Q&A with Melvin Keng, Kaizen Architecture: Storytelling is an integral part of our design approach
Give us a little biography. What inspired you to become a designer?
It began when I was five or six years old and I used to sketch skyscrapers and play with Lego blocks. It seemed like my fascination for architecture started early. When I was in high school, I also took up an art elective course and the final-year project was actually an interior design project inspired by musical instruments. However, when I was applying for college, I actually failed the entrance exam to the Architecture course. That didn’t stop me and I applied a second time (against my parents’ wishes). The rest is history.
Who are the three designers, past or present, whom you most admire? Why?
I am very influenced by the Modern Masters (the likes of Le Corbusier and Mies Van Der Rohe). This is probably because of my foundation training and constant exposure to their works in person during office study trips. It’s very fascinating how some of their ideas have withstood the test of time and remained very relevant in our present day.
Kengo Kuma is also a personal influence – his approach to design through the application of the tactility and tectonics of Japanese construction in his works, and that constant rigour to experiment is what draws me to his work.
Finally, my personal mentor, Rene Tan (Co-Founder of RT+Q Architects). Being under his tutelage for close to a decade, I witnessed firsthand a great passion for good spatial design and his generosity in sharing knowledge and educating his fellow colleagues, peers and students. His whole persona is that of a true architect – putting his love for the profession to the fore. That is admirable.
What do you consider to be the distinguishing features of your approach to design?
Storytelling is an integral and important part of our design approach for any type of project. I believe that a good narrative grounds a project and ensures that all forthcoming design moves and strategies make sense. This approach was previously applied only for our commercial projects but have since evolved and used across all typologies.
Tell us three of your favourite buildings in SE Asia.
- Mahanakhon, Bangkok by Ole Scheeren, for the form and its impact on the Bangkok skyline.
- The decommissioned Pearl Bank Tower in Singapore by Archurban Architects Planners, for the pure form represented in a tower, the sectional qualities of the individual units and impact on the Singapore city skyline.
- The traditional deep shophouses found in the conserved streets of Malacca, Singapore and other parts of Malaysia for their nostalgic charm and architectural response to our tropical heat.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, our office is working on a couple of residential houses of different scales and a myriad of commercial spaces (a dental clinic, a music speciality shop etc.). The most exciting is a conservation hotel project in the heart of the UNESCO heritage site of Malacca.
Melvin Keng is the Principal of Kaizen Architecture.