Yann Follain: We Design for Resilience

On Archifest 2018 and the basis of architecture

Words by
b-side staff

Do people shape the environment or does the environment shape people in terms of their lifestyle, interaction and well-being? Perhaps this is not an either-or situation, but an ongoing conversation that evolves together with the ever-changing landscape of the country.

This year’s Archifest 2018 shifts its focus to Design For Life from last year’s theme of Building Agency. The backbone of the festival is going to be about how design can serve the people, and the winning entry for this year’s Archifest Pavilion is by Kite Studio Architecture. Its design is inspired by and incorporates the void decks we find so familiar in HDB housing.

“We started by pondering on spaces around us that have the ability to bring us Singaporeans together in the most meaningful, uncontrived way — hawker centres, public parks, urban pockets, community clubs and heartland public spaces. It was the HDB void deck that struck us most.”

Principal and director of Kite, Khairudin Saharom, elaborates on the inspiration behind their winning entry.

“It is the quintessential common community space familiar to all Singaporeans. Even though it is spatially a ‘void’, it is truly meaningful and powerful at many levels, as it has the flexibility to adapt and transform to fit almost any occasion. The void deck cements the importance of design that allows growth and evolution, elevates sense of place and belonging, and most importantly, celebrates living.

These elements are brilliantly captured in local photographer Nguan’s works. We wanted to explore how architecture, through the design of the pavilion, can embody these elements in the same manner as Nguan’s impactful photography. This, together with our urban response to site context, formulated our overall design strategy.”

The following images in this article are artist impressions of how this year’s Archifest Pavilion would look like, as designed by and courtesy of Kite Studio Architecture. It embodies the openness for possibilities to happen in the physical space itself, giving ownership to the people to transform and actively use the space, however they may see fit. A constant negotiation between people and the environment organically.

This echoes the philosophy of this year’s festival: Design Must Serve a Cause. B-Side explores what architecture should entail with Archifest 2018’s festival director, Yann Follain of WY-TO.

Can we say that this year’s theme draws from the philosophy of your own practice i.e. design must serve a cause?

Actually this is a good question.

I was invited to Manila to give a talk on healthcare design in Asia. I had a talk there and another in Cambodia. There were two other architects from Singapore who talked about two hospitals here, Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital and KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital. The Woodlands Health Campus is also being constructed. These projects focus on the well-being of the user, and the hospitals serve as a benchmark on designing for community and people. It is to ensure that the environment is engaging. Everything we do here in Singapore prioritises the well-being of the people in the space.

When contacted to become the festival director of Archifest 2018, I was asked about the theme I would like to talk about. I knew that I wanted to talk about design for life. My fellow architects in Singapore — this is what we promote. The role of an architect in the big environment is to improve life, the well-being of the user and to protect our planet. Architecture is evidently people-centric.

Do you think architecture in Singapore has evolved from five to ten years ago?

This is a good question and coincidentally, I arrived in Singapore 10 years ago. I have definitely seen the country evolving a lot, including its architecture. It is actually quite interesting.

Back then, I had friends telling me: Yann, be careful because here, we do not protect our buildings. They are not based on nostalgia. We demolish.

There are initiatives to protect a certain lifestyle, without involving nostalgia. Recently, the community in the Dakota Crescent worked hard to preserve parts of the historic HDB estate, and that is important. For me, there is a sort of a change in the society and younger architects are not looking to build icons, but true sincere experiences. The focus now is on creating long-lasting memories and building memories for tomorrow. There are flashy icons built everywhere, but today, it is no longer about building these.

Do you think the limited space in Singapore has made architecture challenging and more creative?

There is limited space in Singapore. The decision makers and designers have to listen to what the people need, as well as pay attention to how people are meeting and interacting here.

There are some good examples about giving space and the people really taking it and making the space their own. The Marina Barrage, for example, is a great place for the community. It is a purely technical element when the government decided to convert the river into a barrage. The architect who designed it, transformed the space into being one for the people. Now, there are many people who visit the barrage. It is not particularly fancy, but it is a popular landmark for citizens and tourists alike. It is a great example of an architecture that is not trying to be an icon (in terms of design or the ‘wow’ factor) but is a true icon (by placing people and experience first).

Please elaborate on the sub-themes of Design for People, Design for Time and Design for Environment. How can we expect these themes to be brought out through this year’s Archifest?

The theme is Design for Life, not Architect for Life. This is not just about buildings, but also about lifestyle. We have an ageing population in Singapore. What can we do to design for them?

Around the Chinatown area, the Chin Swee area is an old estate. It is surrounded by old folks and they mostly spend their time outside their flats, even at night. They don’t want to spend time in their units but outside, to feel connected. You will see them sitting on a bench or at tables chatting with their friends. What can we, as architects, do so that we can provide a better living environment for them? This also goes for the younger generation to being an elderly – to facilitate life.

There are people who are dynamic and willing to contribute and share ideas, solutions and expertise. That’s why it is becoming more important to talk about designing for the future generations. There are more talks on this issue, and people are already doing design and research on these aspects (such as Dr Chong Keng Hua of SUTD and the Lien Foundation initiatives). There are many initiatives from different groups here, so the Archifest serves to connect like-minded people into making things and moving on from here. Together, we can do things and be stronger.

And about Design for Time, why would we want to talk about it? When the news of the Pearl Bank’s demolition came out, it was a big shock to the community. The Archifest is a good chance to discuss it and what we can possibly do to protect modern history without nostalgia. It is a good chance to do so now, since Rochor and Pearl Bank. We can re-discuss why we cannot seem to keep our modern history and what we could do to keep them. As architects, we design for the longest time and the long term. We don’t design while thinking that in 20 years, the space will be demolished.

Leading into Design for Environment, Singapore is known to be a leader in the region for innovation, creativity and sustainability. These qualities are beginning to be more widespread around us as well, and to have more talks and movements about this without falling into jargons. There are fantastic young Singapore architects who stand for these values. Many of them actually hold day jobs and spend their weekends working for the community. All these contribute to designing for resilience, essentially.

Will you elaborate on what you mean by a response to the true needs of humanity? What, to you, are humanity’s true needs?

The way I see my profession, I see being an architect is similar to being a doctor. Doctors are here to help the people and make people be able to have a better life. That is what I believe architects are here to do as well.

When I talk about humanity and the needs of humanity, I refer to the simple things. To be able to see outside of my window, see my neighbours, feel connected, have a proper living environment and even beyond that. For me, the humanity needs to ensure that we have a non-harmful living environment — to not harm the planet because we only have one planet.

Humans need to have an environment that does not consume too much waste. Have natural ventilation and reusable bags instead of the one-time-use plastic bags. The environment all around us is a part of architecture because it is part of the grander scheme of things — the big environment and the planet as a whole.

The role and duty of architects is that, whatever we build is permanent and comes from the community standpoint. Sustainability is considered in terms of green, but also in terms of community — the people around me living in harmony. Sustainability in terms of green but also in terms of community.

Architecture should help with this.

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