Artist’s rendition of ‘Pluribus Unum’, a proposal submitted in the 2018-2019 Edition of the annual Richard H. Driehaus Architecture Competition in Spain by Seville architects – Abelardo Linares del Castillo-Valero and Elena Jiménez Sánchez. The project proposal won first prize in Jaca for a new town square with refurbished facades and interiors, creating a new public space with cultural and commercial opportunities. Image courtesy driehauscompetition.com via Harriet Wennberg.
INTBAU (the International Network of Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism), founded by HRH Prince Charles, is a global network dedicated to creating better cities with traditional building, architecture and urbanism. Having signed a Chapter Agreement, Think City is now recognised as the official host of INTBAU Malaysia, representing the 33rd chapter of the global network, with access to their arsenal of experts. Harriet Wennberg, Executive Director of INTBAU tells us about their proudest achievements.
Please tell us about your mission and how you approach your goals.
INTBAU’s mission is to create better places to live through traditional building, architecture, and urbanism. Our work is about education and advocacy, and mainly focuses on workshops, summer schools, study tours, conferences, awards, and competitions. My job as Executive Director is to run the centre of the network, to give INTBAU an international presence and relevance. We’re a horizontal organisation, meaning that all chapters have a different and equally valid approach that arises from local challenges and opportunities facing the built environment. This can then determine the sort of projects they run, with and for whom, and for what outcomes.
What are some of your proudest achievements, your strategies for those projects and the outcomes?
For me personally, it’s been rewarding to see our biennial World Congress start to develop into a major global event which attracts a wide range of participants, partners, and supporters. These conferences have themes of global relevance, like rapid urbanisation, and are designed to widen the conversation beyond those who already think traditional architecture and urbanism have something to offer in 2019. The next of these events will be in November 2020, and we’re looking forward to having Think City and INTBAU Malaysia involved!
What are your observations of Malaysia, its built heritage and urban environment?
I’d better start by confessing that I haven’t yet been to Malaysia – something I hope to correct soon. My impression prior to meeting Hamdan, Jia-Ping, Duncan* and others with Think City was mainly based on images I’ve seen of Kuala Lumpur. Now I have a bit more of a detailed view, and have the sense that Malaysia is a place of extraordinary variety and diversity that can all fit together as a whole. What I now picture when I think of Malaysia is a tall skyline of very modern buildings from a distance, that narrows to the finer grain of streets of traditional buildings such as shop houses once you’re closer in.
*Hamdan Abdul Majeed – Managing Director, Think City, Jia-Ping Lee – Programme Director, Think City, Duncan Cave – Consultant, Think City
While there are no cookie-cutter solutions, what are some successful interventions you’ve seen in other parts of the world, which Malaysia may benefit from?
We’re seeing success with our annual Richard H. Driehaus Architecture Competition in Spain, now in its third year. The first phase of this competition asks Spanish municipalities to submit design challenges, which can range from the need for a town to expand without losing its particular built character, to the need to find a new use for crumbling heritage assets, to a desire for simple uplift through the redesign of a couple of facades and the streetscape. The second phase then puts the most promising three challenges to the international design community for their proposals.
We’re still waiting for built results, but it’s been a wonderful way to engage with local and national government, and to know that local communities are being engaged in the design process.
What are your plans in terms of engaging or fortifying the Malaysian chapter of INTBAU?
It’s wonderful to have Malaysia as part of our network of 34 chapters. The fact that the chapter is hosted by Think City is even better, because of the strength and relevance of this already established organisation. We’ve talked about plans for initial INTBAU and Think City events, and it’s also wonderful to see that the Malaysia chapter is already planning to collaborate with other chapters, such as Pakistan, on the development of a Commonwealth Heritage Forum.
What would your message be to the civilian city maker here in Malaysia?
Embrace what makes Malaysian urban environments distinctive. Find the elements that give places their identity, even when this means having difficult conversations about ownership and past history. Keep the variety and diversity. You have a lot of international admirers!
Harriet Wennberg is Executive Director of INTBAU. Since joining the charity in 2010, she has worked to give INTBAU a consistent programme of activities, including: a biennial World Congress accompanied by Excellence Awards and a Travel Scholarship; annual summer schools in Sweden, Spain/Portugal, and Italy; an annual architecture competition for Spanish municipalities in partnership with government ministries; an annual Award for Emerging Excellence in the Classical Tradition with the ICAA and the Prince’s Foundation; biennial conferences, study tours, and workshops hosted by one of INTBAU’s 34 international chapters, previously held in Nicosia, Krakow, Havana, and Milan, with Karachi scheduled for November 2019; and other new initiatives, such as a planned vernacular design challenge. Harriet’s postgraduate studies were in the history of art and architecture. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.