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Small Firms, Big Ideas

  Published: 01 June 2020
  Theme: Architecture & Design
From a new learning school environment to a more intimate National Day Parade stage, be inspired by how architectural firms, ASOLIDPLAN and Plystudio Architects, are making an impact on Singapore's built environment.


The architects in their office designed to be open and integrated with elements from outside

From a home to a national stage, three friends are leaving their imprints in designing spaces for people.

They are friends first and then became partners of ASOLIDPLAN. Initially started by architect Wong Ker How in 2014, Quck Zhong Yi and Lim Jing Feng joined the firm later. It was a confluence of factors in each of their personal lives that drove them to want to start their own practice and somehow, their interests and passions aligned at the right time. Whether it is being intrigued from growing up in a flat with microclimatic conditions or the way spaces are designed in a neighbourhood temple, all three find fulfilment in the design process and creating outcomes that are impactful.

The practice enables them to pursue their passions together in wanting to try something different. They have infused their designs with both functional and quirky sensibilities in their range of projects covering houses, apartments, a pool bar and the stage at Marina Bay for the National Day celebrations. On a rainy morning, their office has a warm glow. With easy banter and a relaxed vibe sitting around their office’s large table similar to the Japanese restaurant’s horigotatsu seating style, the architects reflect on designing spaces for people.

1. How would you describe your approach to design?

Zhong Yi: We want to be as sincere and honest as possible in the way we design, in understanding what people need and want and in relating this to the context of the site. Everything begins with a clear and strong plan.

2. In one of your projects, you have “squared a triangle”.

Ker How: We enjoyed working on this project because of the interesting challenge it presented. It was a flat in Bukit Purmei which had an odd shape with a 45-degree frontage. One of the bedrooms along the common corridor also had a five-sided shape. In spite of the shape, we had to create a sense of spaciousness. The owners wanted to be able to host gatherings for at least 20 people. So we turned the 45-degree wall into a key space for all the main activities by building another diagonal wall and a full mirror wall to create a triangle that became a full square when reflected. We even designed the sofa in the living room that can be configured to fit different corners, changing from a queen size bed to a day bed or a bench seat for the dining table.


“Squaring the triangle” at Bukit Purmei (Image: Food & Shelter Company)

3. You have shown that the design of a stage can have a huge impact on the experience. The National Day Celebrations at Marina Bay in 2018 felt both intimate and grand.


Jing Feng:
We had the opportunity and privilege to be able to work with Creative Director, Boo Junfeng, in designing the stage for the National Day celebrations. In the past years, the stage was often set to look inwards. But in 2018, given that the developments around the bay were more complete and there was a need for film projections, we wanted to create a stage that enabled people to feel connected and yet be able to enjoy the beautiful skyline and surroundings.


The stage at the National Day celebrations in 2018 at Marina Bay (Image: Fabian Ong)

Thus, we created a three-tier plaza with grand steps and ramps leading up to a set of swivel screens to evoke a sense of grandeur. The colours of the water and buildings in Marina Bay were also reflected as pentagon patterns radiating from the centre stage to bring the bay closer to the stage and the show closer to the city.


The plaza with patterns radiating from the centre stage (Image: Fabian Ong)


4. What do you find most satisfying about being an architect?


Zhong Yi:
It is most rewarding to be able to go through the design journey with cilents and stakeholders. Often, it is an emotional and personal process. And being able to envision spaces and how people use them, adding to their senses and lives, is very satisfying.

5. How do you see the role of architects evolving?

Ker How: Beyond just designing buildings alone, we have to also look at the design of public spaces and the public realm. It is the spaces in between that matter. And it is also about place-making, what you do with the spaces that can engage people and draw them in.

Zhong Yi: Technology is changing the way we design buildings. But even if we are able to leverage on advanced tools such as AI (artificial intelligence), it cannot replace the human dimension of what we do in designing and creating emotive and personal spaces for people. 

Beautiful and useful spaces with a focus on functionality and simplicity.


Architects Victor Lee and Jacqueline Yeo at the Rainbow Centre extension

Their design of the Rainbow Centre extension, completed in association with The Architects’ Circle as Executive Architects, is introducing a new kind of learning environment for students with disabilities.

Located along Margaret Drive, the 8,500 square-metre four-storey extension to the existing building breaks away from the conventional institutional look with open and welcoming spaces to encourage students to learn more independently. “The classrooms are created to reflect home-based learning while outdoor spaces are specially curated to support active learning activities,” says Victor Lee, who started Plystudio Architects together with Jacqueline Yeo in 2008.


The Rainbow Centre extension

Over the years, the husband-and-wife team has centred their designs around modulated forms, allowing for an active negotiation and calculation of allocated spaces that can help manage cost and cater to the needs of different users. This approach has been applied to the Rainbow Centre extension and other projects. They have worked on a range of buildings and spaces, from the sheltered link-bridge in National Junior College, the interiors of Waterway Point shopping mall at Punggol to hotels, a film studio, offices and homes in Singapore and the region.

We take a walk around Rainbow Centre’s extension with Victor and Jacqueline who show us how their focus on functionality and simplicity has created beautiful and useful spaces.


Waterway Point shopping mall at Punggol (Image: Plystudio Architects)

1. What were some of the considerations in designing the extension?

Victor: The extension had to accommodate and support a much larger community of teachers and students that included volunteers and caregivers. The student population was also diverse, ranging from preschoolers to teenagers who had very different needs.

In designing the various environments, we were mindful to create spaces that enabled students to thrive and learn independently and where they could also be challenged mentally and physically. Beyond this, we were conscious to connect the school to its immediate neighbourhood with a sense of openness.

2. Tell us more about your design approach.

Victor: We first focused on planning and organising the spaces in a rational grid which then gave rise to its form. Having a clear organisation of space enabled us to create scalable spaces within limited resources.


Drawing of the Rainbow Centre extension (Image: Plystudio Architects)

We introduced a central courtyard to serve as the unifying and central focal point and created open spaces to break down the volume and scale of the building. Going beyond the conventional classroom setting, we designed spill-out spaces just outside of these rooms so that students could feel like they were more at home when learning and playing at any time.


Open spaces at the Rainbow Centre extension

3. What was one major challenge in the design process?

Victor: In working closely with the school and teachers, a question that we constantly asked ourselves was how much do you design and provide for the students in the physical environment that supports their physical needs well and yet nurtures independence and encourage self-directed learning.

4. What did you find most rewarding about working on the extension?

Victor: It is fulfilling to be able create useful and impactful spaces for students to feel safe and inspired to learn in. It is also good to know that the new spaces we have introduced can be adapted further in understanding how to design learning spaces for the future. Following the completion of the extension, there has been interest from the school to replicate some of the teaching and learning spaces we have introduced in the extension into the existing building as well.


Plystudio worked with the school to feature the children’s drawings on a wall at the Rainbow Centre extension

5. Based on the extension project and others, how do you see the role of architects evolving?

Victor: I see our roles evolving to becoming more active facilitators of turning what stakeholders and users want and need into useable designs of environments and spaces. Increasingly, it is important for architects to be brought in at earlier stages of the design process so that we can contribute to conversations and help shape principles and parameters that can make the design process later on more fruitful and productive.

By Serene Tng

ASOLIDPLAN and Plystudio Architects works were part of the “Small Firms, Big Ideas” exhibition held at the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s AUDE Space from March to June 2019.
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