Sketching Architecture

Today I delivered a collage of sketches of a recently completed bungalow to a client. Although it was not as striking as a painting at a glance, I was glad my client and his wife were suitably impressed with my housewarming gift. It consisted of sketches detailing exploratory ideas that were conceived and refined during a design process that spanned more than 4 years.


Most contractors display a healthy suspicion when they are presented with sketches, and the contractor for this bungalow was no exception. This was especially true since they did not have experience with such a bespoke design for this particular house. In fact, many of the sketches reminded me of the resistance from the builders with their usual “it cannot be done...”, ”no one would do it that way”. Now that the project has been successfully completed, we laugh off what was once a bitter experience as a sweet memory.


I remember many laments about how students in architecture must learn to sketch, drawing by hand before using the computer. I tend to advise the students to look at it pragmatically - the use of computer software is inevitable, as it allows the architect to focus on the design by efficiently dealing with menial tasks. However, nothing can replace the immediacy from our mind to our hands when sketching. The emotion embedded in the sketch is irreplaceable; the design process is recorded and developed in the layers of mistakes and corrections. Apart from being used as a working detail, every sketch serves as a vestigial imprint of the project. In a way, putting this collage together is definitely a nostalgic and educational experience. I definitely will continue to enjoy sketching. It is the best way to explore new ideas, which interests me the most in my work.


Thinking about the Box

One of the main challenges in architecture is geometry. The choice of implementing either rectilinear or curvilinear designs would bring with it its own set of considerations. A curvaceous structure is usually seen as more wasteful and expensive because of its complexity and thus, its difficulty to build. However, with the recent advent of parametric computer software, most of the problems mentioned can be solved relatively easily.


I decided on a simple box as the expression for this compact house, which is located in a compact suburban neighbourhood. When I visited the site to inspect the installation of steel frames for the timber screen, I complained to the builders on the lengthy time required to complete the necessary components. As the house has simple rectilinear geometry, I surmised that it could be erected quickly because all of the requisite components are flat and not curved. However, after he suggested a series of refinements and revisions we had discussed with the clients over the course of the construction, I felt like I could only smile and give him some words of encouragement.


I think when the design is simple, there is a tendency for the architect to focus on the nitty gritty and engage in what some may call "detailing to death". I concluded that from the design concept til the final building, it is a process of one refinement after another - much like evolution - until its eventual completion. As such, the process of realising a building's design will always be long and arduous regardless of the geometry adopted, so I should just embrace it and enjoy it, despite occasionally agonising over some choices we had made.

Having said that, the result for this house is rather refined and the client is happy… so far.

Let There Be Light

Recently, I’ve had mixed feelings about how a site of an ongoing project was lit at night. As this was the third test, I wondered how many lighting iterations we'd have to go through in order to achieve a satisfactory result. The warmth and brightness of lights often defy aesthetic expectation despite its intended technical specifications.


In the past, lighting a house at night was mainly a functional exercise. Generally, light fittings were incandescent and fluorescent. They were usually accented with focus lights fitted with halogen bulbs, but because of their high energy consumption they were used sparingly. Now, LED lighting dominates the market, replacing energy saving bulbs. The decision to use LED lighting is nevertheless a problematic one due to issues of reliability and durability, coupled with the design challenge of matching the site's intended ambience. Despite these concerns, I still tend to opt for LED lighting due to its low energy consumption.


I am grateful to this group of young people from the lighting supplier for working late so that we could evaluate the options. We have not found the perfect solution just yet, but we are definitely getting closer to it. I suppose there is no shortcut to success.


Sprucing up the place

When renovating an existing space within my house, I came across some reclaimed spruce which was recommended by a friend who is a builder. As a general rule I would favour local timber over the imported ones for the simple reason of cost and sustainability, primarily due to the significant carbon emissions incurred when transporting materials from overseas. However, I decided to experiment with it when I was told that the spruce was actually reclaimed from internationally packaged cartons which were already in Malaysia, and that they would have otherwise been disposed of.


However, the issue of strength and aesthetics of the wood had to be looked at carefully. After some consideration I decided that the spruce was to be lightly charred for durability, and that some of them were to be resized into battens to filter sunlight. I was quite lucky to have Munir - an engineer turned passionate craftsman - skilfully bring out the amazing grain of the wood in the movable partitions. The efforts resulted in quite an intriguing space.


A Humble Inauguration

Welcome to the first blog post of the website. Here I will share my thoughts on the progress and challenges of ongoing architectural projects. I hope that what I have shared here will interest - or perhaps even inform - you in my process when developing a building.


Recently, I had to add a service stair connecting to the roof for an ongoing project. It presented a challenge as the house was conceived as a pavilion nestled in a lush, green surrounding with an extensive view of the golf course. Any added structure would be a visual obstruction to the landscape. At the same time, the idea of a roof terrace integrating itself into the backdrop of tree tops and open sky is very exciting. So, we needed a diaphanous staircase that does not obscure the view into the landscape and out to the sky. The staircase was finally installed and I think the result justified the agony of resolving the last minute addition. Now the staircase is more than just an access to the roof.