What’s your story?
When I was still an architectural student, one of my goals in life is to have my own design studio by the age of 35. That happened.
However, this did not happen just overnight. When I was still a year 1 student in university, after a holiday internship at one of the architectural firm, I had almost wanted to switch course because I was exposed to the tough and unbearable perspective of being an architect. I remembered my ex boss then was asking me everyday, “Are you sure you want to be an architect?”. That set me thinking hard about my future as an architect.
However, that internship also helped me to make up my mind to be an architect. The grilling from that internship trained me well. I saw the challenge that architecture can be practised via a more enjoyable process as long as we set our vision right. Since then, that has been my fundamental goal even in my own practice.
What excites you most about your industry?
The most exciting part of my industry is to see the final built form of our design from paper to a 3-dimensional space that you can walk in. The most gratifying part is the sense of awe that you can see in the user’s face. That sense of satisfaction goes beyond just the visual sense.
It is all the 4 senses that are activated in a completed final product. You literally can walk through your own creation.
You can see it, you can smell it, you can touch it, you can hear it.
What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in Singapore. I have relatives in Batam, Indonesia. I received my education in Singapore, with a student exchange program in Seoul, Korea. During my first few years in my career, I travelled frequently to China, Hong Kong and even Sri Lanka for work.
I would say my connections to Asia are more rooted than I consciously know. Asia is an amazing melting pot of different cultures, this is important inspirational food for the mind.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I would say Singapore for now.
This is my home and everything I want or need is easily available to me. Our government takes good care of young start ups with multiple incentives that help us to grow in spite of the highly competitive market.
Not to mention the geographical advantage of Singapore in relation to the rest of the world. Given our multilingual environment, the city is very conducive for all sorts of things to happen.
The architecture scene in Singapore is also gaining world recognition with a few pioneers spearheading architecture internationally.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never say never, and always be humble.”
Never say never because this keeps my mind open to new ideas all the time, always exploring new grounds, new opportunities.
Always be humble because you will never know what you do not know. By being humble, you will always be learning from anyone, anywhere at anytime. It keeps you grounded and grow faster, more than you can imagine.
Who inspires you?
Few of my ex tutors in school and all of my ex bosses inspire me to do what I am doing and what I am today. To whom I am eternally grateful for.
Out of them, Mr Chan Sui Him, my ex boss, who happened to be the ex Chairman of Singapore’s biggest architectural firm, DP Architects, inspires me the most.
He’s the one who opened my eyes to the full spectrum of our industry; he taught me humility without compromising on integrity; he gave me chances to all sorts of exposure, from places to people; he showed me the importance of developing people around me, when people around me grow, I grow.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The word “radical” is related to the word “root”. It is almost like “to be radical” is “to go back to the root” of an issue, a problem, a question.
This blew my mind.
More often than not, being radical is always linked to being “outcast”, “rebellious”, “socially unacceptable”, all the negative connotations of the word. But now I know being radical is simply to go back to the roots, something more profoundly meaningful rather than just “being different for different sake.”
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Interestingly, I did ask myself this question recently.
If I can have a second chance, I would still do what I did and be where I am today.
How do you unwind?
Most of the time, having a good glass of wine or whisky, is my form of relaxation after a long day’s work. Sometimes, I would just find a nice lounge, get a nice glass of wine and watch the things happening around me. People watching not only helps me to unwind, sometimes I find inspirations from them, and it makes me feel like I know the world better after that.
If that is not available, watching TV sitcoms and mindless TV dramas help me to unclutter my mind too.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan. Everything is so well crafted in the country. It is very accessible and convenient with the country’s well established transportation network. It has 4 seasons and beautiful countryside should one choose to go. Food culture is very developed, even the simple bento set from a supermarket is amazingly fulfilling.
Everyone in business should read this book:
It will change the way one looks at business radically. In whatever business or industry you are in now, there’s a triple bottom line to adhere to in today’s context: Social responsibility, Environmental responsibility, Economics responsibility.
In whatever you do, you must be contributing back to the society. Whatever you contributes comes back multi-fold.
In whatever you do, you must be environmental friendly, when the world sustains itself, then you are sustainable.
In whatever you do, you must make economical sense, if you are not making enough money to sustain yourself, it is not a good business.
Shameless plug for your business:
SOLID with asolidplan believe that spatial design has an effect on human relations. The company is built on the belief that all good design stems from a well conceived plan. We are obsessed with design that provokes, questions, pushes limits, without compromising on durability, functionality or integrity of our work. We believe we can go furthest the distance for the simplest idea, to evoke the fullest spatial experience that one can relate to their built environment.
SOLID with asolidplan, is confident of delivering the vision through a strong collaboration with multidisciplinary designers, artists, builders, clients and various consultants. With a wide exposure to various scale of projects, we are capable of multiple building typology and big-scale master planning. The ability to traverse all scales allows us an in-depth understanding of all layers of requirements, which enable us to deliver a bespoke design solution to your everyday needs.
SOLID is a Singapore-based Architecture practice.
How can people connect with you?
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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