Q&A with Samuel Lee, Designshop: AI will never be able to replicate the emotional experience of architecture

Q&A with Samuel Lee, Designshop: AI will never be able to replicate the emotional experience of architecture

Q&A with Samuel Lee, Designshop: AI will never be able to replicate the emotional experience of architecture

How did Designshop expand from doing only residential projects, to others such as healthcare, institutional and conservation?

Designshop was founded by Joy Chew in 1987, focusing initially on residential interiors. Joy’s fearlessness in taking on new challenges has always inspired me since I joined her in 2010, and, to this day, I continue to uphold her ethos by embracing new and diverse types of projects. Our success lies in our design approach and methodology, where every project endeavour starts with gaining a deep understanding of each client’s needs and preferences as well as working closely with collaborators and experts in the field. 

Tell us about the project that was the first in Singapore to receive the prestigious BCA Green Mark Platinum Award for a Good Class Bungalow. 

The BCA Green Mark criteria for houses was still at its infancy then and many homeowners were hesitant to invest in higher construction costs to achieve certification. Fortunately, we had a client who shared our beliefs about the long-term benefits of green homes. We utilised design simulation software to analyse sun and wind paths, which informed many of our decisions such as building orientation and layout planning. The proportions of horizontal sunshades, placement of water bodies and incorporation of greenery throughout the house were all aimed at regulating sunlight in interior spaces, optimising cooling effects, and reducing surface temperatures. Solar energy was also leveraged to reduce electricity bills, stormwater irrigation systems for water conservation and home automation were implemented to optimise energy use.

How do you feel AI will alter your profession?  

AI (or artificial intelligence) has already begun to alter our profession and work processes. I’ve noticed that younger staff and graduates are leveraging AI tools to compose their emails, while we have clients using simple 3D modelling software to articulate their design briefs. In our office, we’ve delved into the realm of 3D printing and are exploring how AI-generated 3D visuals can be utilised for internal conceptual ideation and form studies. I believe that AI can be a valuable tool to streamline our workflow, allowing us to dedicate more time to understanding client needs, solving design challenges and executing projects — aspects of our work that I feel AI can never fully replace.
Architecture will always remain a tactile experience, which can only be truly appreciated in real life. AI will never be able to replicate the intimate, emotional experience of architecture that only a human architect can create.

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

  1. Alberto Campo Baeza. My first architectural book was his monograph under the Contemporary World Architects series. I acquired it in my freshman year of architecture school and still love perusing his beautiful floor plans occasionally. Through him, I learnt about the purity of materials, the use of light in spaces, attention to detail and good craftsmanship, simple plans that convey the ideas very clearly, and the importance of embodying a timeless aesthetic. His approach also underscores the rigorous process needed to achieve the perfect design, which continues to inspire me to this day.

  2. David Chipperfield. I admire his deep respect of context and historical relevance devoid of the stereotypical architect’s ego and individual stylistic approach. His ability to design buildings that are timeless with an understated elegance is something that I aspire towards in my own designs.

  3. Sigurd Lewerentz. I first discovered this Swedish architect from a book, The Feeling of Things by Caruso St John, and was inspired by his boldness in the use of material, and how his building designs are deeply influenced by its environmental context — framing views, light and landscape.

What are your three favourite buildings in SE Asia? 

  1. The Safari Roof House by Kevin Mark Low, Small Projects
  2. The National Museum of Singapore by Sir Henry E McCallum and W Architects
  3. The Barcelona Pavilion by Mies Van Der Rohe (this is admittedly a cheat answer — although it is not located in SE Asia, I believe the free-flowing plan design and large roof with deep overhangs would seamlessly adapt to our tropical climate) 
  4. I also like adaptive reuse projects. Most recently, I visited the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park in Taipei, a former tobacco factory repurposed into an art and cultural district by Toyo Ito

Samuel Lee is the Director of Designshop.