Saturday, February 03, 2007

MEDIATOR is what Asia needs

Today I met the 'Species' (Hunch No. 10, 9).

Like other of his kind, he is trained in Architecture, but does not do design work now. He is by no means close to giving up architecture, but in fact loves it too much, at least enough to make him decide that he wants to devote the rest of his career advocating architecture and getting it built. He is usually hired by the owner, resposible for not only making sure the owner get what he wants, but also that the money is well-spent on good design. The architects love him too of course, for he is taking care of all the dirty works that they don't want to deal with, like convincing the client and coaxing the contractors. He is the architecture's MEDIATOR (11), John Mass.

John Mass, the owner's representative for SANAA's Glass Pavilion of The Toledo Museum of Art and a graduate of Cooper, was here to share with us the battle of construction of the amazing glass structure. Needless to say, the recount of the fight was filled with juicy details like how everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong and how everything was built except those shown drawings. However, I am not going to elaborate the story here because it is worth another story on its own, and more importantly, I realise his service is exactly what Singapore if not Asia (except Japan) needs, in order to avoid the unfortunate disaster of the IR design selection and SG missing the chance of putting itself on the architectural world map from happening again.

People of money and power and project have to realise at one point that efficiency and cost cannot be the sole determining factor in building. These two criteria are crucial if it is a means to achieve better humanity or architectural ends, but is deadly if it is the end itself. It's about time to start factoring in the 'soft cost' incurred due imcompetancy in design or construction management. Quoting John, "The difference between a good piece of realised architecture work and a bad one is definitely not in the cost. Piano's High Museum in Atlanta costs about 1000 per square foor, Morgan Library in NY was 800, SANAA's New Museum is estimated to be 500, but they paid only 300 for The Toledo Glass Pavilion." Appreciation for design doesn't cost a lot, and ironically ended more cost-efficient than the projects that set out to be cost efficient, and in fact the value add and quality that the good piece of work adds to the urban life is priceless.

But how do we expect the policy and decision makers to know if their in-house representatives are too caught up with admin work and the design archiects are either too busy or simply unequiped at selling their designs and making things happen. That is why we need MEDIATOR to "fill the missing link between the ever-growing architectural public and clientele and the architects' hermetic collective" (9), having developed "specialized listening skills, their antennae enabling them to interpret the needs of individuals, organizations, or entire populations, and to translate needs into guidelines for architects" (9).

John's agency shares a relatively small piece of limelight despite having the above mentioned projects happend. To fight relentlessly day in day out for someone else's design is no easy task. You need more than the technical skills involved- you need a big selfless heart, and endless of belief and appreciation for the art itself. It is not surprising why Ricky Burdett said the following when commenting on mediating The Tate Modern project architecture in london: "If u've got the talent, the ego, and the ability to be a great designer, you probably don't end up doing what I do because you want to design things" (42).

So, I asked, "What motivates you to go on fighting everyday, for your job is built upon the conflicts of different interest groups? Don't you ever get tired of fighting?" To this, he said, "You know what, whenever I feel tired I just have to think that I have contributed something to Toledo and made it a better place, even if it is only slightly."

Frankly, the title 'MEDIATOR' only describes their job, their importance is no less than the key stone in the Roman Arch, and teh tarik in my life.

ps: check out HUNCH no. 10, an entire issue dedicated to the Mediators.
pps: Mediator seems like the perfect profession for someone who doesn't like design or who can't design, but is too deep into it or too late to quit. it is tailored made for those who love or know archi too much to quit, but not enough to want to focus on theory or design to become a critic.