For Graham Crist, an associate professor and program lead in RMIT Vietnam’s Architecture Program, the physical and virtual worlds are of equal importance in cities.
This was the subject of Crist’s recent lecture titled “The City is a Chatroom,” held at RMIT Vietnam’s Pham Ngoc Thach campus. The talk was the first in a series hosted by the University’s design program.
As Crist explains, “it’s a provocation around the idea that, more and more, the physical environment is in fact simulating the virtual environment.”
The showcase of Crist’s concept, and the primary subject of his lecture, are newly renovated buildings on RMIT Melbourne’s campus under the University’s New Academic Street project. These designs largely do away with traditional lecture halls and auditoriums in favour of communal spaces that facilitate conversation.
The difference, Crist argues, is between broadcasting and networking. Whereas lecture halls feature a professor broadcasting ideas to everyone in the audience, with little two-way interaction, RMIT Melbourne’s new spaces allow professors and students to have back-and-forth discussions that are more similar to conversations which take place on social media networks.
“Nearly all of the spaces that are being built are super flexible, sort of drop-in hubs, almost like cafes,” he says. “It’s a physical version of the kind of interactions we do every day, whether it’s on Instagram or texting friends.”
Gretchen Wilkins, Head of Design at the School of Communication & Design, hopes to translate these theories into real-world buildings in Vietnam.
“The main thing is that this lecture is generally looking at the city in terms of social interaction and the qualities of urban space that facilitate that and keep the city social, active and lively,” she says.
“Because we’re seeing so much change in Ho Chi Minh City… the fear is that we’re replacing that activity with things that are closed and private.”
Such concerns are being built into RMIT Vietnam’s Master of Architecture degree.
“We’ll be looking at the city… so we’re going to be constantly looking at the effect that architecture has on the city,” she says. “The city is a sort of lab or framework, and the projects will always reference back to that.”
Crist, meanwhile, hopes to see university campuses used as a template for improving urban areas. “Campuses are an ideal form of the city, so the question is, ‘How can we make the city more like a campus?’,” he says. “Campuses are beautiful places to be.”
Story: Michael Tatarski