Macau-based Roger Santos de Oliveira is an Architect and Managing Partner at Architects Associated and the Sustainability-focussed ERDL. Here, he talks about his wish for the architecture industry to re-align itself with a more humanistic approach, and the importance of bringing multiple brains to the table when faced with complex design challenges.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
This question can't be answered in a vacuum but, if I had to pinpoint one single factor that contributed to my current standing, it would be my focus on Sustainability as a design-generating principle. Even while studying for my Masters in Architecture, more than a decade ago, this theme was the cornerstone of my research, at a time where it was considered unpopular highlight environmental concerns and propose sustainable approaches.
As an architect in Macau, this background into all things environmentally conscious proved to be a strong asset and a strategic advantage in a market deprived of "green" ideas and solutions. My philosophy has led me to found a design think-tank/company hybrid focused on the research, development and design of environmentally responsible solutions as a fundamental and ubiquitous baseline approach.
What gets you excited about your industry?
The Design and Construction Industry is under a constant transformative process motivated by the development of new technologies, the surging of innovative ideas and ideologies, the evolving of urban cityscapes and its contemporary sociological and anthropological considerations, and a multitude of other factors.
This constant transformation creates a unique opportunity for Designers to continually upgrade their knowledge as well as update and develop new approaches.
I find this is particularly true in the sustainability paradigm, still a relatively new concept in Architecture, with only maybe a decade of a strong presence in the industry. With Sustainability still in its infancy, we're faced with a steady flow of innovation and a gradual maturing of the optimal solutions.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Advice can come in many forms and, in my case, it came from a relentless (re)search spirit.
When exploring quintessential design problems, I've understood that, in our industry, in particular, it's advantageous to encourage cooperation instead of competition. I've tried to follow this mantra and adopt this mindset in every project we start.
I have found that bringing more brainpower to the equation has always improved outcomes and is always constructive and productive to confront broad and eclectic ideologies and design philosophies. This approach works for me even if just for the value of debating and refining assumptions.
What, or who inspires you?
Inspiration changes as we evolve as people and as professionals. What has been a crucial motivator for me is the recent realisation that as architects and urbanists we have a unique power (and responsibility) of potentially improving the world around us and contribute to leaving a better world for our kids.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in the industry?
Most of the reading-up I do is online. I have set my browser to open on a specific set of pages that includes several industry-leading websites every day. So, as I sit down on my office desk every morning with the essential cup of tea, I customarily browse through all of them before starting with the hustle of the day.
I also have the habit of sporadically buying some books, the latest ones being about parametric design and rendering software and, construction detailing.
What was the most challenging project or assignment you've worked on?
Each project has its own set of challenges, and I can think of several contenders for the top spot!
If I had to single out one, the project that comes to mind, for its size and scope is the planning of the Macau Light Rail Transit East Line in 2018/2019, a crucial mobility infrastructure for the city.
It demanded managing several scales and diverse stakeholders. It was incredibly challenging to coordinate multiple requirements and expectations coming from very different domains:
We had to design from the urban to the interior scale while considering the public, the end-users, and the multiple governmental entities involved. As a project, it was not only an urban planning exercise with city-wide impacts, but also an opportunity to introduce important environmentally conscious strategies; all this while including the more mundane (by comparison) technical requirements.
If you could start your life again, what would you do differently?
I have invested so much time, research, and passion in what I do that I wouldn't want to change it!
I would, however, like to see environmental concerns penetrating more deeply into the collective consciousness of the industry to become more ubiquitous in every nook and cranny; from inception to completion and into the lifecycle of buildings and cities.
I would welcome the opportunity to change and influence that mindset.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
Two things come to mind:
I would invest in myself, my family, and friends and create a safety net for everyone.
I would fulfil my long-held ambition to fund a broad, high-level research study focusing specifically on city-wide strategies and approaches to zero-impact sustainable living. I have given this one quite a bit of thought, and I would like to focus on Macau, where I'm currently based as its specificities lend themselves perfectly for a case-study.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
Physical Exercise, Tea and Meditation.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
As context: I strongly feel that economic factors have long been the determining principles in our industry, for the good and the bad.
This economic-driven approach has had inexorable consequences in the outcomes and expectations throughout the design process: tight budgets, unrealistic schedules, developer-centric approaches, and other self-imposed limitations. My wish is that Architecture would re-align itself with a more humanistic approach and scale which, in and of itself, means focusing on sociological and anthropological concerns related to well-being public (mental and physical) health. As designers, it is our prerogative to apply our know-how in service of a better quality of life.
Intrinsically related to this is of course, the already exhaustively mentioned theme of Sustainability which I feel should also become a central theme in architecture and, for that matter, every design discipline.