Q&A with Melvin Tan, Co-founding Partner, LAUD Architects: I want to make positive change for our profession

Q&A with Melvin Tan, Co-founding Partner, LAUD Architects: I want to make positive change for our profession

Q&A with Melvin Tan, Co-founding Partner, LAUD Architects: I want to make positive change for our profession

When you took office as President of the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), you laid out priorities similar to the ones presented at the Venice Architecture Biennale i.e. addressing the perennial issues professionals in the industry face, including low wages, a lack of work-life balance, and a high level of stress under project deadlines. What progress have you made on these fronts in mitigating these challenges?

These issues have been ingrained into the practice culture for decades and we all know how tough it is to change mindsets. But the good news is that in this time, ever more so, we see a confluence of factors that have allowed the public sector, private sector and education institutions to align our efforts towards making positive change for our profession and the future of architecture.

The government is fully supportive. Architecture firm owners are also aligned towards raising salaries and creating a conducive work environment in a bid to ensure the sustainability of our built industry. Our recent salary survey has shown that our efforts have paid off (no pun intended) with the starting pay for architecture graduates rising over the past few years. SIA will continue to champion change for the industry.

How do you think the theme of Archifest this year — The Performance of Measurement: When is Enough, Enough? — is relevant to designers of residential projects?

The theme was taken from the Singapore Pavilion that SIA curated for the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale. It is tongue-in-cheek and reminds us that while Singapore is so adept at creating frameworks, indices and empirical measurements to achieve our desired outcomes, notions of lovability and liveability are intangibles that do not lend well to number-crunching.

Thus, we hope to prioritise sensitivity to these intangibles and the strategy of consensus-gathering as a way to identify what is good about our habitat and environment. Since this is very much about the environment we live, work and play in, I would say that it is applicable to residential projects too. 

For the residential designers among us, we should sometimes ask ourselves:

  • Can I design for the community and engineer connections between people?
  • Can I retain a sense of attachment to what came before the new home was built?
  • How can a dwelling make the resident feel free and at home?
  • What do I have to give up, or get less of, to imbue my design of a new residence with a sense of attachment, connection and freedom?

What are three must-attend events from the Archifest line-up this year (15-19 May 2024)?

Firstly, our Archifest conference features a series of learned speakers that address a wide range of topics, from the business of architecture to design and more conceptual conversations. Among them include Mok Wei Wei of W Architects, Vin Varavarn of Vin Varavarn Architects, and Calvin Chua of Spatial Anatomy.

Secondly, we welcome you to the launch of Blueprint: Value Articulation Framework. It is the evolving document that SIA is rolling out to capture the scope of work and other liabilities as well as responsibilities that should be considered before taking on projects in Singapore.

Finally, we invite everyone to come celebrate with us and witness the Architectural Design Awards, as well as the inaugural Young Architects Award conferment, during our Annual Dinner on 16 May 2024.

Which three designers, from the past or present, do you most admire? Why?

There are so many great designers today that it is difficult to pick three. Nonetheless, I do admire the drawings and sketches that architects make, and some names that come to mind include Tadao Ando, Peter Zumthor and Alvaro Siza.

What are your three favourite buildings in SE Asia? 

  1. The Philippine International Convention Center in Manila, by Leandro Locsin: It is a wonderful space that was contemporary in its day but still endearing today.
  2. King Power Mahanakhon in Bangkok, by Ole Scheeren: It isn’t your typical high-rise commercial tower. But what the designer decided to omit from the building silhouette has led to the creation of an unmistakable addition to the skyline.
  3. Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore, by Moshe Safdie: I enjoy the central atrium where the light falls beautifully. Being surrounded by greenery and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall creates a wonderful sensorial experience.

Melvin Tan is the Deputy Managing Director and Co-founding Partner of LAUD Architects, and President of the Singapore Institute of Architects.