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Alan Kueh, founder of architecture firm AK+, discusses culture and sustainability

Going beyond the green agenda, how can design connect with its users? Founder of architecture firm AK+, Alan Kueh, talks about putting culture first in three projects.

AK+ is an architectural and design firm operating across Singapore, Australia and Malaysia. When I established the firm, it was with the intent of adding value to all the architectural projects we undertake. The design philosophy of the brand is characterised by a mindful simplicity closely informed by nature, paired with an approach that is deeply rooted in tradition and an outlook towards creating for the future. One of the things I seek to do, as well, is to find ways to make design relevant to the spaces and community it is made for and caters to.

Now, as an up-and-coming firm, we were deeply humbled to be shortlisted as a finalist in back-to-back years at the World Architecture Festival (Mirage By The Lake for the Housing category in 2016, and Paragon At Cyberjaya for the Mixed-Use category in 2017). Our maiden ID stint - Loco Local, the Spring/ Summer Singapore campaign by the French high fashion luxury powerhouse Hermes in 2016 - also earned the Highly Commended Award in the Inside Display category at the prestigious ceremony. Those were projects close to my heart because they allowed me to engage with the consumers and homeowners through the language of architecture and design. With the housing and mixed-use projects, I found ways to cater to the needs of the homeowners by creating design adapted for their lifestyles. It also gave me the opportunity to showcase how, to be truly green in design, the firm could propose living solutions that were sustainable and would look beautiful for many years to come.

Mirage By The Lake welcomes nature into daily living and blurs the distinctions between what is deemed “inside” and “outside”. It awakens a sense of curiosity and inspires further exploration in nature, exemplified by boundaries that support connectivity rather than impede it. Moving beyond Green Ratings, we expounded on sustainability by incorporating sustenance of culture, while balancing modernity and tradition.

For the Paragon At Cyberjaya project (pictured above), it was designed with budding entrepreneurs in mind, so residents could easily and economically expand their units as their businesses grow. Exit staircases were built as regulated, but designed as an escape of another kind, where one could slow down, breathe and enjoy the moment. The staggered design forms a communal and interactive space that leads down to the common facility deck.

As for the Hermes campaign, it juxtaposed local objects with the high culture of Hermes, reflecting the socio-cultural positioning unique to Singapore. The campaign featured interplay between objects that locals have grown accustomed to, as those indigenous items could be used in ways that surprise and overturn expectations.

The sense of familiarity with the materials used (sapu lidi, coconut fibres, raw-edged linen and wood) added an enchantment to the magic of Hermes embedded in the vignettes. Silhouetted animals of this region, such as frog, tapir, porcupine and butterflies were also embedded in the forest scenes. Through the use of flora and fauna motifs specific to batik, the vignettes were seen in a series of contrasting 2-D laser cuts and recesses. The foreground and background seamlessly contrasted with pop-up, layered and natural wood-cut motifs of batik.

 

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