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International Architectural Roundtable 2018

Architectural Design: Shaping the Imagination

How do advancements in functionality, energy efficiency and technology translate into meaningful buildings? On Wednesday, November 28, four international architects—France’s Dominique Jakob, Netherlands’ Mels Crouwel and the United States’ Eric Owen Moss and Matthew Rosenberg—sat down to discuss the future of architecture in front of a packed house of architects.

OAA President John Stephenson addresses the audience at the 2018 International Architectural Roundtable while panel speakers Dominique Jakob, Matthew Rosenberg, and Eric Owen Moss look on.
The 2018 International Architectural Roundtable, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, kicked off The Buildings Show, the annual industry trade show that includes Construct Canada and the Homebuilder and Renovator Expo. The two-hour discussion was co-sponsored by the OAA, along with ConstructConnect, EPAL, Brown Daniels Association and Canadian Architect magazine, whose editor, Elsa Lam, served as moderator.
An author, academic and educator, Lam set the tone for the roundtable by listing various factors continuing to influence architecture, from procurement and sustainability to multi-layered design processes that include new technologies. In exploring how the built environment of the future would appear, she reminded the audience that “architects are not just the prime consultants, but also the primer givers of form.” She discussed how “architecture” is no longer simply a noun, but also a verb that shows the design process and design thinking.
The four international guests were then given a chance to share some of their work and their thoughts on the profession.
Dominque Jakob
Founder of the French practice, JAKOB + MACFARLANE architects, Jakob is a member of the Académie d’Architecture, holds the Officer insignia award for services to Arts and Letters by her country’s Ministry of Culture and has been a consulting architect for the city of Toulouse and a member of the Administrative Board of the CNAP (French Arts National Center). 
She showcased some of her projects in Paris and Lyon, many on the riverfront, ranging from social and private housing to media headquarters. Jakob was the first to bring up the subject of climate change, mentioning it in the context of a recent United Nations report stating the targets of 2030 were not on track to be met.
She shared her ‘orange cube’ office building (the RBC Design Showroom in Lyon), which came about through the city’s goal of finding the right teams to redevelop an industrial area. Jakob wanted to bring views of the landscape into the building; she accomplished this by including voids in the form—made possible through 3-D digital visualization tools and modern material shaping—that created balconies for interior spaces.
The same principles were applied to her practice’s work on the Euronews TV world headquarters. For Les Docks-en-Seine: Cité de la Mode et du Design project, an urban revitalization work in Paris, she and her team kept a century-old structure and created volumes atop and along the side to bring it new life. 
The idea of digital tools replacing physical models was a factor in this and many of her projects. (She also discussed apps that allowed building owners and tenants to zoom through virtual models.) Jakob showed various housing projects with features like column-free exoskeletons, communal balconies (reimagining the concept of boulevards in a vertical village) and layouts created to safeguard existing trees.
Mels Crouwel
Crouwel is a founding partner at the Amsterdam/Düsseldorf practice, Benthem Crouwel Architects, a member of the Royal Institute of Dutch Architects (bna) and former Chief Government Architect for the Netherlands. He was the supervising architect for his country’s biggest convention centre, Amsterdam RAI, putting forth numerous renovation proposals and urban schemes for a complex that welcomes close to 2 million visitors every year.

Dutch architect Mels Crouwel discusses the future of architecture as part of the roundtable.
In considering “the future of architecture,” he says this is impacted by not only the progression of technology, but also the changing of society itself. Nevertheless, Crouwel did look at the influence of emerging building materials, including composite products that allowed literally seamless construction to precision-cut roof elements that recreated the shadows of a forest canopy.
Crouwel discussed the importance of connections, and how things have evolved. He mentioned how a museum addition served to turn around the building’s main entrance to better suit current ideas of circulation. He also discussed transit projects, like a series of subway stations that serve as art galleries, with the trains becoming the connections.
Additionally, Crouwel discussed the growing sector of data centre construction, and the sustainability implications of buildings that consume so much energy and produce so much heat—he discussed how to harness this by-product to heat nearby homes as well as how to beautify the façades with second skins.
Crouwel concluded that he does not believe in only relying on new techniques, citing hand-painted tiles in pedestrian tunnels to evoke certain reactions.
“The future is the result of the past,” he reminded the audience, “so the future is also the past.”
Eric Owen Moss
Principal and lead designer at the U.S. practice, Eric Owen Moss Architects (Culver City, California), Moss has been described as an “unrelenting voice in the search for new form and content in architecture” and a “salient advocate of non-allegiance to those who forever attempt to standardize and homogenize the definition of architecture and the world it inhabits.”

Perhaps fittingly then, Moss came at the discourse from a different vantage point, opening up his talk on discussions about the 1957 ballet, Agon—a collaboration between Igor Stravinsky and George Balanchine that illustrated the possibilities for harmony and austere structure. In addition to showing some of his practice’s Los Angeles-area projects, his presentation ranged from quoting Alvar Aalto to looking at how Arata Isozaki installations explored ideas of content and times. He cited Homer’s Odyssey and Cervante’s Don Quixote and showed art pieces like Mondrian’s Composition III with Blue, Yellow and White and Dürer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Moss wanted to examine what architecture takes from culture, as well as what it gives back.

Matthew Rosenberg
Born and raised in Saskatoon, Rosenberg is the founder and design director at the Los Angeles-based practice, M-Rad Inc. He has been included in Forbes’ “Small Giants” and Inc. Magazine’s “Top 10 Designers Every Business Should Have On Their Radar” lists. Rosenberg says his mission is to “revolutionize the architecture industry to resolve its inefficiencies by expanding the scope of the architect.”
He talked about his frustrating with the profession—people being overlooked and underpaid—and how he wanted to challenge business models. Rosenberg’s U.S. firm engages in activities that he terms “pre-” and “post-architecture”—practices like site sourcing, zoning analysis, underwriting, branding, capital sourcing, interior design, product design, marketing and occupant analysis.
Continuing this thread, Rosenberg demonstrated how architectural thinking could be applied to things beyond the built environment. “How can we fix airline food?” he asked, “Can we change the way we sit? Can we help those with arthritis?”
He shared his experiences on a California housing project, where delays prevented construction. In the interim, he had the existing houses painted pink to raise awareness not only about the particular project, but also the city’s housing and homelessness problems. Along these lines, he stressed the importance of bringing local communities into design conversations as early as possible.
Further discussion
After the individual presentations, the roundtable discussion began. Lam asked the panellists about interactions between environmental, social and financial sustainability variables. Jakob saw the growth of large cities, especially the effect of pollution sources and autonomous cars, to have critical impacts on urban design and housing. Crouwel agreed, mentioning several car-oriented aspects of current urban planning, but also pointed out online shopping trends are already noticeably affecting ground-level retail in cities—redesigning spaces to be more effective for how people live today and tomorrow will be crucial.
Moss argued that it is not the task—or capacity—of architecture to deal with these big-picture sustainability issues. Rather, these are public policy discussions. The discourse of topics like fossil fuels, he pointed out, need to be dealt with at a political level and based on science.
“Architecture has a habit of glomming onto things in a do-gooder way,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with this, but it can be disingenuous.”
He gave an example of someone proud their project was triple-glazed for sustainability reasons, and respectfully suggested that if a building needed to be triple-glazed, perhaps it could have been imagined differently in the first place. He reminded the audience that how a building fits into the larger picture is not a new discussion, and that even the most primitive of structures have traditionally interacted with their environment in elemental ways.
Lam pointed out that some have argued the most sustainable buildings are windowless boxes, but Rosenberg remarked that daylighting and views are necessary.
“Sustainability-wise, you need views,” he said. “If everyone is mentally unhappy in their buildings, where does that leave us?”
As the roundtable discussion ended, OAA President John Stephenson took the stage to thank the panellists, moderator and all who attended. The Buildings Show’s pair of exhibit halls officially opened, and its series of technical talks and seminars for continuing education and professional development began. For more information on the annual tradeshow, click here.