Michael Pearce has been working in Australia, the UK, Zimbabwe and Zambia for 42 years. His experience covers a wide range, from building in remote parts of Central Africa to converting old buildings in North-East England and large-scale city developments in Harare and Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe’, an ecological exhibition centre in Belgium and the CH2 council office block in Melbourne, Australia. Committed to appropriate ecological architecture, Michael Pearce has focused upon the development of buildings which have low maintenance, low capital and running costs and renewable energy systems of environmental control. The most recent work involves an approach to design in which the architecture expression is seen as a balance of the natural, the social and the economic environments in which the project is sited. He uses models from nature, copying natural processes which he studies through the new science of Biomimicry.
He was directly responsible for the design and supervision of Eastgate in Harare 1992 to 1996. This project has achieved world acclaim as a landmark building based on these principles. It was the largest commercial mixed development (31000m2) at that time, based on sustainable passive energy principles. It has performed as expected since it was occupied in April 1996.
In August 2001 he was invited to work in the City Projects Division of Melbourne City Council ( MCC) to become the Principle Design Architect for their new 12 000 sq meter offices in Little Collins Street called CH2. In this case he led the CH2 Design Team to produce Australia’s first Six Star ESD design and which has already achieved world status.
The following passage was taken from the citation at the 2003 Prince Claus (of The Netherlands) Award, which was presented to Mick Pearce on the 10 December 2003:
“Mick Pearce is among the most ingenious critical tropicalist architects practicing today. He has had to be. Like Tai Kheng Soon of Singapore and Ken Yeang of Malaysia, he is one of the rare architects who are pursuing a solution to these problems in the tropics. Like them, he has designed a large-scale urban project that successfully adapts sophisticated technologies to minimize economic and ecological cost, adapting the global to the identity of the particular region. In Zimbabwe, in the early 1980s, Mick Pearce produced a series of buildings: five major commercial office blocks, university buildings, a major hospital, a Hindu temple and an international school.
“His most seminal project is Eastgate, a mixed office complex and shopping mall covering half a city block in the business centre of Harare. What makes it unique is that it is not only ventilated, cooled and heated entirely through natural means, but it works. Its ventilation costs one-tenth that of a comparable air-conditioned building and it uses 35 percent less energy than six conventional buildings in Harare. In the first five years alone the building saved its tenants $3.5 million in energy costs.
“One needs a considerable leap of design imagination to model a building on a termite mound, or more precisely, on the termite mounds that dot the Zimbabwean savannah. In a rare case of architectural bionics being the field in which principles from living organisms are transferred into engineering – this is what Mick Pearce has done at Eastgate. Small wonder he became so fascinated with termites – they, too, happen to be ingenious because they have to be. They can only survive if their environment has a constant temperature of exactly 30 to 31 degrees. As temperatures in Zimbabwe fluctuate from 12 degrees at night to 35 degrees during the day, termites dig a kind of breeze-catcher at the base of their mound, which cools the air by means of chambers carved out of the wet mud below, and sends hot air out through a flue to the top. They constantly vary this construction by alternatively opening up new tunnels and blocking others to regulate the heat and humidity within the mound.
“Based on the termite mound analogy, Mick Pearce’s Eastgate building uses the mass of the building as insulation and the diurnal temperature swings outside to keep its interior uniformly cool. With Ove Arup & Partners, he devised an air-change schedule that is significantly more efficient than other climate-controlled buildings in the area. Fans suck fresh air from the atrium, blow it upstairs through hollow spaces under the floors and from there into each office through baseboard vents. As it rises and warms, it is drawn out through 48 round brick funnels. During cool summer nights, big fans send air through the building seven times an hour to chill the hollow floors. By day, smaller fans blow two changes of air an hour through the building. As a result, the air is fresh, much more so than from an air conditioner which recycles 30 percent of the air that passes through it.
“The building is an astonishing example of what one might call Zimbabweanist architecture, not only in its locally inspired bionic approach to design but also in the way it is rooted in local culture. With its heavy masonry walls on the exterior of the building, it is an expression of the traditional native stone masonry architecture from which Zimbabwe derives its name. On the inside, it is the expression of industrial machine architecture brought in by European immigrants. As one would expect from a graduate of the AA and a student of the technology enthusiasts Reyner Banham and Cedric Price, the interior atrium has a high-tech gleam, with its delicately detailed steel-lattice girders, walkways suspended on tendons, bridges, and filigreed tiaras atop the main entrances to the complex. This project is the very symbol of diversity at work in creating a better world.
“With this building, Mick Pearce has tossed the norms of architectural correctness out of the window and looked to nature and local cultures for a solution to sustainability. This goes to show that local culture and the realities of the natural geo-climatic region have much to teach those who are willing to reject standardised ready-made solutions. His building stands as a defense of diversity in the face of the homogenizing forces of globalize practice, but also as a defense against a backward-looking refusal to engage with the modern world.
“Mick Pearce has probably moved further away, than any other architect in the world today from the lip service the profession usually gives to enhancing sustainability and diversity. His great achievement has been to come up with a truly innovative and successful alternative to the all-glass high-rise that tropical countries tend to import from the North. Perhaps it is no coincidence that such an architect has wide experience of working in the tropics, where ecological, economic and political crises are so pressing and so serious that they demand nothing less than ingenious solutions, not only for the benefit of the local population but for the whole planet, whose health depends on the survival of tropical bio-diversity. The post/neo colonizing world of the North does not tend to look to the post-colonial world for groundbreaking ideas, but Mick Pearce has come up with some brilliant ones.
“Due to the political conditions in Zimbabwe, Mick Pearce is temporally working in Melbourne Australia, where he is putting his Eastgate paradigm to ingenious new use, notably in his Council House Two project, called CH2. His tendency to agilely cross over boundaries, both intellectual and geographical, combined with his stubbornly uncompromising commitment to diversity – ecological, architectural and political ¬– has a lot to do with what makes this Zimbabwean bionic paradigm exportable not only to the rest of the tropical region but to the whole world. (Liane Lefaivre and Alexander Tzonis)”
Below is a selection of some of the buildings that Mick Pearce has designed:
CH2 MUNICIPAL OFFICES IN MELBOURNE 2002–2005
Due to the growing political crisis in Zimbabwe since the 2000 elections, the economy of Zimbabwe has been in sharp decline and the building industry was the first to suffer. In August 2002 Mick Pearce moved to Melbourne, Australia, where he had been offered a contract by the Melbourne City Council to act as the lead design architect for their new municipal offices in Melbourne’s central business district. CH2 (Council House Two) is the name given to this already well-known project. This building follows the same principles at those established at Eastgate: the architecture and its visual expression should respond to the natural, socio-cultural and economic environment of its location in the same way that an ecosystem in nature is embedded in its site. The metaphor for Eastgate was the termitary, the metaphor for CH2 is the tree.
CH2 is a mixed development with retail on the ground floor and with nine floors of offices above. The project may be seen on the Internet web site, www.CH2.com.au . It is being built at present and is due to be completed in March 2006.
Mick Pearce was the lead designer as well as the partner in charge of the following projects:
THEATRE AT HARARE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL 2001–2002
The Harare International School Arts Centre. This comprises a 500-seat theatre with a drama and music school attached. This building is the first of its kind to be cooled with a rock-store system in combination with three wind-driven turbines. Both the rock store and the turbine at the school were developed in consultation with Ove Arup and both have achieved international acclaim.
CENTRE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AT ZOLDA, BELGIUM, 1998–2002
The turbines will be used in Zolda, Belgium on another project for which Pearce’s office is mainly responsible.
EASTGATE DEVELOPMENT HARARE, 1991–1996
Eastgate Development, Harare for City Centre Properties (Pvt) Ltd. Lead Designer and Architect for this 55 000m² mixed-use city centre development, using passive environmental systems.
HINDOO TEMPLE, HARARE, 1989–19991
The small but lively Hindoo community in Harare financed this temple to seat up to 1000 people in lotus position. The building is built in northern Hindoo style with a 60m high stupa, a hall and three stupas over the entrance foyers. The temple was built in corbled brick.
CHINHOY HOSPITAL ZIMBABWE, 1990–1995
Chinhoyi Provincial Hospital, Chinhoyi. In charge of inception, briefing and design for this new hospital, including site planning, staff housing and the Training School.
LAND MANAGEMENT FACULTY, UNIVERSITY OF ZIMBABWE, 1986
Land Management Building, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Zimbabwe. Project Architect for all stages of work on a mixed-use campus building, including laboratories, lecture halls and offices.
STUDENTS RESIDENCE, UNIVERSITY OF ZAMBIA, 1968
Students’ Residences, University of Zambia, Lusaka. Project Architect.
MILK PROCESSING FACTORY ZAMBIA, 1969–1971
Milk Processing Factory, Lusaka for the Dairy Marketing Board.
THREE RURAL SECONDARY SCHOOLS IN ZAMBIA, 1968–1970
Rural secondary schools in Choma, Chama and Chongwe, Zambia. Designer and Project Architect.
TRADES TRAINING INSTITUTE AT KABWE AND LIVINGSTONE IN ZAMBIA, 1966–1968
This experience fits the project under reference as these Trades Training Institutes were large tertiary training colleges which were residential and included residential units for a student population of 300.
INFORMATION ABOUT MY APPROACH TO MY WORK
I have become increasingly interested in the development of a new relationship between the city and nature in which man’s relationship with nature is changing. This has a wide-ranging influence on my architecture. I am also convinced that the mindless burning of fossil fuels, which I call “burning diamonds”, is having a disastrous effect on the planet’s natural, social and economic environment. We should instead be using the vast resource of fossil remains for higher-state energy transfer processes to produce hydrocarbon materials like carbon fiber, while at the same time moving towards using the renewable energy which will give rise to a new solar age. Here in China I am interested in promoting an architecture which responds to the natural, social and economic environments inspired by the study of natural processes which has been called biomimicry. Above all this is an architecture more about process than pure form. Like all the objects we see in nature I am interested in the processes which brought them into being. It is all physiology.