Park Royal on Pickering Woha
The Parkroyal on Pickering hotel. Photo: Skyshot

Architects Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, co-founders of award-winning practice Woha, have been chosen as Designer of the Year for next year's Maison&Objet Asia.

This is the first time a Singapore architect or designer has been awarded the title in the design show's history.

Filipino furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue was first pick at the inaugural 2014 edition; while Chinese couple Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, who run Neri&Hu Design and Research Office in Shanghai, were honoured last year. 

Hong Kong interior designer Andre Fu was this year's choice.

Mr Wong, 54, says: "It was a pleasant surprise to be picked. It's a good affirmation of what we do." 

The title is given to individuals for their body of work. At the annual fair, they get much visibility too, as they create installations or exhibitions that are displayed at the event venue.

For the upcoming show, Woha and another international designer will conduct MasterCrit sessions where participants will present their design concepts and receive feedback from them.

Woha's Richard Hassell (left) and Wong Mun Summ. Photo: Wong Jing Wei 

Maison&Objet Asia is the regional offshoot of the design trade show that began 21 years ago in Paris. It is known as one of the best interior design trade fairs in the world.

The Asian show has thus far been held in Singapore. It will run from March 7 to 10 at Sands Expo and Convention Centre in Marina Bay Sands next year.

The 22-year-old Woha has made waves – at home and internationally – for its stunning architecture.

A lot of the firm's most iconic work is in Singapore, such as the Parkroyal on Pickering hotel in Chinatown, which has contoured facades and lush greenery that seems to hug every part of the property.

Woha is also behind SkyVille @ Dawson, a Housing Board Build- To-Order project. Its architects turned the typically blockish flats into stylish high-rises, with sky gardens and customisable units.

Skyville at Dawson Woha
The Housing Board project SkyVille @ Dawson. 

Skyville at Dawson Woha
Customised seating at the sky gardens at Skyville @ Dawson

Internationally, the firm has won praise for The Met, a high-rise condominium in Bangkok; and the eco-friendly Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bali, where recycled materials feature throughout the property.

Ms Regina Chan, director of Maison&Objet Asia-Pacific, calls Mr Wong and Mr Hassell "visionaries" in the way they design.

She highlights the green Parkroyal on Pickering hotel, where the press announcement about Woha's appointment was made earlier this week. "They didn't just do something fancy to wow people. Woha had a specific philosophy about this design – it's true to tropical architecture. Whether it's small or big, they are mindful and thoughtful about the final product." 

But while Woha has long been synonymous with architecture that pushes boundaries, the firm has also quietly built up its portfolio of interior and product design.

At Maison&Objet Asia, Woha will launch Wohabeing – a line of furniture, accessories, bathroom fixtures, lighting and artwork.

While some of the products are new, others will be based on pieces that the designers have made for clients in the past.

Mr Wong says: "From our first one in Watten Estate, we designed pieces of furniture in all our projects. We have a huge catalogue of products and we have received requests from people who want to buy them.

"But we've always been so engrossed doing architecture that we've forgotten about that rich library."

He and Mr Hassell have not decided how many Wohabeing pieces will be on show.

Mr Hassell, 49, says: "It's not a super luxury brand. There will be products at different price points and made with different techniques and materials."

Mr Wong adds: "With Wohabeing, we want to bring across the message that design is for everyone."


Written by Natasha Ann Zachariah for The Straits Times.