Singapore-based architect, academic and host of Channel NewsAsia TV series City Time Traveller Jason Pomeroy talks about his travel adventures and the next big thing in local design.
Tell us about some funny/meaningful experiences from filming your series.
I think the whole period of filming has been a meaningful experience. It isn’t every day that you get to explore 12 cities in 6 countries in a 3-month period! It’s like cramming years of architectural education and research over a long weekend! I’ve had the privilege of travelling the world extensively, but the more you travel, the more you realize how little you actually know, which is an amazingly humbling experience. I’ve watched the Hindu rituals on the river Ganges in Varanasi, I’ve participated in the ancient tea ceremony in Kyoto, I’ve stood at the pinnacle of the Birds Nest in Beijing and observed the skyline, I’ve climbed the ancient ruins of Wat Chai Wattanaram in Ayutthaya, and paid respect to the altar of Emperor Khai Dinh in his "palace of death" in Hue. All have left their indelible mark on me.
Which are your favorite places in the world to visit for their architecture?
My top 2 would have to be London and Venice. London s where I was born, raised and previously worked. It’s the perfect blend of ancient, historic architecture and contemporary architecture. I love the Roman ruins in the old city; Christopher Wren’s Baroque masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral; and modern interventions, such as Renzo Piano’s tallest mixed use building in Europe, the Shard. The street and market culture is also captivating, and the structures that retain them, such as Borough Market. As the poet Ben Jonson said, "if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life."
Venice is one of the places where I lecture every summer in an urban design workshop at the University of Venice. Every little alleyway and canal explored reveals something more about this historic city that was an epicenter for trade, commerce and culture for centuries under the Ducal rulers of this magnificent city. Arabian, Asian and European traders of the past have been replaced by tourists today, but the vestiges of its former glory are preserved as an urban museum of nostalgia which I constantly enjoy wandering around.
What issues are closest to your heart when it comes to Singapore?
I’m conscious of the increasingly high-density nature of Singapore, and therefore constantly strive for a "spatial sustainability" in addition to "social sustainability". After all, how can we foster a sense of community and neighbourhood when there is not the space to do so? You can’t talk about society without talking about the space in which society can meet and greet, interact and hang out. Spatial sustainability is all about the replenishment of space for society’s interaction, in a world where space is constantly being depleted as quickly as our natural resources. So I think the skycourt and skygarden are important alternative social spaces that should be developed to help replenish the loss of space.
What changes do you hope to see in Singapore soon?
A greater realization that creativity in design isn’t about surface treatment but should go to the core of a society’s culture and climate. One thing my travels and research has shown me is that there is almost a Darwinian process of evolution entrenched in design. Just as Charles Darwin spoke of a theory of evolution through the survival of the fittest, so too is there a process of survival for the strongest design ideas, that are often rooted in solid cultural and climatic principles. Superfluous detail and design treatments will not survive and will be forgotten, but the cultural traditions and events of people that have been developed and reinforced over time, and a place’s climatic conditions will always provide the bedrock to solid design solutions that will continue to evolve and strengthen.