In 1992 when Susanne and me started thinking of doing competitions our focus was only design and ever since our work revolved around ideas and concepts that go beyond what was then always a pre-defined architectural pursuit or entity. We had simply wanted to do architecture that would not only engage the human spirit, but also something with a deep philosophy behind the work. Up to this day, there has been a little problem I have to solve in my head, and that is that I think architecture is taking much longer to becoming like what good art is, it is not so generative and it is not always assuming an emotive role, like a good work of art does. We think that it is possible for us to connect to our buildings as easily as we can connect to art, or to our music, or to things that we adore, like our children or our books.”
zlgdesign’s very own approach to design development processes in the organisation is a self-critique on a customised proto-typing and exploration technique. We would call this design intelligence, developed over many years to survive critical investigation and intellectual discourse on all levels of our work. They do away with adapting to or embracing mainstream typology in buildings but take their stance and follow artistic directions set down at the onset of the conceptual phase of design, minus the styling. They’ve always maintained and believe that their Architecture is about people, and never about style or about winning “beauty” contests, although they like competition. Their work embrace [and thereafter adopt and develop to maturity] whatever comes in the way of development of their designs, whether this makes sensible methodology or not. These processes are not ends but means to create something new, something unique, specific and exclusive to the Project. The Duyong project for instance, is definitely of the place, echoing the arts and culture of the fishing village of Trengganu, whereas the AAR Centre contemplates the essence of the site to inform the shape of the built form.
Today’s buildings are designed to fit within preset parameters largely defined by their typology rather than aesthetics or ethos. Fortunately for us, this has become a challenge on zlgdesign’s creative processes as it reinforces our idea that buildings can share multiple typologies and encapsulate more than one function or purposefulness. It is in this context we tend to move our designs away from mainstream typological sets, in fact we would actually design ambiguous spaces or third spaces that exhibit or inherit many hybrids in the final execution.
“If it doesn’t engage or connect with one’s emotion, or if it’s just not involving enough, we’ll probably just throw it out the window. We won’t want to take that thing all the way to the end…If it’s not intriguing enough, and doesn’t hold any mystery or surprises then I guess it really isn’t worth developing…the drama isn’t going to be there by the time one is finished with it, not enough to sustain the experience”, says Huat.
zlgdesign‘s more minimal work belies warmer and more democratic proposals that can still exhibit simpler but more cutting edge ideas. Other work gravitate towards using elements from the old world placed inside more modern envelopes. The contrast or tension resulting from these associations and juxtapositions in their work is a constant characteristic feature in recent and upcoming projects. These explorations of bringing together things from the past and those brought out of new technology or research has become a constant inspiration.
“God created paper,” Aalto wrote, “for the purpose of drawing architecture on it. Everything else is, at least for me, an abuse of paper.”
On what motivates them to design, Huat has this to say, “Thought is a form of necessary action, a precursor to a possible work of art. And if you can’t imagine it in your head, it’s not likely to get built. Getting that image in the mind’s eye, and then executing it is what it’s really all about. We usually start off with a sketch.”