Q&A with Lim Shing Hui, L Architects: My most interesting work is when I can truly be myself
You pride yourself on not subscribing to stereotypes, as seen through projects such as The House Apartment. How exactly do you do it?
In a nutshell, to be myself. I think my most interesting work is when I can truly be myself. Our background, culture, thoughts and personal experiences make each of us unique and special. I have always believed there is something very interesting hidden in this.
Let’s use The House Apartment as an example of me “being myself”. It’s not far-fetched to say that whenever a designer sees a space with a tall ceiling, he or she would probably propose to insert a loft. It almost becomes like a formula. Another fact is most people dislike ground floor units. That is also why they are typically sold at a lower price. If I am being totally myself, I will tell you I am actually very attracted to them because they make me feel like I am staying in a landed house with greenery to look at. I don’t like to take lifts either. In this case, I felt it was a perfect fit because why would my client need additional floor area, given that she lives alone and the unit is already 1,120sqft. These gave me the idea to turn the inside to resemble a house interior.
Another example is House of Trees. I have a personal interest in plants. I collect and propagate them at home in my free time. When close friends saw the pictures of the project, they were not surprised it was done by us. Essentially, I am also saying that we don’t need another Tadao Ando or Mies van der Rohe. I think we are all individually very unique people to begin with. I feel that if we keep to our true core, we start to see less repetitive things going around.
How do you convince your clients to go along with your unconventional solutions?
I think it is very important that the client is aligned with us in terms of vision and value. But, at the same time, we need to be really patient in seeking out the alignment. It was really only in the last two to three years that we started getting some “unconventional” design briefs. I think it’s because these clients saw our past works and maybe it struck a chord with them. I am not entirely sure why but it got better over the last few years. The fact is some projects take years’ worth of painstaking work. To be able to see something completed in a meaningful way brings a different level of satisfaction that is hard to articulate — basically work that resonates with our soul.
You’ve said before that as a child, you were beholden to nature’s gifts and possibilities. What were some of your favourites that you can remember?
I enjoy ruminating on the simple things in life and, quite often, I find them in nature. In 2016, my family and I went to Yellowstone National Park (pictured below), where we hiked in search of a natural hot spring along the Boiling River. Nothing beats soaking in nature’s “hot tub” in the middle of the wilderness. I still think about this place quite a lot. Then, in the following year (2017), we ventured to Iceland in June. I was amazed by how there were 24 hours of daylight in summer and how the sun doesn’t set at all — a phenomenon that was completely new to us. I like to think that national parks are like playgrounds for grown-ups. I am not sure why but the more time I spend in nature, I find myself more attuned to noticing the quiet details and subtleties of everyday objects. Observing and noticing, to me, is an art and as a creative, if you cultivate it well, it becomes a very useful tool.
Which three designers, from the past or present, do you most admire? Why?
- Ludwig Mies van der Rohe: He had a very elegant way of thinking about design. Projects completed almost a century ago still look very relevant today.
- Peter Zumthor: For his material sensibility and how he is able to create a deeply enduring atmosphere. I think you can tell a lot about an architect by where he chooses to locate his office. His is remotely hidden, in his own quiet realm, filled with so much mystery, just like his work.
- Lyndon Neri & Rossana Hu: I am most captivated by their adaptive reuse projects. I find that they are refined yet restrained, contemporary yet timeless, sophisticated and never extravagant. They have a balance that I find is a rarity in today’s context.
What are your three favourite buildings in SE Asia?
I just got back from a three-week vacation in China, so I will list buildings from there instead.
- Taoxichuan Hotel, part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, in Jingdezhen, China’s porcelain capital, designed by David Chipperfield Architects.
- Chapel of Sound, at the foot of the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall along Beijing’s northern border, designed by Open Architecture.
- Tsingpu Yangzhou Retreat, designed by Neri&Hu Design and Research Office.
Lim Shing Hui is the Principal Architect of L Architects.