friendly based environment to advanced industrial nations. However, once they reach that “developed stage”, they immediately try to go back to the eco-friendly environment. From what I can see, most developed cities prefer sustainable green architecture, and promote eco public transportation, hybrid cars, bicycles, and walking. On the other hand, developing cities tend to invest in the largest, tallest skyscraper, and traffic crowded with cars and motorcycles. For so long, some people used to blame the advanced nations about global warming (probably because it’s the easiest option to do) but why are we, as in emergent nations, following this same footstep?

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    Aug 25 2011: well, developing countries do not develop in an autark way, but rather by mimicking or adapting solutions that they saw somewhere else (as we live in a global world, which includes everyone from Mumbay to Berlin!) And usually these solutions come from the past. They mimick just the promotions (the package) from the contemporary "developed" cultures, but the product itself (sold in that "new and fashionable" packaging) is usually the result of some already defunct ideology from those "developed" countries. They have to make through some stages, as some use to say, and it*s difficult to jump from 1950 directly to 2010. Of course, some of these stages could be left aside, it would be a win, but it is not easy (but not impossible!)

    While in Vienna they did it already 20 years ago, in NY they do it now: reduce traffic lanes in the city, and add bicycle lanes. And in the meantime, in Kuala Lumpur or Shanghai they still build another and another highway in the heart of the city, even if they already know that this won't stop the traffic jams at rush hours. They are in the phase of applying recipes, instead of developing (local) new solutions. The inertia of the old, fuddy-duddy specialsts for traffic in those countries, together with the inertia of city management and of the road building industry obliges those countries to prolonge for several years in the future an agony that they otherwise probably could change now and immediately.
    • Aug 26 2011: And how much of that might simply be down to corruption? In London, or New York, if someone tried to build a freeway through the City, there would be enormous protest to it. But, as we have seen in other areas of life, if the money is right, wrong things can be done, despite the protests.

      What I was saying above is, that that change is internal. It is not just enough to see that certain technology exists, and wonder why you don't have it. It is not there, because the people don't insist on it, and the developers and town planners will trade money and favours behind closed doors, and operate as cheaply as they can within whatever guidelines are set.

      To some extent, people used to expect a developing country to be a bit shabby - not right, I know given that the technology and knowledge is there to make it better the first time round - that just allows business moving in to operate cheaper and with less restriction. Over time, more and more money is poured in, conditions improve, wages increase and the aesthetic has to improve, because people demand it. It seems to be a natural evolution in that sense. It also makes a city 'real'. We had properly planned out towns and cities in the UK 30 or 40 years ago, and they were sterile places to be, like they had no heart. It has taken 30 years for THEM to mature properly, and really start to feel like real places, and they were supposedly right in the first place. It seems you cannot construct a meaningful community from nothing. People need to be born together and die together, so it takes time for that 'community' to emerge. It is evolution that makes a city exciting, in it's people, and in its places. The alternative is, (if you have all the money you need) you build a city like Dubai, an expression of wealth and a soulless place, despite being spectacular. New Delhi on the other hand, is fascinating and engaging. Which would you prefer?
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    Aug 26 2011: dear Stephen, I liked your remarks about the necessity of a community, the only one that gives life to built environment, they are absolutely right and essential.
    But remaining at the theme proposed by Panharith here, I think that the problem of corruption is more complex, even if similar to what you wrote. I would give it a nuance:
    as I have some experience in observing the corruption phenomenon in Romania, but also the lack of professionality there, my impression is that corruption exists "parallel" with knowlege (or the lack of knowledge). In Bucharest, they are just starting to build some city highways. I hope the concerned citizen and architects will stop them. But they want to build them NOT because they are corrupted, but because the corrupted people just need some project (ANY project) that can be used as a paravent for their corruption affairs. And it happens that the specialists in traffic and urbanism, belonging to a generation that was educated weakly, in the communist period, do not know to do anything better but city highways. They are not connected to the contemporary european culture of today, but to an european culture of 1950. They live the past today. And because they are the influent and "recognised" specialists of the city, they are the ones who decide to build those anachronistical highways.
    If there would be some more intelligent urbanists there, they would be used in a similar way to produce "some project", in order to generate corrupt cash flow for the right persons.
    So it seems that corruption is not (or not always) a direct cause of these problems, but a problem that is usually accompanied by a lack of specialists and by that phenomenon that Panharith formulated here above:
    "developing cities tend to invest in the largest, tallest skyscraper, and traffic crowded with cars and motorcycles"
    Imagine that the actual mayor of Bucharest was inspired, in his vision for elevated city highways, by similar buildings in.... Shanghai :)
    • Aug 27 2011: I think you are absolutely right. Construction and development is not an altruistic venture, it is business at the end of the day (and if we say corruption, it is really business by another name and from a different viewpoint), and there is money to be made and shareholders to satisfy. If a developer can get away with not investing in new tech, then surely they will do so. But hopefully there will come a time when it is not just about the money, and we can progress with a more sustainable vision, for the sake of sustainability itself. In truth, this is not a conversation we should even be having, as governments should already be refusing planning applications from anything and anyone that isn't at the cutting edge of technology, but I suppose we risk alienating groups of people that couldn't afford to pay for the end product.

      I did some work for a developer in India, who wanted to work at the lowest end, providing affordable, quality housing for the poor, and luxury homes for the super rich. It became clear that the luxury developments were really a test bed for new and more expensive technologies, that would eventually filter through to the lower end when it became practical to do so, through value engineering etc. Think of electric windows and power steering in cars - once luxury options, now commonplace.

      If big architects and engineers, rather than protecting their own business interests, made an effort to partner smaller, local practices overseas in developing cities, and share that knowledge - like a mentoring scheme - then the word would spread without the associated extra costs. Do you think this might be possible?
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        Aug 31 2011: Your last paragraph is quite an interesting idea:
        "f big architects and engineers, rather than protecting their own business interests, made an effort to partner smaller, local practices overseas in developing cities, and share that knowledge - like a mentoring scheme - then the word would spread without the associated extra costs. Do you think this might be possible?"

        yes, that would be great. Of course, the problem is, that this kind of investment - in spreading/sharing knowledge with people in developing cities, is something that can bring back revenues just over a very long time period. Most of the architects or planners would choose to do someting that brings immediate revenues, instead of going and searching abroad for partners in developing countries, as the result seems for the commonsense unshure and very long-termed.
        But perhaps it would be a good idea to have some incentives for that kind of partnerships - how? I don*t know. Over foundations that would encourage this, or try to find the right partners and bring them together?
  • Aug 24 2011: If you deny candy to a child, once they finally get some they will eat until they make themselves sick.

    Countries, like children, need to mature naturally. It's a painful process and there doesn't seem to be a way around it.
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    Aug 24 2011: Panharith,

    I believe that your central idea is a very good one, despite the some concepts or perceptions might be arguable! Let alone the theme of global warming, I believe that the problems related to traffic, energy waste and social disparities are enough to allow a good discussion about the topic.

    Here I can give a testimony derived from my perceptions and from what happens in my town, Belo Horizonte (Brazil).

    Cities, in general, are a combination of horizontality and verticality. Some of them are very sprawled, and other, very compressed horizontaly. My city is a very compressed one. At the other hand, Brasilia (the capital of Brazil), is a very sprawled city, and I believe that this is the case of Los Angeles...

    So, any of them has to deal with the question of how to spend time and energy, and we have two extreme models: 1) an sphere (or a cube) x 2) a circle (or rectangle). In the first one, a certain amount of energy is spent in vertical movements, in elevators or even stairs... In the second, in vehicles or in big walks to get from a point to another...

    The point is that the second model should imply a bigger impermeable area, which interfere with the infiltration of water... If city administrators stimulate the adoption of green spaces between buildings, this would be very good to the micro-climate, but it results in a more sprawled city... So, there is a kind of trade-off...

    Thinking about your question, I believe that the cities of developping countries reproduce a very arguable model just because an innovative solution should imply revolutionary changes on the surface... So, majors prefer to follow history as it happened in cities of developped nations than to make a short-cut and install the good solutions that are being adopted out there...

    I have the same concerns that you have, and I think many people agree with your astonishment with this kind of nonsense that we see... But, shall us proceed in this field!
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    Sep 14 2011: Developed economies have produced in excess and can afford to sustain their productivity while reducing their footprint, but it is too soon and morally unfair to suppress the development of developing economies. It is expecting too much from people who have too little.

    Today even when developed countries are reducing their production footprint they are consuming more than ever, the production footprint is only being outsourced to developing countries.

    Its always been the case where developing nations have adopted technology from developed nations, in time they will adopt proven sustainable, eco friendly ways run their economies. In time.
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    Sep 11 2011: First of all I don't believe in a developed nation. We are all developing nations. Its important that nations that are underdeveloped to learn from nations that have already been that rout. Together accepting our past mistakes we can find a balance between industry and eco-friendly living. For the first time we are a globally connected. We no longer have an excuse not to work together. We have shared our cultures and beliefs with every nation of the world. Its time we merge in cooperation on a large scale. I think governments around the world should pool there resources together to form the united nations of Earth. It sounds like a crazy idealistic idea but the more the world becomes connected and educated about the world the closer we are to such a world.
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    Sep 9 2011: There are some smart ideas and eloquent solutions contained within this conversation on how not to 'follow in the footsteps' of precedents already set in the world, but to stick to your original question of Why do emergent nations not operate from a new model, I offer these thoughts. The concerns we have and the things we know now about the failings and successes of how the developed world developed and what it would develop into were unknown when it was developing. So, with the benefit of hindsight, your question of why do we not learn from our past becomes quite valid. Granted, there are examples in both the developed and developing world to create smarter living environments, but largely we see the same mistakes made over and over especially on the large scale. Unfortunately, those that fund development are operating from an extremely limited and shortsighted view of what is economical. Some would call this corrupt, but I'm sure that those in charge of funding would point out that they are operating within the guidelines of their respective systems and they probably are. No amount of education or socially aware information otherwise is ever going to affect decisions on 'the bottom line'. To me, this is where governments have to step in. I do not believe that government should step in and start dictating how business should be run though. Rather, it is my belief that government's role should be one that provides an opportunity for people and their businesses to thrive. What I mean is, that government should not start making poor building design illegal or overly taxable but instead provide incentives and profit opportunities to more socially conscious building practices through tax breaks or some other way. Guide people and make the good ideas the more profitable choice. For instance, in the US, our government is giving tax breaks to oil companies instead of investing in real alternative energy development. Incentives will work, carbon taxes will not.
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    Sep 1 2011: The link between psychology and architecture is interesting. Exterior facades of buildings seem to reflect a psychological dissonance – a desire to present a completely different personality to the outside world over the inner one. Architectural interiors might legitimately reflect inner desires and comforts, but exterior designs often are either harshly defensive, care little about what others think about them - or represent something entirely removed from any sense of place.

    There is a certain selfishness in designing beautiful interiors to buildings that only meet the needs and wants of the inhabitants and/or trendy architects, but whose exterior is an ill-considered, unattractive, angular facade that might have been conceived using a standardised menu in computer-aided design software. It is very rare to find any buildings that have been conceived, designed and built using neurones and hands, as if people mattered. The exterior of a building is what is presented to the public, who after all, are the ones who have to live with it. Buildings that have been designed and built entirely with human input by local architects with a finely honed sense of the local character, seem easier for many people to live with.

    “Viewing angular forms, as opposed to curved forms, triggers activation in the amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure in the limbic system of our brains associated with emotional memory — specifically fear. We may not feel any conscious fear, but this brief moment of activity translates to a general sense of dislike for these objects.”
    (Fetell I,”Design and the Mind” Psychology Today, 2010)
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      Sep 4 2011: I'm totally agree on how you talked about the interior and exterior, and how some design just show its selfishness in the project. I like to think the exterior is part of the public, therefore should pays contribute to its surrounding. One structure should not over shadow the others, in fact it should be part of the whole image. I like ancient cities, e.g. Siem Reap, Cambodia because the architectural structures really connect with each other even though they were built in many different period of time. Everything from temples to city roads just make sense together, and it literally tells a story in some way or another. However, now that there too many hotels and restaurants, part of its beauty was faded. We should definitely need to study the traditional from the past and try to interpret into use for contemporary design, which lead to another problem of traditional and contemporary, and how merging them carelessly can damage the value of tradition.
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        Sep 5 2011: Siem Reap is indeed beautiful. But I wonder what it is that makes it so? Is it just simply that we love the beauty of ancient archtecture? Is it the need for a living environment which is unashamedly ornate and aesthetically pleasing? What is it that generated that historical need in people for ornamentation in buildings? Where is that need now?

        Regional uniqueness has all but disappeared with globalisation, which means that one city's modern development looks exactly the same as any other, and as you correctly say, merging them carelessly with historical buildings can be disastrous.

        I'd like to know your view about the suggestion that architecture still seems to be driven by ego rather than empathy - by big money rather than human need. Is it still a profession that is more interested in winning design awards and plaudits from other architects, rather than the admiration and respect from ordinary people?
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          Sep 7 2011: From what I can see, ancient architects worked very closely with nature. In fact, people from past generations lived with nature; they worshipped nature. They learned through nature. That shows selflessness of citizen back then. Biomimicry is a very crucial in architecture, and society in general. A lot of architects are trying very hard in sustainable buildings, but I still think they lacks something, compared to structures from the past, or maybe they're just trying to hard and not actually see environment the way our ancestors saw? I think we have two completely different situations about eco-friendly. From the past, people did what they had done because they just love doing it. Now, people try to prevent things from getting worse because they have fear, which lead to somehow overdone stuffs.

          About the ornamentation in buildings, i think it was one of a few way that they could express themselves as societies that have existed. I don't know if you have been to Angkor Wat, but the ornament there richly describe how everyday lives of people back then. Furthermore, because many temples took many years to build, it's very interesting to see how different the society was from generation to generation. It's also a way to record history. Another important factor in this is, some ornaments/designs were solely dedicate to religious beliefs, or their heroes, or their loves one.
          Nowadays, on the other hand, people have way too many ways to express themselves, with all the social networks, internet, and other means, people lose tracks of traditional way. Most even prefer to keep their journal electronically instead of handwriting.

          I'm not sure how to answer regarding the main core of this profession because I haven't been into the real world of this career yet. However, i think just like every other profession, it's a preference to that individual who practices it. Whatever they choose, it's really their choices, but we, as a community, still have the right to contribute.
  • Aug 25 2011: it took Ken Yeang, for example, years to get a building in London, despite some amazing ideas and successes in his native Malaysia. People just weren't interested until they had no choice.
  • Aug 25 2011: Hello - As a graphic designer, I used to work for a company that worked in commercial property all over the world. Though it may be different now, green developments used to be entirely driven by consumer demand. A client in France for example was asked if they wanted to plant trees to offset the impact of construction. It would have made a great marketing message if nothing else, but they simply replied that actually, the future occupiers of their buildings didn't care less about it, so they'd rather not spend the money on a)particularly green architecture, and b)trees. Now it has become something that occupiers demand - partly because it's right, and partly because it looks good in an annual report. But it costs more money, and will do until it is absolutely mainstream.

    I think that as developing countries emerge, their development is fuelled by investment from overseas, as well as fledgling corporations closer to home. Until they demand green buildings, it doesn't tend to happen. Plus, exponential growth in a city can mean it just gets too big too quickly, and logical town planning is impossible. That mess is difficult to unpick, and can dramatically affect the environment until the lifecycle of the structures themselves brings about an opportunity for change. In London, for example, a wave of new buildings has allowed road layouts to change as part of that construction process. If we demanded these things earlier, developers would have to meet that demand and there wouldn't be as big a problem to unpick. But it requires an investment that won't necessarily bring a return, and business doesn't usually cope with that very well unless it is forced to. The simple truth is, developing countries probably have looser standards, clean air laws etc etc, and they do what they can get away with because of it.
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    Aug 25 2011: This is something I have thought about before, and maybe bringing the 'green' experts (engineers, architects, psychologists, etc) from developed countries to developing countries as a scheme could be one option. Maybe it could be a UN funded thing, but if there are people with water and sanitation, this will be of more importance to the UN, obviously because it’s more important.
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    Aug 25 2011: I think, from a teen’s point of view, the solution to this might be in a matter of media, getting the information to the people especially the youth, like the way pop culture does. From what I can see people tend to follow the trend that is popular, something new, attractive, and approachable, e.g. music, fashion, and food. In fact those are often worried as threats to self-cultural-identity because people seem to go beyond their tradition. Green architecture, on the other hand, always has this image of complexity and expensive, which is unappealing to a lot of people. The example above could apply as positive strategy when use in this problem of architecture cycle. When the medium not only address the significant of sustainable architecture, but also promote this as some kind of trend, I think it will eventually get people attention, and take baby-steps to make something different. It does not have to be one gigantic step that can hurt the economic.
    In my city, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, constructions often pay less attention to the parking lot. Either they haven’t provided a proper parking space, therefore people need to park on the streets or they built another building near by just for parking. I specifically like the ideas of Bjarke Ingels on this.