Sunday, September 09, 2007

Architects, and the work that they did as students

Most of us regard an architectural career as a rite of passage. First is the romance of architecture school, of studio classes, model-making, drawings, charettes, sleepless nights. And then many start work in the real working world, to find it hard to transfer many of the wild (and possibly brilliant) ideas into built reality. When faced with real-world demands of cost, zoning, building code, achieving maximum usable square footage, and mechanical and structural demands, the days of school are inadvertently dismissed as the last place where we can truly play with ideas.

A consequent dichotomy ensues. On one hand, the many architects too deeply entrenched in real-world architecting find it hard to create compelling designs. On the other, the many academic practitioners focused on pursuing personal creative research ideas fail to translate their whimsical graphics, subject to the vagaries of architectural fashion, into real workable buildings (and consequently fail to win real commissions). This begs the question – how then does one inhabit that fine line that separates creative idealism and real-world workability? (knowing that it is the synthesis of the two that leads to a compelling result)

Having raised the above questions, I wanted to bring up a few examples of architects, both in Singapore and abroad, whose professional work were a direct extension from their student work.

Tan Kok Hiang, Forum Architects
Student thesis project: reinterpretation of a mosque

Professional creative work : Assyafah Mosque – a critical work that dislodges itself from the traditional iconography of the mosque and re-adapts itself to the realities of a cosmopolitan city-state.

Mok Wei Wei, W Architects

Student thesis project: re-experiencing the sensuality of Chinese courtyard spaces in sequence (or something to that end)

Professional creative work : the most direct reference is his Morley Road house, which literally recreates strong sequencing and courtyard experiences in a modernist idiom. But the strong element of sequencing in his work can also be discerned in his other work, such as the Da Paolo e Judie restaurant, National Museum extension, and his installation design for the Overseas Chinese exhibition.

Wong Mun Summ, WoHa

Student thesis project: vision of tropical high-density city (or something to that end)

Professional work: Many work that deal with the specifics of tropical climate in architecture, including Moulmein Rise (and its monsoon windows), Singapore Arts School (with its internal linkways, lush vegetation, and inner courtyard spaces), Tan Quee Lan Suites (high-density apartment configurations with inner courtyard spaces) The most direct reference is probably his scheme for the Duxton Plain public housing competition.

Zaha Hadid

Student thesis project: readapting Kazimir Malevich’s “Tektonics” painting (of overlapping geometric forms suggesting a city floating in space) into a 14-storey inhabitable bridge spanning the Thames.

Professional work: the first work that brought her to fame, the competition for the Peak tram station in HK, was an application of the same Malevich-ian formal imagination into architecture.

My point is this, just before we let our student work in our portfolio fade away into a bygone era, we must remember that in each studio project lies the seed of our future design careers, as long as we continue to nurse the ideas developed as students and synthesize them with what we now learn at work. That, coupled with faith, persistence, and idealism, (and experience!) may well produce something truly compelling some years from now.

This leads me to wonder what would be the final result of Sernhong's Pirated City or Hann's Mediaworms and Telepods years from now.