Mike Lim, director of DP Design 

Recipient of the Designer of the Year Award conferred by the Interior Design Confederation Singapore (IDCS) Design Excellence Awards 2018/2019, Mike Lim shares his thoughts about the winning project, Our Tampines Hub (OTH), and the key to the success of large-scale projects. 

People-centric design
 for greater inclusivity and connectivity

Our design was driven by the need to create opportunities for inclusivity, richness and new synergies of communal and social settings for Tampines residents. The idea of connectivity is also reflected in how different materials and textures are woven together in the elevated streetscapes and green terraces.

As OTH is largely a public space, the materials and finishes used had to be resilient and low-cost, yet still aesthetically pleasing. And with 
such a large-scale
project, we had to
integrate smart
technology like
 apps and info-comm systems to
 aid in wayfinding.
 Ultimately, these
 relate back to how people-centric
 OTH is.

Our Tampines Hub

Synergy between different programmatic functions

To avoid saturating the Tampines neighbourhood with another retail-driven concept, our design took a bottom-up approach. We involved different stakeholders such as public agencies and residents of varying demographics and had them weigh in on the design process. The differing needs, design principles and expectations meant we had
 to ensure the design had an overall cohesiveness. Thus, we focused on creating synergy. As OTH is made up of different programme clusters, we uniquely intended for them to relate to one another.

“Participatory design”

Right from the get-go, the vision for OTH was that it would be an integrated hub serving the Tampines community.
 The brief also required that
 we engage with all 12 public agency stakeholders as well as the residents. This had never been done before in Singapore, and the design process we adopted – what we termed “participatory design” – was naturally unorthodox too.

With its many stakeholders and the participation
 of residents, the project was not a walk in the park. To understand everyone’s needs and wants, we
 had focus group sessions that involved an extensive and intensive residents’ engagement process. We also went through platforms created by the People’s Association for discussion and decision-making with a dedicated joint committee made up of representatives from each stakeholder.

Also crucial to the whole process was a key alignment exercise that took place early 
on in the project. It allowed us and all stakeholders to identify and reconcile overlapping and/or conflicting needs, and collectively set out the larger objectives as well as the purpose of the project upfront.

Collaborative and interdisciplinary approach

People are the core of DP’s philosophy – whether they are end users, industry partners, clients or contractors. Collaboration is what makes
up our cultural DNA, so our ability to listen, understand
 and execute was a definite advantage.

From the design concept to the delivery, it was a familiar
 but nonetheless exciting collaborative process. It involved three of DP’s specialist arms – DP Architects, DP Design and DP Green, our landscape architects. Together, we function as a multidisciplinary design studio that offers an interdisciplinary approach. What this means is that communication channels are always open between our teams. As interior designers 
and interior architects, this open engagement enables us to understand the aim of the larger architectural scheme and allows our designs to complement the purpose of the space.

Key to the success of large-scale projects

Each development we have been involved in has a function unique unto itself. For example, OTH is an integrated sports and community hub for the residents of Tampines, while Resorts World Sentosa is an integrated resort that features hyper-mixed uses on a mega scale that serves to boost Singapore’s tourism industry. The Dubai Mall and Abu Dhabi Tower similarly function as destinations in themselves for Middle Eastern tourism, but the basis of all these projects is that the spaces are intended for the people, albeit for different end-user groups.

Their success then lies 
in how they were designed
 with the end users in mind. What is fundamental in this
 is how our design takes into consideration the site and cultural relevance, and this is, in turn, articulated through design detailing and nuances. For example, various sections of the OTH library were designed to relate to specific age groups of readers, while The Dubai Mall has four differentiated shopping “streets” that each cater to their respective target consumers and deliver unique retail experiences. The choice of material and application of textures then plays a key role in realising these spaces.

Thoughts on the designer of the year win and words for aspiring interior designers

I am honoured by the recognition. My hope is that this will inspire and encourage my fellow designers to strike out and compete in the international arena. To young designers, I would say: Stay passionate about what you do. Be humble and open to learning. Be relentless in your craft.