Mick Pearce

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mick-pearce“an ingenious critical tropicalist architect”.

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.

Zimbabwean born Michael “Mick” Pearce (born June 02, 1938) has been working in Australia, the United Kingdom, Zimbabwe and Zambia for nearly 50 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, 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 12000m2 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. As part of his job with the MCC, Mick Pearce has also given a number of presentations and seminars based on these principles.

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 practising 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 ¬¬¬ 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.

All glass high-rise
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 temporarily 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 also designed:

Base for Architectural Research for Vanke co Ltd Shenzhen China 2009 -2010
This project started in December 2009. The work comprises designing an experimental tower for testing hydraulic equipment in high-rise apartment buildings in China.

It also explores many ways in which high-rise building can exploit gravity potential, access to wind and solar energy, and the use of stack ventilation driven passively with solar harvested heat. This project has led to further projects including a worker dormitory, kitchen and dining hall in which will test out a number of passive systems designed to replace conventional high energy consumptive air conditioning systems

CH2 Municipal offices in Melbourne Australia 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 has now been occupied since 2006 and has been awarded a number of international and local awards. In 2008 a Post occupation evaluation was carried out by an independent London based organization with CSIRO.

The findings of occupant satisfaction were more than twice as good as expected.

Mick Pearce was the lead designer as well as the partner in charge of the theatre at the Harare International School (2001-2002), the Centre for the Environment at Zolda, Belgium, The Hindoo Temple, Harare, Zimbabwe (1989-1991), the Eastgate, Harare Zimbabwe (1991-1996), Student residences, University of Zambia, a milk factory and some rural secondary schools in Zambia among others.