Q&A with Wu Yen Yen, Genome Architects: Design is the visualisation of values and positions
You’ve said before that you go through phases where you test different ideas in residential projects. What are examples of ideas you’ve tested and can you share how they turned out?
There are some design ideas that fit and benefit certain projects and hence make it worthwhile to consider. For example, we have designed staircases that do not repeat in the same position on different floors, so that the relationship of floor to floor via the stairs changes the way people perceive and use the adjacent space. A staircase which spatially combines two floors, placed next to a kitchen, is different from when it is placed next to a balcony.
Another investigation that has been ongoing in our office is the development of monsoon windows for the tropics, where we are able to select and gradate between the extent of rain, wind, sun and security desired, beyond generic double layers of glass windows and louvers. Our windows try to address permutability and selection, so that, for example, you can leave the window open even when it rains, and are not afraid that an intruder can climb through the window at night.
The projects you do always tend to have a pleasant element of surprise or an original, creative idea. How do you manage to keep this up?
I try to read architectural and non-architectural content equally and understand design implications of what I read, rather than solely reference visuals. In so doing, I hope there is a more holistic understanding of what values are relevant today, and how people communicate and engage. It’s more about keeping up with evolving values and positions, and framing them as design ideas to be translated into architectural design and solutions. Keeping a mindset of inter-disciplinary relational thinking helps make for new connections and new ideas.
Which three designers, from the past or present, do you most admire? Why?
- Enric Miralles, a Spanish architect, for drawing and designing with an architectural language that is so original and authentic.
- Dorte Mandrup, a Danish architect, for her poetic interpretation of culture and place with textures and forms and her choice of projects.
- Skylar Tibbits, an architectural researcher from MIT, who is interrogating the self-assembly of structures with programmable materials.
What are your three favourite buildings in SE Asia?
- In Singapore, it is the Golden Mile Complex.
- In Malaysia, I used to visit Sekeping Serendah annually for a retreat.
- In Indonesia, it is Borobudur.
You’ve worked on a wide variety of project typologies, from houses to a magazine stand, crematorium and community centre. How do you approach designing them, considering that they’re all so different from each other?
We are also currently working on a sports complex, a polytechnic rejuvenation, a condominium rejuvenation and a preservation project of a monument, in addition to private residences. We do not view design as that which is bound by physicality, scale or budget, but rather, an investigative process into ideas, values and relationships. We approach different projects and programs by first framing the design question around larger questions about people, place and performance. In this way, we are able to express different ideas, through different methods, materials and aesthetics, continually.
Wu Yen Yen is the Founding Director of Genome Architects.