HY William Chan, photo: Victoria Baldwin

3 April 2014 – University of Sydney graduate architect HY William Chan who received the 2014 Student Prize for the Advancement of Architecture in the Australian Institute of Architects’ 2014 Australian Achievements in Architecture Awards says there’s not much focus right now on post-occupancy evaluation of buildings. His honours thesis at University of Sydney (he won the University Medal in Architecture) was a post-occupancy study of Common Ground in Sydney and in this work he looked at thermal performance, acoustics and lighting. Willow Aliento reports

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Architecture has taken HY William Chan around the globe as he applies his skills to assisting communities in need.

He has also spent the last 12 months collaborating via virtual meetings with other architects from around the world on a project with Columbia University in New York’s Centre for Sustainable Urban Development on a travelling exhibition building on the work of Global Studio and the work which he and the other Global Studio participants have done in places like Bhopal in India, and Diepsloot, a slum in Johannesburg. Last year the project exhibited in eight different countries.

Also during that time, he was a research scholar at the Australian Government’s Department of the Environment, and researcher at the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, working with the Landscape Analysis team in the Sustainability Policy and Analysis Division within the department in Canberra. As well as all of that, he works on a project-by-project basis for HASSELL.

Sustainability has been a critical part of Chan’s developing practice. His honours thesis at University of Sydney was a post-occupancy study of Common Ground in Sydney, to establish what might have changed in relation to the actual sustainability performance of the building. While it had been designed to met sustainability benchmarks, whether they were being achieved after people moved in to the project was the question.

“There is not much focus on post-occupancy evaluation of buildings,” Chan told The Fifth Estate.

His study looked at aspects including thermal performance, acoustics and lighting, and the resulting thesis gained him first class honours and the University Medal in Architecture.

The AIA Awards Jury Citation mentioned other major contributions in the field of sustainability.

The Citation states, “Chan’s commitment to sustainable design is evident in his extensive involvement in the national committees and initiatives of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the Australian Institute of Architects’ National Review Panel on Climate Change and the Australia and New Zealand Student Architecture Congress. He was an Australian delegate at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15), is a Green Building Council of Australia Future Green Leader and is involved in the sustainability committee of his employer, Hassell.”

Architecture is about people – and improving their lives

The Student Prize for the Advancement of Architecture was presented to Chan by renowned Finnish architect, Professor Juhani Pallasmaa. In his acceptance speech, Chan told the audience that what drove him to do the kind of work he has undertaken was the realisation he came to during the course of his degree that architecture “isn’t about buildings, it’s about people.”

Speaking with The Fifth Estate by phone from Sydney a few days later, he says he found it “inspiring to understand how sustainability can improve people’s lives.”

“In slums it is crucially important to get [sustainability] right. It was an eye-opener to me to understand how sustainability really impacts livelihood. In that urban environment, [also] the social side is as important as the environmental side.

“It is something I have been interested in since high school. Looking at the profession, architecture is still focused on being “green” and satisfying certain criteria [but] a lot of the time, it needs to be a more social approach.”

At Deipsloot, the Global Studio project used a participatory design and planning process.

“In each city [where Global Studio does projects], we partner with local universities and collaborate with the slum dwellers. Essentially, they become empowered to be architects and design-thinkers, and we become facilitators,” Chan says.

“In Diepsloot, my team designed an arts and cultural centre that used vernacular materials, local labour and provided educational opportunities. The local residents and universities continue the projects. One good example is the water and sanitation team, which is continuing still with great success.”

In Bhopal, the site of one of the world’s worst chemical spills, Chan was part of a team developing an urban renewal masterplan which connected the old and new cities, with a process of in-depth community consultation preceding design and involvement by heritage and environmental experts.

Shortly Chan is due to depart Australia again, for two weeks in Medellin, Colombia with UN Habitat’s World Urban Forum.