The cybertect

FED UP with the view outside your apartment window?

Fancy being transported to the buzz of a New York street instead?

If you live in one of James Law’s “intelligent” apartments, you would be able to – literally – change the view outside your window to one from a variety of cities – in real time.

Flashback to the first day of the new millennium, when James, an architect, announced he wasn’t going to be an architect any more.

The then 30-year-old wanted to be known as a “cybertect”.

James had thought long and hard about where he and architecture were headed, and decided it was as good a time to launch his vision for the future.

“Cybertecture”, the chairman and chief cybertect of the eponymously-named firm tells me, is a merging of two words – cyber (to mean new innovation) and tecture (to mean the fabric of our world).

“‘Cybertecture’ is a new way that we will design our world, whether it is buildings, cities, technologies, systems, communities … (to) bring out the best in human wisdom and ingenuity for the betterment of mankind in the 21st century,” says James, 39.

This means the embracing of “clever and wise” technologies, he says, pointing – as an example – to the PAD Tower in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates which his firm James Law Cybertecture International is building.

The 26-floor building with 231 intelligent apartments was inspired by the iPod.

“This building keeps people healthy by detecting their health, keeps them connected to family by linking their homes digitally, keeps them linked to the world by changing colour in the home when emails, SMSes, voicemails arrive, keeps them connected to the world as a portal by linking over 100 real-time locations to their window.”

In the bathroom, for example, there is technology for the occupant to check weight, blood pressure and temperature.

His vision is not elitist, James says.

The sophisticated buildings his firm designs “do tend to be for the higher band of society” but the practice – which operates in Hong Kong, Dubai and India – is also working on public housing, and institutional projects for the masses.

A division in the company designs, builds and manufactures new mass technologies and solutions to help people be “happier and healthier”.

One of its first products is a mirror able to monitor a person’s health such as blood pressure and temperature, introduced at the recent Asia Pacific Commercial Property Awards 2009 in Singapore where his firm picked up an architecture award for “The Cybertecture Egg”, an intelligent building in Mumbai, India.

“I believe in destiny. Ever since I could remember, I was fascinated with design, technology, science fiction, movies, et cetera,” says James, who is Hong Kong-born and London-trained.

As a seven-year-old, he saw the movie The Fountainhead on television. In the film version of the Ayn Rand novel, actor Gary Cooper played an architect called Howard Roark, a champion of a new form of modern architecture.

“He stood up against a world of mediocrity and tried his best to make his vision come to life, and in doing so opened new opportunities and benefits for mankind.”

The young James knew then he wanted to be an architect. As one, he realised he wanted to go beyond conventional architecture. Hence “cybertecture”, a term he has had patented.

“Sceptics used to tell me I was wasting my time, and that I would be throwing away a fruitful career in conventional architecture. Others told me that there was no market … Thus, I will be bankrupt as I started with next to no money.”

Nine years and a slew of awards later, his answer now, just like before, is: “We should all believe in the future, and that in the future, all things will be different. If we do not accept and understand the potential of new concepts and technologies, we will miss the potential of a better future for mankind … and that will be our greatest mistake.”

Besides renowned architect Peter Cook and Gary Cooper’s character, his influences include George Lucas, Bill Gates, Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and Steve Jobs. And Captain James T Kirk and the Star Trek crew – for “going boldly where no man has gone before”.

Not a surprising influence for a man who believes that courage is his conviction. “Cultivating Cybertecture, inspiring it, pushing it” are all part of “the greatest project” for him, says the father of two, a boy aged 13 and an eight-year-old girl.

It will, he says, last him a life time.

“I never see projects as finite things … they are a journey.”

Source : Today – 28 Jul 2009

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