Spaces of Digital Convergence
Review by Clarissa Lim Kye Lee
From Concrete Matter

Where are the spaces of sharing within the architectural community? I had a Google doc conversation with the face of Concrete Matter, Joyee Lee. Concrete Matter is an online platform for the architecture community of Malaysia to share their theses and built projects, debate topics of architectural education or just have conversations about the field. The set-up is simple: a two-hour Zoom call with two presenters (usually), during which the first half comprises a presentation, and the second half is reserved for conversation.

The community began in April 2020, with a few friends having a chat after work, and this has grown to over 70 people joining the conversation at the height of the pandemic. Currently based in Singapore and practising as an architectural designer, Lee uses the platform to connect with her peers in Malaysia. The conversation below explores her motivations, methods and challenges in creating a digital space for a disconnected and disparate community.

Let’s start with unpacking the name. What does “Concrete Matter” mean?

“Concrete Matter” can be read in two ways: First, “concrete” the noun refers to is a popular industrial building material that is prevalent in our daily lives and “matter”, in the verb form, means that it is significant or important. The phrase describes how buildings are important.

Alternatively, the title can also be read with the former as an adjective and the latter as a noun meaning anything that has mass and takes up space, or “everything around you” according to fundamental physics theory. The phrase suggests that the issues around you are not abstract, thus are equally important.

The use of homonyms here explains the two roles that this platform plays: to discuss architecture as it affects the society significantly but also to discuss the societal issues, as architecture more often than not is not the direct solution to the problem. I find architects glorify the role of architecture as embodying the role of a catalyst and having life-altering impact. Looking from the lens of the problem itself will shed some light on this.

I know you’re the face of Concrete Matter, but I was wondering how many others are helping you behind the scenes?

While great support and encouragement has been received by the community virtually, much of the behind-the-scenes work is actually a one woman show with some ad hoc help to fill the gaps in the workflow. This was especially so at the “pre-event” stage, when connections were needed for the invitation of speakers or marketing.

What is it like taking the reins on a platform like this?

The topics dictate and grow the platform so I suppose the biggest privilege is getting to decide the topics and speakers. What began as an extension of personal curiosity has turned into a larger discussion of the concerns prevalent in the youth designer community. Personally, I think retaining a sense of responsibility, level-headedness and humility is important while curating the sessions, because the aim of the platform is to question the conventions and spread knowledge.

Why is a digital space like this important for you?

A digital space is like an outlet for all of us at this age. The platform helps me to connect with the people from the place where I came from. It reminds me of my roots and identity while I'm away in a different country during lockdown, and more importantly it reminds me of the pure pursuit of design. It's easy to feel either numb or petrified by the working culture in this industry upon graduation. Thus, a simple sharing or conversation about design can help to sustain my inspiration and motivation along the way. I wish to share this space with my peers in the field.

The format is also intriguing – as opposed to a typical lecture, you split the time evenly between presentation and conversation. Why?

I feel virtual platforms can change the dynamics of knowledge sharing. Traditionally, the speaker will be on stage and the students will be in their seats, drawing an invisible line of hierarchy in knowledge transfer. Any questions raised, even a humble one, might be seen as a threat or challenge to the speaker especially in a closed-minded environment. After all, look at poor John Smith standing alone on the pedestal against the world and thirsty after two hours of speaking, spare him some sympathy with no questions, eh? And, unless you're the brightest in the hall or the most thick-skinned, most would feel nervous about raising our hands during that dreadful Q&A session!

The interface on Zoom has flattened the pyramid, by displaying everyone's profile equally on the screen. Side by side, the speaker is now among us instead of above us. We have equal rights to agree and disagree and that's why the duration of the conversation is the same as the presentation. Also one can be anonymous if one wishes to. Personally, I think natural and witty conversation is now able to take place because the pressure of being judged has been lifted and a layer of mystery has instead been added, giving it a touch of fun.

I would like to special thank Nicholas Ng, Jindee and Suria from CushCush Bali and all the speakers. Without their encouragement, this project would not have been carried forward to the last season.

What I have learnt the most from each session is the power of the audience. The people who make up the Concrete Matter community intrigues me. The questions they ask are so witty and unexpected, very thought provoking. Questions always leave room for imagination, rather than a simple answer.

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Although Concrete Matter is on a break, Lee is currently moderating a series of online talks in conjunction with BACA and XYZ Podcast with Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia Youth Committee - PAM NEXT. Working within the ecology of online platforms engaging with architectural discourse, Concrete Matter acts as a repository of young designers’ work and discussion.

You can find the archived Concrete Matter conversations on its YouTube channel and summaries on Instagram.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author's own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms.

Clarissa Lim Kye Lee is a writer under the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021

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