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Designing for diversity

Designing for diversity

A first generation Chinese New Zealander has created a design for his local shops in an effort to promote greater cultural diversity.
Bobby Shen undertook the project as part of his Masters of Architecture (Professional) degree at the University of Auckland.

Focusing on food, which is central to all cultures, Bobby designed a community centre for the Balmoral shops, which incorporated flexible food spaces as a catalyst for bringing together different groups of people. The purpose of Bobby’s research was to explore the potential for design to support diversity.

Census figures reveal that Auckland is becoming increasingly diverse in terms of the cultural backgrounds of its inhabitants. The Balmoral shops illustrate this change, moving over the decades from a European colonial tram terminal to a predominantly Asian centre. As well as being a focal point along Dominion Road, the area has built up a name for itself around food and intercultural interaction. Although there is currently a dominance of Chinese culture extending along Balmoral’s commercial strip, other cultures also exist side by side including Indian, Thai, Japanese, Middle Eastern and Pakeha.

His research became a personal journey to explore his Chinese roots, travelling back to his family’s village in China for the first time. He was accompanied by his father who had left as a young man in search of a better life. It made him question the place of a person’s roots in a new land.

Bobby, who graduates this week with first-class honours, realised food was the perfect liaison between different people. “It helps break down the notion of ‘us’ and ‘others’,” he says.

But his research also indicated that due to the constant shift in Auckland’s make-up, culturally-tailored environments such as Chinatowns could quickly become alienating. Therefore designs for diversity had to be flexible to incorporate change.

Since completing his thesis, Bobby is now working at Kay and Keys Architects. In a graduate role, he’s working on a range of tasks to help him learn the real-world architectural process. “It’s been exciting seeing the things I’ve drawn being built – the process is still creative but also very tangible and practical,” he says.

The young Aucklander also volunteers with Architecture for Humanity, an international organisation which strives to help local communities via design. He has worked on a building alteration for HELP Auckland, and most recently, a Guerrilla Playspaces project for promoting Daffodil Day. Bobby also sits on the Auckland Branch Committee of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, and is an alumni mentor for the First Foundation. He hopes to eventually become a registered architect and help build a better, more inclusive Auckland.


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