My Sabbatical by Sarah Greenlees

by | July 17th, 2016 | Alumni, Staff | No Comments

Sarah Greenlees, Arkitrek Volunteer on Mantanani Island

“So, is Arkitrek shut down?” people keep asking me;
“No, we planned to close when Ian and I left Sabah, but then Filzah offered to become Practice Principal and carry forward the company. We are still very much open!”
“So, what is the Arkitrek Sabbatical all about?”

Without Ian and me, the company needs to re-structure, and Filzah, already a highly skilled architectural designer and project manager, needs some time to grow into the role of Practice Principal. Therefore, for the next year, Arkitrek will be concentrating on new design commissions and making buildings. We will not be running Arkitrek Camps or Internships.

Since 2008 we have designed and constructed buildings that conserve nature through their design. We have developed a philosophy based around the delivery of social impact design in rural environments, many of which were of great ecological value. We have created ethical materials that generate meaningful employment and make use of agricultural waste streams. We have established a live-design programme that is ready to expand. We have started the conversation in Malaysia about social enterprises. We have run all of this as a company, with no bank loans or outside investment. We have been really busy and we have spent a lot of the time juggling, just trying to keep everything running.

In the buzz of all the activity and the efforts of running a company, there are things that have been pushed to the side. One is these things is evaluation. I would like to see us evaluate our projects so far, to try to quantify the successes and failures of each project in term of conserving nature through design and education.

Another thing that has not been given as much time as we would have liked is the alumni. I don’t keep in touch very well and so now I would like to spend some time catching up with everyone. And I’m not very consistent at recording processes, so I’d like to make an effort to record this process. Maybe it could be as simple as a collection of photos, maybe a set of recordings, maybe a series of answers on the back of postcards. I want to know where people are now, how they got there from Arkitrek and what are their aspirations for the future? Maybe this will lead to something greater; new collaborations or new young practices, or maybe it will just be a really interesting catch up with old friends.

“A Time to just have fun designing”
What would the Arkitrkkers group be if Arkitrek wasn’t running as a practice? I think the main connection between us is the joy of being in nature and designing together. It’s quite unique to find a group of people that you love designing with, and I would like us to spend the sabbatical trying to do that more than when we had to run a company. So, I’d like to make time to talk about design, to support each other’s design projects, and maybe collaborate on independent projects.

“Our Place in The World”
I stepped out of the developed world to form my definition of sustainable architecture and now I’m moving back to that world. How is Arkitrek still relevant? Since Arkitrek was founded, Malaysia itself has rushed towards ‘developed’ country status and demand for construction resources continues to grow. Arkitrek is here at the centre of design in Sabah, and from our rural roots is now poised to impact on urban development of Malaysia and to use design to transform Sabah to a green economy. I see fun design work as an important way to keep me engaged in big questions on a level that I actually find interesting.

“Sabbatical (n)”
A period of paid leave granted to a college teacher for study or travel, traditionally every seventh year. I didn’t know that sabbaticals were traditionally taken every seven years, but it makes sense as the word is derived from Sabbath. I might have an overly simplistic view of the Sabbath construct, but I think of a set period of time where normal activities of life are suspended. Instead, this time is filled with reflection. I think of the Arkitrek sabbatical in the same way. A period of time where some of the activities of the company are suspended, so that there is time instead for the company to reflects on and evaluates its activities, but also to research new revenue streams and to use design to reconnect with old friends.

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