Wednesday, May 20, 2015


At my age, most would settle into a comfortable routine and cruise into retirement. So, my decision to relinquish my shares in DNA to set up a smaller practice would appear strange to some, financially foolish to others and a step in the right direction for those who really really know me. One such friend summed it up by saying "time to do good rather than to do well for oneself"

So by July this year, I will working with people whom I like, doing work that I enjoy, in a part of Kuching town that I love. There is still plenty to be done; logistics and paperwork but I won't bore you with them.

This is my first impression of the new premises.

And later, when I visited the shop with Leong and Arl - I made some more sketches and impressions.

The shop house has a small frontage, dwarfed by its neighbours and forgotten by its owner for nearly ten years. Someone had padlocked the front door; using it as a store illegally, we cut the padlock and went in. The inside was dirty and filled with debris of human life from a decade ago when it was last occupied. But looking beyond the filth and water damaged wall plaster, the timber structure was sound and many of the building elements such as the double hatch front windows and the metal window frames are original and intact.

five foot way entrance
first floor

 more soon...

Friday, April 10, 2015

In Memory of Iain

Our friend Iain passed away on this day three years ago - this is a re-posting of my journal entry at that time.

Our good friend, Iain Heggen passed away on the 11th of April in Geelong. Sam and I have known him since 1986 - we met during the Second Year of Architecture School in Deakin University.
He was one of the few that kept in touch after our return to Malaysia - which makes it hard to bear and harder to believe. There will be no more funny emails from Iain with photographs of Geelong.

His funeral was on the 20th of April - several of our close friends attended. Dianne who was unable to attend shared a touching story about how she first met Iain. She writes - 

"If I was to be there I would recall that I first met Iain when I responded to a notice he'd pinned up around the architecture studio. It offered free accommodation at My Buller during the week of the DU ski club trip.  The free accommodation turned out to be an igloo which we would build ourselves."

While I am glad that some of my friends were able to attend Iain's funeral. I regret not being there. I regret not telling Iain when I had a chance that in many ways he represented the Australia that Sam and I remember fondly to this day - the warm friendship, the irreverent wit and generosity.

Years after I returned to Malaysia, he would surprise me with phone calls - "because it is Easter
over here" or because it is my birthday (or his). Once I told him that I watched a televised
bike race through Geelong - he replied "Oh, I was there, did you see me waving?"

I took this photo of Iain and Wendy in our porta-cabin studio during Year 5; as an engagement present to the both of them. 

Iain Heggen; an all round good egg with long strides and a chipper outlook - as Cardie so aptly puts it. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Talking to students about architecture

One of my favourite past-times is talking to students about architecture; as a vocation, its practice, the crafting of spaces and so forth, and to support this hobby I tutor, have architecture interns and conduct talks and workshops.

I hold my design studio in the atrium of the college; 20 students sitting in a cluster, taking turns to talk about their ideas, showing butter-paper sketches and models. I am also a student, learning to be a better listener.
OK, some of them need to learn to be better listeners too...
 Here are some of the notes taken during last Wednesday's discussion.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lines in Steel

I am an architect, I draw lines. Sometimes, they get built.

The initial pencil drawing of the scheme

The completed building sits on a high verge with views of Singapore across the Causeway

Whenever possible, we delineated the various elements of the building with a shadow recess, a drop or a gap
The over-sailing roof modulates and unifies all the spaces and gives the building its final form.

The 2-storey amenities block is linked to the offices by a series of bridges over a ‘street’.

The roof turns down to become a rain screen for the street, the amenities are in the concrete structure.

The original idea used the gentle slope of the roof as a ramp to a look out station
The western facade is shielded with sun louvres to minimize heat entering the work space
An exploded axonometric showing the different components that make up this building, rainwater is collected for use in the toilets

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Taking a turn around the room

This antiquated phase gave me the idea for this photo-montage; a panorama of faces collected almost 30 years ago. Judging from the number of people, it must have quite a big occasion; were we on our way to a concert, was it the Bach recital in the old church near our house? No one remembers, we can't even recall the year.

Dez and Freddo reckon it must have been1988, though Cardie thinks it's closer to 1989 on account of Rosa being there. She left for Europe after graduation and worked for Forster’s; I think we were all a little in love with Rosa.

Next to her with long curly hair is Simon who is now in politics (and without his curls), I remember his deep voice and slow drawl-y way of speaking. Marcus was from a year our junior; a very good student and photographer, I don't know him very well and can't remember his friend's name. Sitting next to Sam is Iain who left us two years ago – I like his sense of humour and generosity, and I remember that Sam had a soft spot for him.

Annette who is talking to Sam was studying to be a journalist and once interviewed me for a school assignment. I think it was about the relationship of one's cultural background and eventual personality or character. In it she said that I had a propensity to tell a good story. (I had to look up 'propensity'.)

Next to her is Nicola (?) - a good pastry cook, her specialty is Florentines which she secretly calls "vomits" on account of their splattered shapes, I think and certainly not their taste because they were heavenly. I tasted them once when she made them for a garden party at Dianne’s, during which I met her and Annette.

Cardie is an unusual combination of cool and edginess – perhaps a precursor of grunge? I remember him as being half asleep most of the time yet able to come up with wonderful design schemes. He and I were workshop partners for the Silver Medallion Award. Min (real name Marie) nearly got us beaten up once when she re-wrote the menu of working-men’s pub; changing ‘fried lamb brains’ to ‘shit-for-brains’; ‘calamari and chips’ to ‘calamari and foreskins’, etc. At the time, I think she was going out (to use another old fashioned term) with Freddo who once said ‘ man, don’t call him a cunt – cunts are nice things’. In Australia, Freddo is the name of a chocolate treat in the shape of frog. Tim next to him is more restrained and last seen converting an old church in Geelong into centre for restoring old timbers – I wonder if he is still doing that (I should write to him).

Dianne is precious, she unknowing perhaps taught to me to put myself in another person’s shoes and see the other point of view – something that I am still learning to do well. She visited us when we got married in Kuching and came along for our honeymoon in Penang.

So, this was my circle of friends and acquaintances in Geelong who have in some way shaped my thinking and my attitude towards people, life and work, or at the very least given me stories to tell -  even if they are 30 years too late.

One question though – Dez, where were you?

Friday, February 27, 2015

A morning at Segu

The Segu Bungalow has been featured in this blog before, so I won't dwell on it except to mention that recently Tom Walker gave a talk there and Louise (who lives there) asked if I could frame one of my Segu sketches as a memento for him. I could not decide which view to frame for Tom, but Yasmin saved the day by stitching all my little vignettes together into a scroll.

Prints of this series are for sale at the Zinc restaurant on Jalan Tabuan, owner James Lo will donate proceeds to the Friends of the Sarawak Museum.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sketching with Sean

More of my work takes me to Kuala Lumpur these days and since Sean and Sara are studying and living in KL now - work combines with family life in a nice symmetry that I enjoy. When I was recently invited to introduce our practice to a client there, I use it as an opportunity to invite my favourite young man to breakfast and maybe a bit of sketching. Perhaps with me offering some fatherly advice on ink and wash (and life). We agreed to meet in the morning at 8 in order to give him time to travel to me by public transport.

View of KLIA2 from my window seat
But work first. I flew budget to KLIA2, the long journey and the waiting time gave me time to fill a few pages of my sketch book. My contact person in the client's company was a former trainee, now an architect working with this large property developer. Again, I was pleasantly reminded of life's symmetry - this young person whom I mentored and gave tips to about architecture is now (10 years on) giving me tips about my presentation to her bosses. The meeting was long but enjoyable and I felt a rapport with the people there, we agreed to put some thoughts on paper for one of their projects.

Seanie trying out my water brush
Sometimes, I visualise the outcome of an event; the sequence of conversation, the exchange of words and looks, a facial expression, a gesture. Sometimes the actual event turns out much like how I imagined it. I thought that the hotel breakfast would be mediocre and it was; that he would arrive a little late and flustered as he is prone to do when he arrives late; that he would eat little and talk even less until prompted.

Sean's sketch of a parapet detail
Then later as he cooled down, he also warmed up to the task of telling me about his recent field and listened to my suggestions about doing quick sketches and trying different media. While he concentrated on his sketches, I made the most of the hotel's buffet service and made us cups of tea with honey and toast with butter and jam.