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Leapfrog From Disaster Symposium Recap

By A. Lira V. Luis posted 11-22-2014 05:15 PM

Christmas bells were ringing. The sights and sounds of the yuletide season greeted me as I made my way through notorious Manila traffic that evening. Except, this was on the eve of Halloween and on that week, the anniversary of one of the strongest and deadliest tropical cyclones ever recorded, Category 5 Typhoon Haiyan known locally in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda.

(Speakers at the Leapfrog From Disaster Symposium: Melissa Sterry, R. Denise Everson Assoc AIA LEED AP - AIA Housing KC Advisory Group, Lira Luis AIA RIBA LEED AP BD+C - AIA PMKC Advisory Group and AIA Diversity Council, Dr James Karl Fischer RIBA AIA - AIA NYC Chapter and RIBA-USA President)

On November 5th to the 7th, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)-USA and the Leapfrog Project including the American Institute of Architects (AIA) International Region, hosted the inaugural Leapfrog From Disaster Symposium at the country’s national landmark, the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It brought together world-leading pioneers in Resilience, Architecture, and Ecology, with US Ambassador (ret) and President of the US-Philippine Society John Maisto commenting “… Leapfrog Project’s role and potential for the Philippines is staked out, and a unique role for (Filipino) architects defined. (This) symposium (would) be hugely important as the one year anniversary of the disaster (Haiyan/Yolanda) approaches.”

At a time when more people now live in natural disaster-prone areas, the Symposium explored new theories for both urban and rural development that may accelerate resilience by moving away from out-dated practices and technologies, to more efficient, more equitable and more sustainable solutions. It also became historic and symbolic because for the first time, three leading professional organizations, namely the RIBA-USA, the AIA International, and the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP), represented by their presidents, James Karl Fischer, RIBA, AIA, PhD, Dr. Christine E. Bruckner, FAIA, HKIUD, LEED AP, BEAM, and Maria Benita Ochoa-Regala, FUAP, ASEAN, came together to collectively share the organization’s ideas in addressing some of the most pressing issues facing our planet and humanity. The endeavor was supported via a public Tweet by RIBA’s Immediate Past President, Angela Brady PPRIBA, FRIAI, FRSA, HonFRIAS, PhD(Hon), FAIA, FRIAC, as well as 2015 AIA President-Elect, Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA saying “The symposium sounds awesome. I commend your efforts to help rebuild after the terrible Typhoon Haiyan. Resilience is a major focus area for the AIA."

Workshop at the Leapfrog From Disaster Symposium (image courtesy of Roy Bautista)

Design Scientist and Futurologist Melissa Sterry delivered the Opening Keynote, asking “How would Nature Design a City, and examining the potential of biomimetics, biotechnology and bio-Inspiration in the built environment in the now, near and far future.” She framed natural hazards as opportunities and that “the future is not the exponential expansion of the present. The future is one of many varied scenarios, some of which are known, others not.” The panel sessions encouraged the rethinking of the post-disaster paradigm, going beyond current aspirations and expectations in post-disaster rehabilitation, through dialogues addressing survival strategies that are beyond the traditional boundaries of relief and reconstruction efforts. Starting the Resiliency theme was Carelle Mangaliag, President and CEO of Trainstation Manila, who discussed the role of Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) while Eva Mari Salvador, Sining Galing Project Lead of Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas addressed the role of art as psychotherapy for natural hazard survivors. Moderated by Dr James Fischer RIBA, AIA, he drew upon his firsthand experience dealing with man-made disaster such as the 9/11 attacks on his home city of New York. The dialogues were moving, at times filled with emotion, and powerful, as each drew from direct experiences working with natural and man-made disaster survivors. Another session discussed global initiatives on Resiliency by groups from two of the largest professional organizations, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Representing the AIA’s 83,500 membership, the AIA Housing Knowledge Community Advisory Group’s R. Denise Everson, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP shared best practices through their recent initiatives in Sustainable Housing & Design in Southwest China, while the AIA International Region was represented by President Dr. Christine E. Bruckner, FAIA, HKIUD, LEED AP, BEAM, and I also shared the AIA Diversity Council’s sold-out event at the AIA National Convention in Chicago, the Global Inclusion Reception that had a benefit auction for Typhoon Haiyan survivors. Representing the RIBA’s 44,000 membership, the RIBA-USA’s National President, Dr James Fischer RIBA, AIA shared the initiatives of the group and why hosting this inaugural symposium in the Philippines was timely and important. The Coral Triangle Conservancy’s  Managing Director, Scott Countryman discussed Ecology as it relates to the global centre of marine biodiversity, and its role on mitigating the effects of climate change that lead to natural disasters. Known as the “Amazon of the Seas”, The Coral Triangle is the triangular area of the tropical marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. The presentation of US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Program Resources Management Office Director, Clay W. Epperson, included an announcement of opportunities for architects, planners, and those in the built environment, in their organization’s city development projects in areas affected by natural disasters. Three of the leading organizational movers-and-shakers in Philippine society, namely Gina Lopez, Chairman of ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc., Ayala Land, Inc.’s Senior Architect Dave Blas, and Gawad Kalinga’s Operations Head Daniel Bercasio, led a panel discussion on local Resiliency initiatives. The panel was moderated by design scientist and futurist Melissa Sterry. Then it was time for me to deliver the Closing Keynote. In the presentation, my experience as a graduate of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, as well as the ubiquitous Philippine Christmas lantern called “parol” that made the ringing Christmas bells festive, came full circle through the Living Ball installation that we constructed the following day. Translating the concepts of Buckminster Fuller’s tensegrity structures into the process of how to make a “parol”, we built the first prototype of the Living Ball through learning-by-doing with the local women. A year after the devastation brought by Category 5 Typhoon Haiyan, some villages are still without power. The installation is an attempt to redirect international attention back to the region at a time when it is starting to fade from people’s minds. It’s also an experiment on leapfrog technology where the Living Ball uses bioluminescent planktons native to the region, to provide light and generate micro-energy at a village or small city scale. Concluding the symposium was a panel recap by the Leapfrog Project, the AIA Housing KC, the RIBA-USA and Zoological Lighting Institute. The speakers and delegates alike were inspired to turn the ideas and lessons learned, into relevant action.

“Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda was very devastating and horrible. Having witnessed its impacts firsthand and assisted in rebuilding, I saw the tremendous amount of work going on including all the help that’s happening around the world. I’m delighted to hear of the efforts (being) made toward this symposium. It sounds super special, positive, innovative, and I hope it (would) go a long way,” shared Billy Dec from The Whitehouse, President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).

Infographics Recap courtesy of the United Architects of the Philippines(UAP) Media & Public Relations Committee:

For more information on the Leapfrog Project visit:

Lira Luis, AIA, RIBA, NCARB, CeM, LEED AP BD+C is the Organizing Chair of the Leapfrog From Disaster Symposium. She is a global architect specializing in organic architecture. She holds multiple architect licenses in Asia, North America, and a Chartered Architect designation in the UK. She is currently a Presidential-Appointee to the national leadership of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Diversity Council and the Advisory Group of the Practice Management Knowledge Community, as well as Board Trustee of RIBA-USA.

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