Man at His Best

Wisdom: Jason Pomeroy

The founding principal of Pomeroy Studio, and host of Channel NewsAsia's Smart Cities, opens up on urban planning

BY Wayne Cheong | Feb 16, 2017 | Design

Photograph by Ronald Leong.


In an episode of Mad Men, there’s a scene in which Don Draper and his family just leave their trash on the grass after a picnic. That’s quite a wonderful commentary on what it was like in the ’50s and the ’60s: people didn’t give a damn about litter. That was an interesting observation.

It’s taken 50-odd years for us to be conscious about our waste and I think it’ll take another 50 more years for [environmental sceptics] to face up to the detrimental aspects of climate change.

There’s overwhelming scientific evidence produced by the IPCC (International Panel of Climate Change) that suggests there is a 97 or 98 percent chance that it was human actions in the last 150 years that caused climate change. If those reports are too dry and droll for the naysayers, they just have to look at the increasing number of floods and droughts around the world. Thankfully, that proportion is still a smaller number than the majority who do believe that climate change is a serious issue.

Everybody was a green architect in the past. We were all designing with natural light, with natural ventilation, with locally sourced materials. We were orientating our buildings correctly. It was only in the 20th century that Le Corbusier came along and completely screwed everything up for us.

We are increasingly urbanising; half the world’s population lives in city centres, which is probably going to increase to two-thirds by 2050. We [will] see more congestion, more pollution and more waste, and this will make cities a lot harder to live in. What Smart Cities focuses on is how technology can improve the efficiency of cities and enhance people’s lives, whether it is through driverless cars or drone technology helping to ease traffic congestion.

The ultimate takeaway from Smart Cities is that, while technology is able to enhance people’s lives to a certain extent, the smart cities that we’ve been reviewing actually gel the community together. People use social apps and social media to communicate with each other, while, at the same time, creating these virtual communities that take on a life of their own. There’s a sense of community.

At the moment, we’re consuming three earths to sustain our one earth. It is a catastrophe. Even if all the new buildings in the world were LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rated, it still won’t reduce our carbon emissions. So yes, we are heading towards cataclysmic change.

[But] I don’t want to be too pessimistic, because one view is that, “[If climate change is] already happening, why don’t we give up?” I think we need to make an effort to understand that technological advances can actually make a contribution to reducing our carbon emissions.

When the price of oil was sky-high, everybody was thinking, what are the alternatives to fuel? That’s when solar, wind and geothermal energy became very attractive. But with the price of oil being as cheap as it is now, people are going, “Well, we can worry about [alternative fuels] later.” What we need to ensure is that governments are still committed to looking at those alternative energy sources.

The mask of civility that we wear has been fostered over many centuries and all of a sudden, with the eruption of technology, we have lost the filter.

Turning up in a city is about being completely immersed in that culture and going with the flow. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, in that respect.

My father travelled extensively as he was in the oil business… huh, that’s kind of funny, isn’t it? That’s the first time I’ve realised that. That’s interesting…

The Grand Tour was an 18th century rite of passage for gentlemen to learn about art, architecture and culture. It would often be through Italy and France. My father believed in those old-fashioned principles where travel was seen as an education.

Over time, my mother, who is Malaysian Chinese, became very westernised and my father, who is very English, became very easternised. My father got me involved with martial arts at a very young age. My mother got me involved with playing the cello, and took me to galleries and museums every week. That was an interesting kind of duality, really.

No matter what city you’re in, those heritage buildings are the alpha male buildings. Those are the buildings that have stood the test of time. The survival of the fittest. Darwin’s law of evolution.