Alumni Insights Lecture: Experiments in Global Design Practice: The VERITAS Adventure

Alumni Insights Lecture: Experiments in Global Design Practice: The VERITAS Adventure


So good morning. Welcome. I’d like to welcome you to
our Alumni Insight lecture with David Hashim. David Hashim is a member of
alumni council here at the GSD. He’s a class of ’86. So in his role as an
alumni council member, he serves as an ambassador
and an advocate for the GSD locally and for
the Asian region. He’s been a great volunteer
and advocate for the school. He’s participated in some of our
studios in the area in Jakarta, and also the last two
studios in Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur, his home. So David, welcome. Thank you for joining us
and sharing your story. So a little bit about David. He founded the firm, Veritas– which is a global design firm– in 1987 in Kuala Lumpur after
graduation from the GSD. It’s a large design
practice with offices from London throughout Asia
and then even into Australia. They’re designing across
sectors and scales in hospitality, residence,
health care, and education, working on transforming
the skyline of Kuala Lumpur with projects
as high as 80 stories but then also on smaller scales
and individual residences as well. Veritas is the largest
multidisciplinary design studio in Malaysia. It is also one of the
top 10 Asian firms. Prior to attending
school at the GSD, David attended a school down
the street in Cambridge. Upon graduation from the GSD, he
was a recipient of the Aga Khan Traveling Fellowship
for research in the Islamic architecture. So David, welcome
back to the GSD and look forward to hearing
more about your practice. Thank you very much, Brad. [applause] Well it’s wonderful
to be back here. I left here 31 years ago and– hi, nice to have you here, too. Yeah. Thank you for coming. And I must say that even
though we have a small crowd here, I am a little
bit intimidated. Not because the
size of the crowd– I’ve just come from
Dubai where I spoke to a room of about 500 people– but why this is
intimidating is I remember when I was sitting
in those chairs where you are right now,
back when I was here, and hearing lectures
from visiting professors and visiting architects. And many times I was
thinking, what an idiot. What rubbish are we
wasting our time here on. So I’m just worried that
you’re sitting there thinking the same thing that
I did and that’s why I’m a little
bit intimidated. But anyway, let’s
see what we can do. I’ve got an interesting two
topics to talk about today. The first one is here, but it’s
not going to take all the time, so I’ve actually
got another paper– the one I gave in
Dubai last week– which I think will
be very interesting from a design point of view. This is more from a
professional point of view. This first presentation is
about my personal experience of starting a small
practice 31 years ago and to what it has become
today and how it was done. So this is who we are. If we need to say what we are
in one sentence, it is this. We feel that we are one
of the world’s leading integrated multidisciplinary
design firms. We started as
architects, but slowly over time we have the
landscape division, we have the interior design
planning, project management, quantity surveying,
environmental division, and so on. And so this is what we
say we are in one breath. So a little bit about us. We were formed in ’87. As soon as I graduated
from the GSD, I just went out and started
the practice right away. So I’ve actually
never had a job. So often when I made mistakes
when I was young I said, well, I don’t have
any experience. Give me a break. Yeah, so I’ve never had a job. And we grew very fast. We started exporting
in the 90s at a point when we began feeling
confident about our ability. And export of services is
something very different. You work in your
own home country. After a while you get
used to the process. And it takes a
very different way of thinking when you
start to expand and travel around the world. So now we’ve worked in
20 different countries. I’ve just come back from India. I was in Dubai. I’ll be in London. Soon after that, I’ll be
in Myanmar in Vietnam. So that’s the kind
of life that I lead. So we have currently
the six offices. We are fully
multidisciplinary, and this is something that’s unique
because here in the US, people tend to be
pigeonholed into disciplines. But we find that more and
more around the world, people want a total solution. They don’t want to think
about design from all these different angles. They want a single
way of design. The Germans call it
[speaking german],, a total work of art. And so that’s really what’s
happening around the world. Today our work is about 20%
outside our own country, and we’re about 350 people,
making us quite large. So this is what I
was like in 1987. Susan remembers me
when I was like that. I have to say,
knowing David back then and knowing what
he’s accomplished, all I can say is, of course. I mean, you were obviously going
to go set the world on fire. Well, and obviously
those in the room are going to do the same thing,
because I was in your seats then. So we started the three of us– myself and two friends– and today we are there. This book came out– and
you should pick it up– it’s called Different,
and it’s about how when there are big
trends, mega trends, everyone seems to want
to follow that trend. But what’s important
in a herd is to be careful,
because it might sound like a great idea and everyone’s
moving a certain direction, but this is what happens. And if you’re not careful
and you your way through, you’re going to be that victim. So what is it? How do you maneuver through
a world of complexity? Now what I did is I
began– when I started my practice– looked inside. I didn’t try to create
something overnight. But I said, look, who am I? What am I? And how can that translate to
eventually a corporate culture that is unique? So I don’t follow the herd. And the thing is that, I looked
at my own particular ethnic nature. I’m Malaysian but I am
of different parentage. It’s very complicated. I was born in one religion. I don’t really practice that
and I’ve dabbled in others. My wife is of a different
religion than me, and that’s all
interesting for me. And embedding that
culture into the company with an open and
exploratory attitude, a spirit of adventure– I’ve always been very
adventurous– and so embedding of that DNA so that
everybody in the organization thinks the same way and
looks for opportunities outside their comfort zone. And then developing strategies. So having all these
ideas is great, but unless you sit down
and do the hard work of thinking about strategy,
it’s not going to succeed. And then tying the brand to
this international culture. Brand is very important when
you start to become bigger. It’s all about brand. So that’s me. And my family–
can see my family– we’re like eight different
nationalities, four different religions. We speak 15 different–
no, we speak half a dozen different languages. And that’s sort of who I am,
and that’s me and my family. And so this is what Veritas is. It’s a larger
reflection of myself. So this is me and the two
other key people at Veritas. Lilian is a Princeton grad. Azif is Berkeley. So we’re a very American
company in some sense. And Peter is from UK. Anton is from Melbourne. Richard runs Portland. He doesn’t look like
he’s Vietnamese, but his wife is Vietnamese
and he speaks Vietnamese. And of course,
Mahendra runs Mumbai. So this is the kind
of diversity that we– one of the things we do is we
celebrate our global culture in so many different
ways in the office. I’m always reminding
people that we are not a local firm, that we
have that view of larger. So for example, we have
what we call our world wall. Remember this guys? You remember this? OK, your picture
has been taken off. You’ve left. And if you look at
the office, the people that are there from South
Africa, from Colombia, and this is what’s important. Because when you have
diversity in your office– we’re a little bit like
the United Nations– when you have a
diversity of people then you have a
diversity of ideas, and that’s very important to us. We love celebrating this. In fact, last month
we had a big party where we celebrate different
parts of the world. So this is the winning team. I’m not really sure
where they’re from, but they won because
they had so much energy. I’m sure you guys recognize
some of the faces there. So celebrating this
cultural thing. For me, I call the way I work
and the way Veritas works, it’s like a chameleon. And people say, oh, that’s
a very negative connotation. That means you’re wishy-washy. You can be anything. And for me it’s like a
paradox, because if you are the kind of animal
that can change colors very quickly, actually
you’re pretty damn unique. In the world of animal
animals, there’s only one animal that can do it. So I believe in the
ability to adapt whenever we work in
different countries and that takes a
certain mindset. So for example, I could be
in Iran and it’s Friday. And you know what? I’ll go for prayers,
because that’s what they would expect me to do. But I could be on the plane the
next day and I’ll be in Vietnam and I’ll go karaoke
with these bar girls, because that’s what the
clients expect you to do. And if you want to work in
these different environments, you have to learn
how to eat the food, you have to learn how to drink
the drink, and be part of it. Because if you
say no, I am this, you can pretty much say
goodbye to a global way of thinking about practice. Thomas Friedman wrote this
book, The World Is Flat, and what it suggests is
that any company from even the smallest– and Malaysia
is a developing country. We’re actually
quite poor compared to the US and other countries. But in a way, because
of technology, it’s flattened the world. A small firm from Malaysia
can do things that big firms– and we’re leapfrogging
the technology to be able to do that. So we set ourselves
a very clear goal. This is in black and white. It’s on our name tags. It’s on our wall and
everywhere in our office. And that was our goal. And we continue to strive. And it’s vague enough that
it’s something that you can never actually reach. If you think you’ve reached
it, you can still carry on. And so it’s a very
aspirational statement. Our core values– those
are the core values– and we actually
built the core values into a statement of aspiration,
what we call our tribal mantra. So the core values
for the world, and that’s what we practice. This mantra appears in many
different places and ways. And every year– we used
to have a yearly theme. Go, Go, Global was 2008. In 2010, we said
Ideas for the World. And it’s been kept
permanent after that, because everyone said
this is a great way to think about our
position in the world. So guys, did you
bring your badges? So everyone’s got
to wear this badge. It’s a statement of aspiration. And whether it’s the clocks
in the office or continually reminding people by
having maps of the world, this is a way of instilling that
belief that we are going to be, if not already– we’re
not really truly global yet– we will be one day. Another practice
that we’ve taken on– because we do work
around the world, we have different studios that
work in four different zones. So for example, in
Dubai and Malaysia are four hours different. So to be able to serve
the Dubai market, we create a studio which
has a different time zone so they come in later
and they go home later. And the same for different
parts of the world. And that is very useful
because clients there can then interact
with us because of this adjusted working hours. The interconnected world– and
this goes back to what Thomas Friedman said about
the flat world– if you really know how
to work technology, you can be anything you want. And so we really adopted these
ideas really wholeheartedly and spent fortunes on
creating the perception that we are bigger than we are. By the way, I always
believe in over promising. The way we got the first
big job back in 1987 is a client asked us how
big we were, because they wanted to give us a project. And I asked them, well,
how big do you need to be? And they said, oh,
this is a big job. You need to have at least
a dozen or more people. We had four people
in the office. And I said, no, no, we
have that many people, lying through my teeth. So the client said, well,
in that case, that’s great. I’d like to come
and visit you guys. [laughter] Oh shit. So I had two days to call all my
friends, come sit in my studio with their work,
and we got the job. And within a short time
we grew to the size that we needed to be. So I always believe
in over promising, and that’s one of the ways that
we’ve gotten to where we are. You don’t think that’s
[inaudible] misrepresentation? Yeah, that’s one way
you could put it. And frankly, if we had
failed in that job, we would have been called out. We would have been called out. But fortunately we’ve
been lucky all along. Isn’t that what we
criticize Trump for? Yeah, OK. That’s true. [laughter] Our presence online
is very important, whether it’s through
any of these mediums to present ourselves. And I mentioned earlier about
being able to provide all the services under
a single entity– which is very
important globally– so we created a
protocol which we called the Veritas Integrated
Professional Services, or VIPS. And the sweet spot
is that red dot. And there are a few
projects that we provided all the
services in-house, including the engineering part. Marketing material–
we were very clear from very early days. This goes back 30 years almost. We found someone to run
our global enterprise and build the global practice. So a lot of marketing
material was built and created for that purpose, brochures,
videos, and so on. So this is where we were
in 2000 with only one office in Kuala Lumpur. This is us today. And like we said, our aspiration
is to be much more present. We have an office in
Portland, although it’s a bit quiet right now. We’re thinking of moving
that office to San Francisco. So one of the things that I
am always thoughtful about– be able to grow the brand– is I love to speak at
international fora. This is the fourth
conference or fourth speech I’ve given this year. We participate in
international exhibitions. We network with
various organizations. We benchmark with
industry leaders. We participate in many
international competitions. We love being featured
in publications, employing international staff. We have an English-only
policy in the office. Although you come from all
these different countries, you have to speak
English, that way you don’t exclude certain people. ISO is a very important
standard, international standard. It’s not very important
here in the US, but in the UK and
the rest of the world ISO is a standard
of quality which we’ve adopted, leveraging
on international contacts and publicizing our
international accomplishments. So through all these
activities allows us to expand throughout the world. I’m going to talk a little
bit about design now. The world is becoming
more and more complicated. Cultures are intermixing
with each other far more deeply than
they used to, so when we work in a
different country– different outside
our own culture– we have to quickly learn about
what is important to them. There are religious aspects
which manifest in architecture. There are local
materials, for example, that manifest in
the architecture, and traditions and history. So this is the kind of
composition of cultures– especially in
Asia– where we have to learn about them very quickly
and bring them into our work. So let’s see some
examples of that. Oh, and before that– so this idea of cultures
interacting and intermixing, you don’t even know
what this is anymore. Is this Western? Is this Asian? Is it South American? We don’t know. And this is happening in all
the fields of human interaction. Whether it’s cuisine or art,
everything is becoming fused. And the designers who
understand and can understand different cultures and different
histories and traditions are those who will
succeed in the world today, whether it’s the
fashion or architecture. And so practitioners
today need to understand the different
traditions in the world and find ways to
work within them. So for example, the work
that we do in Iran– we used to have an
office in Tehran. We’ve closed it now,
after the revolution. I’m sorry, after the
Green Revolution. It happened a few years ago. So this is one of
the towers that we’ve designed outside Tehran. And it takes certain aspects of
the local cultural elements– the Islamic elements,
the domes, the arches– and interprets them differently
into a high rise structure. One is an office tower
and the other one is a residential tower. This project in Dubai
is a shopping mall that was completed a few years ago. It’s a brand new building,
although it interprets using the same materials, which
is a particular kind of stucco that you see in the typical
architecture of the old city. And the wind chimneys– they
call these wind chimneys– which are used to bring in the
air to cool the buildings down so you don’t need to have
so much air conditioning. So we’ve introduced
them as well. So this is a brand new
building and it’s probably just a block away from the
more traditional quarter. So this is our work in Dubai. In Yemen, where we’ve
also done some buildings, this is a Hyatt Hotel
on the coast near Aden. What we did is we looked at
the traditional architecture of Sana’a– if anyone has been to Sana’a,
it’s a beautiful UNESCO heritage city– studying how things
are organized and how things are built
and reinterpreting that into a modern composition,
including, in fact, an interpretation
of the minaret– which is a particular
Islamic motif– into the overall composition. And so this is a 300-room
Hyatt Hotel in Sana’a. A project in Nepal, Kathmandu. I was just there. They have a great
tradition of brickwork and incorporating brick and
timber into their fenestration. You can see some
traditional buildings here. And this is the new
intercontinental in Kathmandu where we interpret that in
a more abstract manner using the same brick
material and timber that you can see re-interpreted
here in the windows. In China– where
we have some work– you can’t do work
in China unless you know this one word, feng shui. Anyone know what feng shui is? You know feng shui? You know what it is. It means wind and water,
and it’s very important. We can make fun of these
ideas, but really they are very important
to the Chinese. And in complexes like
the Forbidden City, this is basic organization
through the principles of feng shui. And many of these
principles actually have environmental implications. Buildings have to face south. Obviously that’s
a great solution for environmental reasons. And there’s many, many
other aspects of it. And unless you
understand feng shui, you can’t do work in China. It is very difficult. So
that’s one of the first things we’ve learned. So when we did this embassy– this is an embassy of
Brunei, a Brunei embassy– we respected the
principles of feng shui, but also as well taking elements
of Chinese architectural form– this is an imperial city– as well as traditional
Brunei architecture. Brunei is an Islamic caliphate. A Sultanate, rather. And so bringing together
these two elements with the heavy rock
walls for protection, we’ve created this
award-winning embassy on the outskirts of Beijing. Or here in this train station. This was built for the new
Beijing fifth line, which is the train station that goes
out to the new Olympic village. And we interpreted the
element of qi, or energy. And this is an Olympic
line, so again, taking elements of the
Olympics and interpreting them in the form of a
building in terms of the tension, the strength,
the power of tension that you see here
and interpreting that into this building. Or here in this project in
the Maldive– and by the way, this is one of my
favorite places to go– a simple island that
wasn’t big enough to accommodate the
program, so using the element of
the leaf extending the island to a series of
water villas, which is now completed, and it’s
really quite beautiful. And also looking at the
traditional Maldivian architecture and
form and interpreting that in a modern luxury villa. Here again in Iran we
are designing a museum– a high rise museum– where the main feature
was taking the calligraphy and using that, etching
that into very thin marble which, when at night,
would glow through. This was our interpretation. And these are not from the
Quran– which you cannot do, you cannot put the
Quran on the walls– but these are from Rumi, which
is a famous Iranian poet. So elements of
the poetry ends up becoming the wrapper
for the building. And that’s a way of
interpreting the local culture. Or in this project in Vietnam– which is a master
plan for a new city– and looking at the
elements that are important to the Vietnamese. And they are a very
ordered society. They always greet
people like this, with the symmetry
of their bodies. And the Lotus is a
very important part. So this city culminates
in a convention center– which you can see here– which is basically the
Lotus Convention Center. It’s still in its early
stages of planning. Or here– another
project in Vietnam– an office building, but
we gave it a wrapper. This is a very, very common
element, this Vietnamese dress. So whereas the building is a
very simple box, by wrapping it in this form you are
interpreting the way the fabric dresses over. And this project in Vietnam– an international school–
bamboo is a very common material there. They use it for a
lot of building. We’re using it here
in the form of sun shading along the corridors. OK. In Egypt, this was
for a museum project interpreting the building
from the sand dunes. And in Abu Dhabi, a master plan
inspired by Islamic geometry. So wherever we work,
we begin to find out what are some of the
elements in that culture that we can pick on and use,
and they become meaningful and they make sense
to the local populace. In this project– which was an
award-winning office tower– we took a very simple
idea of Islamic geometry and by simply removing one piece
of the pie every five stories, we got a 40-story tower which
was the Dubai Islamic Bank. Construction has begun. Unfortunately, it
is now put on hold because of economic reasons. But this was an
amazing opportunity. And interpreting the oasis– a traditional thing
you see in the desert– this residential tower
in Dubai introduces the oasis at the
rooftop as well as a series of oases in the
middle of the building. These are mini oases with
landscaping and water features that mimic what you
might see in the desert. In Qatar, part of
the new airport interprets the landscape– the
moving dunes of the landscape– into a roof from. This was the prospective and
this is the completed building today in Doha Qatar. And I think one of the
last ones in Bangladesh– the High Commission, the
British High Commission completed a few years ago– takes, again, forms of
Islamic architecture and reinterprets them in this
facade to cut down on energy. Now I mentioned
feng shui in China. In India, they have an entirely
different set of rules. They’re called vaastu. You’re familiar with vaastu? Vaastu– which, as
you can see the form– it’s very, very strict
rules about where you can enter a building. For example, you can’t enter
in the southwest of a building, for obvious reasons. But you can enter
in the northeast. And so these rules control
how architecture is organized. And if you don’t
know these rules, you really can’t work
in a country like India. So in this project,
this little development, you have to enter
in a certain way. So get to know the rules
of the local situation. Even when you have
a modern brand– and this is our
project in Mumbai. This was the Trump Tower. We talked about that earlier. But even an international brand,
when they place their finger on a city, they, again,
have to adopt and accept the local traditions. In this project, the
marketing insisted on large balconies and
family-type arrangements that you wouldn’t have in
any other city in the world. But in India, you
have to understand how a local society works,
what are the requirements. This building would
not work in Seattle. It wouldn’t work in downtown
LA, but it works in Mumbai. Samuel Huntington– who
is a Harvard scholar– wrote this book, Clash
of Civilizations, and it’s a very
foreboding title. And it suggests that if we
don’t begin to understand more about each other, we are
heading toward a world which is going to be in conflict. And I would like to
think of the world being a little bit more
optimistic than that, that if we, as architects
in our own areas, begin to understand how other
cultures think and work, perhaps we can succeed. This is AirAsia, one of
my favorite companies. It’s one of the fastest growing
airlines in the world and one of our clients–
we’ve just finished their corporate headquarters–
and they celebrate diversity. There’s people from all over
the world in their marketing materials. It’s like Benetton. You ever seen the
ads by Benetton? For me, that is an
aspirational idea. So I’m just going
to end with that. And if we have time–
do we have time? OK, I’m going to move
on to an interesting– can you do that, Pam? By the way, we have a prize at
the end of the talk for anybody who asks the most
intelligent question. So think about what
the question would be. OK, if we have time– how
much time do we have, Pam? About 30 more minutes. OK. So this is a topic which
is really interesting to me from a professional
point of view. This is not about export of
services or international blah, blah, blah. This is about our
own work in Asia. And this is something that
I’m very passionate about. It’s about the idea of
creating urban communities in the skyline. Let’s take you through it. OK, this is the thesis. Economic and environmental
considerations are influencing the
verticalization of our cities. This is especially true
in Asia where growths are absolutely astronomical. So urban spaces and
community engagement can no longer be confined
to the street plane. What I’m saying here is what
you have at the street level– all the interactions,
society, community, like Jane Jacobs used to
write about the importance of the street– it’s true and it remains true. But it cannot all happen on the
street when you are surrounded by 50-story buildings. It has to go somewhere
else as well. So urban spaces– oh sorry. Gardens, parks, circulation
networks, and all of that stuff that we have in our
traditional cities and towns, they have to appear
in the skyline. Fortunately technology is
allowing us to find solutions to this challenge. And I will show you, toward
the end of this, some case studies where we ourselves are
involved in many projects which I think begin to solve the
problems of densification of our cities. This is a story of my own city– and I was born
somewhere in here– and the population
is now up to here and it will climb to there. Now for us that is just a
crazy idea, because I grew up in a city of
two-story buildings, or maybe four-story buildings,
and wide boulevards and trees. But that’s not the city
that I’m seeing happen, and that’s not the city that
will be there in the future. We are now here, and
our density by the plan that there is, it’s going
to be Shanghai or more. And my city of Kuala
Lumpur is only this size. It hasn’t grown and it
will probably not grow, but more people are moving to
the city for economic reasons, primarily. Because as you know,
anyone who moves to the city, automatically
their income level goes up. And so this is a
major factor, not just growth of population in
terms of natural growth, but people moving to the
city for economic reasons. So this is what’s happened. Already we’ve seen the
per-square-foot amount of open space crash. And we expect that it will
be averaging about this. This is meaning
the ground plane. So the answer is, you
need to find other places. To get back this, it needs
to go somewhere else. And obviously the
suggestion is up in the sky. And what does that mean
in terms of design? This is Kuala Lumpur
about 60 years ago, a few years before I was
born, and this is it today. I mean, that is a hell
of a transformation. It’s almost like
a different city. And yet much of
Kuala Lumpur is still planned two-dimensionally. And I’ll get to that
later on, about what does it mean to plan
two-dimensionally versus three-dimensional
planning. The same is true for
many Asian cities. I mean, Boston when I
was here and Boston now don’t look too different. The skyline is about the same. Maybe a couple of new towers. But really, the Pru
there and the Hancock is there and everything else. A few other new towers. But look at Hong Kong. This is in the same
period of about 40 years. Hong Kong went
from that to that. Singapore went
from– in the last 50 years– went from that to that. And Shanghai, Manila,
I can go on and on. The Asian cities
have just gone nuts. So how do we deal with that? Cities are growing and
therefore becoming more dense at exponential rates,
especially in Asia. And within our lifetimes, 75%
of the population of the world will be in those cities. So this poses challenges
of livability. Innovative solutions
need to be found. And these challenges
include and are not limited to transportation,
energy consumption, resource and refuse management,
and social identity. What does it mean to live
in a of that density, where you have neighbors above
you, below you, next to you, and everywhere? So one way of dealing
with these problems is to think of the
cities not as– traditionally
planners are 2D plans. They think of plans. That’s why they’re
called planners, because everything is 2D. But I think the cities
of the future need to be planned like a matrix,
a three-dimensional matrix. Planners who think
that way are going to be able to solve the
challenges of their city. It’s like 2D chess
versus 3D chess. It’s an entirely different game. Looking back on the history
of this way of thinking, we find that there has
been a lot of thought. And this goes back to
the turn of the century. Here in New York, Moses King– he wasn’t a planner–
but he began to think of the
cities of the future. And New York didn’t
look like this in 1908. But he began to think of
cities surviving and living in multiple planes,
below ground, at ground, above ground. The city is no longer
something that activate only at the ground plane, especially
when you get to this density. The ground plane isn’t
enough to accommodate all that movement and activity. So you have the underground,
you have above ground links, pedestrian links. And in fact, this reminds me
of bits and parts of Hong Kong today, or Shanghai, or
even parts of Kuala Lumpur. You begin to have all these
different modes of thinking. This is 1908. Shortly after– and by the way,
if you haven’t seen this movie, please go and get
it and watch it. It transformed the way
I thought of cities. Everyone’s seen this movie? Yeah? No. 1926. Thank you. Fritz Lang, Metropolis,
and he imagined a city– and this is all
black and white– which lived at these
different levels. Someone imagined these
connections back in 1926. It reminds me of Blade Runner. In fact, the movie Blade Runner
was inspired by Metropolis, by the way, if you know the
history of science fiction and futurism. So for me– when I look at these
images from 1927 and the city today– I think maybe when we think
about the future cities, we should look at
science fiction. And science fiction gives
us so much to take from. And perhaps some of these
ideas will solve our cities of the future, because all the
transportation and movement and life of a city cannot
live just at the ground floor anymore. We have to– the community
has to occupy the skyline. Or what I call skyscapes. I’m going to bring
you back to the GSD. 1986. Thesis project. I was already passionate
about these ideas. I chose New York
City Times Square as the center of
my thesis project. And I was enamored by
Rem Koolhaas and his work with Delirious
New York, the idea that cities are living things. They’re not just concrete
and brick, and that in fact, buildings themselves
had a life of their own. Here we see a bit of incest
between the Empire State Building and the
Chrysler Building. We don’t really know
what’s going on here, but the Rockefeller
Center has caught them in the act of something. Yeah. And this is the, of
course, the famous image of the architect of the
Chrysler Building, Van Alen. So in my project– which was at the cross-section
of the two most exciting parts of New York, Broadway,
7th Avenue, 47th Street, 42nd Street area– imagined a city on
its end, basically taking the bits and
pieces of the city or town and putting them into
the vertical dimension with a series of elements
or objects in space. So Susan, I don’t know
if you remember this, but Jackson was busy
coloring this on the last day before thesis presentation. So here’s my building,
with a street that runs through it, a series
of escalators that take you into a world, an exciting
frame of elements which are a gymnasium, clinic,
hotel, museum, school, theater, restaurant, theme park. I put a theme park on
top of the building. What a crazy idea. Who would put a theme park? Wait until you see
my project later on. And an observation deck,
and crisscrossing the city with these elements. So this was the idea
of a vertical city. And here you can see
some Renaissance scholars maneuvering their way
through this new crazy idea. [inaudible] No, that was the Apple, the
first time we were using Apple. It looks like
computer-generated. This is Apple, first
Apple McIntosh. Oh. Of course, I didn’t
invent these ideas. These go way back. And in Unite d’habitation
by Corbusier, he began to imagine– this is
not even a very tall building– that the elements of
city living needed to be organized in the
vertical dimension. And you can see how he
organized that there. So when I talk about a vertical
city– and people often misunderstand. They think of a city like, say,
Chicago is a vertical city. But maybe not, because
a vertical city really is one which is composed
of a network of interconnected buildings where the
components of the urban fabric are organized vertically. Parks, offices, gym, clinic,
that is a vertical city, not just a bunch of tall buildings. And that’s what
I want to dispel. And there’s a lot of advantages
of thinking this way, and these are just some of them. I won’t go into detail. But one of the important ones
is thinking about energy. Energy, energy, there’s
something about energy here. And it reduced
energy consumption. Because when you’re dense,
your actual per capita usage of energy is actually
less because you have less to travel, you use
public transportation, you’re all in the same building. That’s why a person
living in, say, New, York uses much less energy per
capita than a person living in Los Angeles. It’s well known because
they’re all spread out. So these are some
of the advantages of this type of living. So basically the idea, you
take the horizontal city– which is made over the main
road, highway, the smaller lanes and roads– and you just put it on its end. So the main highway now
becomes the main lift core. There are smaller
lift cores which serve different parts of the
building or the vertical city. There are link bridges,
perhaps, to the next village, which is the next tower. And you take this idea
and you then build it. So if you look at
the horizontal city, the horizontal city is low rise,
there aren’t much open spaces, and vertical transportation
runs a short distance. So to go from one
building to the next, you wouldn’t have to go far. You just can go
down there and up. But what happens– and
all the energy of the city can be at the ground plane,
like Jane Jacobs said. That’s where the street
activity should be. And it works here
at the ground level if you have a low
rise horizontal city with low density. But what happens if you
then increase your density? What happens if
you go up to here? This is where the vertical
city solution becomes apparent. Landscape begins to
migrate up into the sky, giving you more green
space at the ground plane. You can have more parks and more
green because you’ve gone up. And this is, in fact, higher
density than here by 50%. So vertical circulation
then becomes a big issue. To go up to visit someone
in another building or if you lived here
and worked here, that’s a lot of
vertical movement. So the idea is you create what
Moses King was suggesting, what Metropolis was suggesting. And the activity now becomes
community living up there, and that is my dream. This is the way the future
city needs to evolve. So this is what
Jane Jacobs said. She was complaining
about office buildings and residential towers
which ignored the street. And so my answer to Jane Jacobs
is, the street is important, but they’re more than that. The streets need to migrate
up into the skyline. You create skyscapes. So the paradigm of before
was that’s your apartment and that’s maybe where
you interact with people. But in the future,
the common facilities are located around the building. Or in mixed-use developments,
we have different buildings. This is a mixed-use
development before. But in the future
we imagine things getting stacked up so that
parks, hotels, offices are all in the same
high rise tower. Or in some cases,
you can even create bridges between
the office tower, the apartment tower, the
hotel tower, and this becomes a fully self-sustaining
mini city on its own. Now these solutions are
possible because of technology. Structural solutions
are allowing us to go higher and higher. I was just here last week. And who knows where
this is going to go. We are just allowing
ourselves to get taller and taller to deal with
densification of our cities. Mechanical and electrical
systems, sustainability solutions, are also evolving. This is the Shanghai Tower and
it’s got a very innovative way to bring fresh air so that you
don’t have an air conditioning system, which serves
the whole building. You have multiple HVAC systems
which bring in fresh air at every layer of the building. So this is a truly
vertical city. Our lifts are getting faster,
they’re using less energy, and it’s incredible. If you look at that
Shanghai Tower again– this is like the
vertical city diagram I showed you with
main lift cores which serve the whole building– but
a number of other smaller lift systems which serve
clusters and little villages within the overall tone
of that single building. And lifts themselves,
I mean, there’s so much technology
happening with lifts. We’re having
double-decker lifts. We have destination-based
lifts which help to ease people moving
up and down building. And I don’t know if you
believe this or not– I’ve seen this functioning–
the hyperlift is already in operation. This lift goes up, it
then goes sideways– I kid you not– and then it continues up again. ThyssenKrupp from Germany
already producing this lift, and this is going to change
the way our buildings can be organized. You should know about
how these systems work. Escalators now don’t
go up single floors. They go up eight or 10 floors. This is in Hong Kong. And they even go in
between buildings. We have lifts crossing
streets, which is something I’ve dreamt of
doing to connect buildings across the street, like my
thesis project back in ’86. And part of the solution of
all this is transportation. Great public transportation
needs to be there at the ground or at different levels
to make it all work. This is our own
Kuala Lumpur map, and we’re involved in a lot
of the public transportation. This is the MRT lines. These are our MRT stations. We are doing a lot of
train station work, and we’re doing even the
high speed rail stations. These are the new stations that
we’ve designed in Malaysia. OK, now I’m going to show
you some case studies of how everything I’ve said–
including my thesis project– is now coming to
fruition in real life. The first one is a project,
a very modest project called Tribeca. But what’s unique about it,
it’s a mixed-use development with a number of
different components, but we’ve taken part of what
is normally found on the street and placed them in these
pods in the skyline. So here’s a section showing
it’s made of a hotel. There’s office, there’s
retail, there’s residential. And these pods in the
sky, it’s basically where people interact. You can see how
they’re created there. And this is a plan. And this is the rooftop,
conventional swimming pool at the rooftop. But the gymnasium
pod, the social pod– which is an interactive space– the zen pod, the
jungle pod, they’re all placed around the building. So in a way, you’re forced
to move through the building and the corridors
become streets where you bump into your neighbors. And you actually
can say hello, how are you, because you’re
forced to, because everything is distributed in that way. The W Hotel, which is
about to be completed, is also a very interesting
example of this. We worked on this with
SOM out of New York. What we’ve done is we’ve
taken what is conventionally on the street– which is the reception area,
the bars and the restaurants of the hotel– and we’ve taken it
up into the sky. There is some on the
street, but most of it’s now in the sky which enjoys a
view, because you don’t enjoy the view from the ground floor. We have hotels and apartments. And here’s the
interesting thing. We’ve designed the
hotel to have a link bridge to the next tower. So you can now
move between towers without ever going
to the street. And I’m not denying the
importance of the street. The street is important,
but it’s not the only datum that you need to move between. So here the sky
lobbies– everything’s happening up here on
level eight, nine, and 10, and that’s how you connect
to the next building. Here it’s actually going to be
handed over now anytime soon. In fact, we’re designing the
building next door to the W as well. And in fact, that’s
the same bridge that connects to
that bridge and it will come in to the hotel
part of the building. So you can now begin to move
between these various towers. And another interesting part of
this is the observation deck. I think buildings have
a responsibility, almost an obligation, to allow people– the public– to be
able to use them. I don’t like this idea
of private buildings which you can’t go in. So in this tower, we’ve
insisted on an observation deck to bring people up, and
you can see it up there. And these are some
images of what the observation deck will be. So in a way, it’s what I called
democratizing the skyline, allowing people who couldn’t
otherwise afford a hotel here or an apartment here to be able
to enjoy the view that they normally wouldn’t see. The Troika is a building
designed by Norman Foster. But the smart thing that
Foster did was he created– the Troika mean three towers– but here in the middle of the
building at about level 30 he created a double-story
height of link bridges that link all three buildings,
and that’s where the FNB is. The FNB is not at
the ground floor. So people get up– and
we design the interiors of all the restaurants there. So for the price
of a Coca-Cola you can now sit up here and
enjoy a view of the skyline that you wouldn’t
otherwise be able to enjoy. A project that’s about to
start soon is the SkyLine. It’s a conventional
residential development, but it’s got some
unique things about it. We organized all the
community engagement nodes and distributed
them throughout the tower. So the corridors and
bridges are the places where you interact with
the community here. In this plan you’ll see there’s
a bridge connection linking the two towers. There’s a lot of
interaction here. And the corridors
are not corridors. They’re streets in
the sky which are naturally ventilated with
views to the outside. So no matter where
you go, wherever you go through this
building, you’re always enjoying a street
kind of experience. And this is the
kind of interaction that we want to see happen
throughout the whole tower. And of course, the podium level
is where a lot of that action happens, but it’s not
only where it happens. And we created a lot of
little nooks and crannies just like in a town. Young people want
to go to a park and find some time on their own. In a crowded
condominium it’s hard, but by creating all these
hidden little parks and gardens distributed up
throughout the building, we have places for young people
to be able to go and hang out away from their parents. We talked about
bringing the green– the landscape– up, and
for us the Datum project is taking that idea
really all the way. The office tower
and the hotel tower have gardens on the outside
so that you can wind your way and go from the ground floor
all the way to the rooftop without ever entering
the building, because the staircases are
located in these spiral gardens that take you up. And of course, the
residential, the gardens also are there and
the office as well. So bringing landscape
into the towers, it’s a very important part of
what we call the vertical city. And in this project, we also
did this development next door. There has now decided
to be a link way– a retail link way– to
link this shopping mall with the shopping mall. You can see the bridge here. It’s sort of like
the SkyLine idea. Or sorry, the– Highline. Highline. Highline idea. Yeah, so there it is. We’re expecting construction
to happen this year. Another project in Johor. This is near Singapore. It’s quite a conventional
looking tower until you look at it carefully. And here it is. And we’ve introduced
these gardens, even though this is a
conventional office tower, and we were able to
convince the client to introduce this
observation deck where you for, I think $50 bucks,
you can go up and walk around this glass floor and get
scared out of your wits. I don’t know why people want
to be scared out of their wits for $50 bucks, but
it’s just a way to get people up
and enjoy the view. And you can see Singapore
here in the distance. So it’s nearing completion now. We always think of the top
floors of high rise buildings as a dead end. You get to the top floor of
a tower, where do you go? Back down. Here we’ve tried to take that
idea and turn it on its head. This is an existing
tower, and our client bought the site
next door and asked us to design a tower there. And he said, well, you can
connect the old building to the new building somehow. What we decided to do is change
the lift core of the existing tower– which is about
20-something stories– and link it back
with this bridge to the body of the
new tower, which is a mixed-use
development with hotel, offices, and so on, and
an observation deck. This is what makes the
building interesting. The top floor of this office
now is not a dead end. It’s just another way to get
to the building next door. This is the space. It’s a three-story atrium space. And this is where
their lounges are, and we have a restaurant
here and meeting rooms, and all that activity
happens in the connection. So it’s the idea of not
having a dead end at the top. And of course, at the very
top we have the dining area. I’m going to skip this one
because we’re running out of time. Skip this one here. This is a project that’s
nearing completion, and what we’ve done
here– this takes the idea of the transportation
at the ground floor, which is integral. Sorry. It’s really important for
these mixed-use developments to have great public
transportation, otherwise they don’t work
and you create traffic jams. So here we have the train
system that comes in. We have a bus and taxi terminal. We even have a ferry
terminal because this is on the waterfront. You can see it here,
it’s a ferry terminal. And everything integrates
so that the towers do not create a traffic nightmare
within the location of the area. And the project is now– the first phase is
nearing completion. I’ve got two more
projects to show, and this is where
it gets, for me, the culmination of my thinking
about the vertical city. The Oxley are three towers. Let me show you here. OK. It looks very much like the
diagrams I showed earlier on. We have residential towers,
we have hotel towers, and office towers. And these three towers
are linked by sky bridges into the key lobby
areas of the building. And this is where
all the activity, all the community activity–
the bars, the restaurants, and the clubs– are all located. So at level 40– you can see these
are the three towers and this is the connector
that bridges over all of them. Level 42, it’s a
three-story link. And at the very top,
at level 55, 56, we have the second bridge that
links the two other towers. So this is what
it will look like. So this is like, all right,
it’s really happening. We’re starting to link
these bridges up in the sky. We have two great brands there. The Sofitel and the
Jumeirah are there. This is just some of the images
of what the spaces look like. It’s under construction. Another two years and
it will be completed. The last project
I’m going to show– remember what I said
about a theme park? [laughter] You guys saw this, right? Oh, OK. OK. It’s under construction
in Kuala Lumpur. It’s an 80-story twin tower. This is residential. This is one hotel, and
this is another hotel here, and this is a theme park. This is all restaurants
and bars and clubs. So these are– all
the restaurants will have the best
view of the city. And there’s a high-speed lift
core that shuttles people from the entrance. It’ll drop off straight up into
the F and B complex up here. This is what it looks
like in section. And I kid you not, we will
have a 60-meter diameter Ferris wheel as part of a
theme park that’s embedded into the top transfer
floor of construction. So some of the brands
that are there, there’s Planet Hollywood on one side
and Porsche Design Apartments on the other. Structural system, and
this is the lift system. We have 32 lifts in
total, and this goes back to the idea of the streets. Each set of lifts handles
a different community and they interact
at different points. And I finally got my
escalators in the sky. These escalators zigzag across
the atriums at level 50, so it’s all coming true for me. And the theme park is
this two floors linking to the wheel at the very top. These are the Porsche
Design Suites, which we’re working with
Porsche out of Germany, Munich. And the SkyWheel. These are early sketches
of how it will work. There are many examples
of this around the world. This is in Singapore. It’s called the Singapore Flyer. Yeah. And these are some of the
brands and restaurants that we’re going to be having
up there on the SkyLine. We’ll be seeing this in
two years to be completed. So I know that some of
the images I’ve shown, there are a lot of– I sometimes get a very
negative reaction, like this is a dystopia
that you’re thinking about. But you know, here’s the thing. The cities are
getting more dense. What is your solution? Are we going to stop people
from moving to the cities? In China, you need permission
to move to the city. Are we ready to do that? Are we going to say, no,
we’re not allowing people to move to the cities. Or are we going to find
solutions to the technology and to the mechanical system,
to the structural systems, and to the design
solutions that I think are actually available to us? Because frankly, there isn’t
enough space for all of us to live our dream. We’d all are to live like
this on a golf course, but the reality is
there isn’t enough space on this planet for that. And I don’t want
to live like this. This is, for me, not my
view of a dense urban city. That is not a vertical city. That’s a city full
of tall buildings. In my view, this
is a possibility and I’m quite happy
to live in this city. Thank you. [applause] OK, I’m ready for
the brickbats now. I’m ready for the brickbats. Bring it on. So I don’t know if this is
just a comment or question, but when yous said
democratization of the city and you think about
the connectors between the buildings,
is that infrastructure? Is that private construction? How do you keep from having
a two-tiered society where people who can afford to be
on those connectors never have to step foot in a
decaying streetscape below? And so I’m just curious
thinking about who puts up that infrastructure and
who owns it and who manages it. Yeah. If you go to some certain
cities like Hong Kong– I’m sure many of you
have been to Hong Kong– there are already connectors
between the buildings at various levels, and that’s
all public infrastructure. Most of it is, anyway. In some of the
projects we’re doing, some of those
bridges actually it’s been a requirement of City Hall. City Hall says, if you want the
extra FAR we’ll give it to you, but you must give us a bridge
link to the next tower. So developers being developers,
they will want that, and so they build that
extra infrastructure. Now the question is,
does it kill the street? I get a lot of this question. Are we killing the street? I don’t think so. I think we’re just
creating other streets. The datum on ground floor
isn’t the only street. In fact, by making
it the only street you’re creating the
need to just move so much traffic up and down,
which may not be necessary. You could just go sideways. The question is
making that public. So far the work we’ve done,
these are all public spaces. Anyone can go into that last
project and just cross over. You don’t need permission. To go into private
zones, you need pass cards you need
security guards and so on. So we’re fighting hard making
sure these public zones remain public. But it’s a battle. Certain developers want some
of these spaces to be private, so we have to fight
the good fight. So after going to Kuala
Lumpur and seeing your work and everything and
walking around, I started to think that this
connectivity between buildings is in due part for the thermal
comfort of the people in places like Kuala Lumpur, which
are terribly humid, and Singapore and Hong
Kong and all these places. And so do you see
this model of sort of vertical connectivity
arising from a necessity to combat that? I mean, I can’t walk outside if
I live in Kuala Lumpur all day. As well as, do you see it– Would you be able
to replicate it in a place like, you
know, here in Boston or elsewhere where it is a
bit more comfortable to walk around? An interesting question. And here’s the
thing, these links– and there’s several others. You’ve seen them. We have links all over
the city now, right? Not so high. Most of them are at level
three, four, and five. Because most of them
are air conditioned– or some of them are
air conditioned, but others are not
but they’re covered– because people take them,
they’re reducing the traffic. And this goes back
to city management. These links that I’m talking
about encourage people to walk or in some cases cycle, and
therefore reduces the pressure on the street to
accommodate all the cars. So my idea is that, yes, this
is good for the environment. And people will use
it because of weather. And even in cold climates
like this, I mean, there’s parts of
the winter where you don’t want to walk outside. Seoul, Korea, Tokyo, Japan,
a lot of the connections are actually below
ground and they’re heated and you go shopping. So these links like
you saw in Metropolis should be at all levels, not
just below ground or at ground, but also above ground. You touched on this briefly,
I guess, in the answer to the previous question. But right now from
what you’ve described, we’re talking about
moving from one building to the next building or
a cluster of buildings in the same place. And we’ve also talked about
the need for public transit so that we’re not exacerbating
existing congestion conditions around a specific building. Have you thought about
how this idea scales up to be able to traverse parts
of the city at different levels of verticality beyond
maybe just moving across a pedestrian bridge? Because you mentioned sort
of biking from one place to another, are you envisioning
this to scale up to something? Like being able to go
20 blocks on some sort of either escalated–
oh sorry– a moving walkway or bike paths
or even some sort of tram in the sky? Yeah. We are working on
master plans right now– large 100-acre master plans
which have dozens of towers– and we are encouraging
our clients, not always successfully,
but to think of the master plan in multiple levels. So there is a primary
transportation level where cars and service
vehicles are maneuvering, then there is a pedestrianized
level where people can walk through without
ever having to worry about being hit by a car. And that pedestrian level is
the primary datum, and then other links and
other bridges that connect the towers as
you go up, like you saw in Moses or King or Fritz Lang. So multiple levels. If you have an existing
city, an existing condition, it’s harder to make the
changes because that means interfering with
existing activity in towers. But in some cases,
it may be needed. I know that in Hong Kong
and parts of Shanghai they’ve already
introduced these things. Working with
building owners to– because it’s an advantage
to building owners if they have these links. Retail now can happen
not just at the ground. Retail is a very
valuable activity. So if you take it up,
you’re getting more value above the ground. But certainly when you
have a large master plan and you’re starting
That’s right scratch, it’s much easier to
implement these things. Yeah, good question. Hi, I’m Yen. I’m from Singapore. And thank you for your talk. So I’m actually
very well acquainted with the typology
in Southeast Asia. I’m just interested
to know that, yes, you have all of your innovations
on the bridge level, which is usually the pretty
part of the South East Asian developments. I’m actually more
interested in how you’re going to resolve
the podium problem, because in all the
developments you’ve shown so far there’s almost
like six stories of podium and probably car parking
most of the time. That’s right. And I think that has to do with
the regulation in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore,
of ridiculous, like, one retailer to one
parking lot situations that we end up with
such situations. So I’m just interested to know
how does your firm actually– at least probably in
the future– attempt to tackle this problem? Instead of creating big walls
of ground story retail and then you have this big set
chunk in the middle. Yeah, you can see a
lot of those chunks. Yen, is it? Yes. What he’s pointed out is one of
the things about Asian cities. We love our cars
still, and so we tend to provide too many car parks. And they cannot go below ground
because it’s too expensive. So they tend to go in these huge
boxes of up to eight stories high of car park. And that is, for
me, an impediment to the idea of
connecting across. And in fact, if we think
about the future city, we shouldn’t have so many cars. If you have great
public transportation under there or above
there, you should not have the private car. In Singapore what
is happening because of the prevalence of Uber–
actually, no more Uber. GrabCar just bought Uber. And ride sharing is such a
common experience in Singapore. More people take ride
sharing than own cars now that the car parks
are becoming empty. In fact, the top floors
of car parks in Singapore are being converted into food
courts and community work areas. So the future, hopefully, is
we don’t have those boxes. And I hope that will
happen because they are an impediment to creating
these links across the sky. And it just
encourages more people to own cars, which I
think are the biggest disaster for cities. Thank you very much, David. We’ve got one more, one more. Yeah, just a quick
comment probably. I think it’s very much
related to the last comment on public
transportation because I was working on public
transportation in Malaysia. And from the federal
government, they’re investing a lot on funding
most transit projects. So one of my experience
was in KL Like if I speak about KL City,
it’s like a city in layers. So if you really consider at one
point of time how many people are on the second
layer of the city, or third layer of the
city, that’s quite huge. But my question to you is,
I worked on KL Klang region. So KL is very highly– like
you have all the towers, high affair, and all that. But when you start going
towards Klang, it’s more like– so I am just referring one
scholar, [inaudible] Barter. He is from [inaudible]
in Singapore, but he was describing
this in terms of automobile-dependent city
versus traffic-saturated city. And the road length in
kilometer per thousand person is much higher in Malaysia
than other Asian cities. So how do you see the future
of the Klang Valley region when you speak about–
because right now it’s not very highly dense. You don’t have all the towers. It’s mostly low
rise developments. The divisions I’ve given
here are for the CBD. It’s for the center
of the cities. When you look at a
city skyline, I’m talking about where you see
all the highest densification. And by the way, that
area is going to grow and it’s going to grow this way
and it’s going to go that way. And these are some
of the solutions. When you go beyond a certain
point and the densities become to drop, the ideas I’ve
talked about are not as valid. But even in those places the
public transportation solutions are just as important,
because whereas in the density one station can serve a few
100,000 people, when you go to the suburbs,
a station is not going to serve that many
people because everything’s much lower and more spread out. And this is where what they call
the last mile of connectivity– first mile, last mile–
is really important. So we’re doing many stations
now in the Klang Valley. The new LRT3, you
know about that? We’re doing all the stations. But that will not solve
the problem of suburbia. No one’s going to walk or cycle
two kilometers going to a train station. [inaudible] That’s where– exactly. That’s the system. Either you must be within
cycling distance or at least a feeder bus system to
be able to get that. So planners of
transportation need to think beyond just the
provision of the mainline. It’s a whole ecosystem, and it’s
a very interesting challenge because culturally
and by practice, depending on the weather, people
will not go a certain point before they get into– or they’ll just go in the car. They’ll get in the
car and they’ll take their car, which
undermines the whole purpose of the whole system. So it all depends on the density
that you’re dealing with. Different solutions
for different density. These solutions are
for the city center, which are getting
bigger all the time. OK, Brad. Thank you very much, David. [applause] Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody.


One thought on “Alumni Insights Lecture: Experiments in Global Design Practice: The VERITAS Adventure

  1. I don't buy it … he's not half as happy as he claims being such a mixed bag of whatever.

    If this is quality of so called ivy league education I'm glad I saved my parents hard earned money.

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