HY William Chan presenting at Venice Architecture Biennale

Sustainable architect and urban strategist HY William Chan has found himself a new niche with Arup in Berlin.

Mr Chan is consulting in Foresight + Research + Innovation, Arup’s internal think-tank and consultancy under the mentorship of Dr Gereon Uerz, leader of Foresight and Innovation Europe.

Before heading overseas, Mr Chan was most recently with Cox Architecture in Sydney, and had a technical design role at Transport for NSW’s Sydney Metro Delivery Office.

He has also worked with HASSELL on projects including the Arup JV North West Rail Link master plan and urban design, and was involved with the Committee for Sydney Future Leaders Forum, taught by Dr Chris Luebkeman, Arup fellow and global director for Foresight + Research + Innovation.

“Learning from Chris opened up my mind to the potential of not only analysing future trends and emerging drivers of change but to apply our understanding to actively shape the future of the built environment,” Mr Chan said.

“The beauty about the future is that it is not predetermined – this means, as innovators, we have the opportunity to design and influence the future that we want, one that makes the world a better place.”

With funding from a travelling scholarship, Mr Chan had the opportunity to present on his work at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale as part of a session on Resilient Environments.

“My project involved strategic visions of architectural resilience and sustainability through the urban, social and economic rehabilitation of existing buildings and spaces.”

He said the event presented a design approach where architects operate as “strategic thinkers capable of reimagining the future between various operative fields, stakeholders and types of expertise”.

A personal highlight was also meeting the curator of the international exhibition of the Biennale, and Pritzker Prize winner for 2016, Alejandro Aravena.

“We discussed how social and environmental urgencies are disrupting the architectural profession and how the next generation of architects can address this.”

The opportunity to remain and work in Europe came about after he was awarded a European Commission training grant that supports early career professionals and researchers to relocate to EU countries.

According to Mr Chan’s Arup mentor Dr Gereon Uerz Dr Uerz, young professionals like Mr Chan not only bring engineering or scientific expertise but also cultural diversity to the organisation.

“At Arup Berlin, we are always looking out for international talent. William has a lot of experience already that adds value to us and our projects while we hope he also enjoys exploring the city of Berlin,” he said.

Designing and applying the circular economy

Mr Chan’s current project for the consultancy is about designing and applying the circular economy in the urban context. He will be investigating how cities can be restorative and regenerative by design, with the aim of keeping products, components and materials at their highest utility or value at all times.

“Increasingly smart cities will play an influential role in the transition towards a circular economy, especially with the understanding of supply chains, data stores through building information modelling and the internet of things.

“A particular challenge will be the issue of resource and waste flows generated by cities, which also presents an exciting opportunity for cities to act as material banks. The intersection with urban governance and political leadership will also be another critical factor.”

Mr Chan told The Fifth Estate the innovations happening in Germany were exciting.

“One of the simplest but far-reaching initiatives I’ve noticed since living here is the plastic and glass bottle recycling program,” he said.

Bottles in the country are designed for continuous reuse, and Berlin citizens are taught to place them outside public bins so low income persons can collect them for refunds.

“This economic model prevents waste, provides financial incentives for the needy and keeps public spaces clean from litter.

“There are also supermarkets with no packaging, where you have to bring your own containers, as well as tool libraries or borrowing shops where items are lent in a grassroots sharing economy.”

Another inspiring innovation is the city’s co-housing scene, which is demonstrating a “creative approach to affordable living”. It is an example Sydney can learn from, he said.

“The waterfront Spreefeld cooperative in downtown Berlin, for example, brings together integrated public space, shared kitchens and co-working spaces for community use.

“With a culture of self-help, DIY and community living, rental costs are kept down. The movement has also helped save old, beautiful buildings in Berlin from being demolished in areas facing gentrification.”

Mr Chan said some of the ideas he is seeing put into practice could definitely be valuable in the Australian context.

“There is a lot of potential to push forward with innovative foresight in bringing together both digital disruption and low-tech community development to support new economies.

“In Australia, the challenge we face is transforming thought leadership into ‘action’ leadership. We have to take the risks and just start ‘doing’.”

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