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    “Firmness, commodity, and delight.” - John Choi on what makes good architecture and how Australian design is evolving with globalisation

    Stephanie McDonald

    John Choi, partner of CHROFI, was part of the judging team at the 2015 World Architecture Festival. 

    He graduated in architecture from University of Sydney with honours in 1996 and established Choi Ropiha Fighera in 2000.

    He is also an Adjunct Professor of Architecture at University of Sydney, and serves on the board of 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.

    Architecture and Design spoke to him about why entering awards is important, how increasing urbanisation is impacting on Australian design and how architecture students are changing.

    You were one of the judges for the World Architectural Festival. What are the top three attributes that you looked for in entries?

    If I had to say three, I would go with Vitruvius – firmness, commodity, and delight. It should be technically well resolved, provide multiple value, and is a joy to experience. 

    Entering awards can take up a lot of time and effort. Why is it important for architects to enter these types of awards programs?

    Awards programs like the World Architectural Festival’s World Building of the Year provides the opportunity to reflect on one’s own work. They all ask the same question – why is this project worthy of recognition? 

    Hence, the award provides a platform to reflect on the project outcomes from a broader perspective – values that might apply more broadly to field of architecture and society at large. It helps architects to better articulate their particular contributions and in turn, find more opportunities to grow in that direction.

    How would you compare Australia to the rest of world's architecture? What is unique about it?

    Australia is a relatively new country with a small population on a large landmass that is geographically remote from rest of the world. Unlike other established countries, we've been fortunate to have a unique combination of wealth and space that’s provided opportunities for emerging architects to build new ideas.

    We've been exceptionally strong in residential architecture. The breadth and depth of residential architecture in the country is unmatched – quite exceptional given our population base. 

    In recent times, with increasing urbanisation, Australian architects are more active in urban typologies and pushing out to the full breadth of the built environment in all its complexity. And with globalisation, Australian practices are competing with international practices for business and cultural capital, for projects here and overseas. I suspect these dynamics are driving our engagement in global urban and architectural dialogue. Australia’s high participation and success rate in international award programs such as WAF is one indicator of this.

    Australia is a very multicultural country. Do you think this is reflected in our architecture?

    Yes and no. I think the idea of national identity itself has become more fluid and complex with globalisation. Artistic and cultural ideas spread quickly across country boundaries and cross pollinate. I would say Australian architecture is shaped by the climate, landscape and interests of individual architects, rather than their cultural background.

    What is one country you think Australia could be learning from?

    Rather than one country, I prefer the idea of learning by comparing different places and cultures – investigating their differences to take a position on what might suit here. 

    You're an Adjunct Professor at the University of Sydney. Are there any student attributes, such as the way they think or approach architecture, that you think hints at a change in the industry in Australia?

    Students are increasingly aware of the ‘behind-the-scene’ dynamics that shape our built environment – economics, ecology, social, infrastructure, politics and governance. They are beginning to understand the inter-related nature of these dimensions, and how the structure of these relationships have evolved and can be re-imagined. This will help contextualise where architecture and architectural thinking can best serve the world in years to come.

    You started your practice in 2000. What has been the most significant change to your practice since its inception?

    Back in 2000, it was very early days of the digital. We didn’t use the internet, computers had less storage than USB sticks of today and fax was the primary form of digital communication. So the tools that we use for work are probably the biggest change!

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