Architecture and construction can create a better world, students tell Tomorrowland19

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Today’s architecture, engineering and construction students are tomorrow’s builders. Tomorrowland 2019 heard from two Western Sydney University students – Manuel Hankoo and Lavender Liu – whose passion for the built environment promises hope for the future.


When Manuel Hankoo was a high school student in Iraq, he began dreaming about how architecture could change things for the better. 

Hankoo, who is studying a bachelor of architectural design at Western Sydney University, thought his high school was poorly designed.

Manuel Hankoo, Western Sydney University

“For example, it didn’t motivate students to study more efficiently or to have positive thinking,” he explains. 

“The environment was dismal and gloomy and did not have any green spaces or places to gather. I believe it [hampered] severely our ability to study effectively and creatively.”  

Hankoo moved to Australia after ISIS invaded Iraq, and continued his studies here. The crisis in his homeland has made him realise how important architecture is in forming societies and identities.

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.’”

“Winston Churchill once said, ‘We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.’ I think that architecture plays a big role in forming our societies and shaping our identities. It affects individuals and communities as well. 

“As a practical example, while people in my country are having a revolution right now, many of them are complaining about the lack of wide open spaces and public squares inside the city in order for them to gather and protest and change their lives for better.”

Even in stable societies, such as Australia, architecture can play an important and positive role, he says.

“Last semester, we finished a design project called the Inhabited Bridge: Light Rail. The project was part of a partnership between Western Sydney University, Parramatta Council and Transport for NSW and was a design competition aimed at connecting Camelia on the south bank of the Parramatta River and Rydalmere on the north bank through a light rail.

“You will not be surprised if you’re working with robots on construction sites or walking through the building before it is built.”

“My design concept was based on site analysis that showed food growing areas on the western side of Sydney are being diminished because of low-density development.”

Revitalising urban centres

Hankoo’s design attempts to curtail this problem by building more high density in already established urban spaces and using the bridge to better connect urban dwellers with the land that produces their food, and with each other.

“The ground level is for local restaurants and food production shops,” explains Hankoo.  

“The first level is a mixed-use space such as local markets and library. The upper levels are 5-star restaurants that catch views of Parramatta River.

“This mix brings locally grown food to the urban centre and encourages people to enjoy this food through a mix of shops that represent the various local cultures, in a way that will feel familiar.” 

Lavender Liu, Western Sydney University

Hankoo’s dream job would be either as an architect in the government sector, involved in planning and urban design, or an architect in a large firm with a team of architects, construction managers and engineers. 

“I love the idea of collaboration and bringing together the contributions from many professionals to solve the urban challenges we shall face into the future.” 

Lavender Liu, who comes from a small county in central China, is a first-year PhD student in Construction Management at Western Sydney University, with a passion for the construction sector.

Far from being an intimidating or messy job, she sees construction management as part of a dynamic industry that incorporates communications, technology, and digitalisation, and with plenty of scope to specialise.

“You could do estimating, scheduling or go any direction you want,” says Liu.

“Apart from this, the future of construction industry will be brilliant with the development of new construction technologies, such as Building Information Modelling, 3D printing, prefabrication, augmented and virtual reality, robotic equipment, and so on.”

Study means sacrifice

She sees digital technologies transforming the entire industry. 

“You will not be surprised if you’re working with robots on construction sites or walking through the building before it is built,” she says. 

There have been a few obstacles on her path to a PhD in construction management.

“To be honest, I did worry that I might not get married. I know PhD study is a challenging and lonely journey. But I want to stick to my dream and live the life I want.” 

“When I told my mum, a traditional Chinese woman, that I wanted to do a PhD she was like ‘Really?! You’re already 25 years’ old. You’re too old to study further. It’s going to be very hard for you to get married after you graduate!’. 

“To be honest, I did worry that I might not get married. I know PhD study is a challenging and lonely journey. But I want to stick to my dream and live the life I want.” 

Liu finally convinced her mother that she could combine marriage and a career. 

“She was satisfied, so was I.” 

Liu is now researching the mental health of multi-cultural construction workers. 

“Many construction workers have suffered from a variety of mental health problems. What’s worse, the suicide rate of construction workforce is terrifying. And the conflicts of diverse culture aggravate the complexity of mental health issues. Against this background, my research is devoted to finding the best solutions to improving workers’ mental health.”

Liu hopes to eventually become an expert in the construction safety and health field. 

“Through applying my research, I hope there will be no more accidents, fatal injuries or suicides. The construction industry will become safer, more sustainable and more beautiful in the future.” 

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