Interior Design

Ministry of Design

Colin Seah is an architect and artist who seeks to Question, Disturb, and Redefine convention in Ministry of Design – a multi-award-winning architectural, interior design and branding firm. From winning Singapore’s President Design Award twice to being named “Designer of the Year” by International Design Awards USA, Ministry of Design’s timeless projects transcend national boundaries. Notable works include the Citi Wealth Hub in Singapore, Macalister Mansion Hotel in Penang, VUE Hotel Hou Hai in Beijing, and “Code”, a leather wearable collection made in collaboration with Bynd Artisan. Besides these remarkable projects, Colin is a familiar face at both local and international forums and competitions, as a guest speaker and judge. He is also an adjunct tutor in the National University of Singapore’s Department of Architecture, and an accomplished home chef. Come along with us as we uncover the impetus for Ministry of Design’s groundbreaking projects, and also get to know its founder, Colin, a little better.
  • Company Name

    Ministry of Design Pte. Ltd.

  • Company Founded In


  • Name of Founder

    Colin Seah

  • Founder's Birth Year


  • Education

    Bachelor of Architecture Cum Laude, Graduating Senior Award, University of Arizona (1999), USA, Licensed Architect, Singapore, Board of Architects (2013)

  • 1st Job

    Photographer, Fashion & Architecture (1994)

  • 2nd Job

    Architectural Intern, OMA, Rotterdam (1998)

  • 3rd Job

    Architectural Intern, Studio Libeskind, Berlin (1998)

  • 4th Job

    Architect, R L Binder Architects & Planners, L.A. (2000)

  • 4th Job (Current)

    Founder & Director of Design, Ministry of Design Pte Ltd (2004)

  • 5th Job

    Senior Tutor, Department of Architecture, National University of Singapore (2000)

  • Other Pursuits

    Home Chef

  • 1st Office

    Cross Street, Singapore

  • Period of Occupancy (1st Office)

    15 years

  • Estimate Space (1st Office)

    3778 sqft

  • Number of Staff (1st Office)


  • 2004

    Founded Ministry of Design

  • 2006

    Winner, Design of the Year at President’s Design Award, Singapore

  • 2007

    Winner, Interior Design of the Year, International Design Awards, USA

  • 2008

    Winner, 40 Under 40 Awards, Perspective Awards, Hong Kong

  • 2009

    Grand Winner, Saporiti Italia Design Award, Italy for Saporiti Luxury Tower

  • 2010

    Winner, Best Office Modern Decoration Awards, China for Leo Burnett Office

  • 2011

    Keynote Speaker, Australian Design Conference DesignEx, Melbourne

  • 2012

    Winner, Interior Architecture Category, Singapore Institute of Architecture Design Awards

  • 2013

    Outstanding Chinese Designer of the Year, IAI Awards (Interior Design Confederation), Shanghai

  • 2014

    Speaker, Datum 2014, KL, (Organized by Malaysian Institute of Architects)

  • 2015

    Keynote Speaker, Hong Kong Interior Design Association’s Master Talk, Hong Kong

  • 2016

    Judge, Salon Design Awards, Ukraine

  • 2017

    Interior Designer of the Year, Build Interior Design Awards, UK

  • 2018

    Keynote Speaker, Shanghai Hotel Plus Conference, Shanghai, China

  • 2019

    Speaker, Today at Apple, Singapore

  • 2020

    Speaker, Project Boomerang, Council for International Accreditation of Architecture & Design

  • 2021

    Global Advisor for leading surfaces manufacturer, Cosentino

  • 2022

    Professional Practice Committee, Asia-Pacific Space Designers Association, Malaysia

  • 2023

    Judge, INDE Awards, Australia

Yes, There's a Minister for Design

By Rachel Chia, 11 August 2023

Hi Colin! So today, for our viewers, we are here with Colin Seah, from Ministry of Design.

Colin Hello! Hello viewers!

Okay, let's start from the beginning, what made you decide to set up Ministry of Design?

Colin To start this off, I'd like to thank you, firstly, for taking the time to chat with me. It's really fun actually to recall the past because, you know, I think the company is the quintessential project. It's the project that creates all the other projects. So it's something that we've been working on since day one, and will never end. So it's very nice to get this chance to sort of sit back and then chat with someone who is interested, or at least appearing to be interested in Ministry of Design and how it started. So how did it all begin?

Rachel Yes.

Colin It began in a very serendipitous way. Unlike some other architects or designers who have a very clear idea, – that they want to be a designer, they want to be an architect, and by a certain age, they're going to get all the experience they need, and they're going to start their own firm - for me, and for Joy, who is my other co-founder, we had no such notions whatsoever. In fact, I only became an architect very late in my career. I was exploring other things like photography, and also theatre first. And then divine intervention – there was an epiphany one day, because I wasn't quite happy with the other two professions that I was exploring. Although both were amazing. One I felt was photography, in particular, was quite two-dimensional and not very immersive, and I was kind of struggling with that. And then theatre, although I love how visceral and how engaging I was, it was always fleeting. After the production was over, that was that, and then you know, there was always this emotional crash and low and then you didn't have anything really tangible for all that work that you put in. So I was trying to explore another medium. And then one day, there was an epiphany, that will be architecture.

I only went to school, in my mid to late 20s. When I finished that, I didn't even really begin to practice in Singapore, I spent some time practising abroad, in Holland, in Berlin, in the States. But when I came back here, I was very drawn to academia, because it presented a canvas for purity of thought and exploration, which wasn't encumbered by the things that, you know, practical things that architects and designers have to grapple with. So I did that for about four years, and was quite enjoying it. But I think all this while, even prior to becoming an architect, prior to even knowing I wanted to become a writer, I think I'm inherently sort of like someone who loves conceptual thought and creating experiences, spaces, usually, but experiences of all kinds. And so one day after like four years of teaching, researching and having quite a good time, building the intellectual aspect, there was this urge to go back to design and I kind of realised that that was the case, because I was beginning to design my students work more than I should have, you know. Really as a critic, you really should support rather than take over. And I began to realise I was crossing that line.

So one fine day, again, by divine intervention, really not by our sort of manipulation, we met someone who became very, very pivotal in the start of Ministry of Design. It's a gentleman called Low Lik Peng, and he was introduced to me by a common friend. And we sort of got along, he saw my apartment. And this was over, almost 18, 19 years ago. And he really liked it. It was quite different, I guess, for its time. It was just a small, humble HDB apartment, but we did it in a very, rather interesting way. And three months later, he gave me a call and he said, "I've got a project. I'm wondering whether, you know, you'd be keen. I saw what you did for your apartment, I'm wondering what you'd do with something bigger". So I was like, "Ooh, fun, I get to work on a pet project!" So I thought: Okay, on the weekends, I'd roll up my sleeves, you know, burn the midnight oil and, you know, teach in the day and then design at night. But then he said "No, you can't do that. Because it's too important. You know, it's too much investment going into this, you have to be serious about it, if you want to do it." So I had to make this choice. And that was the start of it all. I had to incorporate a company to do this. I had to really weigh the pros and cons of staying in something quite secure and quite enjoyable intellectually, versus maybe answering the primal urge to design. And I thought about it. I reflected, and even in discussion with my wife Joy, we said: I think it's time to give it a go, and really put all that design hunger and passion to the test.

And so we started Ministry of Design, it was just a one-man firm working on one and then later two projects simultaneously, and I did not know what I was doing. (both laugh) Well, don't tell that to the client now, but I was figuring it out as I was going along. But there was just immense passion. And at that point in time, in 2002, 2003, there was a huge optimism. There wasn't anything terribly groundbreaking, there were many good players but maybe, by and large, the atmosphere was a bit more conventional, you know, good design, but more conventional. So there was a chance to really explore and together with the first client who was my age, there was this hunger to redefine what design was, not in a very formal, clearly-thought-out way, but it was just a knee jerk reaction to how things are going. And also, having spent time abroad, both of us, we really wanted to bring back both from the UK and from the States, ideas that we had been exposed to. So that was really the start of everything. And I think I met your Creative Director, Kelley, then, right at the start when we're doing the New Majestic. I remember having a conversation with her about it too, and quite a few other people I got to meet through that project. And it was a completely different world from academia. And before I knew it, one thing led to another and here we are now, reminiscing about that.

There was this hunger to redefine what design was, not in a very formal, clearly-thought-out way, but it was just a knee jerk reaction to how things are going.

Wow, that's fantastic. Such an in-depth explanation of how your company started. Thank you for that!

Colin And also not terribly, like, meticulously planned, right? You know, it's one of those things where you realise life is quite a lot about circumstances that are not necessarily within your control, you can plan, you can prepare, you know, who knows what it will throw at you. And also because I feel like my life is grounded in my sort of philosophical belief in a God; a Divine Presence, and that really puts things in perspective for me. I feel like these things have been almost milestoned into my life, even without me necessarily intentionally, you know, putting them in place. And the response has been, whatever I've found my hands to do, I've tried to do it as well as possible.

I feel like these things have been almost milestoned into my life, even without me necessarily intentionally, you know, putting them in place.

Lovely. So could you tell us a bit more about this New Majestic Hotel project?

Colin Right! It was, for us, completely critical on multiple fronts. I mean, one, it was a lifestyle project; a hotel project. Two, it really pushed the boundaries for redefining what a hospitality experience would be like, – the interplay of art and design, how you treat conservation versus contemporary design – there were so many fundamental questions that were at play. And through the New Majestic, I think it set the bones, structure, framework, philosophically, for where we are today. And I don't know whether you recall that project, you were probably very young then, but in the context of things, there were only sort of big-box, big-brand hotels. There were a couple of boutique hotels, but boutique then was not necessarily associated with cool. It just meant you had no facilities,

Rachel Oh dear, okay.

Colin and maybe the service wasn't very good. But you know, boutique today stands for a high level of design. So I think, in a way, the New Majestic helped contribute to that definition, as we know it today. And we explored so many things, from what does it really mean to approach a building with history. So typically, one would, maybe restore or one would, preserve, right? And what we found was a beauty even in the roughness, when we uncovered things that were not necessarily the most aesthetically, conventionally beautiful, but it represented the history of the space like for instance, in the main lobby reception area, when we pulled down the false ceiling, we discovered layers of peeling paint and it looked almost like a leper's skin falling off it was quite awful; the colours are quite awful. But then when we looked at it more closely, we realised every layer of peeling paint was different and it represented every previous owner's take on what beauty was. And for us that was living history, as opposed to sort of the sanitised version of what, you know, beautiful history could look like. So we cleaned it up a little bit so that, you know, bits wouldn't fall on your hair, but we left it pretty much as it was. And then that became a ceiling installation artpiece.

Rachel Wow.

Colin Yeah, for instance, that was one case. And another really wonderful thing was, you know, in a hotel, usually art's hung on the wall, art's a vase in the corner, and it's an afterthought. Or it's a big feature wall, and that's about it. But we were really keen on exploring, sort of more engaging, immersive ways to sort of present art – art as living – so every room has art and every artist was Singaporean. And all the art was in situ, meaning that it was done on site. And it's contextual, and you can't remove it. So you might spend tens of thousands on the art, but it's committed to the space it belongs to. And so that really spoke to the nature and dynamic of space and art a little bit differently from how we typically know it to be. And my deepest passion in design is typology of layout and plans, because I believe that with a good plan, with an innovative plan, it has the power to change the way you experience space, it's got the power to influence how you live, behave or interact, right? And you can dress it up however you want, so the same basic plan could be dressed in black, could be dressed in multi-color, it could be furry, could be smooth, could be metallic, could be warm, whatever doesn't matter. But the space itself, if it's an open plan, you use it a certain way, if it's a segmented plan you use it a certain way. So I'm obsessed with plans – that's the thing that I love doing the very most, more than detailing, more than tectonics and materiality. And for the New Majestic, we created about five different new typologies for hotel rooms. And they were inspired both by how people experience space and wanting to sort of, you know, maybe subvert it a little bit, but also based on inspiration from the context.

So back then in 2004, the road that the hotel was on, was still dotted with the tenants and the owners from previous years and including brothels. Yeah, so it wasn't necessarily cleaned up as it is now, and high rent. It was sort of cheap rent. In fact, the hotel was a very low-end hotel before we took it over. So, a couple of doors down was a brothel. And obviously, I was very curious, I was kind of like poking my head into all these different, you know, neighbours, and then saw that the ladies who work there would sit behind this huge glass fish tank. And the men who were the customers, instead of, you know, encountering the women directly, would stand behind the fish tank, pretend to look at the fish, but actually be surveying the women beyond and then making their choice of companion for the evening. So I thought that was quite an interesting dynamic and so one of the bedrooms that we designed was called "The Aquarium Room". It had a fish tank bathtub, right in the middle of the space. So you walked in, you open the door, and you saw layers of glass, and inside it was a bathtub. And you would have to walk around it to get to the bed, the desk and balcony beyond. So something that is usually tucked in the corner, is very private, it now becomes the central thing in the room. And it creates a whole different dynamic, I mean, people also used to go to the hotel for staycations, for romantic getaways. So like you can imagine having a bathtub in the middle, which is in full view – the way you bathe, the way you conduct yourself will be very different if you were not on show, right? You might suck in your tummy a bit more, you might be more graceful in your actions. So like all of these things sort of influence behaviour. And the sort of interesting irony is that as you shower – and it's typically a warm shower in Singapore, right – you turn on the water, it steams up. So from what was transparent completely, it kind of fogs up and becomes sort of semi-private and semi-opaque; frosted, you know, so that was very interesting. So we did all kinds of things like that.

And actually, I'm also very interested in different arenas, like branding and communication of ideas, and I wanted to push the spirit and the achievement of the hotel to the media and I created a press pack. And instead of just having an A4 folder with a write up and a CD inside, I made a unique, strange proportion. It was long like a door hanger, like in an old hotel where you hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign outside the door. It's in that proportion. You have a hole in the middle and then a body below it. And you would usually see "Do Not Disturb", right? On the hotel. But this one said "Please Disturb the Convention of Design". And from there the "Please Disturb", which was the very whole nature of the project, it became the mantra of the firm. So, as you see behind us, the installation is bookended by Question and Redefine but the middle is Disturb. So the first thing you do is you Question convention, why are we doing things the way we do it? Why are the rituals and experiences the way they are? Maybe this is the way it is for a good reason, but maybe not, right? So if it isn't and times change, society changes, especially with technology and different generations, you want to Question it. So then Question becomes the second thing. So you Question first, and then you Disturb next, and then hopefully what you come up with after all that sweat, blood and tears is something that Redefines. And as it becomes, ironically, a new convention, then the loop kind of like occurs again.

So the New Majestic was important in all those levels, but it's important in establishing MOD's DNA. And from then on till now, although obviously we've worked on a variety of projects, both in scale and typology, that same basic thinking exists. And whether it's applied in as obvious a way as it was in the New Majestic, or whether it's more subtle, or more in the details, we still employ this thinking. And that's, I think, what drives us and what draws our team to join us, and also what keeps them running when, you know, when the projects get tough.

And you would usually see “Do Not Disturb”, right? On the hotel. But this one said “Please Disturb the Convention of Design”. And from there the “Please Disturb”, which was the very whole nature of the project, it became the mantra of the firm.

Wow, okay! That's so cool. And now we finally know what these symbols mean.

Colin Yeah! (laughs) We created it because at one point in time, it wasn't symbol-based. So it's just Question, Disturb, Redefine it in terms of English fonts, but we started having more regional and global projects and in some non English-speaking countries, so I decided to instead of just translating it, to make a universal symbol of it. So when you look at it, you kind of get the idea.

Rachel Right.

Colin And that's what people know, as well. And that's what we're also known for today. Like why you would hire us as opposed to another, you know, sort of design-oriented firm, is really because we, I guess we don't rest on our intellectual laurels. We constantly want to do this. It's sometimes tiring, but it's one of those things where it's a two-edged sword so it's like tiring because you can't really reuse but it's also invigorating, because you don't do the same thing again. Right? So it's always fresh so you always get this kind of like jolt, energised jolt. Yeah, I still remember, funny story, the New Majestic being our first kind of like, commercial project – simultaneously, we're also doing a residential project, quite large house, and quite different in nature. And for the brief of the hotel, I still remember, it was so casual, but so it was so succinct. I met with the client and he said, well, we need X number of rooms, we need one restaurant, we need blah, blah, pool. And it was so short – the list, right? And then I said, "Anything else?" He went, "Yes. When it's done, if your mother and my mother come and visit it, and if they like it, we've failed." So in other words, it needs to Redefine stuff for a new generation. Right? So that was really quite an intoxicating brief. I really enjoyed that very much.

He went “Yes. When it’s done, if your mother and my mother come and visit it, and if they like it, we’ve failed.” So in other words, it needs to Redefine stuff for a new generation.

So how did that go?

Colin Yeah, I think it pretty much knocked the socks off a lot of people. The New Majestic Hotel was one of the first, if not the first member of the Design Hotels group, you know, which is that sort of rather illustrious group of hotels that are handpicked to join this group that's now currently owned by Marriott. And since then, we've had four hotels, as members of the Design Hotels group, same kind of DNA. So it was really trajectory setting. And simultaneously, like I mentioned, we were also working on a house. And the house was a lot more a study of, let's say, beautiful proportions, poetic space. And to be honest with you, I enjoyed it thoroughly as well – working on it. But for some reason, because they're almost conflicting in nature – one is about Questioning convention, one is about finding the most refined way to exemplify convention – somehow the type of work that we got, subsequent to those two sort of starter projects, were very much more in line with this. And I think that has fed into our nature. And I'm happy with the way it turned out.

Rachel Very nice. Okay, thank you for that!

Colin You're welcome!

The New Majestic Hotel was one of the first, if not the first member of the Design Hotels group, you know, which is that sort of rather illustrious group of hotels that are handpicked to join this group that's now currently owned by Marriott.

Let's move on. So, could you tell us about how you conceived the name Ministry of Design?

Colin (Both laugh) It's a good question. I mean, have you had to name anything before?

Rachel Maybe like, names for my group projects?

Colin Yeah, yeah, yeah names of group projects.

Rachel But it's not very important, yeah.

Colin No, but still, it may not be important to somebody else, but it's certainly important to you, right? Because it needs to capture so much. And I guess, group projects are really good example, I think. One day, maybe you might also have to choose names for your kids, that's even more difficult, because it has to be meaningful, but yet, you don't know what the kid is going to be like. So it's kind of like projections of the future. So I think naming, in fact, it's interesting, because if you look at some sort of biblical references, one of the first activities that the supposed first men and women did on Earth, this newly, freshly-minted Earth was to name things.

Rachel Right.

Colin Like creation was there, and they had to name things, and I think that's the such power in naming because naming then defines and gives purpose to something. And it becomes the embodiment of that thing's reason for being, right? So naming isn't just a fun activity, it's actually a really meaningful activity. So I thought long and hard about it. Of course, there were like, so many names, that there were possibilities for, but in the end Ministry of Design came about, because I love understanding what the context of the situation is. And then sometimes, we also have a bit of fun, like trying to poke and inject a bit of humour into things. And I recognise that in Singapore, where we're headquartered, and where I was, you know, I was born and raised, and very much proud of being Singaporean, there's also the whole notion of everything being run by the government, right? It's Ministry of everything: Ministry of Finance, Education, Defence, whatever is important, there's a ministry for it, but there was no Ministry of Design.

So I thought: Hmm that's interesting. How about that as a possible name? And at the same time, I was, I was reading a passage in the Bible, and it talked about how this particular character, he was someone who was sharing certain messages of good news, he called himself a Minister, and he wanted to minister a certain thing. For him it was good news. So I was thinking it's a ministry of sorts. Ministry of something, right? So I was thinking, well, maybe I don't have that same kind of passion to share the good news in that same particular way, but I certainly have been born or gifted with certain skillsets, and I want to be responsible for them. So why not employ that, as you know, a ministry of sorts, and through that, to make people's lives, to make the environment, maybe not better in the global, sort of like levelling-up sense but better, in terms of making it more friction free, you know, more enjoyable experiences.

So there was that, Ministry of Design, and when I applied for it, I was really shocked that they approved it because the government is you know, obviously notoriously quite catty about using terms that may be confused with official, you know, institutions. So when they approved it, I was like, what? I was really quite shocked. And then a few years later, like five years later I was at a party; design party, and there was this really nice interior designer who came up to me, and I didn't really know him, he introduced himself, and he's a really nice guy. And he was a bit upset, he said, at me. So I was like, why? He said, Because he said "I tried to apply for the name Ministry of Design several years ago, but it got rejected."

Rachel Oh no.

Colin "And the reason was, because you know, it's too close too official names." And he says "So how did you get it?" So it's just a question of timing sometimes. Yeah. And I didn't have a backup plan. So if that didn't get past, I don't know what it would be called right now.

Maybe I don't have that same kind of passion to share the good news in that same particular way, but I certainly have been born or gifted with certain skillsets, and I want to be responsible for them.

Wow, okay. That's so meaningful. And like, it's nice how your company name is so enriched by your core values.

Colin Yeah, it's laden with meaning, right? Yeah. Not just like in the regional, local context but also at a personal level.

Rachel Right.

Colin Yeah. And, truth be told, if I had a cooler name, like Rem Koolhaas, (both laugh) I might have just named the firm after myself, I don't have a very cool name. So – you know, "Colin Seah Design" sounds terrible. But also, one thing that I did pick up when I was working abroad, was that at OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) and specifically, not so much at my other firms, but OMA, it was very democratic. Of course, Koolhaas is the face and the voice and maybe the intellectual core of OMA. But I was so shocked because I was a very, very junior staff there, and at our design reviews, there would be an opportunity for everyone to pitch in. And Rem would not distinguish between seniority, only distinguish between quality of idea. So if let's say you are the youngest person – it could be the tea lady, it could be the most senior person. If you had the right idea, the appropriate idea; the game changing idea, he would embrace it, right? And so I was very, very impressed by that. And so when there came the opportunity to start the firm, I knew that I wanted it to also reflect those values, and not be something modelled after one person. So it was very important not to name it after myself. Yeah. And "ministry" does sound like a group of people, doesn't it?

Rachel It does.

Colin Yeah. You know, funny story, when we call clients or something right? Or just call computer suppliers or whatever and say: Hey, we're from Ministry of Design, sometimes the secretary or receptionist picks up, they get a fright because they go: Oh my God, what have we done wrong? Is our building the wrong colour?

Rachel Oh dear. (both laugh)

Colin They think we're the Ministry right? Yeah. Anyhow, that's funny.

Rachel Actually, my mom was just confused as well.

Colin Really?

Rachel Like "There's a Ministry of Design?"

Colin "Who are you going to interview?" (both laugh) Yeah, tell her you spoke with the Minister.

Rachel I will.

Colin Actually, tongue-in-cheek, I wanted to put it on my card, but I haven't done so.

Rachel Maybe you should!

Colin Maybe I should, right?

Rachel Yeah!

Colin Yeah, maybe I should.

Rachel It'll be fun.

Colin I know!

And Rem would not distinguish between senority, only distinguish between quality of idea. So if let’s say you are the youngest person – it could be the tea lady, it could be the most senior person. If you had the right idea, the appropriate idea; the game changing idea, he would embrace it, right? And so I was very, very impressed by that.

Do you think your early life experiences have prepared you well for the challenges that you encounter in the design world?

Colin Wow. That's a very good question, I mean there're two parts, right, not just like did my early experiences prepare me, but the other question is, what are the challenges in the design world? And if you think I mean, the kind of like, romanticised version is that you've got to be this like, you know, artistic savant, who manages to dream up things and then at the snap of a finger, it all comes to life. But being a designer is not a bed of roses, clearly. I mean, there's so many challenges and obstacles that constantly provoke you and make you wonder why you're doing what you're doing, even though it's fulfilling on many levels. But also running a design business and the key term is "business" – I never signed up to really run a business. In fact, I'm an incredibly reluctant entrepreneur and business owner.

In fact, because my partner Joy, who is incredibly fundamental to the success and facilitation of the firm, and I'll explain that in a second, like how we are organised – and it did not again happen intentionally or by clear planning, but on hindsight, it really was quite a powerful combination – in fact, the last thing she wanted was to marry an entrepreneur. Yeah. So when we first got married, she had a stable job with with one of the leading consultancy firms internationally. And then I was an academic in NUS where it was fairly stable. But then, you know, three, four years into our marriage, everything got upended, right? So when I started this, she was helping me do accounts at night, you know, obviously, she didn't join me because there was no work for another person to do. There was no work for even another designer to do, I could handle it all by myself, and there was no revenue to have more staff anyway. So she was a very reluctant entrepreneur, even more so than me. And I did it just because you just can't operate as a freelancer, if you want to be taken seriously for a certain kind of a project, right? There are many projects freelancers can do very well, but certain ones that they can't. So in establishing the firm, we realised that there were pros and cons to being kind of ingénues or innocents, you know? We hadn't worked for local firms – I hadn't, and she's not even design-trained – she's a business graduate. So none of us had experience. So it turns out that we're both very reluctant entrepreneurs, her even more so than me – she's just being the supportive wife, you know.

And little did she know she would become sort of the co-founder for what we now have running. And being an entrepreneur is being an entrepreneur. It doesn't matter whether you're a design entrepreneur, a tech entrepreneur, you know, fashion entrepreneur, or even a non-creative entrepreneur, right? It requires a certain fortitude and perseverance and also the ability to juggle a whole multitude of different surprises. You know – people, when it comes to HR; money, when it comes to getting work and chasing to get paid, accounts – it deals with a whole bunch of things which you did not and were not prepared to do, because our education system is fairly singular. It trains you for the discipline, but not for everything else that the discipline requires to be supported. So the short answer is, it was a rude shock.

And thank God it was incremental, because if I had known at that point in time, everything I know now, I would never have done it, obviously (both laugh). It's a bit like the frog being boiled in water slowly. Yeah, I know that's quite a gruesome analogy. And I don't mean to suggest that I feel like I'm being boiled, but it was good that it was incremental. Like you could get your toe wet, then your foot and you know, the rest of your body later. What I think prepared me, so in answer to your first part of the question, so there's the design and then there's an entrepreneur, right?

So at the design level, I realised that, yes, there were innate skill sets that I am quite sure, was very much nature and elemental, and a bit nurture, like opportunities. I think one above the other wouldn't have worked. But I look at some of my friends, some are very musically inclined, some are incredible sports people, some are really good with numbers, and I happen to be very good at, you know, creating experiences. And I think the research topic that I was studying when I was in the NUS was "Can creativity be taught?" Which is appropriate for an academic in an architectural school. And as a result, I was researching the different kinds of intelligences. So you know there's EQ, and there's IQ?

Rachel Yup.

Colin But researchers have sort of written about other kinds of intelligences. And one of them is kinesthetic, you know, like, how you watch these pop stars have these dance routines for like two hours, and they don't miss a beat. How do they remember it all right? So that's kinesthetic intelligence, which I don't have, and then there's spatial intelligence, which, you know, obviously, designers all have and I'm glad and thankful to also have that. So I think there was that preparation, and I remember as a young child, I would – we lived in a house and we had five in the family, and everyone would come home, leave their slippers outside the threshold of the door and then jump into the house. And I would arrange all the shoes in order of size because I just needed it to be a certain way. So I think there were signs already from a very young age that there was this compulsion for order, so that's more compositional. I don't think I was very interested in you know, provoking conceptual subversion like this, but there was definitely this appreciation of order composition, beauty, you know, I definitely love beauty.

So there was that preparation and I think that was sort of inherent and thank goodness for certain key people that you know, I was really blessed to have in my life who were influences creatively. So I can recall my sister she's she's a very stylish – she's an interior designer too, she's a very stylish lady with very good taste, and she would expose me to all kinds of you know finer things in life. She's she's a few years older than I am, so even as a young child I would get to experience these lovely thing. Like you know, for a young kid, just like a beautifully-designed pencil case or a school backpack, I mean, those things are very very precious. You've so few belongings, all of these things matter. And then every birthday and Christmas I remember just getting piles and piles of LEGO, that was the only toy I ever had. And I had heaps of them and I would just create these universes. So there was always this constant mental gymnastics when it came to like forming new worlds. And I think world-building was very, very, very important. And it wasn't just like making playthings, it was like creating narratives with them at a very subconscious level. So there was that too. And then another two very influential people. In my formative years, when I was slightly older as a photographer, was a very, very gifted photographer and a fashion editor, David Furhman Lim and Jeanette Ejlersen, who I had very, very close interactions with, who were like Big Brother and Sister, and who exposed me to indie films and really cool publications and magazines, which, you know, were not available at the local bookstore. And so my world just really widened.

Of course, I wasn't really creating then, I was more consuming and just being really saturated, like a sponge. And then I explored those two disciplines, before going to architecture. And in architecture school, for the first time ever, I think my creative outlet was really finally fulfilled in a full-time capacity. From being a very average, you know, 'kind of make it', not really great student in the Singapore system – there was no SOTA and all then, obviously – I felt like I really just blossomed and I graduated the top of my class. And it wasn't, it wasn't something to be like: Wah, so proud about, but it was just like the natural advent of being so passionate about something and committing to it. And in school, I had, you know, two or three professors, Renee Cheng, Richard Williams, Bob Nevins, two or three of these were so impactful in shaping my creative thought, critically, and also in an interpersonal way. They modelled for me, not just an ability to design but the ability to be a human being. And I think that's really important because in the end, were designing for other human beings. So all these milestone people, and of course, heroes that are outside of yourself, like, you know, the Koolhaases of the world, the Zumthors of the world – whoever your hero may be. And the heroes obviously keep changing, but we all have those. And I managed to work for one of my heroes, which was just amazing as well. So formative, yes, all of that was in preparation for the creative gesture, and I think when finally when MOD started, I felt like I was confident.

I never have felt in the 18 years, thankfully, that I'm insecure about what we do. I may be uncertain whether the client will like it, or whether the jury board would give it an award, but I was never insecure about the nature and merit of our own creation. I think that comes from just slowly forming a very clear creative identity, and one major aspect of that beyond the people was where I went to school. So a lot of people have the privilege of going to very good, prominent schools where their lecturers are famous people. Where I went to school was a little bit more laid back. It was University of Arizona, it's a very good school, but it didn't have that kind of overwhelming star quality about it. And the tutors there were very comfortable letting you do your own thing. So there was a classmate whose final project was a renovation to his own house, you know, and then another one was doing, you know, a skyscraper columbarium and then everything in between, right? But what it allowed me to do was to sow my creative oats independent of a guru kind of experience. Although yes, I was influenced by heroes, but on a day-to-day basis, what I was creating was very much a concretisation of who I was and not trying to mimic and aspire to be somebody else. So I think that internal barometer has been clear and one of my aspirations, like I told you at the start, right, MOD is the ultimate project, one of my aspirations is not so much to do more great projects. Of course, that is, but the deeper one is, I would love for every single one of my teammates, seniors, intermediates, juniors, to also gain that same kind of design centre. So that it's not a hierarchical, linear process, but the bug stops with everybody, all the time. And of course, there needs to be approvals and all that but at the heart of it all, no one is feeling like they're answering to somebody else, but they're answering to themselves. And if they can answer themselves, if you're your best, most stringent critic, then you'll be able to achieve a level of self-confidence in what you create, because you know that you've asked yourself the hardest questions already. Right?

You may not be the best designer in the world, but you're the best designer in the world that you could possibly be right then. You know? So that's one aspect. But the entrepreneurial aspect has been, you know, the school of life, really, just learning it as I go. And I have to say now, a huge, huge appreciation and awareness that none of this would be possible without many, many key people – I mentioned Joy, who is my life partner, as well as a co-founder, and there are a whole slew of other people too – but before we get to them, I'd like to just explain why they're important.

They're important because one of the key things I recognise right at the start was I may be really strong in certain things, but I'm absolutely not in so many others. And the whole design process, as well as entrepreneurship requires so many skill sets, that one can't possibly be good at everything. So what I recognised and then put in place really early on was to find people to be complementarian, to what I was already strong at, and acknowledge that and empower them and give them autonomy, and say: Let's build this together. So I am a strategist and the creative – I can dive into details when I need to, but on the whole, I am much more big-picture and very quick in ascertaining the state of things. Joy is meticulous and very process-driven. And she is able to not lose steam, I get like disinterested very quickly; I get very excited and then I lose interest. She manages to see things through, at an administrative and project management level, she's incredibly strong. So the two of us have extreme skillsets.

And now, the next generation, which we have been working to build over the last five, eight, 10 years, are two individuals, one is a Director called David Tan, and another one's an Associate Director called Joyce Low. They, I feel are the embodiment of the best of us in a combined way, but maybe not as extremely strong in how we are or extremely polarised because they have both the skillsets. They are both heading up each of the architecture versus the branding and interior team. And I'm really thankful to both of them for their ability to juggle these two, I feel, very important skillsets to be a creative leader. And they do it not just for themselves – they manage upwards for us as well, they manage us, they have to and then they also manage down, right. So they all have different team leaders and teams under them. So we already, in the wings, have in waiting, quite a few intermediate and senior staff who I feel, would be very capable to take on more and more leadership roles. So we'd love to just multiply ourselves and hold a very kind of clear but loose hierarchy. Because we want for everyone to say the bug stops here and not: Ooh. Let somebody else think about that. As much as we possibly can.

Rachel Wonderful.

Colin Sorry I've been talking your ear off.

If you're your best, most stringent critic, then you'll be able to achieve a level of self-confidence in what you create, because you know that you've asked yourself the hardest questions already.

No, it's very good, yeah. So thank you for sharing about the people who are behind you, it's always important to acknowledge that we are not – what's that phrase, one man is not an island? One man is an island?

Colin No man is an island.

Rachel Yup, thank you!

Colin Yeah, that's so true. Or at least if we are, we are an archipelago of islands together, you know? Even if one man is an island, we cannot be the only island in the ocean. Yeah, I'm very thankful for that. And right now, we try and share as many major decision-making processes together. And the opinions and viewpoints of the next generation and the ones to follow are incredibly critical, because my viewpoint was maybe relevant and maybe still continues to be, but there are certainly, you know, different ways to appreciate how the world is changing and how things must grow. And we're also in a profession where there is a certain angst, right? Because you know, there're movements in how fundamentally things are being done and rewarded, that is making everyone wonder about the tenure of you know, the design ecosystem.

So there are these fundamental questions to ask, and also with the – it's like clawing at the door – the whole universe of the AR and VR world, you know, and how that meets the physical, actual world and how these worlds collide or become something meaningful, in a hybrid sense. That's something that we probably will live to experience. So you know, that's a whole brand new chapter to do this for.

Or at least if we are, we are an archipelago of islands together, you know? Even if one man is an island, we cannot be the only island in the ocean.

Yes. Wow, I'm learning so much – not just about design, but about life – from you.

Colin Really?

Rachel Yeah!

Colin (laughs) That's great.

Rachel I find myself reflecting on my own life.

Colin Oh, yeah? And what are some thoughts?

Rachel Some of the things that you've said, like how you're privileged not to be questioning yourself, or MOD as a company and your firm core beliefs. Your core beliefs are very strong, and the only thing that you might be uncertain about is how your client reacts to it.

Colin (laughs)

Rachel Yeah! I want to, achieve this strong identity myself.

Colin Cool! Yeah, I'm sure you get there with some humility and openness. Hey, there's a fine line between that and arrogance because you can be wrong and think you're not, but there's also just a quiet confidence lah that you know you've done the best you can.

Rachel Congratulations for achieving this!

Colin Well. It's a gift that I am very grateful to have.

I'm sure you get there with some humility and openness. Hey, there's a fine line between that and arrogance because you can be wrong and think you're not, but there's also just a quiet confidence lah that you know you've done the best you can.

Speaking of the co-founder Joy, we understand that it's difficult for close friends to run a company together, so it must be even more difficult to run a company with your partner. Could you tell us more about the secret to success?

Colin (laughs) Oh my gosh, yeah, I think this needs to be a three-way interview. I may not cover all the bases, but I think I can speak quite adequately on her behalf as well because I think we're quite similar in our take on this. Well, you're right. The whole basis of a partnership like this is already challenging, and to be married to someone – because you have to live with them, you have to deal with their quirks and everyone is different, right? – is already challenging. So, I think what this has done is it has allowed us to appreciate how we are really different, but different in ways which make each other better.

And also, the funny thing is, we have learned how to fight better. I mean, obviously, there is no way we wouldn't disagree and have this very sort of lively and sometimes, heated discussions about things. But we've learn how, over the years, to fight better and to sort of resolve things better or to listen better, also. That was not so easy at the start. And also we are quite different in terms of our personalities. I am more of a sort of risk-taker and she's less risk-averse. And I think that's great, because if you have two very risk-averse people, you get nowhere, if you have two incredible risk-takers, you will probably be dead in a ditch (laughs). So in this case, I think we balance each other out, and we often initially may not agree on something and then we realise: Yeah, the reason we don't agree is because there are many ways to see the same thing. And I'm grateful that there's another opinion. So this small circle or binary dialogue for two has become enlarged to three with you know, David. And then now four with Joyce. We also have some other very treasured senior staff like the gentleman who heads our technical team, his name is Richard. And we have other staff that we really trust and also include in conversations of importance. There's a French gentleman, his name is Damien, who joined us as an intern, came back for his first job, then came back again and stayed on and now you know, is doing very well with us. There are stories like that where people come and stay for eight years, 10 years and hopefully grow with us.

Of course, there are people who also leave because the design universe is very large, and you want to experience different things. But I think when there's a chord that is struck, not just at the: 'Oh, I agree with MOD's design ethos', but when there's a personal chord that is struck, like: 'I actually like these people, and I want to sort of grow old career-wise with them', you know, that's really nice.

Rachel Yeah, that sounds great! It's like a home away from home.

Colin Yes! Yes. Yeah. Another really treasured member, who was with Joy and myself right at the start, is this gentleman called Kevin Leong. And we tease we teach him sometimes because when we take these, what we call family portraits, everyone sits together and we take this group of 30. And when we sit him in the middle, he's got this calm, very sort of genteel nature – he looks like the grandfather of group you know? Like the centre. So we always joke that he's like the granddaddy of the firm, yeah.

Rachel Nice, okay. Thank you for sharing about your early life, now let's move on to the design processes.

What this has done is it has allowed us to appreciate how we are really different, but different in ways which make each other better.

You mentioned in your website that each MOD project endeavours to be delightfully surprising but yet relevant, distinctly local, but still globally appealing. So having such universal works, what kinds of Singaporean elements would you say you feature in your designs?

Colin Wow, okay, Singapore, Singapore. I mean this is a very million dollar question right? Like 'What is Singapore design' and then also 'How is your work Singaporean'? I tend to think of Singaporean-ism or the core of Singapore's DNA, not so much as an aesthetic. I think, for me what is most Singaporean is a very clever, pragmatic hybridisation of things. So, I think Singaporeans are very good at reviewing what exists, taking it and then making it that much better or that much, you know, more customised for our needs. Much more so than maybe true original content, which arguably doesn't really exist any way. You know, with sort of the proliferation of influences around the world right, how can anyone say anything is truly original? If you look hard enough, I'm sure you'll find some kind of precedent reference or image that is similar. So I don't think therefore, our work is Singaporean in a way.

The fact that we're headquartered in Singapore, to me, has become less and less relevant, especially post-pandemic where we have moved to what I call MOD 2.0, where we want to balance a hardworking, passionate life with an equally meaningful outside-of-work life. So instead of work-life balance, we try and have life-work balance. So life coming first, and your work fitting into your life rather than your life fitting into your work. And so an example of that would be if let's say, I wanted to work at OMA, I would have to move to Rotterdam, or Hong Kong, or New York. And if someone wanted to work at MOD they would have to move to Singapore, right? But now that we're all in Singapore, and we got locked down in Singapore – (no one) really like being stuck on a small island for two years – once the pandemic lifted, everyone wanted to be somewhere else. And you realise: Hey, because I've managed to work quite successfully remotely through great technologies, – like, you know Slack and Miro and all kinds of iPads and all that – if I managed to work quite successfully, in a remote fashion, why am I still stuck in my apartment in a very dense neighbourhood? Unless I want to be but if I don't want to be and I'd rather take that same money and live in a, you know, decent-sized villa on a hillside, or by the beachside, somewhere less expensive, but still can work, why not?

So we came up with MOD 2.0. So the relevance of being headquartered in Singapore becomes ever increasingly less critical. Except Singapore, I think, is synonymous to me not with just that initial characteristic that I talked about, but it's also synonymous with a certain kind of professionalism and quality and rigour. Right, when you say made or thought or conceived by Singaporeans, working abroad, et cetera, there's some basic level of expectation, as opposed to let's say some other nationality which may be known for something else. So I think that brand "Singapore" is still good. But in terms of wanting our project to be Singaporean in any sort of way, shape or form is only needful if the project truly is in Singapore. And then again, Singapore is not huge but it's got pockets of identity.

A project in Singapore in Geylang, versus Joo Chiat, versus Tiong Bahru versus Orchard, versus Toa Payoh, versus Woodlands would be inherently very different. Like I love the void deck that some of our young contemporary artists have been doing. Versus let's say a sculpture in Marina Bay Sands, you know, completely different nature. All Singaporean, but so different right? So to me, it's a question of localisation, but still not to a point where it speaks such a strange undesirable local vernacular and vocabulary that is not globally-understandable anymore. So our work strives to be that – to be locally-inspired and relevant but also globally-accessible and attractive.

Rachel Amazing.

Colin And it's also necessary because our work is in many cities around the region, and also in North America, et cetera.

Our work strives to be that -- to be locally-inspired and relevant but also globally-accessible and -attractive.

Yup, okay. Speaking of COVID, could you tell us how COVID actually impacted your working layout? Like, whether you work from the office all the time, or work from home?

Colin Or what fundamentally changed, if anything at all right?

Rachel Yeah.

Colin I mentioned that already, so as opposed to being in physical space. And yeah, I mean, the value of physical space is the serendipitous interactions and exchanges, obviously, we miss out on those. And we've tried to compensate with having, a really amazing annual retreat and get-togethers as much as possible for design events or workshops. But we definitely miss out on that. But what it does allow you is the balance between your work and your life now becomes more, there is more autonomy for you to shape your life a certain way, and not around your work, but your work around your life more.

Rachel Yup.

Colin Right? Before, really, if you were stuck in the office, from a certain time to a certain time, you couldn't run out and do errands, even if you felt lethargic, you couldn't go to the gym and do a quick workout. You just couldn't do that. Very few of us had the autonomy to do that. I would do that. But that's because I'm the boss – no, I'm kidding. But I mean, I'd be happy if people did that too, because our staff are very responsible. But now with remote working, it really allows you to do that even more. Because you don't have to be physically-tied to a space. And you realise how physical space has its value and must be treated with a lot of respect. And when you meet physically, you must celebrate it and really embrace it. Hug, kiss – intellectually, physically, whatever – and embrace being together, rather than just sitting side by side, but not really engaging. Like, you know, teenagers on their phones beside each other, but not talking?

Rachel Yup!

Colin Yeah. Interestingly, we had a grouping of all our remote staff coming back to Singapore headquarters, and some of them worked in the office. And they said, they thought it would be a very immersive experience, but they realised that 80% of the time, they were sitting beside someone else who was just quietly doing their work. And the interactions were limited, right? And that's the truth of the matter, especially if you don't want to get distracted, you want to put your head down and do your work, that's what happens. So work is not a social club, we form communities and bonds through and because of it, and we may be inspired to continue working in a firm, it's one of the key reasons, but certainly if you have no choice to make it more secondary to other things, which are important to you, then that's not great. So that's how it's really majorly changed for us.

When you meet physically, you must celebrate it and really embrace it. Hug, kiss -- intellectually, physically, whatever, and embrace being together, rather than just sitting side by side, but not really engaging.

So maybe this is what true work-life balance should be.

Colin I don't think we've gotten there yet. Because, you know, we still spend, not always, but sometimes more time than we'd like. So we're working also on other things like, like processes and cutting out unnecessary fluff or unnecessary iterations of stuff to be more surgical, more meaningful and more precise. So together with that, I think we can really form that work-life balance or life-work balance.

Rachel Nice. (laughs) That's a very unique approach. Usually companies would just be work-centric.

Colin Yeah.

Rachel So I think that what you have is very special.

Colin I will give the credit to an experience I had when I was at OMA, and we were working six days a week and having lunch, dinner, sometimes even breakfast at the office. And we were working on a project for a public plaza and amphitheatre space in Tenerife (Canary Islands). I am a very passionate person but if all my life is just work, I find that it drains me. Then the irony was we're designing spaces for people to live, but yet we were not living. And I said to myself, how long can a person generating experiences for others generate those meaningfully if he or herself isn't able to experience life? It just doesn't make sense. So going out there, living a rich life actually, I think, contributes to your work and vice versa.

Rachel Completely agree.

Colin (both laugh) So you're gonna ask your boss for more off time lah.

Rachel No, actually we have it very good already.

Colin Are you nervously looking at someone in particular?

Rachel No, I'm nodding and agreeing. (both laugh)

Colin Sorry to put you in the spot.

Rachel Ah, no.

Colin I'm sure you have a great, great working environment.

Rachel Yeah. Actually just to tell you more, we work from home three days a week.

Colin Okay!

Rachel And then we work in office two days just to discuss.

Colin Yeah!

Rachel And like, hug intellectually, as you said.

Colin Yes, yes, hug and kiss intellectually.

Rachel So it's great.

Colin Yeah, good on you.

Going out there, living a rich life actually, I think, contributes to your work and vice versa.

Okay, so you stressed the importance of colour and texture in influencing audience perception, specifically for your projects The Ming Chair and The Macalister Mansion. So apart from these two, could you tell us about another project in which maybe visual or tactile elements were important?

Colin Yeah, I can. In fact, you're sitting in the space right now. The MOD Office was a very interesting project. Because if you look at MOD's portfolio, yeah, maybe there's some underlying DNA that one can discern, but it's not sitting at the surface, it's more deep. So at the surface the projects, at a superficial glance, look quite different in terms of aesthetic, shape, materials, choice, et cetera. And that's because every project has a unique starting point, right? And the answer, therefore, the Disturbing and the Redefining is different. So I consciously use colour and actually the neutrality of it in our office, to provide a canvas space, so that when we create the numerous iterations of different types of spaces, we wouldn't necessarily be influenced by our environment, if it was overly-distinctive. So let's say we had a very distinctive office with a certain, like, you know, look and feel. I felt that that might influence us a certain way. So I wanted the office to be almost conceptually like a canvas. Yeah. And although white and black are quite neutral, they're also really strong colours at the same time. So it's kind of ironic that way, so that's one way we've used colour.

Rachel That's the first time I've heard someone say that white and black are very strong colours.

Colin They are, they are!

Rachel They are actually, now that I think about it.

Colin Yeah. They're very powerful colours, but also at the same time, simultaneously, there's a neutrality about them.

Rachel Yeah!

Colin They are extremes, which they literally are, but at the same time, there's a neutrality about them. And there's a reason why you go into an art gallery, it's a white box. Right? Or, like when you want to capture, let's say, you've – I'm sure you do photography, if you want to capture a painting, for instance, you put a black backdrop up, right? So it mutes and sucks all the light. And you focus on just that. So this room, for instance, you're sitting in, it's also a play on the power of colour to provoke a certain experience. So the whole room – shell, floor, walls, ceilings – are black. The only thing that is white is the table because you recognise that it draws your attention to the medium of the table. And when you put boards or paper, it's white on white. So all your attention sort of gravitates towards this middle portion. So that's another way of how colour is used. And because we're sitting in a room where the two ends are black mirror, or black glass that's highly reflective, almost like a mirror, the white table which sits edge to edge. It's a very unusual meeting room because you have to walk around the door to get to the other side because the table is the full room's width.

Rachel (laughs) Yes.

Colin It feels like it stretches the table – doubles or triples the length of it because of the black and white contrast. Yeah, so that's one example.

Rachel It's like an endless table.

Colin Yes, that's right. Also, it separates us from clients, so if they want to kill us we are safe on this side.

Rachel Oh... That's so smart! (both laugh)

Although white and black are quite neutral, they're also really strong colours at the same time. So it's kind of ironic that way.

Okay, how about the texture of – it doesn't have to be this room, but of some works.

Colin Yeah, texture obviously is incredibly important. Like one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had was at the Thermal Baths at Vals by Zumthor, and it's all about texture, right? It's just one material, stone, that is either smooth or bush hammered which is rough, or honed which is kind of like mat, and all of it makes your skin and how you feel very different. I mean texture in today's context of Instagram and since we experience most spaces fully clothed, isn't as critical for our body it's more our eyes. Our eyes read the texture. But texture is the most important in places where you are actually nude or semi-nude, like a bathing area, a pool area, a bath area because that's where textures really affect you very much more. So when we design hotels, you know bathroom experiences, bedroom experiences, the sofa, how something feels on your skin, you don't even have to sort of be told how to feel if you sit in something that's silky and soft, versus something that's a bit prickly and rough, immediately you're really cued in a certain way. So that kind of texture is very, very critical.

Rachel So it's all about influencing...

Colin Behaviour or response –

Rachel Yeah, people's behaviour and perception.

Colin – or perception, yeah, or your mood! I'm very, extremely sensitive to texture. So like if my wife or somebody is wearing something that is like wool and a bit rough, even when I look at it, right, the hairs on the back of my neck bristle, because I just cannot touch it.

Rachel So what would you wear to a winter country?

Colin I cannot, I cannot wear something that is wool, yeah it's got to be something else.

Rachel (both laugh) That's so interesting!

Colin (laughs) I know. I actually feel a physical aversion to it. There are things like that. So yeah, texture is that important. I mean, I'm sure everyone feels that to some degree. Yeah. Also, one texture I'm very interested in beyond space is mouth texture. Mouthfeel. Something in your mouth. Like, how does your enjoyment, or lack of enjoyment, or degree of enjoyment of let's say, what you consume – food – change because of texture? And how it influences your experience, right? That's very, very interesting, I find. So the micro world inside you, and then the macro world around you, all of these textures kind of come into play.

Rachel Very nice. Everything aligns somehow.

Colin Yeah, it does.

So the micro world inside you, and then the macro world around you, all of these textures kind of come into play.

Well, okay, so when colour is more or less the same such as with the Race Robotics Laboratory, what are some other elements which play an important role? So you talked about texture, you talked about colour...

Colin Actually, it's not the same. If you're there in real life, you'll realise that the tubes – so the Race Laboratory is a robotics testing ground, and also an arena where they hold public events for a company that develops robotics technology. And we created the space out of these modules, like triangular modules; frames, but each of these frames is facaded or skinned with metal tubes. And these metal tubes, although they are the same colour, they are round. So the nature of tubes is that it curves, right?

Rachel Yup.

Colin And a curve catches light very, very differently. So something that's flat on the table, versus something that is curving, (rolls paper into a tube) the top catches the most light, less, and then least, right?

Rachel That makes sense.

Colin So, this is matte paper, but imagine you take a reflective or semi-reflective material, and then it's tubed, and it runs in different directions, and light is cast on it. So it's actually highly-textured, it's just a lot of variations of a similar texture scaled-up. We tend to try in most of our projects, to have a balance of both visual and tactile textures, and not inundate the senses. So we find work, where it's a catalogue of very many different textures – too many – to be sometimes imbalanced and overly-weighted. We try and be a bit more nuanced. Yeah, and also then very clear in what you're meant to take away from that.

We tend to try in most of our projects, to have a balance of both visual and tactile textures, and not inundate the senses.

Great. Okay! Tell us more about your project Code, which you did in collaboration with leather makers Bynd Artisan.

Colin Bynd Artisan, yeah! Great, great, local hero, both very smart in creating their brand image, back to the quality, as well as good product, and they have this interesting practice of teaming up with local design firms to create these small little capsule collections. And when they approached us, I was very game because I do love leather, as you can see. (gesturing towards his leather jacket) And, oh, by the way, I got this tailored, and I love creating these things. They came to us and they said: What would you like to do? And you know that they make portfolios and binders, and you know –

Rachel Yeah, I actually have some.

Colin You have some of them? Of course, you should! It's very nice. So one thing that we had not done before, as MOD goes, is create a wearable. And I was very interested. I'm quite interested in fashion, and I wanted to create a wearable and the idea was not just something that would sort of take over your image, but something that would fit into your image by you customising it. So what we did was, we were inspired by the lapels of like a tuxedo, and we abstracted that into a series of shapes like triangles. Actually, if you break it down, you can see it's formed by different-sized triangles. And we created a fixed module that has, at its ends, negative holes for a certain fixing module to punch through and join to another module. So you create a chain, you can then take that basic shape – there are about six or seven basic shapes-- and you can create what you felt represented you either today or for the season, or however you're feeling, and there are also different colours.

So it was the idea of empowering people through fashion to make them creators and not just consumers. Yeah, have fun with your fashion rather than be told what fun is.

Rachel It kind of reminds me of what you said about LEGO-building being your childhood thing.

Colin Yeah (x5), correct! And, like infinitely dismountable and reassembled and create something else. Right?

Rachel Yup, all the permutations.

Colin Yeah. So some people have, you know, taken and worn it so well, like my favourite example is our good friend and the Principal of UPSTRS_ – who was once at MOD – Dennis Cheok, who wears it with such style. He wears it under jackets, and it looks like a waistcoat, almost. But you know, it's made of these fractals. So it's not blingingly obvious, but when you go up close, then you see: Oh, it's actually quite different from your typical accessory. And it's not small. It's almost like body armour size. And you can just keep adding to it. Or you can have a very small version if you want.

Rachel (laughs) Nice, very adaptable.

Colin Yeah, yeah. It was a very fun project, it was a very fun project.

Have fun with your fashion rather than be told what fun is.

Glad to hear that. What are some of your more memorable projects, apart from the ones you've talked about?

Colin There're so many good projects, I mean, like right at the start there was the New Majestic, right to the end and continuing is the MOD Office itself as a project, it's an existential project. There have been so many key hotels that I love, but I think what I love best – and it's not even publicised in the website, and on any media – is our own home because we are the both the client as well as the creative for it. And the benefit of being the client is not so much that you can do anything you want. Because you can't, obviously – there's always gravity, budget and government authority to deal with – but we had the time to be able to gestate and really be able to commit the thought process. So we have lived in it for about three years, but prior to that we spent five years ruminating – I did at least, Joy was a very great client.

And I went through 15 different prototype designs before the final 15th version – they're all radically different. And then the 15th version had, you know, nine, internal iterations. So it's 15.9. And why it was so great is because it's not just a space to live in, but it's a space to express your passions, your philosophy. And I designed into it many opportunities to keep fiddling around with things, not so much the architecture, but it's like a living gallery space. So I'm forever doing like a new floral arrangement, the kitchen is the sort of centre of one of the spaces, and it's like a lab – it's completely open, people can just walk all around it, there're no sort of – it's not enclosed in anything.

And for me, that's my other passion, which is culinary creations. And it's so different from what we do for a living because you can conceive, shop, cook, consume and serve a meal in one day, literally. Whereas all our projects take like five years before it happens. (both laugh) And so there's a huge amount of satisfaction in that. So the home I would say is probably one of my most precious and favourite projects because we get to live in it and shape it continually as we live in it.

What I love best – and it's not even publicised in the website, and on any media – is our own home because we are the both the client as well as the creative for it.

How lovely. Yeah, so speaking of cooking, I've heard from Kelley that you're quite an accomplished home chef. Could you share more about maybe your favourite dishes to cook or like why you enjoy cooking as a hobby?

Colin Yes, yes. I think that plug there by Kelley probably needs a response and an invitation to her to come back to eat (both laugh) – it provokes a positive response. I love to do this particular method of cooking, where I take Western techniques, right, you know your classic Western techniques, but really reimagine it through those sort of Asian flavours, and herbs, and flavour profiles. It's cause I live very close to Tekka Market, so I've been going there for 20 years. And there's a great vegetable seller, Chia's and they play good jazz music, they've an incredible selection, there's a good fishmonger, there's a great chicken place, a great fruit seller, and I try to get everything from there as much as possible.

And then you know, a couple of other shops, and just around the corner from where I live, there's also a seafood wholeseller, so I get fresh, jumping prawns, and flip flapping fish, and, you know, crabs. And so it's taking all of those techniques, and then questioning why they need to be done in this way, and then sort of reimagining it. So it's a little bit like what I do for work.

Rachel Yeah. (laughs)

Colin And I also draw out how things are plated, I'll take pictures of the plates, and then I'll use my iPad and sketch on it, how things are arrayed. And then I'll think through the process, the technique: How do I prep it, how do I serve it and plate it in a way that allows it to be like, professionally and efficiently and cleanly without any mess, arrive at the table? So I love thinking about this. And really, it's like a microcosm of what we do, but I can manage it all. I don't need a project manager, I don't need a building contractor, I don't need a client, I don't need a huge budget. And you know, it's one man; it's like what I used to do as a one man show at MOD, but now I just do it at home in the kitchen for people to eat. (both laugh)

Rachel Nice! It's great to do what you love.

Colin Yeah! Yeah.

Rachel So what kinds of dishes or what's an example of a dish that you enjoy cooking?

Colin Oh, there're so many. So I've just been conceiving a new menu for a friend. So we have a good friend who is going to be going away for a year so we wanted to give her a good send-off. And it's a slew of five dishes. And one of them is quite interesting because it's it's a ceviche, which is like a cured, raw seafood with just lime, so you don't cook it, yeah, that's the basis of ceviche. But I'm like completely updating it in a sort of new way, and pairing it with unusual things like foie gras or even like a spiced sorbet.

Rachel Wow!

Colin So that you kind of like eat it together, yeah. So it's just experiments and also very pleasurable to look at.

Rachel Spiced sorbet...

Colin Yeah. I might, I might do that for you and Kelley.

Rachel Amazing.

Colin If you give me five stars for this interview.

Rachel I'm glad I asked this question. (both laugh) Definitely, yeah sure!

Colin Five out of five, okay? Not five out of 10. (laughs)

Rachel Actually it's not us doing the reviews, so they have to give both of us five stars.

Colin Okay, yeah, okay both of us get five stars.

I love to do this particular method of cooking, where I take Western techniques, right, you know your classic Western techniques, but really reimagine it through those sort of Asian flavours, and herbs, and flavour profiles.

Your reach extends far and wide to countries outside of Singapore, like Malaysia, China, the US and Italy. So could you tell aspiring design companies how you successfully expanded out of Singapore?

Colin Right. So I don't know whether it was I who did it successfully, but I think it was borne out of part survival and part passion. So passion – given Singapore's market is such, it's not huge, the range of projects are what they are, but there's a lot of talent here. So is there room to flex your creative muscles elsewhere? And when you work abroad, the context, the questions you ask are also different, which is very interesting. You are forced to ask different questions.

Survival, because when we started, we faced a few recessions. And during those periods, there was there was a need for survival; to explore other markets beyond Singapore. So I remember, in the early days, when we're just in Singapore, we hadn't worked abroad yet. Maybe just Malaysia. But you know, Malaysia is like, almost part of Singapore, and Singapore is part of Malaysia, it's really one big cultural, similar melting pot, right? We wanted to venture into China, or elsewhere. So we prepared a portfolio with as many photographs as we could – we didn't have many projects, we'd have to use full bleed photos, one each page so it looked very thick but actually, there are not many projects in there. We identified seven or eight developers that we admired around the world – France, China, the States – and we mailed the hardcopy – this is you know, in the earlier years – out to them, and we got one reply from China.

And it turned out to be SOHO China, the very famous Zhang Xin, who had developed at that point in time, the Commune by the Great Wall, with a number of illustrious designers, including, local guys from Singapore as well. And so we were asked to meet up with her and I think they didn't know we were in Singapore, they said: Oh, would you like to come for breakfast? (laughs) So we were like: We're not really in Beijing. But we flew out as soon as we could, had a really good meeting, she was someone who needed to work with you because there was chemistry, she wanted to see whether there was and, we got along very well. And we went on to do like, I think seven or eight, maybe even more projects with them. And that began our sort of greater regional and, not really international but some further-flung countries – that began the trajectory and also the growth of the firm.

We identified seven or eight developers that we admired around the world, France, China, the States, and we mailed the hardcopy – this is you know, in the earlier years – out to them, and we got one reply from China.

So speaking of such projects, we actually found out that a new hotel that you've designed, which is called The Standard, right? It's under construction right now, and it's in accordance with Singapore's Green Plan and it's going to open year end. Right?

Colin Hopefully.

Rachel Could you tell us more about that?

Colin Yeah, well, it will open as soon as it can. The Standard is a brand that we have admired for many years. It's from North America, I think you may be familiar with the famous one on the High Line, as well as you know, in Hollywood, and they've recently opened in London. But they've expanded now, they're all over Asia, because they've now formed a new partnership with with a Thai developer, and they're expanding rapidly and we had the privilege of designing the Singaporean outfit. So The Standard's interesting because there's a very strong DNA.

So unlike our other projects, where almost all the hotel brands we designed for, they are what they call soft brands. So if you're familiar, hotels have two main kinds: There's a hard brand, which means its style is already dictated with a brand manual, like a Sheraton or a Grand Hyatt. And then there are soft brands, where it's more ambiguous, like Design Hotels, like the Luxury Collection, or Autograph Collection. So most of the time, we're given, almost always the soft brands. Which means we get to come up with the branding – like we have this other project for Hilton, it's a Curio Collection, which is again, a soft brand and it's in China, and it's called 1000 Moons.

Rachel Oooh!

Colin Yeah, it's a very cool name, it's set in the greenery of Anji in the bamboo forest. So we tend to work on projects like that. But for The Standard it's interesting because they are arguably very design-centric, but they're also kind of like a hard brand because they've a very clear DNA, and you know their love for a certain period of design. As seen in many of their projects, the use of colour, et cetera, is very distinctive, and their design team is very involved. They don't sit back and just look at operations, they're actually very involved in the design process. So for us it was a very interesting experience because it's a kind of hard-soft brand. And we had the privilege of trying to contextualise what The Standard brand would be like in sort of modern, contemporary, tropical Singapore. So the site is great. It's you know, right by the Shangri La, so it will be sort of the young upstart. (both laugh) And working with a very major Singaporean architectural firm DP, they're handling architecture, we're doing the interior design, and they're also doing the landscape. So coming together to sort of create this sort of seamless experience – fingers crossed, hope it turns out really well. And hopefully, we'll see it end of this year or early next year.

Rachel Nice, we're excited to see how it turns out!

Colin Yeah me too! Maybe we can have a meal there. That'll be fun. (laughs)

Rachel That will be nice! Okay, let's maybe move on to the next section of this interview, which is your life views.

For us it was a very interesting experience because it's a kind of hard-soft brand.

So for your life views, over the years you've managed to make a name for MOD. So what do you think are the key factors which enabled you to stand out from other design companies in the landscape?

Colin Oh, well, that's something that I don't think we can take full credit for. Again, I think it's a lot of Divine opportunities, because I think there're lots of great designers out there who perhaps just aren't at the right place or the right time, and I think we've been really fortunate and blessed to be at the right place at the right time. But once we've had the opportunity, I think the things that have seen us through are two: One is a commitment to our ethos, and to be unwavering, whatever the project, and the other is an amazing team, all those people we talked about, and the many more who are not mentioned who have dedicated so much passion, and just rigour and commitment to seeing things through – without which a top-line concept is nothing.

Like my design tutor, Renee Cheng used to say to me, she said: You're really great at concepts Colin, but you know what? A concept without development is not even worth two cents. Because in the end, it's just talk. We're in the business of not just talk, we're in the business of making ideas real. So I think to make it real, it's our team and also, whenever a really great project happens, like let's say the Citibank project, which you know, opened in Orchard beside the Apple store two years ago? It's also because we have really great partners, a supportive client who is open to a vision, a builder who is very professional, and a whole bunch of other consultants who are really skilled in their particular area of expertise. Because as designers, we know this much, and we know a little bit of everything else. These guys really know their stuff. So together, it's possible – any one of us alone, it would just be an idea.

As designers, we know this much, and we know a little bit of everything else. These guys really know their stuff. So together, it’s possible – any one of us alone, it would just be an idea.

Yeah. Okay. So you've mentioned in a previous interview with Channel NewsAsia, that you don't actually like trends that much. (both laugh) So in terms of sustainability, problem solving and longevity, why do you think that being a trend follower is not as ideal?

Colin I don't know what there's not ideal in light of the things you mentioned, although those are all important, but I think following trends is antithetical to having that unwavering, internal secure barometer of what's right.

Rachel Yup.

Colin I think trends don't always, but they might make you intellectually a bit lazy, or lethargic. And also, I think it's really hard for someone who has a very clear internal barometer to follow a trend because not everyone, not every person is made the same. A trend was created by a collective right? And if you're not part of the collective, then why bother. But if you if you sincerely like the trend, then it's not a trend. It's just something that you like. And even after it's not trendy, you just keep doing it. Like I can't be bothered. Like when we did our house, the most commonly remarked thing that people say to me – old friends who have been to my little apartment, and then now to our house – they say: Wow, this is just like a scaled-up version of what you used to have. Which means that what internal barometer I used back then 20 years ago, and now, it's similar. I'm still who I basically am and I still enjoy the things that I used to, it's just maybe more refined and more scaled-up.

Yeah, you know, it's not like with every home, there's a new trend. I mean, especially for homes, maybe for hospitality, for commercial projects, yeah if you are grasping for novelty and then you latch on to a trend, I think that's incredibly understandable. But for residential, I think to me, that's where I would draw a hard line. I don't think houses should be trend-inspired. I think houses should be owner; occupier-inspired, like understand how weird; unique; strange; eccentric, the owner is and then take that, exploit it, run with it and create something that makes sense only for that person. Like a bespoke suit. You know, rather than: Oh it's trendy to wear those – you know how now it's trendy for boys to wear these oversized shirts that have sleeves come up to here.

Rachel Yeah.

Colin Yeah. It does not fit my body type. I put it on, I look like a dork. But if I was trend-biased and trend-dependent, I would just wear it anyway even if it didn't – but you know, I wear the same stuff a lot now because it's still me after 20 years.

Rachel Yeah. Actually didn't Steve Jobs do that as well?

Colin (both laugh) Yeah, well he created a trend lah I guess.

Rachel By not following trends. (laughs)

Colin Yeah, yeah, that turtleneck trend.

A trend was created by a collective right? And if you're not part of the collective, then why bother. But if you if you sincerely like the trend, then it's not a trend. It's just something that you like. And even after, it's not trendy, you just keep doing it.

Yeah, okay. So, what's one design concept you foresee gaining prominence in the near future?

Colin Design concept? Wow, I mean that's such a big question but without the benefit of tailoring it to one specific typology, or experience, or function, I would say in my mind, future casting would probably be the overlapping or hybridisation or collision – in a good way – of the virtual world, or augmented reality world, and the actual world. So these three layers coming together, I think, is probably very exciting. Yeah, like I'm excited; I can't even imagine what the possibilities are like.

It's great that you talked about AI because the next question is: Would you be open to perhaps jumping on the TikTok bandwagon?

Colin (laughs) Uh, No? (both laugh) The short answer if this is a quickfire, no? It completely disinterests me because I think it trains my mind to be just turned on by like flashcards with no depth. It's not like it's not entertaining – I would gladly watch TikTok with my godchildren, or if you had it on and you had something cute to show me, I would. I don't deride it at all. But personal interests, if I had to get involved, no. Not at all. Not as a form of expression, not – like we have an Insta account for MOD, and that's managed by Joy – I personally have zero interest. I barely know what's going on in our Insta channel. Because I'm living it, I don't need to go visit it. (laughs)

Rachel I see, I see. Okay, that makes sense.

Colin Oh by the way, I do have five Instagram accounts, but they're all just private; I have no followers. I use it as like a memory, photo album.

Rachel Actually a lot of people do that.

Colin – do that, yeah, yeah.

Rachel But I'm kind of wary, because everything is in your digital footprint.

Colin Oh... I don't care – those those photos aren't really I mean, they're personal to me, but they're not like, you know, scandalous or anything, so. The Internet can peek in, I don't care.

I see, I see. Okay. How do you stay inspired and motivated amidst all these challenges that you face?

Colin I think having the next generation energised and ploughing forward gives me strength and inspiration to keep up with them and to keep leading them as best as I possibly can till they don't need me to lead them anymore. Yeah.

Very nice. Okay, so apart from addressing the needs of clients and the community, how do you think that design can further contribute to addressing maybe social or even global issues like sustainability?

Colin Yeah. The short answer is, I think we should just build less and consume less and use less. There's no way we can say everything we build, just because we build sustainably, is sustainable-minded – it's not. We just don't need as much stuff as you know. Yeah, I appreciate the flair and and ingenuity that is seen in like, let's say, the Salone del Mobile. But do we need, you know, 15,000 more new chair designs? But same goes for hotels and everything that we design. So I think what I would say is design fewer to last longer and give it more thought. So as opposed to doing five projects in five years, that will get redone in another five years do one project every five years, get paid much more because that thing is going to last five times longer. So I could work that way, if I could use that same rhythm that I use on my house; in designing my house – the whole process I took, I think that would really make a difference because I would never tear it down because I think it's so well-thought-through and well-built. That's more sustainable, doing less, but do more meaningful. Do more meaningful stuff with the less that you do.

Rachel That is very profound.

Colin Well, ya. But also, economically, the powers that be and the the way the world turns, it's an incredibly difficult paradigm shift. So although that seems to me the solution, I think it's not an easy one to achieve.

Rachel Right? We can only try our best.

Colin Yeah!

Do more meaningful stuff with the less that you do.

Okay, let's move on to education. How much of your current work banks on your formal education and how much utilises skills you have picked up over the years?

Colin Oh, school of life versus school, school.

Rachel Correct.

Colin I would say probably needful – I think formal education is needful, but there's so much more that fleshes you out as a complete designer, so I would say it's probably quite equal. I would say, if I didn't go to school, I wouldn't maybe be aware of the processes, the language, the the mechanics of how things maybe work. But then those alone mean very little without life experiences and exposure. So I love to travel, we take every opportunity to do so and be exposed to different things. So yeah, school of life: Incredibly important. You got to go and live or else you cannot design. Like, every time I'm reviewing a design or designing something, I'm putting myself in the virtual experience and saying: How would this work, and I can only do so because I have experiences before. Either really great ones, that I want to draw from, or not so great ones I want to make better.

You got to go and live or else you cannot design.

What would you say you find lacking in today's design education that you might wish to change?

Colin I think more well-roundedness and not so much of a tunnel vision because I think design skill and processes, that's one core aspect, but there are so many others that we talked about. I think at least taste a foretaste of that should be shared at the school level.

More well-roundedness and not so much of a tunnel vision.

That's a good idea! So you said just now that you were an academic with NUS before setting up this studio. Would you ever return to teaching? And what would you do if you were not an architect?

Colin Oh, wow, those are slightly different questions. Yeah, I don't know. Maybe I would want to be an educator if I wasn't an architect, actually. I do have a passion for it. But have I, will I return? Yes, I have actually, several times. Most recently, like a few semesters teaching at the NUS at year three, invitation of a good friend and the whole undergraduate coordinator Assoc Professor Ong Ker-Shing (Shing), who also runs her own firm. And would I do it again? Yes, I would. It was quite exhausting to do it together with running a firm, and so I could only do it for a semester or two at a time. I think I needed to take a break but I definitely would return to it. I enjoyed engaging with – and especially when you meet really bright and driven students. I taught during the COVID and post-COVID years so that was a bit strange, studio culture was still a little bit fragmented, and I would love to see what it's like now that things are back in full swing. If I wasn't an architect, I would be an artist. Yeah, so I almost got a minor for that in undergraduate school, I had quite a few installation art courses, and I created quite a lot of incision pieces. In fact, I installed some illegally in my school, I even burst the water pipe, installing an installation undercover. (laughs)

Rachel (laughs) Woah!

Colin A few of my friends were digging, installing these totems – it was quite meaningful. And then I burst a water pipe and we tried to seal it with bubblegum. (laughs) And though we patched it back, next morning it was completely flooded and I got into trouble.

Rachel Oh dear.

Colin Yeah. So that's my other real passion. I mean in our home also, there're a lot of moments of installation art, with all kinds of mediums. I'm not very good with my hands, but I like thinking things through. And also I would love to pursue my culinary adventures a little bit more, maybe a bit more formally. I've tried, you know, a couple of times to do like private dining experiences, and those were fun, but maybe in a more regular way. Also, I would love to be able to be more involved at a bird's eye level in terms of design, maybe consulting or sitting on boards for companies or institutions where design thinking or design criticality is important – I think that there will be something lovely to do. So that there's a little bit of a more macro picture rather than just the projects that we work on. So like across the gamut from like really small stuff that you can hold in your hand, all the way up to maybe even policy or the way we think.

If I wasn't an architect, I would be an artist.

Actually you've been a speaker and judge for many events internationally. So how would you describe this experience compared to designing yourself?

Colin There are some jury panels that are really lovely because it's very democratic, and you know that there is no political agenda, and people are just genuinely wanting to talk about design and give the one with the most merit the award. And those are incredible. I've enjoyed that, like the Dezeen Awards was one of those. There're other awards where you sense that there is sort of an underlying agenda, because the award stands for something – which they all do, they need to, but sometimes then it sort of veers the conversation a certain way. So I'm well aware of the realism, or the reality of how awards run. And it's enjoyable to meet peers and discourse at that level, but also at the same time, I don't necessarily think it's a substitute for the creative gesture. For me, it's a little bit like the crit (critique), being a Crit in school – to be able to objectively sit back and say whether I like it or not, let me assess it for what it's worth. So it's the same mentality as when I teach, honestly. Except it's more one way, because there's no dialogue with the nominee right? You just consume what they show you, you don't talk to them.

For me, it's a little bit like the crit (critique), being a Crit in school – to be able to objectively sit back and say whether I like it or not, let me assess it for what it's worth.

That's interesting. So if you have one important takeaway that you would share with Singaporean design students, or architects, what would it be?

Colin Wow, you know, you asked this at a very timely juncture. Just two days ago, or a day ago, I had a super meaningful conversation with one of my ex-students, who is now also in his own right, a leading member of the design community here in Singapore. And there are quite a few of my former students who have really shone and become pillars of the community. And he was saying to me, just recounting – although I was a little bit of a scary tutor and made people cry, apparently. I don't even recall those. Apparently, I would destroy models. But then I asked: Maybe that model was a tensegrity; tension; structure model, and I had to test it? I don't know, maybe, (both laugh) but he said in spite of all of that, he is very appreciative of the mentorship that was given. And I felt so touched by it, because oftentimes you do what you do, but you don't actually know what kind of impact it has. And he said it with the utmost sincerity, that he was so thankful that we had crossed paths that way. And maybe he's what he is – I mean, he's obviously inherently very talented and gifted as an entrepreneur but he's also the way he is because of the people in his life, including people like myself.

So what I would say to people, and what I've always said to them is, I think you really – two things: One, you need to know yourself. Like I don't believe in the American dream, where "you can be whatever you want to be", I don't think so. I think people are made for – I'm not saying this to limit people, but in fact, to give people the freedom to be who they are – I think people are made differently with different skill sets and different propensities, either character-wise or skillset-wise. And it would be unwise, to not recognise that and not exploit that; fulfil that; accomplish as much as you can within those. So within recognising those limitations, you actually free yourself up to be the best you can be. Like, for instance, if a glass thought it was a hammer, it would be smashed. But if a glass recognises it's glass, it would be the most wonderful object to quench your thirst every time it held water, right? So I think you need to know what you are. And with that reality check, then commit and give it the best you can with the opportunities that you've been blessed with.

Rachel Wow, that's a really great way of phrasing it. And it kind of ties back to your religious beliefs right?

Colin Yeah.

Rachel That everyone is made individually for something.

Colin Yeah.

Rachel And given a certain set of gifts.

Colin I think so. I think we're made very much specifically to enjoy creation and the Creator who made the world, but we're also made uniquely by this Creator, to be living life to the fullest in a particular way. And I think you and I have both to some degree started on that trajectory, right? You've found something that you love doing and you're doing it, I too. That may change tomorrow, who knows, but I think living in constant awareness of who you are, knowing yourself. And knowing yourself also means knowing what you're not, as much as what you are. And I know I'm not a lot of things and I'm glad that I'm not doing those things. And what I am, I'm glad for the opportunity to be.

Rachel Nice. Okay, so I think that would be all for the Life Views section.

Colin Wow, okay! (laughs)

Rachel Let's move on to something fun!

Colin Okay, fun!

I know I’m not a lot of things and I’m glad that I’m not doing those things. And what I am, I’m glad for the opportunity to be.

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Colin The egg.

Rachel Why?

Colin Oh. I guess the chicken had to come from somewhere. (laughs) But then who created the egg, right? Okay. I don't know. Both. Chicken, egg. Egg, chicken. (laughs)

What are some of your favourite pastimes?

Colin I like sleeping in, I like lazing and watching a movie on the big projector screen. I love cooking a hearty meal and my wife saying that's the best meal she ever had.

What is your favourite song?

Colin Ooh. Probably U2's "All I want is You". Or, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".

Which country is most ideal for design companies to thrive in?

Colin I'd say Singapore is actually a really great platform. For many, many reasons, like how its central, how it's both East meets West, how its professionally run.

Who are some of your favourite creators?

Colin Definitely Peter Zumthor. I also love Ferdinand Porsche, who created you know, the "911" – one of my favourite cars. I love, let's see, I love Steve Jobs for creating all the Apple products.

Who's your greatest role model?

Colin Probably my father. Because to me design is great, but much more important is what's inside. And my father has been, or was my role model in terms of how to live life, how to face challenges, how to treat other people.

What's something you could eat every day for the rest of your life?

Colin Probably chicken rice – drumstick, and the kind where they soak the scallions in ginger oil.

Skydiving or deep-sea diving?

Colin Deep-sea diving. I've done that several times – I would never dare to skydive.

The ability to fly or super strength?

Colin Fly for sure. I can't imagine what it must be like to enjoy the world from that kind of perspective. Like a drone. I would love it. If I could drone right now, I would like totally. (imitates horizontal drone movement) Yeah, that would be great. (laughs)

If a genie were to grant you three wishes, what would they be?

Colin Oooh. You know that wish that keeps granting wishes, right? I would wish for that one. But that's cheating, I know. Okay, so what would I wish for? I would wish to be happily married for the rest of my life, I would wish for all my friends and family to be part of my life for as long as I live, and I would wish for a deep sense of contentment and peace in whatever circumstance I'm in.

If you could time travel, which time period would you go to and why?

Colin Oooh. Definitely to the future more than the past? Because it's unknown. And I love surprises that way.

Okay, the next one is a little complicated: Would you rather come face to face with a dozen rat-sized T-Rexes or a T-Rex-sized rat? Both of them are in a bad mood.

Colin That is probably the best question I've ever been asked in my entire life of being interviewed. I am terrified of rats. So a T-Rex-sized rat? I would basically pee in my pants and implode if I saw one. Even a normal-sized rat scares me to bits. So, definitely the rat-sized T-Rexes.

Okay, last one. Kim Jong Un or Hitler?

Colin Ohhh. Hitler has more personality. He is horrible x10 Kim Jong Uns, but more personality I think. I'm a bit of a WWII freak, and not like I respect or adore Hitler but I'm a bit of a Hitler fanatic. Any movie, or fact, or documentary on Hitler, I would love to watch it or I have watched it. He intrigues me for how maniacally evil, but also how clearly misguided but yet so committed to the ideas that he had.

Okay, that's all for today. Thank you so much Colin for joining us!

Colin Thank you! That was really fun.

Rachel And for taking time out of your busy schedule.

Colin No worries! It was a pleasure.

Rachel Yup, we really enjoyed it!

New Interviews

Graphic Design


Interior Design

Ministry of Design

Related Interviews

Architecture Design

Zarch Collaboratives

Architecture Design


Interior Design