Tuesday, July 28, 2015

24-hour Design Workshop

Last weekend, the local chapter of the architects' institute (PAMSC) conducted a 24-hour design workshop. The brief called for the design of a cultural pavilion for a key figure in Sarawakian culture and history - and instead of choosing the usual political figures, I decided to choose Tom Harrisson as the candidate.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Life Cycles

In a recent interview, Jack Ma of Alibaba fame talked about the various stages of an entrepreneur's career - he listed them along these lines:
Before 20, study hard.
20-30, find someone good to work for, someone who can teach you the passion.
30-40, decide on the direction of your career (and hopefully decide to start up your own company) 
40-50, find out what you are good at and keep doing that.
After 50, invest in the younger generation because they are better than you.
After 60, retire to sit on the beach.
These were his words of advice for the younger generation of entrepreneurs, to encourage them to do better in their careers.

I wonder if this can be applied to our profession as well. At 51, I feel somewhat entitled to make some useful comparisons and suggestions.
In your 20's, study hard. Don't worry about which university is better than the other. It's mostly you who makes the difference, so go to one that you can afford. Recognised by LAM? - all this might be irrelevant if only degrees from local universities are recognized. In any case, it's not the end of the world, simply humble yourself and go for the assessment interviews.
Remember that in the first three years of an architecture course, they teach you to "do" whereas in the final two years, they teach you to "think". Never confuse the two.
Before 30, register yourself with PAM and LAM to learn about your profession in Malaysia and to prepare for your registration exams. Find a job and remember that the probation period is for you as well as the employer; this "walk out" clause enables you to do just that if the job doesn't meet your expectations. What should your expectations be? There are 4 basic stages to an architectural project; get involved in all of them and understand the mechanics and systems. Not only is this experience useful for the LAM Part 3 exams, these hard skills will be useful when you set up your own practice.
And find a mentor to teach you the soft skills; how to manage people, your clients, staff, contractors and to learn the passion that drives a good practice. These two go hand in hand - architects who are passionate about their work are usually good mentors.
30-40; hopefully you have passed your registration exams and are now qualified to set up your own practice. Take a moment to think about your objectives - to make more money? To make a name for yourself? This will shape the nature of your practice, how you practice and ultimately shape your work - magazines like to refer to this group as emerging architects. Imagine! Emerging only after 20 years of practice - architecture has a long gestation period indeed.
40-50; so you have been in your own practice for more than ten years now and hopefully, you have made your mark. Be it an architectural style or a particular building type, a passion for teaching or social change, for research and technology - whatever it is, you are good at it and known for it. Members of the fraternity associate you with this line of work and the public recognise you for it. In some small way, you have left your legacy.
50-60; time to take stock - you have 15 good years left, if you watch what you eat; architecturally and gastronomically - think ala-carte and not buffet. Time to think about doing good, rather than doing well for yourself. Remember when you were guided by mentors in your thirties? Time to pay it forward and invest in the next generation. They have the drive to take the practice to the next generation. This is another way of leaving your legacy; in people.
I disagree with Jack Ma on his last point, it is unlikely that many of us will retire to sit on the beach at 60. Chances are we will still be working at 60; at best, trying to finish one's "best" building to culminate a lifetime's portfolio and at worst, to pay off an overdraft.

Let's hope that it's the former and not the latter.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Travel sketches - Boey Chong Kee, People's Court

This little cluster of public housing is off Lebuh Cintra in Penang, many know this place for the old Cantonese restaurant on the ground floor of one of the flats - Boey Chong Kee. I like it for the clever use of a simple grid elevation to create the right balance of exposure and shade with concrete, steel and the right amount of timber (doors and windows). I like it because I know someone sat down and thought about it and drew up several options (and decide on the best). I like it for its 'hidden away' charm - I always have to look for it and once I get there, it is like stepping back in time.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Going, Going, Gone

On the 4th of July, I sent a message to my clients, fellow consultants, friends and students -
"As of the 4th of July, I have resigned from DNA (Design Network Architects S/B) and will be continuing my work as MinWee Architects from two addresses:
  • 44, Upper China Street in Kuching where I will be working closely with Arlene Chew and Leong Gian Wen
  • and at  B-25-09, Mercu Summer Suites, No. 8 Jalan Cendana, off Jalan Sultan Ismail in Kuala Lumpur where I will be working with Lee Peng Hui.
My email address and mobile phone no. will remain unchanged".

Clearing up my table at DNA where I sat for 6 years
My close friends wondered aloud if I was sad to leave DNA; having help found it 14 years ago and having build it up architecturally to its current good reputation. They likened it to giving up a teenage child to foster care - when they put it that way, I suppose I should feel a little sad. But no, there is a little apprehension, plenty of excitement and a equal amount of relief. No sadness.

The new office space - it is narrow with a high vaulted ceiling

The front entrance is painted completely white; an abstraction of the typical shop house facade
Those who do not know me well would speculate that I left because of money matters but this workhorse is tired and looking for work that would sustain me spiritually and financially for the next 15 years.

She is happy with it, and that's important to me.