Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will our great cities of the future. But for those involved in the Medini Iskandar Malaysia 100-year development plan, it is obvious that interesting times, at once challenging and exciting, lie ahead.

Nestled within Iskandar Puteri in Johor, the 930ha (2,300 acre) urban township development is poised to become the smart and connected central business district of the region, with a population of around 400,000 by 2030.

Of course, visionaries look far beyond this, anticipating a fast-evolving future and designing ways to leverage on this and ensure greater liveability for its people.

For Medini, the wheels have been set in motion with the launch of the Malaysia Biennial 100YC: Medini 2017 (Malaysia Biennial 100 Years City) in Johor last October.

In envisaging a 100-year city development vision for Medini, this global research initiative, which is founded on the same premise as the internationally-renowned Venice Biennale and Chicago Biennial, sets out to research models for sustainable urban development.

The Malaysia Biennial 100YC, first introduced by founder and organiser Nextdor Property Communications during the Architecture Venice Biennale in 2014, will bring together visionaries, architects, economists, urban planners and engineers of the world to share their thoughts and exchange ideas.

Imagining and visualising the future of cities.

Imagining and visualising the future of cities.

Nextdor Property Communications managing director Anne Lourdes and executive director Imran Clyde.

Nextdor Property Communications managing director Anne Lourdes and executive director Imran Clyde.

The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) is onboard as the research partner, with Medini Iskandar Malaysia Sdn Bhd as the destination partner.

The inaugural Malaysia Biennial 100YC comprises two parts, kicking off with a research component, which is ongoing, and will culminate in an exhibition scheduled for November that will showcase these research outcomes.

“We are targeting to have a series of local and global workshops throughout the year, ideally one in the United States, one in Britain, and one in Asia. The idea is to pull participants in those countries, or are nearby, to meet and discuss their respective findings. Locally, we plan to run workshops and smaller engagements with both universities as well as architects and planners. We will have a website linking all these programmes together, on top of RMIT’s private social network, to share research findings,” shares Anne Lourdes, Nextdor Property Communications managing director.

The programme is designed to allow for engagement from all walks of life, she points out, adding that the growth of cities involves everyone living and working there.

The beauty of such a programme is that it will provide a collection of ideas, from the useful and practical to perhaps even conceptual castles in sky. But great ambition might do well with dreams and a bit of imagination.

“What is most important is to think about the possible implications that will arise,” she says.

Imran Clyde, Nextdor Property Communications executive director, shares that the big picture for the Malaysia Biennial programme is to get people to think about the future and then plan actionable steps to take advantage of it.

“A lot of problems with cities are inherited because people could not fathom the impact of changes from new technologies, mass urban migration and changing lifestyles,” he says.

Research for Medini Iskandar of future growth relating to bodies of water.

Research on future growth relating to bodies of water.

Observing the tremendous pace of change in Malaysia in the last 30 years, he points out the demand for efficient public transport as an example.

“Who will use it, why will people use it, what types of transport options are out there, how will new forms of transportation affect use of roads, businesses and legislation? Self-driving cars are no longer a fantasy but an impending reality. How will cities and society adjust to take advantage of this? These are questions worth asking because we can now be pro-active rather than reactive,” he says.

To Imran, the biggest value of the Malaysia Biennial is bringing together people from different backgrounds and organisations to explore and shape innovative futures together.

“We want to spur an ‘eureka’ moment!” he says. “The programme is a combination of comprehensive, data-driven research coupled with realistic and idealistic visions about future possibilities. The future involves everyone and who knows, an idea sparked at the Malaysia Biennial 100YC might become a reality.”

The exhibition will showcase a collection of ideas, big and small, with its curation led by RMIT.

“The aim is to inspire global collaborators to investigate and propose innovative responses and visions as solutions for the future development of Medini Iskandar. Participants will share and disseminate ideas, concepts and information. This global connectivity will have enormous impact as we investigate key challenges and propose solutions for Medini Iskandar,” says Professor Tom Kovac, artistic director and curator from the RMIT school of architecture and design.

The focus will be on four key urban catalysts, namely, mobility, technology, commerce and knowledge.

To date, University College London, University of Innsbruck, University of Western Australia, Technical University Berlin, University of Southern California, University of Pennsylvania, University of Saint Joseph Macau and Yale School of Architecture, are among the participants of the Malaysia Biennial 100YC: Medini 2017.

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) professor of Architecture Tom Kovac, who is also the artistic director and curator of the Malaysia Biennial 100YC Medini 2017.

Describing the Malaysia Biennial as a “unique opportunity to not only imagine and visualise the future, but create a real and meaningful foundation towards the procurement of the future development of Medini Iskandar”, Kovac comments that it must be seen as the evolution of a staged development unfolding as a short-term, mid-term and long-term initiative with plans put into action along the way to create the ideal liveable city.

“The Malaysia Biennial will not only visualise the future, but create the foundation to procure these innovations, and transform them into an urban reality,” he says.

He believes the content will appeal to a huge range of people from developers, city planners, architects, students, construction companies, building material vendors, and transportation companies, just to name a few.

At the launch of the Malaysia Biennial YC100, Kovac mentioned that the development of cities in the last 100 years have been very much governed by “bricks and mortar” but a revolutionary shift is now underway, where technology – in particular the Internet – is changing the way we consume and share information.

“The Internet and social media have dramatically revolutionised our everyday interaction and means of communication. For the Malaysia Biennial 100YC this provides the ideal and complementary forum to the physical exhibition in November. Participation through a virtual platform will accelerate the exchange of ideas and enable the best outcomes to evolve, and will provide collaboration anywhere, anytime,” he says.

With Medini Iskandar referred to as “the icon of city living for the future”, what does this encompass?

Kovac ponders on how the transformation of a city, from a nascent business district to a metropolitan city epitomising 21st century living, will respect and reflect an understanding of Malaysia, its people, its values and culture and the mix of heritage and tradition in all its forms and uniqueness.

“In this context, an ideal future living is one which addresses the issues and concerns of its community, providing solutions and alignment with the possibilities imminently available, making for a more enriched quality of life. Its foundation will be to utilise space in an intelligent manner,” he notes.

While the preliminary goal of the Malaysia Biennial 100YC Medini is to showcase research of the inevitable growth of Medini Iskandar, the mission post-exhibition in November is to move into the next phase, which is the “positive direction of realising the visions and commence the transformation of the city.”

“The end of the exhibition in November is really only the beginning of the future development of Medini Iskandar in the 21st century and on the global stage as the icon for future city living,” says Kovac, before adding, “The future involves everyone and who knows, an idea sparked at the Malaysia Biennial 100YC might just become a reality.”


More info: malaysiabiennial.org.