Design with dissatisfaction to push boundaries: SUTD forum

SPH Brightcove Video
In the second Design Innovation Forum, the panel discuss whether it’s possible to achieve both sustainability and happiness. The forum is organised by the Singapore University of Technology and Design, in partnership with The Straits Times.

SINGAPORE - Dissatisfaction with the way things are is the force behind design that pushes boundaries and mines the possibilities of technology, said panellists on Tuesday (March 15) at the Singapore University of Technology and Design's (SUTD) Design Innovation Forum.

"Our anthropological constitution (is such that) we're always striving forward," said Mr Patrik Schumacher, principal of Zaha Hadid Architects, one of the world's most forward-thinking architectural firms.

The 61-year-old architect added: "I have this kind of more accelerationist sensibility to comprehend different ways of life which are more empowering and more thrilling, and very quickly we get more resolved problems, so happiness is not for us."

Mr Schumacher was responding to questions on creating a sustainable and happier world by design - the theme of the forum organised in partnership with The Straits Times.

Almost 1,000 participants attended the virtual event. This is the second year the forum has been held.

Started by late award-winning Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the firm is known for staying ahead of the curve with its bold curvaceous buildings, which include condominium D'Leedon in Farrer Road.

Condominium D'Leedon in Farrer Road was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. PHOTO: ST FILE

Being dissatisfied with the status quo is also the reason there is hope for a more sustainable future, said another panellist, founder of the San Francisco-based non-profit Rainforest Connection, Mr Topher White.

"I'm optimistic about one particular thing, which is that people aren't satisfied with the way in which we've been going, people aren't happy with the way that we've built our worlds," said the 40-year-old technologist.

He himself was moved to do something to plug the gaps in design by pioneering acoustic technology to monitor and conserve natural habitats in 22 countries.

The idea came partly from noticing that satellite imagery, camera traps to catch people on film, and drones conducting aerial monitoring could not completely capture information coming from the forest, said Mr White.

But through audio sensors that were perpetually turned on, he realised that hidden creatures and intruders could be detected digitally by rangers receiving alerts on their mobile phones.

"If you want to work on big problems, go help the person who has the most impact to do that," he said, noting that the technology has helped communities such as the Tembe tribe in Brazil guard against illegal loggers.

Remote video URL

On Tuesday, Mr White demonstrated the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in detecting and visualising the complex tapestry of forest sounds, ranging from the buzz of a chainsaw to the warble of a wren-babbler.

The technology has captured rare, previously unheard moments in the wild, such as the chorus of some 60 endangered killer whales welcoming the birth of a baby whale in Vancouver.

And the journey began with him tinkering around with a smartphone in his parents' garage, he said.

Rainforest Connection founder Topher White with an acoustic monitoring device in the Pasir Talang Timur forest in 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

Encouraging students pursuing design, Mr White said: "Make sure you get started. The more you talk about the idea, the less likely you are to build it."

The forum comes amid efforts by SUTD to develop sustainable human-centred technology.

Speaking on what a new generation of designers versed in AI can achieve, university president Chong Tow Chong said they could create solutions to complex issues such as climate change that are "even more effective, more practical and more lasting".

The university is also looking to render its campus as a space that is part cyber and part physical.

Listening to the discussion about a future in which the virtual may be blended with the physical fired the imagination of SUTD Year 2 student Corliss Tay.

Said the 21-year-old specialising in architecture and sustainable design: "It is exciting because most of the time when we talk about architecture, we think about the physical building itself, but the virtual realm of the future goes beyond rules of this universe such as gravity."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.