WASAA on the craft of making
Space ships, mountains and skate parks – architect Wu Huei Siang is focused on craft-making.
By Serene Tng
“Architecture cannot be rushed,” says 33-year-old architect Wu Huei Siang who lets us into his intimate office space at Kreta Ayer which reflect his quiet and unassuming style. He started WASAA Architects & Associates in 2016 to focus on the practice of craft-making, designing spaces and buildings that are simple and delightful.
His firm has five staff including his partner, Austen Chan, 36. So far, the firm has designed houses, apartments, landscapes, an art installation to showcase Singapore’s creatives in Tokyo and even a hotel that looks like a spaceship which did not materialise. He is now working on restoring one of the oldest shophouses along Hong Kong Street where he discovered pulley baskets within.
Sketch of the shophouse of Hong Kong Street with a six-storey new annex addition © WASAA
1. How did you come to choose the path of being an architect?
Huei Siang: Growing up in a family of wood workers, I’ve always been fascinated by the craft of making something with available materials and treating the design process and resources with great respect. My father is one of the last few remaining craftsmen trained in Shanghai. We used to live at Petain Road and I can still remember the smell of lumber. Choosing architecture was actually a last minute decision. I was already offered a place in engineering but changed my mind at the last minute. I wanted to try something different.
Completed house at Frankel by Huei Siang for his friend’s father © Rebecca Toh Photography
2. You started WASSA in 2016. What was the inspiration to start your own practice?
Huei Siang: It was working on a friend’s father house that inspired me to want to start something on my own. It was a very personal project for me and for my friend’s father. Both his grandfather and father were deeply involved in the process of renovating the house back in the 1970s and in this second alteration. To continue to retain the many personal and vivid memories of the house for the family, I tried to reuse as much of the past materials as possible. It got me thinking about how we need to keep finding creative ways of being more sustainable in our designs.
3. What do you hope to bring across in your projects?
Huei Siang: I hope to bring joy and spark delight for clients and people using the designed spaces whether it is a major or smaller project. It is one of the oldest principles of architecture.
WASAA office at Kreta Ayer © URA
4. What are some of the challenges of running the practice?
Huei Siang: Persuading people to understand the value of our work and the profession. And learning how to balance and manage the many different facets of running the practice beyond just the design work.
5. What is it about being an architect that you enjoy the most?
Huei Siang: Being able to design meaningful spaces and create spaces that can trigger our emotions and influence people in a deeper way.
Singapore Inside Out 2017 in Tokyo showcasing Singapore’s creatives. WASAA was the architecture advisor. © WASAA
6. Who inspires you?
Huei Siang: My professor at the National University of Singapore has kept me grounded on the purpose and value of architecture. Swiss architect Peter Zumthor is an inspiration too. He was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2009 at the age of 66 and that reminds me on the importance of focusing on the craft. It takes time and effort to be good at it. Architecture cannot be rushed.
7. Which is your favourite part of Singapore’s landscape?
Huei Siang: The coastlines of Singapore, whether it is the east coast or the west coast. I like to immerse myself in the natural elements. It frees your mind and soul.
WASAA organises talks at their office to encourage an exchange of ideas © WASAA
8. How do you see the role of the architect evolving?
Huei Siang: I see the architect doing a lot more engagement and discussion with stakeholders and users to understand what they want and need in a designed space and how they will be using the space. We are working on a skate park in the west and we have been actively engaging the community to really design a space that they are excited about and where skaters would want to use regularly.
9. If you can create something instantly in Singapore with no constraints, what would it be?
Huei Siang: I would build a mountain right in the middle of Singapore, just to introduce more of the natural elements in our landscape. We take our environment for granted sometimes and it would be good to always be reminded and confronted with it.
WASAA’s works are on display at an inaugural exhibition, “Small Firms, Big Ideas” at the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)’s new AUDE Space until 20 June 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.