NANCHYUAN, PETER, SELWYN, TORRANCE
FARM ARCHITECTS PTE LTD
Company Founded in
Name of Founders
Peter Sim, Nanchyuan Tiah, Torrance Goh, Selwyn Low
Founder Birth Year (Peter)
Founder Birth Year (Nanchyuan)
Founder Birth Year (Torrance)
Founder Birth Year (Selwyn)
NUS, Arch. (Hons), School of Architecture (1997)
Architectural Association School of Architecture, AA Diploma (2004)
NUS, M.Arch, School of Architecture (2006)
NUS, M.Arch, School of Architecture (2006)
Previous Job (Peter)
ALSOP ARCHITECTS LONDON (2000-2004)
Previous Job (Peter)
SMC ALSOP, SINGAPORE (2005-2006)
Previous Job (Nanchyuan)
Urban Redevelopment Board (URA) (2004-2008)
Previous Job (Torrance)
ALSOP ARCHITECTS LONDON (2002-2004)
Previous Job (Torrance)
SMC ALSOP, SINGAPORE (2005-2006)
Period of Occupancy (1st Office)
Estimate Space (1st Office)
Number of Staff (1st Office)
Waterloo Street (Main)
Period of Occupancy (2nd Office)
Estimate Space (2nd Office)
Number of Staff (2nd Office)
Period of Occupancy (3rd Office)
Estimate Space (3rd Office)
Number of Staff (3rd Office)
Started FARM SOCIETY – Society for local creatives
Curated 1st Session of Rojak – Sharing platform for local creatives
Curated STAMP – Public Art competition to paint post-boxes
Started WORM – Publishing Arm
Published 1st Art Book – My Artists – A Curatorial piece by Tang Ling Nah
Started FARMWORK – Spatial Design Studio
The Tree, Singapore – President's Design Award 2010, Designer of the Year
Started FARMSTORE – Locally designed product store
FARMSTORE first showcase in Maison & Objet
Perspective 40 under 40 Award 2012 Winner, Architecture and Interior Design
Started FARM ARCHITECTS PTE LTD – Architecture Studio
Pool Shophouse, Singapore – URA Architectural Heritage Awards 2013 (As part of the Lorong 24A Series)
Art Connector (National Gallery Singapore) – Design Competition Winner 2015
Wallpaper* Architects Directory 2018 – 1 of 20 international firms selected
Century of Light, Singapore – Taiwan Interior Design (TID) Award 2018
The Great Madras, Singapore – URA Architectural Heritage Awards 2018, Winner
FARMSTORE open in NDC
Started FARMACY – Research & Experience Design
Selected to design a new typology of Nursing Home, Architecture Research Project by NUS/MOH/URA
Open FARM Bangkok office
Silver Award, Analysis & Planning Scope: Architecture and Landscape Design (in collaboration with Tinderbox and NParks Board)
Sembawang Hot Spring Park, Singapore – Singapore Landscape Architecture Awards
Aesop 1 Utama, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – SIA Architectural Design Awards 2020, Design Award (Interior Architecture)
The Great Madras, Singapore – SIA Architectural Design Awards 2020, Design Award (Special Category)
FARM STORE closes in NDC
Hungry Design, D&AD Wood Pencil (Spatial Design) – In collaboration with Roots
Started Hyperfield – Digital Simulation Studio, In collaboration with VOUSE
Open FARM Taiwan office
Good Organic Farming
By Elaine Chan, 30 June 2022
Hi gentlemen. Good afternoon. Thank you so much for joining us on Studio SML. I'm gonna start by asking you the first question. You say that Farm, or as you describe it, Farm is many things at once. What is it like for you for four guys to run a Farm, aka your practice, and what's a typical day like?
Peter Hey, someone say something
Peter Hi. Hi. Sorry I joined a bit late.
Nan Chyuan We’ve all said something, already. You can start.
Peter I don't think so. Ok, I mean, we, the thing is that it's, um, a bit chaotic sometimes because we all have our own interests. We all handle different projects, and the projects are of different types because as our blurb says, you know, we are many things. So, at any one given time, we are hoping from one meeting that's talking about, I don't know, one moment selecting a toilet roll holder, and the next we're talking about a vision for a precinct in a city, you know? So it's a little bit haphazard sometimes. And, the team that we're working with, sometimes it's one person, sometimes it's a big team, but I think that's what we find interesting, that there’s something kind of different, and of interest in every project that we take on.
And as we hop from one to another during the course of a day, our brains kind of handle different questions, different scales, different issues. You know, whether it's about branding identity or whether it's about solving planning parameters or URA issues. So I guess, there's no real typical day now because we are still kind of coming out of the work-from-home. So we are sometimes, we are out at meetings or on site the whole day. Sometimes we are at home, in front of, like today I've been on zoom end to end for meetings. So I can't tell you what a typical day is right now, maybe in a couple of months, then I can tell you.
Right. What about the other partners?
Torrance What Peter said was interesting, cause I never thought we were strange. Sometimes we go look at boards. Sometimes we go look at colour. Sometimes we look at tiles. Ya lor, because of the nature of our projects, I think we all got used to it. We never really think it works differently. I guess that's why it’s interesting. At least for me.
How long has Farm been in operation?
Torrance I just checked 15 to 16 years, maybe a bit longer. Officially it was set up in 2007
Selwyn That’s Farm Society right?
Torrance It actually started earlier. I mean, the record is 2007 but we started a bit earlier, 2005, I think. Yeah.
How did you come together? How did the four of you come together?
Peter Connection through NUS (National University of Singapore), I guess, because we were all graduates from the NUS architecture school. I am the oldest, unfortunately. So I was there first and then, my wife went to teach in NUS, still actually. So the first batch she taught had Torrance and Nan Chyuan in it. So that's where I met them. And that's where they met each other.
Selwyn, I don’t know. He's the odd one out.
Selwyn I met Torrance… I met his classmate called Willie when I was doing my internship. So he told me that he has a friend who's coming back to NUS, who's joining my year. So Torrance is two years my senior, but he came back to do his Masters in my year. So I kind of knew him then. And through him, I got to know Nan Chyuan. And through them later on, I got to know Peter.
Oh, right. So four of you run the practice together. And do you each have a role or how do you work this out? Who does what? And also because, um, you all have different interests yourselves, how do you make the business work really?
Torrance When you mean role, you mean administratively?
Yeah, and also creatively, you know. You might, for example…You may think that's an interesting project and someone else may not think likewise. So how do you have that discussion and what do you talk about?
Selwyn I think these questions are all interesting because nobody has really asked us these. It's quite like how Peter explained how, the way we work. We are very organic in many ways. Yeah. And the fact that even our colleagues and people who share their working experience in Farm, tell me the same thing. That Farm operates in such an organic manner, that it’s really interesting how things come in place or fit together. So, likewise, do we have a clear role? I think we are somewhat evolved to a form or method that we take care of certain things and, and it seems to work well. How, and what..[to Peter] you want to share? You were saying something?
Peter I was gonna say the same thing. So things kind of happened because we have individual preferences or, we have kind of individual interests, you know? So sometimes it's to do with whether a particular project appeals to one of us, or whether one of us has some time and is then able to take on a project. Sometimes it’s to do with the client that the personality matches, and we can get along with them. And if we have a project that comes along, we say, oh, we can't manage it, it's a good project to do, but doesn't appeal to us, we throw it out to the other three and then, somebody will pick it up.
So far it's happened okay. We managed to divide things, kind of in an organic way. I mean it's not so clear that everyone will do restaurants, or one will do houses. It's not like that. So it happens or whatever comes along, we will kind of, if we wanna do it, we'll say I wanna do this. Or somebody else says that they wanna do it. Or I don't like this person, so I don't wanna be involved with this project, you know? We will have that kind of open discussion. Or we'll suggest this client I think will match you, it is the kind of person that you like to work with. Why don't I Introduce [you] to, then you'll see how you get on.
Selwyn So that's how you arrow us?
Peter Hmm… yeah. I mean, it happens, right? That's what happens.
We managed to divide things, kind of in an organic way. I mean it's not so clear that everyone will do restaurants, or one will do houses. It's not like that.
That’s quite good organic farming
Peter Haha, yeah, yeah. I mean, as Selwyn says there's some very clear kind of boundary. Nan Chyuan is our principal architect. So all architecture projects have his involvement somehow. I mean, one of us might be handling the design, but he will have a kind of overview on it…
And Torrance has a close connection to the art scene and has been involved in all the arts projects that we do, all the sculpture projects. So there are some of these lines I think. And Selwyn because from early days as a Society, he and Torrance started off… so for Selwyn, he usually handles the kind of more community-based, ground-up projects, like the stadium bench project, the curating of local artists or organising of community events. Hence Selwyn has been quite heavily involved in those projects in the past. Sounds like I don't do anything…
Selwyn Hahaha. I was waiting to hear you explain what you do.
So what's your forte Peter?
Peter I quite enjoy doing small architecture projects, as well as quirky interior projects. I don't really get my hands in things like large condominium branding or, show flats and things like that.
Yeah. Right. Can you tell me about the team at the Farm?
Nan Chyuan We have about 50, 50 over people, plus minus, and broadly, you can split them into three teams, the architecture team, the interior design team, and the graphic design team. And we have copywriters, branding, and, I think we used to have product designers, but typically under those three big baskets. We always were involved in exhibitions, exhibition design, so that never really fit in any of the teams, but it was always drawing people from the graphic design and also the architecture team. And I think recently we also started to have the fourth team, Farmacy, which is our small, design research and experience design team. So that's a sub-team that sort of grew up from the umbrella of the three big teams.
And there are also people who are specialised in wayfinding [design], which is an offshoot from the graphic design team. I think there are ways that the team is growing because of certain needs that we see in projects, certain gaps, clients asking for certain things and also certain opportunities that we see in the market that they are sort of spaces that's currently not filled, and so there's very few people involved in the kind of space. So we thought that through some of our work, then we started to sort of go into some of those new areas. The team is also quite organic in a sense in a way. I think we need to remember that when we first started, we were doing exhibition design, right from the very, very onset.
With exhibitions, at first we had interior designers, then we hired architects to design the exhibitions. Then slowly, we had our graphic design team and then the architecture team. Because the four of us are architecturally trained; and then we hired architects from the start, but the architecture sort of company actually evolved very late, [in] 2013. Then we started to have a proper architecture arm.
So I think because of the way we started graphic, interior design, experience design, in a way was very much in how we would think about spaces. So the team evolved accordingly. We had a shop at some point, a retail Farm Store. We had graduates from the industrial design, product design school that was helming the shop for a couple of years, doing small products and objects and things like that. That sort of stopped during COVID, but we are kind of thinking of ways to sort of get it back again. So, yeah, I think at one point we wanted to publish a book too. We still had a little… laughs … publishing team or arm that was in that space.
I think there are ways that the team is growing because of certain needs that we see in projects, certain gaps, clients asking for certain things and also certain opportunities that we see in the market that they are sort of spaces that's currently not filled, and so there's very few people involved in the kind of space.
What books did you wanna publish?
Torrance I think that time was very early [stage], trying different things…I think it was to help artists to make books…
Nan Chyuan I think we made one or two, right?
Selwyn Yeah. Yeah. Two.
Torrance I think when we first started out, we were younger. So we were more experimental. We tried different things that we thought would interest us.
Selwyn I'm not sure whether you are familiar, how we started. If we really go back to 2005, it really started as a society. And we started as a society to organise sharing sessions for people in the local creative industries. So we had this thing called Rojak and it was a fairly popular session where we got to know many people. Hence we decided that we could do more. We got to know a lot of artists, creators. And a lot of what we started doing was a kind of a reaction to some of their kind of needs, or some of what we find lacking.
For example, some of our artist friends wanted to publish their books. Hence we were thinking of doing a publishing side. The product was also kind of, because we couldn't find a lot of local creative or local artists’ products, especially when we go to the museums. Hence we wanted to actually make things with them or for them. Hence we started the whole product making kind of initiative as well. So it really stemmed from that aspect.
And even when we started the design practice, we also wanted very much to collaborate or to kind of bring them together, or kind of involve them in our work. I think it has taken us quite a while actually. Now it's almost 15 years, 17 years. The way of engaging has also changed as well. Because like what Torrance said, we were very young, but we were also very inexperienced in terms of wanting to collaborate. But nowadays I think in terms of collaboration, it's also something that's a lot more, kind of, grounded in methodology as well as understanding what are the limitations of collaboration. So it's a bit different. In some way we have evolved, but we also still have that spirit of collaborating.
If we really go back to 2005, it really started as a society. And we started as a society to organise sharing sessions for people in the local creative industries. So we had this thing called Rojak and it was a fairly popular session where we got to know many people. Hence we decided that we could do more.
Are those projects still ongoing? Like for instance, Rojak, is that still happening?
Selwyn I remember at some point we decided that there were too many sharing sessions in Singapore. I think there were some Tuesday morning sessions or creative mornings. And then there were quite a few platforms. A lot of what we started and how we ended was when we felt that it was no longer useful or there were better kinds of platforms around. So at one point we decided Rojak wasn't so necessary anymore, unlike when we first started… I think it stopped in 2013 or 12. Can any of you remember? Until Peter, you kind of revived it for something, right?
Peter Yeah. I did a London one. But it's been superseded by what a lot of other people are doing. So we kinda wrapped it up.
Selwyn Even Pecha Kucha… the format that we were inspired by, which was why we started Rojak in Singapore. But there's no longer a need.
I think Nan Chyuan was talking about some of the trends and gaps, and also with Farmacy, you see, that kind of stepping in to look at new creative ways and ideas. So what are the potential trends and gaps that you see currently?
Nan Chyuan I think Farmacy was something we started in 2018. It was at the back of a couple of projects where we realised that the way we are sort of engaged, it's slightly different from some of the earlier projects. Clients were coming with some open-ended questions. And maybe because we know them, we have further conversations, we realised that there was a need for a slightly different way of engaging some of these projects. And so we were looking at… to be honest at that time, not really understanding, I mean, [it was] just trying to respond directly to what the client was looking for. We were trying to find different ways of addressing. I think over the years, we start to realise that some of the methodology, the way that we work actually helped us and also helped the client articulate what they were looking for in a clearer way, whether it's visually, or is it through the different ways of engaging them and us through the different stages of the projects.
So that was something that took a while for us to sort of find a certain way of working and editing. It's also at that time where we had a copywriter that joined us and it helped us to find a voice in the way we communicate projects, which is through words and text. And so, because it's void of visuals, images, it doesn't have that legacy of an image—once you see something, you will say, I like it or I don't like the image; ugly or beautiful. But words are a little bit more neutral and a little bit more open-ended in a sense, and it helps as a vehicle to continue a certain conversation. So I think that then evolved into a different kind of framework. And I think it was also during that time, the term experience design, design thinking started to come from another angle through other design fields.
And we realised that these are certain things that we are already working on, so we wanted to put it together. And so Farmacy was set up in that way to essentially address some of the project issues that we were facing. And, um, I think last year was when we formally rolled out and started to get into projects on its own through research. And I think it's also a larger arc about emphasis on design research, awareness toward some of these projects. That was a potential gap that we saw.
The other one was that, just by the way that the company was set up. I think multidisciplinary is a very sort of old term, cross-disciplinary trans-disciplinary, you see different examples. But the fact that we were, we had different teams in the office that were looking at different areas and we were in different kinds of projects, and some quite early on, some came quite late. We were trying to sort of go beyond just providing as many services as you need, but trying to see whether beyond that, were we getting into some conversations that traditionally in a project, as an architect or interior designer, you wouldn't be involved in. But because we were doing branding for some of the clients, we noticed that the earlier conversations were actually quite critical, it was able to shape the direction of the projects. Right. So then, we realised as there were some opportunities in that kind of space and through early engagement, through research engagement. The outcome is variable—whether it is a physical outcome, a service design outcome, or a visual communication outcome. And because we could do all of them and that put us in a sort of advantageous position that we are able to engage several conversations potentially at the same time. And, that kind of synergy was something that the client thought was useful.
Farmacy was started in 2018. It was at the back of a couple of projects where we realised that the way we engaged is slightly different from some of the earlier projects. Clients were coming with some open-ended questions, and we realised that there was a need for a slightly different way of engaging some of these projects.
That's interesting. With the work, and the thinking at Farmacy, were you able to advocate new trends or bring to the market different ways of thinking creatively?
Nan Chyuan So a lot of the work that Farmacy does is grounded on actual projects. So we were not looking at starting at, sort of, an independent research inquiry that has no grounding. So a lot of them came from actual projects, but the problem with project research is that it is very limited in terms of time. So it's very hard for you to go very deep. And so I think we were lucky at that period we were engaged to do design research by a few clients at the same time. And so we had that runway for us to build up certain knowledge and they were able to then shift some of the projects. So I think at that time we were working on the architecture research project for a new nursing home, so that would have a six months, nine months runway.
And we partnered STUCK [Design] as our research partner on that project. And I think a couple of months before that, we were engaged to work with lyf, which is part of the Ascott Group, to develop their new co-living brand. So we were engaged to do both brand guide and spatial guide. Some of these opportunities then led on to the physical engagement to do the ID for the first [space] in Funan. And now we are working on the new nursing home project. Some projects are ongoing, some completed, but, there are a few other tracks. Some of these projects do take a longer time for them to come out.
Okay. I'm gonna bring us back a little bit to a broader discussion. So you are cross-disciplinary, so, what do you not do?
Nan Chyuan I think for us, maybe because we are architects, I think we had this underlying understanding that whatever projects we take on, it has to have a spatial component. For example, I think when we were working on the graphic team, we asked ourselves, oh, if someone comes in to say, we wanna do an annual report… then we will kind of say, no. But of course, along the way, it depends on the client. But so far, I think it's still quite clear that it still needs to have some level of grounding in the spatial realm. And even Farmacy, as a research, we always thought that there has to be a belief that whatever is the change that you're advocating, space is still ultimately the biggest driver for change in the environment, Spatial environment. So I think that is something we still hold quite clear to, kind of what defines, what we do and what we don't do, or at least the first cut when the email comes in. And we say like, yeah, this one got no chance… laugh... or got a chance, then we reply, you know, so things like that.
Maybe because we are architects, I think we had this underlying understanding that whatever projects we take on, it has to have a spatial component.
Driver for change, this question goes to all of you. What kind of revolution do you wanna see in Singapore in terms of design, spatial design, in your area of practice?
Peter I don't know whether this is answering your question, but what I would like to see as a change in Singapore is that there is more involvement from the people who are using the space themselves. I find that, in Singapore at least, design is treated as something that somebody does and then is built by another person. And at the end of the day, it is a product that you purchase or consume. I think that there is some value in people doing stuff themselves, whether it's modifying, adapting, building, making. I think there's a shortage in that. And I think that will actually, I dunno, change people's appreciation of the materials, the environment that we live in, the materials that are used to make them, how things are put together, an appreciation of craftsmanship, a whole kind of understanding of an ecosystem of things, which I think at the moment we are just consumers and, and design is something we consume as well. I mean, it's not really answering a question in terms of what we are gonna design, but I think I would like to see that kind of awareness.
Rather than a split between the user and the design so much. For example, there's this idea in some people— oh, you are the designer, you're the expert, so you tell me what I need. In many ways, I don't think it's such a mysterious kind of art or something that is unapproachable. Things to do with how people use the space around them, it's to do with a much more involved conversation, and that they have some control over how they can shape their space. I think that's something which I feel is not very prevalent in Singapore.
There's this idea in some people— oh, you are the designer, you're the expert, so you tell me what I need. In many ways, it's not such a mysterious kind of art or something that is unapproachable. It's to do with a much more involved conversation, and that they have some control over how they can shape their space.
Is this a takeaway from your years speaking with clients and people you work with, or is this just observing how the general public looks at space?
Peter I guess it's to do with the experiences I have in Singapore and I used to stay in the UK for a bit as well. And how people kind of treat things, where there is a certain degree of autonomy and a spirit for adaptation and to affect one's own, almost like a DIY and a maker kind of spirit, which I think doesn't exist in Singapore. I dunno. I think it's just not within our culture. We don't do that. And I feel that there's value in that, you know. It gives an appreciation of the idea of craftsmanship, of sustainability of reusing materials… extending a lifespan or something.
Could it be that in Asia or in Singapore, everything is so convenient. You don't really have to think about it.
Peter True, true.
You know, I'm just imagining, you know, elsewhere, you might have to fix your own roof or yeah. Do your own flooring.
Peter And the other thing I find as a restriction is the cost of things, design and architecture is such an expensive process that it becomes something that only a select few are able to determine. There's no solution that I can offer to this, but I think many of the very interesting pieces of architecture that you see internationally happen because land is not incredibly expensive. And the act of building is not incredibly expensive. So you can get really inventive pieces of architecture. In Singapore, because of the cost of land, the cost of building and the whole ecosystem, we are very limited or very kind of restricted in what are the potential outcomes of anything that is invested in. And I think that is what I find a real constraint to creativity and new solutions.
Many of the very interesting pieces of architecture that you see internationally happen because land is not incredibly expensive. And the act of building is not incredibly expensive. So you can get really inventive pieces of architecture.
What about the other guys? What do you think?
Nan Chyuan Still thinking…
Selwyn Nan Chyuan, a lot to say…Go Nan Chyuan.
Nan Chyuan Yeah. Like what Peter said, maybe not something that we can do internally within the range of work. And it's more about the larger change that you hope to see. It's this idea of, I wouldn't call it a design culture, or maybe more important is, the idea of a culture of design. For example, if you go to a certain [place]…but it's not fair lah, like in Singapore, it's generally still quite young. But if you look at say countries like France and Italy, or Japan, the culture of design is deeply ingrained through the fashion, the technology, and in every aspect of life, right? In Singapore, maybe because everything is, as Peter said, either expensive or efficient or very result oriented, so in a sense, there is very little room for any of these conversations to evolve.
And lack of appreciation in the culture of design will lead to many other sorts of bad decisions, or decisions that are made for convenience, decisions that are made for other economic considerations and whatnot. And I think in that sense, if the physical environment is a reflection of a lack of design culture, then it is very hard to develop that sense of awareness over time. So as a practitioner within this space, you are already fighting within a community or environment that is sort of, maybe doesn't really appreciate design as much, or they don't see it as the way we looked at things.
I believe Singapore designers are actually very talented. So if you look around the world, if you just take a cut, any year, from 20 years ago, until today, you walk into any design school, fashion school, architecture school, branding, whatever you will find Singaporeans, and they're usually at the top, or somewhere there. But they either stay overseas or once they come back, they will kind of just disappear. So the question is actually, is there something about the environment here that doesn't support that kind of talent, which is a kind of pity lah. Because from an individual level, definitely, and from the schools, you know that the talent is there. So it is really just the lack of environment to allow the talents and opportunities for the talents to grow and to develop.
The lack of appreciation in the culture of design will lead to many bad decisions, or decisions that are made for convenience, decisions that are made for other economic considerations and whatnot. And if the physical environment is a reflection of a lack of design culture, then it is very hard to develop that sense of awareness over time.
And that brings me to two questions. One is, what can we do? As individuals, we're not talking about policy, government policies, because that's beyond us… And my second question, I was hoping to get your take on the brain drain. If we have talented people who kind of fade into obscurity, or they don't come back to Singapore, or they come back and they leave again. So I guess these are big questions… cause then it feeds back into the health of the ecosystem. What do you think?
Nan Chyuan Hmm… I mean, based on the kind of the larger culture or lack of design culture, it's quite hard for individuals to sort of shift that conversation. So I think it doesn't mean that a collective effort will therefore make a difference lah. I think that, that's still sort of.. hmm… open-ended and the issue of brain drain, I think, is across the board. I mean we have had our own share of people leaving us, especially this couple of years. And, we still keep in good contact with a whole lot of them actually. They leave for reasons that we kind of understand ourselves. I'm not sure, but I think the period when we started out, even though it's not that long ago, is actually very different from now.
And the scary thing is that the schools haven't actually changed that much during our period and now. But the opportunities, the other economic sectors, have moved and changed quite a bit. So the question is whether the industry can keep up, and therefore there are better opportunities in other fields. The talent will always move to where the opportunities are. So I think in a sense, there's something for the industry to sort of really look into. We don't, I don't think I've individually got any answer to that question, but I think we have to recognise that the landscape has changed quite a bit in terms of opportunities.
And the scary thing is that the schools haven't actually changed that much during our period and now. But the opportunities, the other economic sectors, have moved and changed quite a bit.
So at Farm, how do you nurture these talents, or how do you cultivate your talents?
Selwyn How do we nurture, how do we cultivate… hmm… I think it's interesting, the kind of people that join us. They're often kind of, attracted to the fact that we are doing many things. They like the fact that we do exhibitions, we do interior, we do architecture, we brand things.
But what we sometimes find quite difficult is that the schools are still training people to be very domain-specific or to have very deep skillset in one thing. So it's actually not so simple to work across, so they naturally would be more comfortable, say, as a graphic designer doing graphic design. We often will encourage them to work closely with their colleagues from other disciplines. So we find the magic happens in the discussion and in the kind of collaboration between them. Sometimes, a lot of times, the first concept that evolved, may come from any designer from any of the disciplines.
And I think that's something that they appreciate as well. I think that's the difference that someone working in Farm might feel compared to other firms. I think it's also looking at the four of us. While we are architecturally trained, our interest lies in many disciplines and in the kind of things that we do. We are not really, how should I say, I sometimes see ourselves as creative directors, and we may not be the kind of best graphic designer, the best wayfinding person, but we understand what works as a kind of identity or concept across, and we trust and we work with closely with others to deliver that. So I think that's something that we've been trying to kind of train our guys to do as well.
Is that succeeding, working?
Nan Chyuan We went through a few rounds of evolution or change within the company and personnel. And I think we also had to react with the size of the company growing. We started off as a small studio, and now, we are 50 people. And we—at one point—struggled to sort of wanting to behave like a small studio, but you realised the messiness of it is not something that some of our corporate clients can accept. So we had to find a way to evolve and adapt. And I think even the architecture team structure is very different from the interior team structure, it is very different from the graphic design team structure. So imagine a company of 50, we have three different sub-structures of how the teams work, but because it's a recognition that the teams do operate very differently and the challenges that they face, the project and the timeline, they're all very different.
And at the end of the day, we hope, we like to believe that we have tried our best to accommodate to the needs of the team and the talents, to grow and groom them and align their interests first. The collective interest of the company is actually the collective interests of where the individuals are going. And I think if with that, then you will get the best out of them and therefore, Farm can continue to do well. I mean I speak for myself here that I don't think we can be where we are today, if we don't have the 46 people working very hard and very talented people behind us. So I think they are, if not more important than the four of us, to be honest. And so how do you keep the group together?
And we are quite lucky to say some of our staff were with us from day one and they are still with us. And even those who left, we are still in very close contact with them because I think at the end of the day, the design committee is quite small. We do understand that we have different paths that we want to pursue. But if we all generally align with the love for design and the love for the work that we do, then there's no reason why we cannot still be friends. So in a sense, we are quite open to welcoming them back sometimes or things like that. So I think both from a social and also from a professional angle in terms of working together. So I think we always try to keep that relationship open in a sense, hopefully a mutual respect between recognising them as individuals, talented people and how we can work with them as much as possible.
We also had to react with the size of the company growing. We started off as a small studio, and now, we are 50 people. And we—at one point—struggled to sort of wanting to behave like a small studio, but you realised the messiness of it is not something that some of our corporate clients can accept.
Selwyn was talking about how some talents are trained in specific areas… how easy is it for designers to get out of that comfort zone?
Selwyn I actually think that a lot of them are comfortable to step out, but their talent may not allow them to step out. A lot of them have the heart to do, like, for example, if I'm a graphic designer and want to design furniture. Sometimes it may not work… laugh... Yeah. So they're very much more talented in what they do, but we want to have that conversation between them and the furniture designer who can then see the blind spots of where they're heading towards and then be able to kind of collectively do something even better.
The firm has done various or many different types of projects. What are the most interesting ones for you guys? And what do you hope to do next? Maybe, you know, something that you've not done before? We can talk about specific projects or areas of interest.
Selwyn Your question has two parts, right? One is what you hope to do. And one is what do you enjoy?
Selwyn Peter you were saying?
Peter Yeah, no, I was gonna say, I dunno about everyone, but each of us would have our own kind of favorites of what we have enjoyed doing. I mean, I’ll kick off on my own. I've always thought that one of our very early projects, an installation that was put up in Melbourne as part of Design Week —it’s called 2-4-9-4 or 2-9-4-9, I really like that because that kind of embodied quite a few aspects of our design outlook, or philosophy. Because it talks about materiality, it talks about hands-on making. There was collaboration with an artist, and it had a kind of commentary on how architecture is made, using drawing and paper as a medium.
So that has always appealed to me as a smaller scale project. And the other one that always sticks in my mind is the art connector that we did as part of the SG50. So you know, to be part of SG50 celebrations was very meaningful and that it had a huge involvement with the general public of Singapore. We involved more than 20,000 people in the making of that project. It is a modest piece of infrastructure, but it is meaningful and a contribution to the public realm. So I think those are the two stick out in my mind.
Selwyn And, and what projects do you want? There are two parts to the question.
Peter I always wanted to do a house, which is kind of… hmm… really laughs... a kind of unusual house that's on a low budget, but an interesting house, but I think it's not gonna happen in Singapore. So the other one would be some kind of religious building, which I thought might be interesting as well.
Torrance Personally, I enjoy projects where I can do a few things at one go, like some of the projects where… I think at the very start… hmm… how we got started in exhibitions was interesting, it was ‘cause we managed to do graphics. We got architects and the ID people to do it together… I enjoy projects where there are different teams at work and you get to straddle among the different things and you try to put together all the different things, kind of curate them all together. I enjoy those processes.
Anything else that you wish to do and haven’t?
Torrance Religious buildings, temples, and branding at the same time, and make a book out of it also. Something like that, you know, like it allows you to try and shape the experience of something.
A whole suite of products, and services attached?
Torrance I thought that was the fun part, at least for, and I thought that sometimes when my colleagues enjoy that sort of process, when you get to see how different aspects of the Farm come together and how they affect one another. I like that bit.
All right. What about Nan Chyuan?
Nan Chyuan One of the earlier projects was a small house that we did with a photographer friend. Jeremy San's house, that to me, still is one of the more interesting projects because of how the process and also the stories relate to the space. So I think that's one. The current one that's sort of taking a bit of our time and interest is the nursing home project, because that is in a way, one of the examples that Peter said, like you're designing… there's an obvious group of users who will benefit from a space that is done properly. And I saw that's something that we are quite keen to kind of make sure that it is delivered well, and then whatever the earlier ideas and visions get executed. So we kind of wanna see—as there is quite a bit of speculation on that project—when it is completed, how the users actually take up to what we were trying to do. So I think that that would be a project of interest in the future.
What were the speculations?
Nan Chyuan It's really just about, I mean, the big research agenda was people-centric care, to shift the attention towards the user. So I think that was something that we need to, of course, once the residents are in, then we can sort of understand whether some of the earlier ideas, do we validate some of these considerations? When going forward, I always wanted to build my own house. Build as in build, not just design.
Not many people know that for my internship, I actually spent six months with a builder. So actually, maybe those were the days I thought were really fun. Yeah. So I may kind of wanna have the opportunity to do that at some point.
Selwyn I think for me, it's always more about the people I meet and the relationships I have in, through the projects. So there were a few projects that I kind of remember. One of the early ones is an apartment in Eng Hun street. The owner is called Terrence; he's still a good friend of mine, and collaborating with artists like Ling Nah and Justin. The other two were an exhibition at the National Design Centre working closely with Jonathan Yuen of Roots. It was the COVID period. So it was quite difficult actually to put anything out. But it was a very enjoyable collaboration, where he came up with the branding and I came up with the art direction and the spatial design. So that was something quite meaningful to us as well. I think the third one is actually the Red House, for Chris, another client. Because it's an F&B and we’re trying to revamp it, but more importantly it’s about the family business, how they had to pivot during COVID and how using design helps them to solve problems as a business. So we helped them to come up with new brands, like Milkfish, Áo Broth. And it was very much a response to the last two years as well, when people can’t go to the restaurants, they can only order online.
Nan Chyuan So all food related lah.
Selwyn laugh Yeah, of course. I love all food related briefs. I look like a foodie… laugh These are the kind of projects that are meaningful beyond the space, and also the people I met along the way, and also the relationships I have cultivated.
In terms of a project that I would love to get involved in… I don't really have a very specific typology, like the both of them wanting to build their houses. I think I would like to have an opportunity to start the project with a few friends from different disciplines, for example, artists, furniture designer, product designer, and being able to craft the outcome from day one. I would still hope, I think there will be an opportunity somewhat soon. So I think coming from where, what, how we've been operating. Yeah. So I'm hoping that that brief will come soon.
What is your favorite food, each of you?
Selwyn You mean the last meal? laugh
Yeah, you can talk about that too. And your favorite food, and if food is part of the Farm culture as well.
Selwyn Okay. I’m gonna start first, since I did the last question. I’m Teochew, I think my last meal would be Teochew mui (porridge). I cannot decide what's my favorite food, Teochew mui allows me to pick many different kinds and they all come together really nicely.
Nan Chyuan I’m Hainanese, so it must be Hainanese chicken rice. Also, the lack of chicken now. So it’s suddenly very precious… laugh
Torrance Mine would be fried carrot cake because I always enjoy it, there's no reason why. Just like, yeah, this makes me miss home. Every time I’m tired, I’d fry carrot cake.
Right. And Peter?
Peter I'm pretty conservative in my food choices. I'm not a, I'm not a huge kind of foodie.
Peter Yeah. I am Peranakan, but I think I would choose a Hamburger… laugh I mean, I enjoy, you know, popiah (springrolls) and all those things, but I usually like something simple, like a sandwich or a burger, if I had to choose lah.
Is food a big part of the Farm culture?
Peter You should see our Chinese New Year yusheng (a Singaporean raw fish dish eaten during Chinese New Year) tossing.
It's a spread?
Peter Yeah. It's like a food fight sometimes.
Okay… laugh so your team likes food too…
Nan Chyuan We used to make the new staff cook for everyone… laugh... I think we used to do it every month. It was quite fun. Now it’s every three months… whenever the youngest members of the office would come together to cook.
What if it's just one or two, three people?
Nan Chyuan Then the three of them will cook for us… laugh
Nan Chyuan Yeah. Yeah. And when we get to try all sorts of weird food, but that was all pre-COVID. We haven't had those sessions for a long time.
Torrance Someone said that they wanted to bring it…
Nan Chyuan So if everything is okay, we can sort of… we have a lot of backlog of people if they haven't cooked for us… laugh
And they have to cook themselves, and not kind of buy takeaways?
Nan Chyuan Well, we don't go into the details as long as they bring it… laughs
No, no, but they do. I remember some of them did document what they were doing at home, so you can see their preparation.
It's a creative process in itself, too.
Nan Chyuan Those who buy won't show up… laughs... we just eat lah. So yeah. We used to have quite a number of those sessions.
Are there characteristics that you would say are unique to the Farm as a practice and as a studio?
Nan Chyuan I'm not sure about unique, but maybe from… the sort of experience of working with some of the new staff who joined the team, and especially those who join during COVID… So the opportunity to work with your colleagues is sort of lacking, and so if they come in fresh (during COVID period), it's actually quite hard for them to integrate with the team. So even if we have three separate teams, architecture, interior branding, and because of the way that we have been working through some of these projects, there is a certain momentum of how things are done, and how some of the decisions are made. And so it's quite hard for new staff to understand and to fit into that rhythm. So to them, it feels like a lot of things are happening online, everyone uploads their slides, and when it’s all done, the whole thing looks complete.
Yeah. So they don't understand how that comes together. But, on our side, because maybe the individual teams know their parts very well and they know how to read each other, what each other is doing... and so they're able to adapt quite quickly, but it's very difficult for new staff to come in. So it's also not something that was done consciously. It's just that maybe the way that we, the team has been working together for a long time, there's a certain understanding, a way of working that, for an outsider joining the team, especially during the COVID times, is especially difficult to understand. So we had a few people who joined and left during that period because they just couldn't fit. I mean, for various other reasons. They actually couldn't get into the rhythm of how things are, how quickly some of the things are moving, and they couldn't keep up or they couldn't understand what we were talking about half the time. So that's a problem that we recognise, that we actually need to scaffold, to stage, the integration and the learning of a lot of these new issues.
So is it generally very fast-paced at the Farm?
Nan Chyuan I would imagine yes, but I don't think it's unique to us. Most firms work at that pace.
And lots of projects are coming in now that there’s this reopening?
Nan Chyuan I mean, we have a lot of old projects coming back alive. So that, that adds to that volume of things that we need to sort of look at this point. Yeah.
What is your vision, each of you, for the Farm?
Selwyn Wah.. this kind of question is very tough.
Torrance Sounds simple but very tough.
Selwyn Can be a very simple vision? I think we have this big poster in the office and it's a mantra that we always keep doing—work hard and be nice to people. I think anybody in the Farm will always be friends and know each other, work hard together. I think especially in the last two years, we have had a lot of people joining that we couldn't really engage with. So I do think it's unfortunate. Like what Nan Chyuan said, sometimes, they come, they join, and they realise, I can't get used to it and I better go. And you don't even know who they are. A lot of old colleagues that we have missed for the last three years, we’re starting to kind of see them again, some of them in different stages of life, they want something different.
I think something that somebody told me, quite interesting, the other day… they seem to think that time in Farm passes really fast. And they said that when your work is shitty or you work with people you don't like, time is so slow, even though it's just such a short period. But at Farm, it flies you know, like so fast and like eight years is just gone. I've heard that from a few of them. So I think that's something that is quite meaningful to me that people enjoy their time here.
We have this big poster in the office and it's a mantra that we always keep doing—work hard and be nice to people. I think anybody in the Farm will always be friends and know each other, work hard together.
That's gratifying, isn't it?
That the people are not shitty and the work is great.
Selwyn laugh I dunno about the work. It's always tough. At least they enjoy it, maybe. Yeah.
In terms of the practice, are you going to expand or are you just gonna let it run organically as you have done since establishment?
Peter I think we hit a kind of size that is becoming almost to the point of being unmanageable. So we are not going to expand in the foreseeable future. We'll try and manage the company with the size that we have. And I think in terms of the projects that we have on hand, in terms of scale and number this size seems to be sometimes a bit stretched, but generally, just about right.
And in terms of the evolution in your design, any thoughts on how you wanna evolve? I think Nan Chyuan was just talking earlier about how the marketplace has changed, industries are also moving faster and the way of engagements have all evolved as well.
Nan Chyuan At some point…okay, we are probably not the best businessmen because in a sense, if you are good at doing one type, you will keep repeating the same type because that's when you gain economies of scale. But that is also when the staff will probably find the work very boring. So we need to balance our own creative interests to constantly look for new types of projects or new issues, new relationships to unravel—between the room, the house, the restaurant, and the city, the hotel and the entrance. So certain things that we wanna explore, but then it also means that the project is always, new, right. In that sense, it's exciting for the staff, but it also means that we take a lot of time, a lot of manpower to kind of unravel some of this relationship. So I think that is something that we probably accept, that this is the direction that we want to continue to invest into new projects versus finding ways to do the same efficiently.
Right. So, because I think that aligns our interest with the staff’s interests and in a way it keeps us on our toes like that the firm has to constantly look for different things to do. And I think we've been quite anxious about trying to find things, that every year, what else are we looking at? Are there some new areas that we are interested in or things that we notice that we can explore? And so we'll put a small team to kind of look into those areas. Or we find people to collaborate with, to kind of open up our field a little bit more into some of these new areas and to then bring those conversations back and apply them across to the other projects. We have seen how some of those conversations multiply themselves across or manifest themselves in other projects because of certain props that we put into other corners of other projects that we're looking at.
And some, when it comes back and we apply it, it really kind of brings in a different perspective. So I think that that method of working is something that, maybe we will continue to kind of do, but then it also means that it's very hard for us to predict what we'll be doing next year, because there's always this kind of anxiety. But I think somehow when the projects come in, we will know that these are projects that we wanna work on. Even though at that point, we may not fully understand, but once we hear a bit more, then usually, across the team and across the directors, there's an immediate alignment that, okay, this is a good project. Let's go for it. Either because it's an interesting site or it's an interesting problem, or it's an interesting premise that the project was trying to look into.
So I think these are things that we kind of always find more interesting than, say.. do another very expensive house. So it is just that kind of repetition that we probably would sort of stay away from, but I say it's not very good business decisions.
We are probably not the best businessmen, so we need to balance our own creative interests to constantly look for new types of projects or new issues, new relationships to unravel—between the room, the house, the restaurant, and the city, the hotel and the entrance.
So there's always a greenfield element to it then? Or brownfield?
Nan Chyuan Yeah… laugh so, it's just… a certain level of curiosity, which I actually think all designers have. It’s just trying to understand a bit better and to see where different areas that we can contribute or apply some of the ideas from this scale to a different scale, this typology to another typology.
What is the current area that you're looking at?
Nan Chyuan Food, restaurants… laugh
Selwyn Sorry, restaurant? Sorry, I missed the last part.
Current areas. What are the ones that you’re looking at?
Selwyn Hmm… in terms of projects…
So Nan Chyuan was talking about exploring new areas, to keep it interesting for the team.
Selwyn New areas, new focus of the practice or new kind of typologies… currently, we're working on some areas that are quite interesting, like healthcare, preventive care. We are also working on some hotels that are very localised, working very closely with local creators, not in Singapore. So with art and artisans in Malaysia. So that’s also quite interesting for us. Hmm… what else are we working on? Food! I'm currently working on food, coming up with a few concepts for food. Yeah, yeah.
For a restaurant, a new restaurant concept or…?
Selwyn Hmm… yes. A couple of them.
They're all F&B outlets?
Selwyn They are F&B outlets, yes. By Marina Bay, Clarke Quay… so quite interesting. Cause I mean, it's opening up, everyone is coming back. So new concepts to feed the tourists… laugh What else are we working on?
Peter A couple of interesting things we’re doing that we've not done before. For example, we recently have been engaged to study the interior configuration for a new dormitory, a new foreign worker dormitory. So there was a workshop that we conducted to try and understand whether what was provided for in the architect's plans could be rethought or was anything that was important to them could be considered a bit better. Just to understand their point of view, the residents, and how they use the space.
So it includes understanding how they would use the communal kitchens and dining spaces, because the new dormitories are taking the kitchens out of the room itself, which is actually a big point of contention for the residents, because it's very important to them, we found out, and to put it into a communal space… but for reasons of cleanliness and safety, it is better to do that. The new dormitories will have the kitchens in the communal space. So now we are trying to look into how we can address both the residents’ requirements and their preferences and their reservations about this move. At the same time, meeting the requirements of the operators and the authorities. So this is something that we've not done before, and we are learning from scratch, you know, interacting with the users and the managers, and trying to come up with possible solutions...
But it’s also a very meaningful, community-driven undertaking.
Peter Yeah. So we are hoping that's going to be something that can be implemented, for the upcoming dormitories, but at the moment it's more of a research stage.
My final question. So we’re talking to the Farm… so if you were to think of yourselves…
Selwyn Oh, no! Is this the animal question? I have no answer for that.
Peter I was up the whole night trying to think of one.
Is there one animal that you think would represent yourself a little bit?
Torrance Don’t know.
Peter Cockroach ar? Living off scraps.
Nan Chyuan Tortoise? Clients complain—we are very slow. Everything takes a lot of time to do. Yeah. Tough question. This one.
No, no worries about that.
Peter Shows that we don't know much about the natural world.
You know, actually I take back what I said just now. It's not my last question.
Nan Chyuan It’s ok… laugh
Selwyn It’s ok. I had no answer.
Nan Chyuan Yeah. We owe you one because we didn’t give you an answer.
What inspires each of you? Are there any idols or designers or anyone that you look up to for inspiration? So two things, right? What inspires you can be anything—image or idol or a designer that has influenced your thinking or your decision to become designers?
Torrance Very awkward [in response to the silence].
Peter Haha. Yeah everyone is muted
Nan Chyuan I think we are too old to ask about heroes already. We need to take some time to think… laugh
Selwyn It's true. It's true. Yeah.
Nan Chyuan We're too far down the line to remember what happened. Selwyn’s got an answer I’m sure.. laugh
Selwyn I don't have, yeah, it's really hard.
Peter Someone, something Japanese…?
Selwyn Japanese? laugh No… hmm.. more brands actually. When I was young I would look at MUJI. I wonder, like, wow, how can it be so amazing? Yeah. but not really at this stage in time. Like what Nan Chyuan was saying, it's really hard to pinpoint a constant inspiration and all, I think more than anything, sounds cliché, I'm constantly inspired by my kids nowadays… laugh it's a cliché, I'm sorry, I know, but the things they do makes me wanna, like, I wish I'm a kid.
So I didn't wanna say anything… laughs
What about—what do you read then? Or you have no time to read?
Selwyn Peter you have a lot. Come on...
Peter I'm afraid I'm not much of a reader. Hmm… I mean, but I, I guess if you talk about…
What do you do for fun then?
Selwyn We sound so boring. No inspiration, not reading anything. Surely there’s something that we enjoy… laugh
Peter Okay, I answer, I answer. So in terms of inspiration, I used to work for Will Alsop in the UK many years ago. Although I mean, I wouldn't say that I design the way he does or in the style he does, but he was quite an influential character in the sense that, I like the way that he questioned almost everything and, you know, the most serious matters, he will kind of turn it in his head and pose the most awkward questions sometimes. And the solutions that he proposes sometimes are ridiculous, but in proposing the ridiculous, it does expose a lot of preconceived and predetermined solutions, and this renders the reasons which gave birth to those solutions to be not relevant anymore. So I think his irreverence and his almost ad hoc creative process, that was something, which has stuck with me. And I think it’s quite a key kind of formation of my own personal creative journey.
And in terms of hobbies, okay, you all know that I enjoy fishing very much and I enjoy making stuff. So I do make, when I do have spare time, my own fishing lure and carving wood and things like that. So I do enjoy that. I enjoy working with my hands, which was a bit of… well… ashamed to me when I realised that in architecture, there’re so many steps removed from the making, from the conception of it. When I was much younger and started joining architecture school, one of the reasons was because I love making stuff. And now, after working so many years, you realise that the person making the thing is three, four, five steps removed from the person who actually thought of the thing. And I feel there's a little bit of a loss in that. Yeah. So I do in my own time, try to make stuff.
Nan Chyuan Question—the lure can catch fish or not?
Peter Uh, no, the thing is, I can't… no matter what I use. I failed at that.
And the solutions that he (Will Alsop) proposes sometimes are ridiculous, but in proposing the ridiculous, it does expose a lot of preconceived and predetermined solutions, and this renders the reasons that gave birth to those solutions to be not relevant anymore.
What about the interests of others?
Torrance So back to the inspiration thing… I think since young, I really like to, or I think since school days, I like to go to different theatre shows and I love music. I think up till now, that’s the only constant in my life. I always find things to go and watch and listen to. And I constantly listen to anything. I dunno why, this has been a habit. I dunno whether it affects my work or not. It’s just part and parcel. I like attending theatre performances, quirky ones, experimental ones. I like how they question things in life and have different interpretations of things around us so I still do that.
Has your taste of music changed over the years?
Torrance Yeah, it has, but I listen to a wide range of music from folk to jazz, and there's all this in between genres. And I was just trying to listen to new things. At one time I was listening to all stuff and I really enjoyed that, it just brings some freshness.
Do you have a villain that you admire then? Or does anyone of you have a villain you admire? Just me trying to throw out some interesting questions.. laugh
Nan Chyuan I cannot remember the name of that character. Let me think first.
Selwyn Which show? Which story?
Nan Chyuan Uh, the one with Kevin Spacey.
Peter The Usual Suspects? Keyser Söze?
Nan Chyuan So I always find that character quite interesting.
Peter Okay, the one that he made up, right?
Nan Chyuan Right. He's actually not a real villain. He made it up.
Just before we go, just want to ask, is there anything else that you guys wanna add, that I may not have touched on or any last, you know, thoughts, final words before we end our conversation?
Peter Not from me. Just thanks. Thank you very much.
Selwyn Thank you very much
Peter Sorry that we're so boring with our answers.
Nan Chyuan It’s the end of the day, like, and we’re all brain dead.
Peter You gave us the whole night to think about the animal, and also cannot think… laugh
Thank you for your time and the conversation!
Farm Thank you!