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Ground Control

Silkroad Magazine, Hong Kong, September 2010

Three top landscape architects are breathing new life into urban areas

Yu Kongjian returned to China with a doctorate from Harvard in 1997 and the firm belief that ‘beauty is the by-product’ of good architecture. After founding Turenscape, China’s first private landscape design firm, he also became a professor at Peking University. .

“In China, there are two landscaping cultures,” Yu explains. “There is the elite, high-class culture of gardening and then is the vernacular culture of farmers and fishermen. This ornamental culture of landscape design nethereeds a lot of resources – it’s not sustainable.” Instead Yu takes his inspiration from the practices of China’s farmers and the “beautiful, productive paradises” they can create from a working landscape. Yu believes that this is the key to keeping China’s cities liveable, despite the country’s break-neck pace of development.

The architect puts…

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Hope for Sri Lanka's child victims

January 1, 2009, Guardian Weekly, UK

Torture has become a familiar feature of criminal investigations in Sri Lanka, where children as young as seven have experienced abuse under interrogation. At a small human rights unit in Kandy city, a Catholic priest has created a vital support system for the victims of police brutality. Father Nandana Manatunga relates the – often tragic – cases he has tried to help with.

Our torture act passed 1994, but until about 2000 there was not a single case filed against anybody for torture in Sri Lanka. I opened my human rights office five years ago and since then we have cared for about 22 victims – most of them children, ranging from seven years to 20. Many of them were quite young when they came to us, and now some are young adults. Cases here take years.

The torture is mostly done by the police or the armed forces. Victims are often too scared to fight back, but now a lot of them are trying to – they want to do something…

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To the Manor Born

Perspective Magazine, Hong Kong, December 2008
Along the Aegean coast an intriguing new boutique hotel seeks to celebrate and reinvigorate traditional Anatolian-style architecture with a contemporary twist and a healthy injection of Turkish art

When the world “homey” is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte on the Aegean coast.

When the world ‘homey’ is used to describe a hotel it rarely applies to anything bigger than a few thousand square metres; very few people, after all, can call a manor house home. But for the non-mansion dwellers among us there are hotels like Casa Dell’Arte, on the Aegean coast.

Preserving a sense of ‘home’ was the main design aim of the Büyükkuşoğlus, a prestigious family with a prime piece of ocean-side real estate in Bodrum, Turkey’s…

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Minding their Business

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, December 5, 2008
Asia’s designers find a silver lining in the credit crunch

Speakers at Hong Kong’s Business of Design Week have long pushed design as a money-making tool, but this year audiences will probably be listening to the advice more closely than usual. With big business in trouble, the question on everyone’s lips at the event, December 8 to 13, will likely be, how are we going to weather the storm?

Developer Morgan Parker thinks designers are in for a leaner time. Having spent more than 13 years in Asia developing luxury real estate, he is now the president of Taubman Asia, which is behind Macao Studio City and Seoul’s flashy Songdo IBD Shopping Center, both still underway. “Business is the origin, the genesis of design. We use design to improve the world around us but it really starts with the consumer,” says Parker, who will be showing the firm’s retail projects at the event. “It’s a mistake to think…

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Built to Last

South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, December 12, 2008
Tadao Ando has 40 years of genre-defining architecture under his belt, but don’t assume he’s ready to retire.

As a veteran architect in high demand, Tadao Ando knows how he likes his press meetings to run. “Give me three or four questions and I’ll answer them in a row,” he instructs through his interpreter, before delivering a series of diplomatic clichés and being whisked off to his next gig. But Ando can hardly be blamed for being perfunctory; he is just part of the way through a 24-hour publicity spree that includes a Hong Kong architecture tour, a speech at a business lunch, a series of interviews and an evening lecture at Hong Kong University to an arena of slack-jawed students. Despite the jaunty bowl cut and the kindly eyes, the 67-year-old is tired.

This schedule is a just hint of the demand Ando finds himself in after 40 years in the business. His small, 30-strong design studio has whipped…

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Election pledges a matter of life or death for inmates

October 22, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong

There will be little sleep tonight for the inmates of Adiala jail’s death cells, but though the rooms in Pakistan’s notorious northern prison are concrete, cold and small –they measure about eight by five feet – discomfort is currently a side issue. This is because for the first time in years the men and women on Pakistan’s death rows have been given some hope about their futures.

On 25 August a letter reached a Pakistan news agency from the prisoners at Adiala. It warmly congratulated the new President on his appointment and it carried the reminder of a promise. “You had spoken on the floor of National Assembly that our government wants to commute death sentences,” they wrote to President Zardari, and to Prime Minister Gilani. “We are now alive since then … Please, once again look in to our matter.”

The reminder was badly needed. On June 21 Yusuf Gilani announced that, in tribute to its…

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Losing Ground

October 7, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong,

150,000 Cambodians are at risk of eviction from their homes as developers exploit a corrupt system which fails to protect property rights

Losing Ground

In June 1975 waves of black-clad guerilla fighters entered Phnom Penh and emptied it – by persuasion, coercion and violence – in just a few days. The Khmer Rouge north had beaten the south, and as a first step, more than two million bewildered people were banished from the city and sent to live in the countryside. Today, facing the prospect of its first skyscraper, a rash of Special Economic Zones and numerous foreign-backed developments, Cambodia is boasting of a new era. Yet some things haven’t changed.

“See that tree?” asks Son Chhay, a bespectacled Cambodian minister, as we stand on the steps of the new national assembly building and look south. “Behind that there’s a company, 7NG Group, that’s trying to move 600 families more than 20km away. They’re…

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Courage under Fire

July 7, 2008, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong

A Catholic priest is helping to give hope to young human rights victims

With a rakish side parting and a smile behind his eyes, it’s hard to imagine Father Nandana Manatunga at work, not because his job involves kids – for that he seems well suited – but because of the situations his wards come to him in. Dancing eyes seem at odds with the grim task of torture rehabilitation.

The small island nation off the coast of India often hits the news for the long-waged and bloody war between its government and the Tamil Tiger separatists, but there are domestic issues that affect the populace even more deeply. Father Nandana runs the Kandy Human Rights Office, a young, independent organisation in Kandy, Sri Lanka that takes care of child victims of police brutality and sexual abuse, and helps them and their families take their cases through the courts. His story brings to light a collapsing legal system and a police…

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