City Time Traveller, a new travel show that spotlights architectural wonders throughout Asia, debuted earlier this month on Channel NewsAsia. Mixing city history and architectural heritage, the show is hosted by Jason Pomeroy, an architect, academic and urban planner based in Singapore. As an architect concerned primarily with ecological sustainability, Pomeroy focuses the show on places that have weathered time and conflict to persist and thrive today. Archinect spoke with Jason Pomeroy when the show just began airing, touching on his demanding filming schedule and work as an “eco-architect”.
[Amelia Taylor-Hochberg] How did you come to host "City Time Traveller"?
[Jason Pomeroy] I had just completed writing my book, The Skycourt and Skygarden: Greening the Urban Habitat, and several people suggested that given its popularity as a subject matter, it would be a good idea to see if it could be made into a TV series. I met this producer, William Lim, who in the same instance was interested in creating an architecture travel series. We discussed concepts, which flowed quickly given that his background was similarly in architecture. He wished to explore 6 countries, so I suggested a format that would allow the exploration of 2 capitals, old and new, thus giving 12 episodes. These cities would then be explored in terms of their past, present and future. After several sessions between ourselves, and William’s discussions with the channel, the format was agreed, the cities selected, and the buildings picked. They wanted someone who could then be able to communicate the story from an expert viewpoint as a practicing architect or an academic. I have the fortune of straddling both and so have become ‘the city time traveller’ so to speak.
On top of being a practicing architect, urban planner, and academic, what motivated you to host a television show?
I don’t see myself as a TV show host presenting from a script, prepared and conceived by someone else with little or any involvement with the subject matter. This is a 12 part documentary architecture travel series, that uncovers stories behind some of the most interesting cities, places, buildings and their civilisations. It seeks to connect history, culture and everyday life though architecture, which is something that I’m passionate about as a practicing architect and academic.
I’ve been part of the creative process of this series from its inception - shaping the episodes and the subject matter and working with an amazing production team. I am also the series’ architectural consultant on the various buildings and places visited. In every episode I’m having a dialogue with real people in real places in real time, learning of the social context and the reasons for how the built environment or a particular building came into being from not only my academic viewpoint, but from the local socio-cultural viewpoint. I wanted to ensure that the viewing audience gets the same insights as I do, and to provide a commentary that is not too different from the informal lectures that I give my university students. Ultimately, it is my commitment to continuous learning, and the sharing of knowledge -- whether through a lecture theatre, a conference hall or the TV screen -- that drives me, and I guess this has been the result of the latter.
What do you want viewers to gain from the show?
I wanted to take people on a journey through the great Asian cities -- old and new -- and travel through time to experience the cities’ people, places and buildings: past, present and future. I hope the series stimulates the public’s curiosity in the evolution of cities over time, particularly as the show examines individuals and communities who have shaped the lives of people through the buildings and places that they built. Some of the most sustainable environments have stood the test of time, allowing people today to enjoy the places and buildings of the past.
Has working on the show influenced your own architectural practice?
My practice is very much an evidence-based, interdisciplinary, sustainable design studio that combines design and research -- a balancing of creative vigour and academic rigour! So, this grand tour of Asia’s most historic cities and their emotive architectural structures has similarly been a perfect opportunity for the Studio’s ongoing research into socio-cultural dwelling practices that transcend geographic boundaries, which is then similarly applied to the sustainable developments that we design in Asia.
The places I visited have spanned the breadths of time, ranging from the 7th century ancient city of Varanasi, rich in spiritual content, through to the 21st century city of Tokyo -- a hotbed of technological ingenuity laid upon age old socio-cultural practices. I’ve also seen the majestic Palaces of Hue, and the magical ruins of Ayutthaya. What transcends culture though is an indigenous civilisation’s understanding of basic environmental and social needs, embodied in many of these historical buildings. Shelter from the elements, natural light, natural ventilation, locally sourced materials and a spatial ‘encoding’ as to who can come in and occupy a particular space, and who must stay outside, can be found in all. This insight as to how people once lived before the advent of technology, and how many of the basic principles of the past can be distilled to sustain communities for the present and future, is what has become applicable in our design method from the macro scale of the city to the micro scale of the dwelling.
How did you decide to focus the show’s first season in Asia?
As the series was commissioned for Channel News Asia, a Singapore channel that is Asian and Middle Eastern in outreach, it was felt that Asian cities would be the primary focus of season 1 given its viewer profile, though this format could easily lend itself to other regions in further seasons.
What's next for "City Time Traveler"?
Firstly, I think a break would be nice! The filming schedule has been intense, but most enjoyable, made possible by a fantastic crew. After that, lets hope for a season two, as there are many more cities I’d like to explore. In the meantime, my travels are being documented in a book that will be published in the latter part of the year, and I’ll most certainly be back in my studio working on sustainable design projects in the region. We have a large, landmark mixed-use community coming up in Penang, Malaysia, a zero carbon masterplanning development in Quezon city, Philippines as well as a host of projects in Beijing, Jakarta, Singapore and Siem Reap to look forward to.
Managing Editor and Podcast Co-Producer for Archinect. I write, go to the movies, walk around and listen to the radio. My interests revolve around cognitive urban theory, psycholinguistics and food.Got a pitch, or want to write for us? Contact me!