Saturday, March 6, 2021

A vision for Bhopal

Reading Time: 4 minutesArchitect William Chan utilises his passion for the built environment to develop global communities


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Photo: Victoria Baldwin

Young architect William Chan demonstrates how the sharing of knowledge can result in the development of innovative solutions to global issues.

William, named one of Australia’s Top 100 Brightest Young Minds in 2010, recently received the 2014 Student Prize for the Advancement of Architecture from the Australian Institute of Architects.

His achievements are spectacular for one so young. Besides being a Future Green Leader for the Green Building Council of Australia, he is also a youth mentor for the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia.

His passion for socially and environmentally sustainable architecture has taken this young Australian, originally from Hong Kong, around the globe assisting communities in need.

William graduated from the University of Sydney with the Convocation Medal from the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning and received a faculty scholarship to participate in an inter-disciplinary design program called Global Studio.

Global Studio is an action research program with students, academics and professionals from all over the world that use a participatory design process to facilitate projects.

William’s first experience was at Diepsloot, a slum in Johannesburg. This project opened his eyes to how architecture could positively influence people and their livelihoods.

His continued involvement with Global Studio gave William the next opportunity to coordinate the program in Bhopal, India. Here William was part of a team developing an urban renewal master plan with a process of in-depth community consultation.

“Working in Bhopal and visiting other places in India was an incredible and eye-opening experience for me,” William said.

The inter-disciplinary project that William was part of had six different groups working in the Bhopal slums. Students and professionals from around the world – Europe, USA and Asia from the areas of architecture, business and law, worked in design-oriented projects or research-oriented projects, covering different aspects.

William’s group looked at the master plan of Bhopal. They studied the new and old parts of Bhopal city, examining how the distinctive Islamic side and Hindu sides worked together.

He found the history of Bhopal fascinating.

“It was amazing to see how the city recovered following the Union Carbide disaster and seeing how it has impacted the community,” he said.

As part of the process of developing a master plan for Bhopal, his group went around the public spaces of the city, talking with residents to find out how and why they enjoyed the space.

They partnered with the local university, Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology (MANIT) who helped the overseas guests with interpreting, as well as research.

The highlight of the whole process was its culmination in a festival called We are Bhopal, which encouraged people who live in Bhopal to share their ideas for the city.

“We held a community consultation, asking children and adults to draw on maps of Bhopal and put down their ideas,” said William, the memory of the interactions still fresh in his mind.

“We showcased different ideas to give the community an idea of how a public space could change. We did illustrations and computer renders to show the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of possibilities, so that they could start talking and discuss these ideas”.

So did the project get implemented after the overseas visitors returned home?

William regrets that this was unfortunately not the case.

“Attempting to change a city is a large scale project,” admitted William.

They presented the plan to the local government but he said implementing it would be a long, hard process.

“At least we were able to initiate some discussion around how to make the city better and we involved the community in this process. I feel it is so powerful if we actually speak to the people. They will tell you what they need, we just need to take the time to listen and find out the best solutions,” he said hopefully.

Volunteering with World Vision and having worked in aid and development, William met many people who had previously travelled to India.

“When I was leaving, they warned me about how incredible and crazy India is. While I was over there I could understand why!”

Besides Bhopal, he travelled to Mumbai, Delhi, Agra, Varanasi and Chandigarh.

“Chandigarh was a highlight for me as it was designed by the famous architect Le Corbusier and it was interesting to see how architecture and design changes the way people live.

“Here was a city which was completely planned and I noticed how different it was from the rest of India. People followed road rules and respected the environment,” he said.

This reiterated what William passionately believes – an architect can create an environment that influences the way people live and behave, through design.

In 2012 William also received a scholarship to participate in the International Exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale, the world’s most prestigious architecture festival.

Here he helped Anupama Kundoo, an Indian architect now based in Brisbane, build a low impact house based on her own home at Auroville in Pondicherry.

“I was captivated by Dr Kundoo’s passion in sustainability and genuine advocacy for social inclusion within architecture, particularly how she re-interprets traditional design, materials and skills,” said William.

His experiences in Bhopal and around the world, has given the young man direction for what he wants to achieve in the future.


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Jyoti Shankar
Jyoti Shankar is a freelance writer and sustainability professional, who is passionate about nature

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