The talented student from MMU who scooped the prestigious ‘Corus Architecture Award 2009’ for his sustainable urban village design took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about why sustainable architecture is the future. Romulus Sim, 23, tells us how he is inspired by traditional architecture such as yurts and bediuon tents and why sustainable architecture is all about creating better and healthier places to live.
1. Looking at your previous work using recycled mattresses, it’s clear that you are concerned with issues of sustainability. Why do you feel its important to focus on sustainable architecture?
I feel that I have the responsibility to approach the design of cities/living environments/buildings etc in a manner that is sensitive to our surroundings – whether this refers to the environment, its cultural context or history/future. It is my understanding the term ‘sustainable’ encompasses a consideration of the environment, which also includes how this affects social cohesion and economical viability. Hence, I think that by focusing on sustainable architecture, we are not only helping the immediate environment, but we also making better places to live. We aren’t thinking about the design of future cities, but of the design of cities with a future.
2. What sparked your interest in climate change and sustainability?
I can’t quote a single point of reference which sparked my interest because it’s been a gradual development of interest as I delve further into the field. It’s always been something which forms part of how I would approach thinking about design. I suppose my involvement in sustainable desert design in Libya, along with university projects have further cemented my initial curiosity, and has now developed into something which I very strongly believe in.
3. Is there a piece of sustainable architecture that you find inspiring?
I think that the design of some traditional pieces of architecture like Yurts, bedouin tents and even ancient walled cities are great points of inspiration for sustainable architecture. Of course, the 21st century offers great opportunities to really push the meaning of what it means to be sustainable – in that it’s not just about designing individual ‘green’ buildings but to also make cities highly liveable.
4. What opportunities do you feel are open to Manchester becoming more sustainable in its architecture?
I feel that there are plenty of opportunities specifically for a post-industrial city like Manchester – for example, weakly programmed areas of the city like post-industrial sites, derelict buildings, disused viaducts and especially the (currently underused) canal network pose as great starting points which could be seen as nodes for growing a healthier city. Manchester is the perfect canvas. A holistic approach is desirable which considers not just the carbon footprint of an independent building, but each piece of design responds to the city.
5. Finally, what was the inspiration behind the design of your vertical community in the city?
Le Corbusier’s vision of living streets in the sky was one of the early references which inspired the way I thought about high-density living in urban settings – which suggested that these places to live didn’t necessary have to become the high-rise horrors of post-war developments. In fact, if it is well-considered, they could be efficient living environments which are vibrant, exciting, and promising.
Of course, Corbusier’s vision was born in the late 1940’s and to design in the 21st century, that idea had to be adapted where we need to address issues we’re facing in current urban settlements like population density, energy, food supply and demand, climate change, etc (this isn’t to say that we didn’t face these issues in the 40s, but there was certainly a lack of interest and awareness/effort).
These current issues were then used to derive a solution in the form of a sustainable living system/community, which is not only self-sufficient but also encourages the growth of a healthier city by the way it interacts with the rest of the city.