KER HOW, JING FENG & ZHONG YI

Interior Design

ASOLIDPLAN

www.asolidplan.sg

Three friends meeting across different circumstances and situations, all sharing a common vision to set up an architecture design practice—sounds like, Asolidplan. Almost ten years on, the practice has grown in experience and numbers. Their work stretches across residential houses and apartments, F&B and retail shops, hotels and office design. They were awarded the Singapore Good Design 2020 and received an honourable mention for Taiwan Interior New Talent Award in 2021, each member a winner at the 2021 SIDS’s 20 under 45 Awards. The practice is constantly pushing the limits with design and was recently was nominated for ArchDaily Building of the Year 2022. There is no looking back for the three partners in the architecture profession for the long haul, where it is really survival of the fittest, beyond passion and dreams alone.
  • Company Name

    ASOLIDPLAN

  • Company Founded in

    2013

  • Name of Founders

    Wong Ker How, Lim Jing Feng, Quck Zhong Yi

  • Founder Birth Year (Ker How)

    1980

  • Founder Birth Year (Jing Feng)

    1982

  • Founder Birth Year (Zhong Yi)

    1980

  • Education (Ker How)

    NUS Masters (2007)

  • Education (Jing Feng)

    Spore Poly, Archi (2002)

  • Education (Zhong Yi)

    ESA Paris (2005)

  • 1st Office

    HDB shop unit at Banda Street

  • Period of Occupancy (1st Office)

    2013-2014

  • Estimate Space (1st Office)

    500 Sqft

  • Number of Staff (1st Office)

    0

  • 2nd Office

    Shop Unit at Chinatown Plaza

  • Period of Occupancy (2nd Office)

    2014-2018

  • Estimate Space (2nd Office)

    600 Sqft

  • Number of Staff (2nd Office)

    2

  • 3rd Office

    Shophouse at 72 Neil Road

  • Period of Occupancy (3rd Office)

    2018-Present

  • Estimate Space (3rd Office)

    1,000 Sqft

  • Number of Staff (3rd Office)

    8

  • 2013

    ASOLIDPLAN was founded by Wong Ker How

  • 2014

    Lim Jing Feng joins as a partner

  • 2016

    Quck Zhong Yi joins as a partner

  • 2018

    ASOLIDPLAN won their first design award

  • 2019

    ASOLIDPLAN won up/coming designer of the year

  • 2019

    "Light trancends Scale" exhibition at URA AUDE space

  • 2019

    ASOLIDPLAN won 1st Taipei International Design Award

  • 2020

    ASOLIDPLAN awarded Singapore Good Design Award for 3 projects

  • 2021

    ASOLIDPLAN awarded Tinta award

  • 2021

    ASOLIDPLAN awarded 20 under 45 award

  • 2021

    ASOLIDPLAN awarded SIA design award

  • 2022

    ASOLIDPLAN accredited by SIDAS

Solid Ahhhh!

By Chris Low, 30 June 2022

Hi, a big welcome to Studio SML. We have with us today, Asolidplan which is made up of three partners, Ker How, Jing Feng and Zhong Yi. Big hello to all of you. Thanks for coming in having a chat with us.

Asolidplan: Hello! Hi!

Okay, maybe let's start off with the beginning. Correct me if I'm wrong, the practice began in 2014 by Ker How. And then the two of you joined him shortly after.

Asolidplan: Yes.

The three of you started off as friends first, am I right?

Zhong Yi: Yes.

Jing Feng: A separate group of friends actually.

Ker How: Yeah.

Oh, I see. Okay, so it wasn’t like the three of you mutually got to know one another.

Ker How: Yeah, no. I'm the common link. I knew Jing Feng from Randy's office (Zarch Collaboratives). So we were colleagues and I can't remember, it was 2007 or 2008? As for Zhong Yi, I've known him since primary school, actually. We went to the same primary school, secondary school and JC. Every school except university when he went to France. Yeah.

Right. So have you guys lasted the test of time?

Asolidplan: Yes. Hahahah. Kind of.

So if you look at the time spent, your office has already been open for almost 10 years?

Jing Feng: It’s our ninth year to be exact. I mean, if you count 2013, when Ker How registered the company. 2014 was when we got a little bit more active. So if you count it officially, it's about nine years. This is our ninth year.

Okay. And in this time frame, how has the company evolved? I'm sure when you started it was really just the three of you? So has the synergy changed?

Jing Feng: It grew pretty quick, I guess. Because I mean, for a start, in 2014, when I joined Ker How, it's really just the two of us. And in fact, Zhong Yi was still, you know ......

Zhong Yi: Working and getting my practicing cert.

Jing Feng: Yeah, so he was kind of like a sleeping partner. So it was mostly Ker How and myself who were a bit more involved with running the company and we started with just a 'record desk' space with Ker How's wife. Yeah. So that was how we started. And so along the way, Zhong Yi woke up from his sleep and joined more actively. And then from there, we kind of like expanded.

Is there a clear structure in terms of the division and the roles that each of you play in the office?

Ker How: I wouldn't say it's a very clear structure. Of course, there's a certain understanding of, say: "Oh, I'm the project lead. I would have the final say, despite whatever discussion you guys might come up with." Or for certain admin roles within a company, one of us will undertake and say, "Oh, I will take charge of the PR and media for the company, I will have the final say." So quite organically, we didn't set it all up and say, "Hey, you do this, you do this. You do this." We say: who's stronger in which area and play up with that. Yeah. And it's still changing, even till now. Still evolving.

There's a certain understanding of, "Oh, I'm the project lead. I would have the final say, despite whatever discussion you guys might come up with."

It kind of comfortably fell on what each other’s strengths are, basically.

Zhong Yi: Yeah, yes. But we also cover each other, when someone is busy, the load is organically redistributed from time to time.

Asolidplan: Yep, yep.

Okay, and when you have, 'conflicts' in the office regarding projects? Does it become quite democratic? Or, you know, do we really try to resolve it so that everyone is agreeable?

Jing Feng: Well, so I guess that's where we establish this system. In terms of projects, there's always a director – one of us will be in charge. Which is why we say whoever is in charge will have the final say, but everybody can always contribute. Because at the end of the day, whoever is in charge will know the context better, will know the client profile better and will definitely make a better final decision, at the end of the day. So that's our common understanding in terms of reducing conflict. But definitely there will be conflicts.

Zhong Yi: For sure. In the end it is a bit like what we do every day for work right? As architects, we're constantly synthesising all this information and requirements which is sometimes very conflicting. So similarly within the company, we also have to synthesise and balance all these issues and take the lead and make a decision, that's the most important. And own the decision as well.

I'm looking at your portfolio and by now you guys actually have established quite a clear following in your projects. You have really won quite a number of awards. You have participated really actively in the NDP stage design and things like that. Does this put you in a better position to now pick and choose projects that you would want to work with?

Asolidplan: No. Yes. In some ways.

Zhong Yi: Yes and no. It depends on the scale of the project. I mean, we're never satisfied with what we have. We want to always grow and do better things, more interesting things right? So there's always that desire to try something new. So in a way, I think things we have tried before we will be less eager to just take it up but for new things we'll definitely want to try. So it's never easy.

In a way, we've built up some reputation, it becomes easier for us to talk to clients and there is an understanding of what we can do. There is less of a need for us to explain and to prove ourselves before we get the job, for example. But because we're always on the lookout for newer projects, bigger projects, something different; there will always be that gap. So we will always be working hard to get newer, bigger and different types of projects. In a way, it's not easier only because we made it this way.

Are there projects where you set certain criteria among yourselves and say, "Okay, let's not do any of these kinds of projects anymore." Do you have criteria like that?

Ker How: I would say that the only real criteria that we have is never to repeat any design. Very consciously. Rather than not repeating the type of project. Say we do a condo penthouse for example, we will still do another one, but we will explore different things for the next one. I always like to use this example where someone actually called us and said: " Hey, I like this project on your website. I have the exact footprint plan of it. Can you just replicate it for me?" So immediately our answer is: "No."

We don't want to do that. Because if you think about it, it is very easy to do it because everything is done, you know, and the client just wants a repeat, right? It's good money, easy money. But to be fair to the owner - the original owner, we don't want to do that. And also for us, because we believe that every project should be something different, maybe there's some similarities, but we always try to do something different.

I would say that the only real criteria that we have is never to repeat any design. Very consciously. Rather than not repeating the type of project.

The ethos of the company, obviously, is tied very closely to the name of your firm, which is Asolidplan. Maybe could you describe each other's design process?

Jing Feng: Describe each other, hmmm.

Maybe not so much design process. But for example, what do you think is Zhong Yi's way of working and his style of working? After working together for eight to ten years already.

Jing Feng: Let Zhong Yi start first.

Asolidplan: It’s a tough question. laughter

I think because that’s always the interesting part about partnerships, right? It's quite easy to talk about our own processes. But when you have worked and synergized with each other, some places overlap and amalgamate. You know, so I think it’s probably what will tie a firm and a partnership through the years.

Jing Feng: Maybe I'll just start with what we see in common. It’s why we have these partnerships in the first place, right? It is because all three of us agree that whatever design that we embark in, it is always very contextual; and how each individual responds differently to the same context. For example, we have a few projects in Tiong Bahru, right? The walk-up apartments with the same layout, but how each of us deal with it is pretty different. It's always very contextual and how we insert our own concepts into the context and I think that is where we agree, it has to be contextual. That's first and foremost and how we apply our concept into the context, that can differ from person to person. I think that would probably be the best way. But in terms of being specific, how each of us approach design, that definitely is pretty different.

Zhong Yi: I thought our processes are very similar. In fact we all go to through the same thought process of the context and the concept. In fact we always show our clients this diagram projecting an intersection in between the content, context and concept. Yeah, there is more similarities than differences. The differences will come down to how we deal with the very realistic issues of clients and contractors and budgetary constraints. So not many differences in process I would say. What do you think Ker How?

Ker How: I mean, of course, we are not 100% the same. We are all three individuals and the difference is the method or the 'step by step'. Maybe Zhong Yi does 'C-B-D-A' , then Jing Feng will do it 'A-B-C-D-A'. Some of us are a little bit more fluid, some of us a little bit more step by step. So that's when I feel that these differences come in to complement each other. Like for example when let's say for my projects, I do it step-by-step and then suddenly Zhong Yi will come and throw me a curveball: 'Ey, why do you do it this way, you know.’ Then that kind of resets a certain thinking and then we go back one step. It becomes a to-and-fro kind of design process. Of course its tiring for the office sometimes. But I believe that's what drives our design a little bit differently from other design projects we have in the office. So every project is different, we always contextualise the concept or we conceptualise the context. I think this phase is very important to us and we hold on dearly to it.

Zhong Yi: And this process is very objective. It’s methodological, it’s objective. A few times, actually quite regularly, we would openly critique our projects in front of one another. Do an open sharing session in office and with all the critiques coming in from the whole office, whether it’s the partners or the other colleagues. Because the process is objective, we can take these comments objectively and in the end it always contributes to the process. We're quite happy about the process.

So every project is different, we always contextualise the concept or we conceptualise the context. I think this phase is very important to us and we hold on dearly to it.

Very often in large firms and practices you find that there are clusters of staff that only get attached to a single designer or a single architect. In a firm such as yours, you have about 10 to 15 staff. What is that structure like? The relationship between the staff and the three partners?

Jing Feng: Currently, everyone is working with every one of us three; in one way or another. We didn't really exactly define a kind of team structure within a company. It's more in terms of wanting this kind of dynamism in terms of the chemistry between different staff to different directors; and different directors can offer, pass down different knowledge to all of them as well. Yeah, I think currently we are still enjoying this kind of process. And we are not planning to really have a very structured team within the office in the near future.

Ker How: It's really more project based.

Zhong Yi: We do keep track of everyone's workload, in the big Gantt chart. So we know who's busy with what. I mean we get very active feedback from the staff who will tell us they are busy with this and that, and then we will try to adjust the workload either by holding back on the client’s side, or reducing some of the deliverables, or transferring some of the work to the other supporting colleagues; because we do pair our projects with our staff. We have pairs of staff working on a project, so one leads, and one supports. So sometimes the supporting person can come in to help also, or sometimes we ourselves will help. So it's quite dynamic.

Ker How: I think the other thing that we consciously do is we also want to groom every single person working in Asolidplan. I think the target is to be to be a master of all trades, rather than a Jack of all trades. So let's say, one of them works on residential ID - too many projects on that, and then he or she expresses the wish to do a different typology. So when the next commercial project comes along, we will say: “You take this on, regardless of who the partner is in charge”. So that's why we kept this dynamism. It's not so much where, I lead one team, Zhong Yi will lead one team, or Jing Feng will lead one team. This cross-learning is very important, which we advocate. That's how you become a master of all trades.

Jing Feng: Yes. In both directions actually, because we do have a lot to learn to learn from the younger ones as well. So vice versa.

Do you feel there is an optimum size for your practice?

Jing Feng: We just had this conversation. laughter Ker How, can you elaborate on that?

Ker How: I think the optimal size is 15. Based on what we are doing or what we want to do. The moment you go beyond 15, you usually go super big, and then you start to have to fight for big scale projects - condominiums, master plans, skyscrapers. If you look at the architecture firms in Singapore, you realise that that's also the trend that they follow. Anything below 15 or within 15, it can maintain that size. The moment they go beyond—I mean, you look at Woha now, last time they were 15 or less, but now they are like 100. It becomes a different animal altogether, a different mechanism. How you control the quality of your works, it's a very different ballgame altogether. So at least for now, the three of us have discussed that 15 is our optimum for now.

I think the optimal size is 15. Based on what we are doing or what we want to do. The moment you go beyond 15, you usually go super big, and then you start to have to fight for big scale projects - condominiums, master plans, skyscrapers.

There is an interesting article in the Straits Times talking about the survival rate of architects and there has been a lot of undercurrents of that as well. So how did you guys manage to cross the first 'seven year itch', and not leave the profession?

Ker How: Wow. No choice right? Okay, the correct answer should be passion. I remember this story when I was in year one NUS architecture. I interned for Randy. So every day he will come to me and say: "Do you still want to be an architect? Do you still want to be an architect?" Yeah, then he will bring me for drinks with Mr. Tang Guan Bee and then Mr. Tang will ask me the same thing.

Jing Feng: Now he's asking the younger ones.

Ker How: Yeah. So at that point of time, actually, I did think of leaving the industry because I realised the real realities of this industry. If I'm looking for money, that's not where I will be. If I'm looking for say, meaning of work, which I believe there's a reason why we are still doing what we are doing, at least there is some meaning in what we are doing right?

Rather than I go into the banking sector and look at numbers that I don't feel a thing for. And just want to earn money and go travelling. Of course some people have those life targets, which I guess for me, that is not so important. It's important, but that's not my priority. I still want to enjoy doing the work I enjoy. So that's how I went past seven years. Beyond that, it’s too late for you to turn back. Yeah.

Jing Feng: I think apart from passion, is also the question of purpose. The other ‘P’ that really drives us. Kind of like, what’s the purpose in the things that we do, right. So I guess, in short, for whatever project that we complete, we see how clients use the space that we created for them. We see how they use the space according to our intentions, or sometimes, you know, how they use the space to overturn our expectations. That kind of gives a lot of satisfaction after completing the project; which will motivate us to do better in the next one. So that's how I see it.

Zhong Yi: Yes, it brings me to the Japanese concept of ikigai - What you are good at, what you can be paid for and how you can contribute to the world. So, in a way, the scale of the projects we do, which is a lot of residential work – effectively, we are improving the lives of our clients. I mean most of them were living in smaller homes or messier homes or something not to their liking and we are actively participating in improving their lives.

And so couple by couple, family by family, we slowly contribute to improve their lives and I think that's meaningful, despite all the difficulties. I think that really drives us along.

I remember this story when I was in year one NUS architecture. I interned for Randy. So every day he will come to me and say: "Do you still want to be an architect? Do you still want to be an architect?" Yeah, then he will bring me for drinks with Mr. Tang Guan Bee and then Mr. Tang will ask me the same thing.

Maybe can you share with the listeners what was one of the brightest sparks in these past 10 years as you're practising. That really reinforced your gumption, reinforced your choice.

Ker How: Maybe I’ll start first. For me, I don't think there's any brightest spark. Every project is a spark. It’s a different spark and it triggers different chords in me, personally. To the smallest project of say, an art exhibition to a very public project say like NDP stage set to a one bedroom apartment to a good class bungalow. I think for every project, the moment when it's completed, that triggers a little spark, or medium spark that contributes to this purpose of work. And I think the best comment usually comes when they see the product and say: "Oh I didn’t know my house could be like that." Then that really send chills down my spine. We really show you a physical vision of what your house could be, what your life could be. I think that’s the satisfaction.

Jing Feng: I agree with Ker How, there's no single spark or single project that really stands out among the rest. It's really, every project is different, with every client and how gratified they are. There’s hits and misses as well. There are still things that we learn, even though certain projects didn’t end up really good but there are still important lessons to be learnt from there, which we carry on to our next project. I think that’s the most important. So that’s what really drives us and keeps us going.

And so couple by couple, family by family, we slowly contribute to improve their lives and I think that's meaningful, despite all the difficulties. I think that really drives us along.

Was there a significantly difficult period during the two years of the pandemic? Did you find that the office was going through something that was quite unexpected? And then how did you guys manage to see yourself through it?

Jing Feng: I think the difficult part is more of the physical presence, which we couldn’t have, in that two years. Which we realised is actually pretty important. You know, we've always been taking it for granted. Coming into the office and stuff like that, but during the period that we can't come into the office physically, one of the difficulties is not be able to meet with colleagues.

You know, there's less interchange of ideas. Or even learning from each other. The opportunities to collaborate, to critique each other are much fewer. And you have to purposely make the effort to set up a Zoom meeting or give a call to each other just to get some inputs. Which probably takes more effort apart from our everyday work already. So, that's what we realised, you know, after the rules were loosened, most of them actually gave feedback to say that they'd rather come back to the office. They prefer to come back to the office because even if they suffer, they suffer together as there are colleagues around. So I think for that two years, to me, that was what was difficult.

Ker How: It's the lack of passive learning. Because when you are physically in a space, even when you're not involved in a meeting, you will still be eavesdropping, right? You always hear like, "Oh, there's some problem with some particular project", and then you will realise that—well, you wouldn't realise it actually, but you will subconsciously not do certain things, because you know that that's going to give you some problems later on, down the line.

There's also another thing; especially for the younger people when they’ve just graduated from school. Practice is a different ballgame when they are stuck at home: They have to call, they have to message, and when they message people, people don't reply or they have to purposely set up a Zoom. So all these deter them from asking questions immediately. Rather, when you have a colleague beside you, you say, "Hey, for this one, how do I fillet the lines?" for example. And "Do you know, where's the Office Standard?", for certain things that you want to look at. So I think the physical working environment is still important for our line of work. So that's our difficulty during COVID.

After the (Covid) rules were loosened, most of them actually gave feedback to say that they'd rather come back to the office. They prefer to come back to the office because even if they suffer, they suffer together as there are colleagues around.

Zhong Yi, you didn't manage to share with us what was the bright spark for you if there is? laughter. You thought you skipped it!

Zhong Yi: I remember that Bukit Purmei project. It was a very small three-room HDB flat with a triangular plan. That was one of the very early projects. One of the first few projects with just the three of us working on it together and we came up with a great idea of the 45 degree reflection. Everything was done and when the design was out, client was happy and went for tender. Then the price was too high, and we couldn't do what we wanted.

And then came that TV show. With the TV show there was some sponsorship involved. And suddenly we could do everything that we had wanted to do. And then after the whole thing, during the filming, the client actually cried. Yes I think he probably was very touched. Whether he was acting a little or not, I don’t know. But he definitely was very touched.

That was really quite a touching moment for me, because we went through so much and it almost didn’t happen, and then we ended up with so much help from everyone; all our contractors who sponsored so much. That was one nice moment.

I think one of the big words in a lot of offices is really collaboration, multi-disciplines, right. Is this something in the future for Asolidplan?

Jing Feng: I wouldn't say no. We're always open for collaboration with internal or external parties, to share ideas and work out a project. Yeah, so why not?

Zhong Yi: In many ways we're already collaborating with a lot of our very regular partners. Our friend Bjorn of Tripple does a lot of branding, graphics – we worked closely with him. I mean, we are constantly collaborating. So whether we formalise it within the company or not, I think, I don't know, we don't need to think that far. In fact, these days, I think everyone's getting a bit more… less structured. Even for employees, the idea of employment is also being questioned now right?

Ker How: Yeah. And I mean, every time when people ask me this question, I always feel that there's no need to tell people that we collaborate because that's really in our blood. Because we collaborate with everybody in every project anyway, right?

Multi-discipline; we are already doing different types of projects, we collaborate with artists for an exhibition, we collaborate with creative directors for the NDP stage set. So it's something that is a given, for us, that there's really no point for us to say that Asolidplan is about collaboration or Asolidplan is about multidisciplinary. It's really in us.

I think it’s interesting, maybe like what Zhong Yi mentioned, even in terms of employment; do you begin to see that there are people from other fields who can actually come into the picture? That maybe even hiring a product designer instead of an interior designer?

Ker How: I think it's interesting to point that out because recently we also looked at some firms where they employ a visual content person to drive their visual content. I mean, at this point, we also don't know whether there's any visual content person who wants to join us. So what we do within ourselves is, I mean young people are very savvy with a lot of things nowadays; they do videos much better than us. They talk about Instagram, Tik Tok. So we are trying to inculcate certain directions towards that, making videos more than static spaces, or using renders to represent our work, but that is still at a very infancy stage. We haven't really talked about it in detail, but I think we are definitely open to that when the chance comes.

Zhong Yi: Yeah, I think it's not so much what they graduate with, their educational background; but more of their attitude and mindset.

Jing Feng: Yeah, I mean, how they think or process, for design. I think for me, it's never say never. It's always the case of 'never say never' right? If the right person comes in with the right mindset and skillset, why not? Right, it can offer a different perspective in what we have been doing. So yeah, why not? Like Thomas Heatherwick is not architecturally trained as well, right?

So with a varied portfolio, maybe each of you can share with us listeners, is there a favourite typology that you'd like to work with?

Zhong Yi:

The challenging one (project) is always the favourite.

Oh! Not the easiest one?

Ker How: Do you know why we find it hard to answer this question, because we even had a lecture before, talking about crossing typologies. It's like nowadays, shopping malls are like public space right? You cannot say that a shopping mall is a shopping mall typology, or is a public space typology. So, even the way we approach our project, we keep asking ourselves: can this house be not just a house? Like, what kind of different things, what kind of new typology can this genre of project become? So we're constantly asking that, and to the extent that when we were trying to relook at our projects, what’s the good qualities of it, we realised actually we are trying to cross typologies to create new ones. Yeah, so that's why I think the three of us suddenly went very quiet.

If you look at typology, this goes back to the earlier question, do you find that with a certain size of a firm, you get pigeonholed and you will not be given the chance to work on larger typologies, such as institution buildings, and other larger developments. Is there something that you would like to work on, but may be cut off from, because of your firm size?

Ker How: I wouldn't say that we are limited by size. If it's anything, we are limited by track record. That is a prevailing issue in the Singapore context, right? The only way to break out of it, like for example, we joined the Char Yong Foundation design competition, and we were shortlisted as the five. Of course in the end we didn't get it, but we hoped that we could have gotten it. That would have been one very interesting project that we would like to work on. Whether it is just three of us working on it versus a 15-member firm or versus a 50-member firm, I don't think it's a matter of size. It's a matter of whether we are given a chance to look at it.

Zhong Yi: Yes, it brings us to historical competitions, where young, smaller firms managed to break through the market. Whether its Arc Studio's Pinnacle at Duxton, or Renzo Piano & Richard Rogers, with the Pompidou Centre. It's always been a few of these big gestures that allow small firms and young architects to break through. And I guess if the opportunities are there, we just have to keep trying.

I wouldn't say that we are limited by size. If it's anything, we are limited by track record. That is a prevailing issue in the Singapore context, right?

If you are not practising as architects what other profession, is there something else you would like to be or want to try your hand at? Drummer? Guitarist? Baker?

Asolidplan: laughter

Ker How: Before I chose architecture, I was contemplating the option of hospitality. I like the experience; the very intricate experience of when you're serving your customer at a restaurant, or hotelier - so you have to understand when they walk into your hotel, what do they like? What do they dislike? When the customer sits down in the restaurant, straight away you know what they're going to order and then you just serve them, and then you see that kind of reciprocal appreciation, which is very interesting to me. So if I'm not in architecture, I will be a hotelier, I mean, not a hotelier – a hotelier is for rich people. laughter I will be a chamber maid.

You are a very people person then isn't it? It's really about interacting and engaging people.

Ker How: Yes, yes. Yes, I think so. Yeah. And also I mean hotel is a very nice space. Talk about proportion, scale, design, the fabric you choose, you know, things like that. It's a happy place.

Zhong Yi: When I was at URA, I was exposed to GIS - geographical information systems. The whole geospatial mapping analysis, seeing the world through maps and data, spatial data, that was eye-opening for me. If I didn't pursue architecture I'll probably go into that.

Ker How: Wow. That’s a scientist.

Jing Feng: For me, I suspect I might just become a carpenter. Because I grew up watching my dad work as a carpenter. During the holidays I helped him out as well – when he used to have his own company and his own workshop. So I guess if I'm not in this line, I'll probably kind of like, be his apprentice? Become a carpenter. I don't know.

Ker How: And probably earn more too.

But the problem with people doing that is when they just come out, in order to get jobs, they charge very low fees. They don't know what kind of cost that they need to incorporate into it. And that just brings the whole industry into a very unwelcoming state of profession.

Yeah, most likely. More money as well. Okay, very nice. I think one last question. What advice, or what caution would you give to a young partnership that wants to set itself up? I think it's quite different from setting up an office on your own, but in terms of when you want to set up a practice, a partnership with two, three friends. What words of caution would you give?

Jing Feng: Maybe I start first? Be prepared for disputes. Yeah, because it's bound to happen, like it or not, big and small. Because it's really different individuals coming together. You have different backgrounds and different values. So you are bound to have your own different priorities as well. So when people come together, and especially in business, you are talking about not just design, you're talking about dollars and cents too.

And most often than not, partnerships fall apart because of financial disputes. In fact, even general direction, change of direction, for example, for maybe one of the partners. So, I think if there's anything, you know, really, be prepared for disputes and be prepared to iron it out together. Yeah. For the three of us, we have a common understanding of how we resolve disputes. Which is why we think that three is also a magic number, because there's always a majority.

Zhong Yi: A partnership in a business is like any relationship. It's like your husband-and-wife relationship. It's a relationship. It's about two or more persons coming together. And you have to let go of part of your ego, yourself, in order to make the partnership work. And you have to acknowledge that the sum of wholes is greater than ... oh what's that term again? Anyway, You're just stronger together basically. You have to acknowledge that it's stronger together. Don't let the ego get in the way. Ego is just a part of yourself.

Ker How: It's interesting, you asked this question because I just answered this question during a young architects talk at SIA. So what I said then is the same as what I'm going to say now. To come out on your own. It's not just a bed of flowers. You need to have that vision. You need to ask yourself, why do you want to come out on your own? Like what they said, are you prepared for all these problems?

It's not just about design and I always remember what Randy told me on my first week on the job: design is only 10%. The other 90% is to deal with nasty clients, difficult contractors, not so cooperative consultants who give you very short timeline and want everything in the world. So to start out on your own you will have to deal with more problems than you would usually deal with if you are just an employee in a design firm or an architecture firm. Without that vision, you would just start and then you go back, which I've seen many of such cases.

But the problem with people doing that is when they just come out, in order to get jobs, they charge very low fees. They don't know what kind of cost that they need to incorporate into it. And that just brings the whole industry into a very unwelcoming state of profession. And I think that's something very important for young people who want to come out.

It's not just about design and I always remember what Randy told me on my first week on the job: design is only 10%. The other 90% is to deal with nasty clients, difficult contractors, not so cooperative consultants who give you very short timeline and want everything in the world.

All very realistic advice. Very nice. I mean, because people always think that passion is going to be enough, right? I think that is overrated. It's not enough.

Okay. We come to a series of what I call the speed round. So just throw out your answers. They are all easy ones. No need to think too hard.

What affects you: praises or criticisms?

Jing Feng: Praises.

Ker How: Criticism.

Zhong Yi: Criticisms.

You're just stronger together basically. You have to acknowledge that it's stronger together. Don't let the ego get in the way. Ego is just a part of yourself.

Okay, and what moves you: dawn or dusk?

Ker How: Dusk. Eh, do you need to think for so long? laughter

Or neither, actually?

Jing Feng: Dawn. yeah, dawn.

Zhong Yi: Dawn. It moves me because I rarely see it.

And when you approach design, what do you search for: Answers, or questions.

Asolidplan: Questions.

Okay, which is your favourite design tool: pencil or SketchUp?

Asolidplan: Pencil

Ker How: I should have said Sketchup. No, I use Rhino. laughter

What do you least want to hear from your client: Can I have another option? Or, this is not what I imagined.

Ker How: Can I have another option?

Jing Feng: Both.

Zhong Yi: No. What I can't stand most is: ‘I don't like’. Without a reason.

Ker How: Why I chose 'Can I have another option?' Why I don't like that is because I always get the other one: 'This is not what I imagine.' But it's in a good way. We always get that comment because when we show them, they say "Wow, this is not what I imagined!"

Oh, that was a totally different tone right?

Ker How: But 'option' is something so common and it's like you just don't know what you don’t like about it. You just want another option. So that's why I don't like it.

Right, and then a simple question: on a very hot day, typical in Singapore, which is your go to, chin chow or soya bean drink?

Jing Feng & Zhong Yi: Chin Chow.

Ker How: Michael Jackson (*local drink which is a combination of chin chow and soya bean drink)

Oh yeah, in Singapore. That's a very common option as well.

Ker How: Context, context!

Okay, we've come to the end of our chat. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for sharing your insights and your vision and your experience. Thank you very much.

Asolidplan: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you Chris.

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