Today I submitted my very first competition design entry. I did competitions for many years while at Zaha Hadid’s office, but as this is the first one after establishing my studio, I felt it had a special significance.
The project is a pavilion and kiosk to be part of the first Chicago Architecture Biennial this fall. The call for proposals asked for designs that were innovative, achievable, and sustainable. My proposal was to make a pavilion structure that could visualise the air quality of each of the 77 individual districts in Chicago. The pavilion becomes a landmark and nerve centre of information that unites data visualisation with beautiful sculptural forms. With more than four hundred competitors, it is very difficult to judge my chances of winning, but at the very least, the design proposal is one step forward on my agenda of making visible the invisible things in our life that affect our well-being.
Air quality is one of the emblematic topics of my design agenda. It represents a specific challenge because although it has an enormous effect on our collective health, the air itself is largely invisible, the costs are long-term rather than short-term, and the lines of responsibility are highly complex. As an example from our times, huge amounts of pollution in China are being blown across the Seohae sea to Korea. Unlike immigrants or militaries, we cannot turn away the dangerous pollutants at the border.
As architects and stewards of our environment, how can we play a meaningful role in this absolutely crucial issue? So much of the work needs to be handled through policy and regulation, and falls outside of the realm of design.
My hope is that projects like my Chicago Kiosk design proposal can help increase awareness of the problem, not just as a one-time event but as a part of everyday life. Imagine if it would not just be one pavilion, but all of the architecture and environment around us giving us constant visual cues of the state of the air around us, and also helped us to better understand the sources of the problems. We would be halfway there in terms of swaying public opinion.
Competition is challenging, but it gives us the opportunity to refine our thoughts and explore new territory. I hope that by the time you are reading this letters, we will be a few steps further along this path!
All best wishes to you. Your quite tired grandfather. 23 March 2015