RMIT Architecture was presented with the Overall Design Excellence Award, claiming the top prize out of nine schools from around the world.
Every year Designing Resilience in Asia (DRIA), an international research program on urban resilience within the National University of Singapore, holds a competition for partner universities to propose ways to ensure an Asian community’s resilience before or during disasters.
This year, two teams from the Master of Architecture took up DRIA’s challenge to create anti-drought and flooding designs for a site in south-west Bandarharjo of Semarang City, Indonesia.
The area is particularly vulnerable to climate change hazards like tidal flooding, rising sea levels, sinking earth and more.
Team A, comprised of students Imogen Fry, Michael McMahon, Bruce Oakley, Tamsin O'Reilly, Elsie Retter, Lewis Smith and Ben Tan, received the Overall Design Excellence Award.
Team B included Trent Baker, Amy Jiang, Min Lee, Er Hau Lee, Sudrano Sudrano and Justin Zhang, the last three representing their team at the 2017 DRIA symposium in Singapore.
Fry, who also attended the event on behalf of Team A, said that while it was fantastic to have won, it was more rewarding to know that judges like Semarang Government’s Chief Resilience Officer approved of their idea.
“To have this panel affirm the argument that we must focus on living within a constant and rapidly changing environment, rather than focus on controlling it, was an indicator of where I believe the strength in our future work, as architects and as members of our broader community, lies.”
According to Fry, most competition entries proposed “nature-based” responses, but her team took their ideas one step further, empowering Semarang City through its unpredictable environment.
“We argued that true resilience must be found within the individual and found through an understanding and acceptance of our natural world,” she said.
“Architects are integral to the process by not only envisioning this future, but being able to communicate the necessity for change and the opportunity inherent within that change.”
Students recognised that large infrastructures implemented by slower processes were not lasting, and ultimately, would not contribute to Semarang’s resilience.
Instead, Team A reintegrated the city’s native mangrove ecosystem, stabilising the coast and softening waterways to revive the coastal culture.
The students brought Semarang’s ecosystem back into the light by combining subtler interventions with “simple, relevant and accessible design and technologies”.
“We argued strongly that the past of Semarang would be the vision for Semarang’s future with the water, currently an extreme and debilitating pressure, once again becoming the city’s lifeblood,” Fry said.
The project targeted environmental sustainability, social and economic stability and provided for new spaces like markets, integrated schools, adaptable housing and communal buildings.
The students of Team A said their studies have taught them freedom in design – something that was particularly evident on this project.
“Being a team of seven people, our interests were quite diverse and there were many discussions and iterations to shape the ideas into a coherent whole.”
“As a diverse group with a range of views and experiences, whether that’s in life, through education, philosophically or in architectural representation, we were able to learn from each other,” Fry said.
Fry also credited Associate Professor Mauro Baracco’s guidance for encouraging the flow of ideas or helping to narrow down concepts, as well as taking a step back when need be.
Baracco himself said it had been an honour to guide the Master of Architecture students throughout their DRIA projects.
“It has been great and rewarding to coordinate this teaching and research integrated project with both Team A and B through the first half of the year,” he said.
“Both RMIT projects submitted to the competition were produced by continuously sharing and exchanging ideas through the design studio.
“It was a pleasure to achieve the major prize in the company of the four RMIT students who attended the event, and my colleague and DRIA committee member Professor Sand Helsel.”
Although most of Team A plan to head off in separate directions after graduation – some returning to Semarang or valuing artistic architecture, while others pursue overseas education – Fry said there was one thing that united them all.
“It’s that this competition, the studio and discussions that happened throughout have helped to broaden our understanding of architecture and the diversity of contexts in which an architect can have an integral role.”