Friday, October 11, 2019

Balancing Act

This is my contribution to an architectural installation meant to depict the many facets of architectural life. It was part of PAMSC’s celebration of World Architecture Day. This year, we teamed up with WAK (What About Kuching); part of a larger celebration in Kuching to celebrate its arts, culture and lifestyle.

The former Ting & Ting Supermarket was re-named LOCATION X and revamped into an exhibition space for this event. We were each given a ‘cubicle’ framed by a module of construction scaffolding.
I would like to say that my installation was a carefully curated selection of meaningful objects from my work-life. That would be lying, as Sam and I grabbed this and that from the office last Friday, and hurried over to the exhibition venue and assembled everything before dinner. 

That being said, each item of the installation still came together to convey a subtle message of ‘balance’; of work and life, of the recent and past, of the completed and on-going, of natural and man-made.

On the wall is a panel of a recent project; the Bagan Specialist Centre Expansion- its near completeness is a reminder that our work is never done; there is always the on-going guest to improve planning, refine details and reduce mistakes.

On the table is a model of the hospital, made from simple white card it challenges the notion that digital is better. Cardboard models have a physicality that belies the gravity of our work, they are often the most honest manifestation of our projects before they are built.

There are other items on the table; the pot plant is a reminder that Nature takes precedence, the pieces of stone and timber help to reinforce ideas about colour, tactility and weight. While we strive for perfection, we ourselves are prone to human frailty; the reading glasses and muscle balm are testament to this.

In front of the table is a wooden stool which one of my interns made out of recycled weatherboards from a school. We prefer handmade to store-bought because the former brings with it a personal history shared with its maker. The imperfections of the joints, the chipped corners are traces of human effort and failures, and hopefully lessons for the next stool. 

On my left is a collage of sketches, postcards and photos of family members offering a glimpse to a balance between work and life. The squash racket and bicycle helmet are emblems of a physical routine; one represents the element of play which is so important as architects often take themselves too seriously, the other hints at a commitment to be environmentally responsible.

On my right are ‘laundry lines’ of drawings including some on butter paper; most are hand-drawn, some are drawn over CAD print outs. They represent some of the ideas and conversations that shaped projects over the past 20 years.

Lastly, the question that remains – what do the swimming trunks and goggles represent? They are an antidote to a noisy world, where I can escape to talk quietly to myself.

Monday, October 7, 2019

From little things big things grow.

This is a small project.
The building needed a sign so that we know its new name, and a directory so that we know who works inside.
I see great value in small projects like these because they are quick to implement and they allow some level of innovation through trial and error, which means we learn from it. 
We thought that some tress in the front court would be a good place to start. 

Then we added some tall elements to accompany the trees, these doubled as 'sign posts'.

A long horizontal volume was needed to balance the composition; a 'green' wall with letters.

construction photos; the letters are fastened with a bolt and nut so that they are replaceable.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


This is the good result of a good morning's work - head down, ear tuned to BBC radio listening to Lyse Douset interviewing women who changed the world and mind focused finishing a design 2 months late. These drawings are done in pencil on butter paper and touched up in some parts of IKEA children's markers and colour pencils.
I have days when I don't have time to draw, and on those days I feel like I haven't done any work at all.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Continuing Personal Development

These days, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to design conferences; in June, there was SHIFT 2019 organized by DOMA Initiatives  in Kuala Lumpur, and then PAM’s KLAF which combines DATUM:KL, DATUM:GREEN and DATUM+PLUS into a 3-day architecture design festival  in July, and more recently Swinburne University’s Good Design Week in Kuching.

Having attended all 3 of them, I will attempt to curate the experience – starting with SHIFT 2019, which took place at Taylor’s University on the 22-23 June 2019 with 9 speakers from China (Wei Na, Dong Gong, Liu Jia Kun), Korea (Chan Joong Kim), Thailand (David Schafer), the UK (Kevin Carmody, Christopher Lee, Prof. Hanif Kara) and Sri Lanka (Milinda Parathiraja). The moderators were from the UK (Haruo Morishima),  China (Liu Xiao Du) and Malaysia (Huat Lim and Suzanne Zeidler)., I thought that Huat did an excellent job summing up questions (especially from the students) and directing the Q&A into a lively and informative conversation. Of the speakers, I thought that the trio from China represented a good cross section of architectural practices. Wei Na from ELEVATION WORKSHOP, whose work is very visual with a large following on social media, while Dong Gong of VECTOR ARCHITECTS cleverly talked about the behind-the-scenes processes and journeys in his Alila Hotel project – telling us enough to look for his projects on-line, and Lui Jia Kun from Szechuan who presented in Mandarin, describing his contributions to the community via his architecture – relief-housing, a memorial and the West Village in Chengdu. The conference was RM 230 over 2-days, without lunch although tea and coffee was provided. It was organized as a CSR project* with Taylors University providing the venue free of charge. The event had an air of youthful exuberance and inclusiveness, no doubt aided by the dozens of volunteers from the university and local practices, and the 550-pax agora style auditorium. I was told that the event was over-subscribed, and there are plans to hold it at KLCC next year in March.

I am looking forward to next year’s event.

KLAF has grown from a 2-day event to a 3-day event this year, it combines DATUM:GREEN and DATUM+PLUS with DATUM:KL. At the registration on DAY 1, I overheard a fellow Sarawakian asking if he could buy tickets for only one day’s lectures – he couldn’t, it was a 3-day package for RM 750(lunch and tea breaks provided). There were numerous lectures interspersed with a speech by YB Yeo Bee Yin, the Minister for Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, the conferring of the PAM GOLD Award, and the Architecture Asia Award for Emerging Architects. I enjoyed many of the presentations by this year’s speakers, but that was my problem – there were two many of them over three days. I can remember the project but cannot recall which architect designed it; not many of the speakers spoke to the conference’s theme.  ‘TOMORROW” was a little too vague to direct the conversation, so we ended up with a nice buffet of good presentations. A close friend who also attended thinks that this is because there wasn’t a star architect; others thought our home-grown Teo Ah Khing was the true keynote, having shown how he has broken the glass ceiling for Malaysian architects to practice “Tomorrow”.

I am looking forward to attending the KLAF fringe next year.

The Good Design Week was a collaborative effort by Curtin University in Perth and Swinburne University, with co-chairs from both universities; Ar. Prof. Khoa Do and Ir. Prof. Lau Hieng Ho respectively.
 The conference aimed to bring applied design research, practice, governance and scholarship to examine good design for community, housing, culture, heritage, resources, eco-tourism and creative economy. This was a good opportunity for Swinburne University to host foreign delegates and students (from Curtin University’s Perth campus) – the conference was well attended by local practitioners and academics.

I was looking forward to more participation by local universities.  

To conclude, attending design conferences is like a quick fix; a shot of caffeine to boost the creative enzymes but for more sustained results, the lessons taken away have to be recorded and put to use.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Building Community

It started with a phone call from SL.

He needed help to build a toilet for community hall. He and I have worked on Habitat for Humanity project for many years (until the Malaysian Affiliate for HfH was closed down). The site was in a swampy area near the river, access was difficult, the plank-walk into the kampong was in bad shape, I had to concentrate walking along the beams and not the floorboards, many of which were rotten, broken or both.

drawings by Melanie
a kit of parts for quick assembly on a difficult to access site

digging the footings - a difficult task made harder by a dirty site.

The locals had other ideas about the siting of our building.
Luckily, the matter was resolved, only after we agreed to rotate the building by 90 degrees.

Steel sections were assembled in the hall.

We were first guided by skilled workers, later we guided each other

Preparing to hoist the assembled floor structure

Asri and Alvin in good spirits amid the hard work

Our littlest helper

Young and experienced working together.

The surplus purlins were used to build a screen

The completed screen

2 cubicles

happy as pigs in mud 
Three weekends later, the toilet was completed.

I think we have stretched the commitment of our fellows volunteers. If we have gone on for another Saturday, it is safe to say that no one would have showed up, including myself. One thing we have learnt is that is is easiest to get volunteers to join you if you are one of the volunteers prepared to put in 'sweat equity'.

The second lesson is that projects such as this are not entirely about the building, it is about creating an event where social issues such as the lack of public amenities, housing and educational support can be highlighted. It is also about creating a platform for people to come together for a common good - their names, age, stature in society is not important. Charity should be anonymous.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Making stuff, being productive

Yesterday ended on a high for me. After returning to the office from the gym at 530 pm, Sara and I sat down for an hour and made a sketch model for a water feature. After which, we went to her favourite seafood restaurant for dinner and beers.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Steps to the Attic

 Finally issued the drawings for steps to the attic, much to the relief of AL. It is only 750 mm wide, but it is adequate for kids to run up to play in the attic. And once or twice a year, the grown ups would have to go up these steps to bring down the Christmas lights or luggage from the store room.
# prioritizatingmaterialusage

Updated in October 2019.