Everything about award-winning architect Tan Kay Ngee’s resume points to him being the quintessential cosmopolitan practitioner.
He was a student of Catholic High School in the 1960s when it was still a Chinese medium school, before moving to National Junior College. After graduating from the school of architecture at National University of Singapore, he spent four years at London’s Architectural Association.
Mr Tan started his career at Studio Tomassini in Italy and then at Arup Associates in London, and also taught design at The Bartlett, University College London. In 1990, he established Kay Ngee Tan Architects in London, but it was only in 2003, that he returned home to start his Singapore studio.
A prolific career
The 65-year-old has projects in Asian and Western cities. For example, there is the Kinokuniya book store in New York and the Homage boutique hotel in Istanbul.
He was one of 12 architects who designed villas for a hospitality project known as Commune by the Great Wall in Beijing, and he also designed the Chuzhou HQ & Ceramic Museum in Anhui province. Locally, Mr Tan designed Singapore Management University and Breadtalk IHQ.
How culture has influenced his work
His name is one that pops up when people think of architecture with an Oriental influence. “But funnily, when I first started, my designs were more contemporary British style,” he says.
But he developed an interest in Chinese culture and architecture some years ago, when he was impressed with the way Japanese architects could modernise their own aesthetics. Along the way, Mr Tan delved more into Chinese architecture, particularly Hui-style architecture, which avoided the use of bright colours in its buildings, and used more muted materials such as cement plaster, wood and grey stone and grey roof tiles.
“I find the language of Hui-style architecture elegant, with its focus on proportion and aesthetics. I didn’t want to follow it literally, but rather to recreate it with a modern interpretation,” says Mr Tan.
Subtle Oriental influences
His interpretation of Hui-style architecture can be seen in this bungalow off Holland Road. Belonging to a doctor, the house has subtle Oriental influences, the way Mr Tan intended for it.
The client approached Mr Tan to design her home without specifically asking for a Chinese house. But it was through conversations that the two discovered they shared a love for Chinese aesthetics.
“The idea is not to design the home with too much Chinese architecture, but to create an overall feeling,” says Mr Tan. “We needed to make the home liveable, fulfil the client’s requirements and also reflect her personality.”