Small is beautiful
Even with smaller and limited budgets, designs can be beautiful and interesting, says architect Joseph Lee of BHATCH Architects.
Architect Joseph Lee in his office at Tywritt Road © URA
By Serene Tng
In the middle of architect Joseph Lee’s office at Tyrwhitt Road is a colourful display of models. “They are slightly different from the conventional ones in the sense that these are made up of actual materials that we want to test out for various projects we are working on,” says Joseph who started his firm, BHATCH Architects in 2014.
Display of models in BHATCH Architects’ office © URA
Experimentation is particularly important for Joseph. His firm’s work ranges from houses, cafes, offices to public projects. Their design process is highly inclusive in involving clients and stakeholders and uses a range of strategies in exploring materials and ideas. This is especially so for projects with limited budgets.
“Good design need not be expensive,” he says. Chatty with infectious energy, Joseph tells us why architects should talk more to one another and why he misses the former Tiong Bahru market.
1. What do you love most about being an architect?
Joseph: It is the diverse social interactions that I encounter every day with clients, stakeholders, contractors and others that I find most fascinating. I enjoy the process of understanding the brief and developing design solutions together with people.
2. You have taken on many projects with limited budgets.
Joseph: I find it very exciting and challenging to be able to produce beautiful and compelling designs even with smaller budgets.
3. Tell us about one project that challenged your creativity.
Joseph: It was my first shophouse project in Joo Chiat. The owner wanted to do a three-storey extension in the rear and the budget was tight. I saw it as a challenge to do something interesting. At that time, I was running a studio at the National University of Singapore. There was a stockpile of bamboo left over from the course.
I bought all of it for $150 and used it to create the façade for the shop house. It shows that good designs need not be expensive. It is about exploring the use of material and continuing to be creative in designing something meaningful.
61 Joo Chiat Terrace showing the bamboo textured wall © Jeremy San
4. Your firm has an interesting name.
Joseph: It is inspired from the boundary hatch, a command from AutoCAD, a software programme used to create two-dimensional and three-dimensional designs. It reminds us that in everything we do, we always work within a framework and various parameters. But this does not limit design itself.
We see designing as limitless. We want to produce designs that are authentic and relevant. Whether it is a small space or a project with an unusual shape, we welcome all challenges, it makes us work harder and be more creative.
One of BHATCH Architects’ projects at 3 Wimborne Road © Goh Jin Chuan
5. Who inspires you?
Joseph: Fellow architects. I learn a lot from conversations with my peers. There is always something to gain from every interaction. It is also a chance to share with each other our stories and struggles.
6. How do you see the role of the architect evolving?
Joseph: As our cities grow more complex and interconnected, there is a need for architects to relate more to the urban landscape and to each other. I was part of an interesting project, “The Lien Villas Collective” when I was at K2LD Architects where six houses in Singapore were designed by six architects for a family, connected by a common landscape.
The architects met every month to understand each other’s designs and how each of the houses relate to each other as a whole. The project is a reminder on the need for architects to interact more with each other to explore how their designs can contribute to the larger urban fabric.
Architect Joseph Lee in discussion in his office © URA
7. You grew up in Tiong Bahru and now you live there. Why is the neighbourhood special to you?
Joseph: I like that the neighbourhood is constantly refreshing itself. There is a lot of energy and vibrancy amidst the cafes, shops and communities that is different from any other estate.
8. If you can create or alter something in Singapore with no constraints, what would it be?
Joseph: I would bring back the old Tiong Bahru market. Markets tend to be the focal point for many cities. There is something about the old market that I miss - the smell of food, the chatter, cooking at 2am.
BHATCH Architects’ works are on display at an inaugural exhibition, “Small Firms, Big Ideas” at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)’s new AUDE Space until 20 August 2019. The exhibition showcases the works of eight architectural firms through models, images and drawings that reimagine and rethink spaces and landscapes around Singapore.
Located at The URA Centre’s first storey atrium at 45 Maxwell Road, the dedicated exhibition space seeks to inspire good architecture and design in Singapore as part of URA’s Architecture & Urban Design Excellence (AUDE) programme. It will also share new ideas and best practices in improving the quality of the built environment.
For more information about the AUDE Space, go to URA.sg/aude.