With the unmistakeable signs of urban development punctuating its unseasonably grey skies, Brisbane has welcomed a bevy of local and international talent for the 2017 Asia Pacific Architecture Forum. This series of distinct but complementary events is a collaboration between founding partners Architecture Media and the State Library of Queensland. The forum has returned to the River City for its second year and runs from 18 to 31 March.

Participants took part in a rich variety of exhibitions, tours, speaking sessions and workshops, which shared the common theme of architecture in the Asia Pacific region. The signature event was the ArchitectureAP Symposium, a full-day showcase of excellent speakers from a diverse range of practice backgrounds, held at the State Library of Queensland on 24 March.

Alongside well-known speakers, smaller-scaled studios and alternative modes of practice were also well represented across the forum. Gap Filler, a New Zealand collaborative that orchestrates temporary urban interventions, led a scenario-based workshop challenging conventional architectural approaches to problem-solving. Likewise, a lively night at the Brisbane Powerhouse following the Pecha Kucha event gave a platform for local voices, including Angus Munro (Marc and Co, Brisbane) and historian Janina Gosseye (University of Queensland). The event also saw young graduates Niini Mendonca and Kali Marnane share their six-month experience designing and constructing a preschool at the Ramapir No Tekro slum in India for the Anganwadi Project. The project delivers safe spaces for children and their mothers in underprivileged communities through inventive application of recycled materials.

Altruism in architecture was a reccuring topic among several speakers in the first week of the forum, from Mendonca and Marnane’s quiet, standalone project to the instantly recognizable global efforts of Shigeru Ban. In his presentation for the ArchitectureAP Symposium, Stephen Collier (Stephen Collier Architects, Sydney) carved out a middle ground in this arena, eschewing his acclaimed residential work to present the School-in-a-Box project, which he developed with the charity Sustain Education Art Melanisia (SEAM). The project aims to enhance literacy and education in remote Papua New Guinea. Collier shared his deceptively simple system to house a fully stocked classroom in a military-designed box, which is significantly smaller than a standard car. Collier’s architectural solution to logistical and environmental difficulties highlighted the breadth of architecture’s capacity in the region.

Likewise, Milinda Pathiraja’s standout presentation on behalf of the small Sri Lankan practice Robust Architecture Workshop (RAW) built on the humanitarian theme. Addressing the shortage of skilled construction workers in Sri Lanka following decades of civil conflict, RAW designed several projects that allowed unskilled soldiers and labourers to develop a trade, simultaneously reducing the cost of construction and meaningfully enhancing the prospective livelihoods of local workers. Though RAW’s approach is highly contextual, the practice’s social, economic and environmental aspirations resonate with many of the messages shared across the week’s events.

As the Asia Pacific Architecture Forum continues, the breadth of discussion surrounding architecture’s role in the region will further develop. The second week includes a Parlour-supported panel session on the topic of working in Asia; a tour of some of Brisbane’s most acclaimed architects’ own homes; and a diverse range of ongoing exhibitions hosted across Brisbane’s inner suburbs, including an exhibition of art inspired by Brisbane’s architectural history at the Museum of Brisbane. With so much diversity on display, there is a compelling sense of involvement among participants. The architecture of the Asia Pacific is not an object for external observation, but rather the reality to which we give shape.1