Meet Calvin Fung and Joseph Mwaisaka, Laka Competition 2015 laureates

We have just recently heard about this year's edition of the Laka Competition being a tremendous success. Against the aftermath of these events, ARQA investigates the careers and further development of the laureates of the former edition of the Laka Competition.

Out of more than 100 entries from 30 countries, these projects have been awarded the main prizes in the competition by an international Panel of Judges, consisting of leaders in architecture and design, renowned experts, educators, researchers and practitioners.

Laureates of the Laka Competition 2015
• Calvin Fung: 1st prize, “Fluid Architecture” > https://lakareacts.com/competition/winners/1st-prize/
• Joseph Mwaisaka: 2nd prize, “Alveolus” > https://lakareacts.com/competition/winners/2nd-prize/

We asked them a few questions, in order to provide some insight to our readers:

Where did the inspiration come from? An analysis of the context, a personal experience or something else?

​C.F.: The current context of rapid change and customization had prompted the question of how architecture could begin to do the same. I have considered many mechanical and electronic solutions initially, but I was never satisfied as I felt they were all very limited. What I was looking for was this seemingly ‘magical’ amorphous material that appeared to be the stuff of science fiction. I then encountered this emerging area of material research in architecture and was totally captivated by it: first by its performance, but what really excited me was its social potential. Through the intelligence of the material, it afforded the possibility of widespread engagement and participation to shape one’s environment.

J.M.: I could say it came from the many sad nuances of green architecture’s blitzkrieg that I had seen proliferated in much of the world’s leading cities. You see global warming extirpating nature and threatening planetary life, and the response we casually provide is based on man being the primary clientele. We respond by designing for man in a context where nature is the ultimate victim. The architecture then sadly becomes so ‘protective’ rather than combating and repatriating the lush greenery our predecessors were once accustomed to. I started asking myself, where exactly did we go wrong? I had read about Linfen and seen several documentaries regarding the prefectural city and I thought that if we were to begin this radical approach towards green cities and repatriating the troposphere, Linfen would be the best place to start. Carbon capture could not only halve the cost of global warming but it could restoring Linfen to the ‘Modern fruit and flower’ town: resonating with past glory. But the worry was how Architecture would inevitably react to such a stimulus. Would it even look like a building after all?

What did the process of the project development consist of?

C.F.: The project was a technical material exploration focusing on process more than performance. Working primarily in the physical realm, we looked at how to handle and manipulate the material. Different deposition techniques and supplementary tools/systems including pneumatics were investigated as well as different environmental conditions. Using a design-build competition as a background, logistics and issues surrounding deployment were considered. Conventional methods of representation and documentation were also challenged during the course of development. Underpinning all of this however, was the idea of the user and the concept here was formulated based on reflections I had months after these investigations.

​​J.M.: I started by understanding the factors that inhibit large scale air purification techniques in cities and the steps taken to curb pollution in Linfen…you know, trying to see a way in which the architecture (which was unknown at that time), could corroborate with the measures taken to close the loosely regulated private mines. Is there an existing framework that would influence the program of such a design? How would the spatial program embody the framework/process of large scale air purification? And from initial sketches made detailing the process, the built form started to materialize. In the end you see this floatscraper resenting almost all sequestration techniques and hinging mostly on the idea of restoration.

What are your expectations regarding the possible implementation of your idea in a near future?

C.F.: I have actually been fortunate enough through another subsequent competition to construct a form of the idea. That experience far exceeded my expectations in terms of its reception and performance. Whenever you have the opportunity to bring a concept to life you confront many challenges, but you can also discover many delightful surprises. In this particular case, it overwhelmingly verified the social component of such a concept, which has not been discussed much in the discourse. With further development I expect people will discover new uses for this material.

​​J.M.: Possible implementation… well, Alveolus is designed to exist in 3 forms: Gigantua, which resembles the scale of the Burj, a medium sized module and small sized module. I think, Alveolus can’t succeed to its fullest potential without nations playing their part in curbing global warming. Imagine how cities will become healthier for the younger generations if nations adopted Alveolus. Once such a piece of architecture establishes itself in this constantly changing world, maybe architectural alchemy will start addressing clearly what the purpose of our built space is. Maybe we could witness a new typology in the discourse.

What are your thoughts on the role of a competition in sharing and promoting your ideas?

C.F.: With my recent successes, I would say they definitely have played a big part in getting my ideas out there. Competitions are a great platform for testing and exploring. In architecture they can be extremely valuable, but there are very many of these opportunities so being strategic about the ones you do invest your time in is important. The network and the operation that Laka is developing has really extended the reach of the ideas. It is far greater than I had expected and even after the competition they continue to push the dialogue, which deserves praise.

​​J.M.: I love it and I’m thankful for it. The youth of today are the future of tomorrow and they lack cognition and awareness on several matters that concern much of our existence. So if we could just plant the idea in their minds that we need to address saving our planet in different ways such as Alveolus, Fluid Architecture, the Human Hive etc. we could then change the world for the better. Thanks to the Laka Team and all media publishers for getting these ideas across. Without the promotion, the ideas would just lay afloat in cyberspace.

What other problem areas do you see and wish to work on in the future?

C.F.: First, as the project developed I found myself constantly thinking about perhaps humanitarian relief applications. I’m aware that this is a very challenging area, but it is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. There is room for innovation, but it definitely requires a sensitive approach. Secondly, within the realm of design, the work has generated a personal interest in the notion of chance and contingency as a force that can meaningfully shape architecture, but is however typically resisted by conventional design methods. Furthermore, on methods, the research here crosses disciplinary boundaries, which I think is critical in addressing many of the complex problems we face. I would love to see more of and be a part of these types of solutions.

​​J.M.: I would still like to explore more on climate change and low income housing. Just recently I completed a thesis project entitled ‘Endangered Spaces’ that proposed a new facility for an existing elephant orphanage in the savannah grasslands of Kenya, arguing on how to design spaces for both elephants and man in a way that they resonate with the two users and revere the topography and context. We worked hand in hand with the caretakers of the orphanage and numerous challenges brought forth a new directive in conceiving what turned out to be a new typology. The problems of structural change in cities also offers a platform in addressing housing for future urban areas. So yes, problems will always be there and architecture will be there too. Eager to react!

Laka Competition is an international architectural competition which seeks innovative ideas that go far beyond typical building solutions, are socially engaged, capable of reacting to unpredictable conditions (environmental, natural, social) and provide safety for its inhabitants. The main evaluation criteria in the competition have been to indicate an architectural, social or environmental issue to solve, analyze it accurately and choose an architectural solution that “reacts” and resolves the indicated issue.

More information > https://lakareacts.com/

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