RENOWNED architect Moshe Safdie was in Singapore completing a project when he was contacted by Melbourne property identity Albert Dadon. Was he interested in doing some work at Monash University?
''I decided to visit - and I got hooked,'' Safdie, a citizen of Israel, Canada and the US, told BusinessDay. ''It's a charming city - it makes me think of Toronto.''
A jazz concert, an Aussie steak and a bottle of shiraz later, the deal was done. Safdie took on the task, collaborating with local firm Fender Katsalidis, to design the new Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University in Clayton.
Given Safdie's love of music, the design of the music school, unveiled last night during his public lecture at Hamer Hall, was a labour of love. The music school would be on a ''very exciting architectural site, a gateway'' to the Clayton campus of Monash. ''I decided - without upsetting anybody - that it could be cheered up,'' he said. It will replace a car park.
Safdie's practice is very diverse. ''We are currently doing several large commercial, mixed-use projects in the Far East,'' he said. Driving his approach to architecture is the belief that architecture has both a social and a technological mission
''In world architecture, we are coming out of a period where there has been an architecture of excess … a very sculptural 'we can do anything' attitude … often at the expense of urbanity, sustainability, usability and liveability.
''Architecture took off as 'high art', but not very accountable,'' he said. ''We are coming full cycle to the realisation that architecture is driven by inspiration and constraints, and constraint is a big factor.
''It's about making the most of limited means, including resources and energy, and remembering that buildings have a purpose and a mission, and architecture should begin with the way it is used, and not as a sculptured object.''
Architecture as fashion and branding, prevalent in the past two decades, ''is being checked a bit''. Star architects had become associated with particular styles. ''But architecture is timeless, it does not change every year, it evolves but does not change.''
Safdie, is a believer, like Norman Foster, that architecture should combine a technological and social mission.
The new factor today was megascale. ''If I thought 40-50 years ago we had to deal with density, it now looks like village scale compared to what we are building now,'' he said.
Cities such as Shanghai and Chongqing in China each had more than 30 million people.
''It's a paradigm change, it presents new problems for architecture and urbanism.
''Sustainability is important as there is more pressure on resources, but it's not simply a matter of energy and resources,'' he said.
It was not possible to build an apartment in a high-rise complex and take it for granted it would always get sun or a view, or any amenity of air.
''You can't take it for granted unless you build it in the design - that's a new ball game,'' he said
''It's a new form of sustainability: how to preserve a minimum quality of life and amenities in that new reality.
''Our building codes, zoning, have not caught up.''
One city in China demanded three hours of sunlight for every apartment in the winter solstice.
''That's revolutionary and radical. When you try and solve it, you realise how difficult it is to achieve that,'' he said. ''The development community will fight it like hell, but you would not think of using a drug or food that has not been tested … we are way behind on environmental standards.''