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Beyond visual aesthetics, local architecture firm Park + Associates wants to create buildings with depth

Lim Koon Park 

For architect Lim Koon Park, 53, the last 20 years of his career can be summed up in four five-year stages of growth and change.

He started Park + Associates to focus on designing, which he felt he wasn't doing enough of at his previous company. He had no specific plan at the time but by luck, a contact asked him to design a bungalow. ''That could pay my salary for a year, so I started with that,'' he recalls.

For the first five years, projects grew slowly - mainly houses. One day, he was asked to finish a partially completed condominium job.

''Most clients will not give you a particular job if you've had no previous experience. They feel the scale may just be too big for you to handle. So the condo was a step up for us.''

Far right: Courtyard view of a detached house located at Bukit Timah. Right: A detached house conceived utilising the site's natural topography. 

Over the next five years, Mr Lim expanded, taking on more projects. But it wasn't a rosy period. In 2008, the financial crisis hit and projects were suspended. Mr Lim had also exhausted his savings and it seemed like the company could not pull through the crisis.

By sheer luck, they were appointed to do the coordinating and technical support for rides at Universal Studios Singapore. ''The job didn't fit into architecture, engineering or project management, but we decided to do it,'' says Mr Lim of the project that pulled them back from the brink.

He says that episode taught him that commercially driven architecture, where it is fee-driven and work is done fast, is not something he wants to pursue. ''I can't bring myself to bargain for more fees,'' he says.

Instead, he feels there are other ways to offer value-add. ''Clients come back to us because of the good job we did, and how we relate to them. I realised that I had more skill building a relationship than cutting cost,'' says Mr Lim.

The third five-year period saw the firm taking on bigger public projects, despite their inexperience in the field. They won a design competition, which called for alterations and additions to the existing alumni block at Hwa Chong Institution to house Hwa Chong International School, and a new extension block for the relocation of alumni facilities.

''We had no experience building schools, so had it not been for this competition, we wouldn't have had the chance to do so,'' says Mr Lim. They won a second competition, also for alterations and additions to Nanyang Girls' High School. They built a four-storey building, with two basement levels. A green slope on top of the building is a favourite spot for students and this project remains one of his fondest too.

Blending the new and the old at Nanyang Girls High School

''It is wonderful to see that the students have found creative ways to use the space,'' he says.

Five years ago, they moved into their current office - an expanse of column-free space crowned by a series of barrel vaults. Its design won local and international awards. ''It was good exposure, and we got our first break in hospitality, because a client saw the office and wanted us to design his Maldivian resort, despite us not having any experience,'' says Mr Lim. That one commission has since led to more hospitality jobs.

What about the next five years and beyond? ''We want to approach architecture on a more philosophical level. The projects will have more depth, beyond just visual aesthetics. There has to be an intangible quality to them,'' says Mr Lim.

This story was written by Tay Suan Chiang and first published in The Business Times. Click here to read the original story. 

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