WOHA on first encounters with architecture
Living the dream
By Justin Zhuang
WOHA’s architects Wong Mun Summ and Phua Hong Wei talk about their first encounters with architecture and living the dream. Both are identified in the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)’s ‘20 under 45’ series that recognises Singapore-registered architects across generations. WOHA’s work has garnered global and local accolades, known for their innovative and diverse designs.
What was your first encounter with architecture?
Mun Summ: I used to live in Tanglin Halt, and once after coming back from a midnight movie, I ran so quickly that I didn’t realise there was a barrier. I flew and my face landed on the tarmac. That was my first encounter with really hard architecture! I became an architect because I wanted to make sure things are softer!
Hong Wei: I remember my first Lego set. That was something that I liked to play with: to put things together, pull them apart and put them together again into different things. It was exciting and empowering to be able to imagine and structure the space.
Tell us about one work of yours.
Hong Wei: I always look back at Enabling Village because that is a project that really touches the people on the street. It has been two years since its completion and I still get called back to do tours and presentations. I enjoy doing it: to share our thinking process and see how others react to what was done.
Mun Summ: Enabling Village is a good example of how architects shouldn’t over think design. We hit the right level of intervention and created a framework for things to happen. That’s what an architect’s role should be: facilitating rather than building. Enabling Village has a very strong sense of place because of ownership by the community.
What is one thing you like to see more (or less) in Singapore architecture?
Mun Summ: I want to see more project managers coming back to the architecture side, because we need the strength and the manpower.
Hong Wei: More synergy and generosity, less segregation and duplication.
What is a piece of Singapore architecture you wish more people would notice?
Mun Summ: Five-footways were the best invention by Sir Stamford Raffles as they cover and connect the city. It is integrated into the building typology, making it smart, useful and meaningful.
Hong Wei: UOB’s sheltered plaza, which I walk through to get to the office every day. It’s a space that is civic minded, and gives back to the people.
A dream project?
Mun Summ: I’m living the dream, can’t ask for more.
Hong Wei: Another Enabling Village or a community integrated development. My graduating dissertation looked at how common spaces evolved from community centres as social condensers to commercial malls where everything is the same. Today, community centres have returned as major integrated developments like Kampung Admiralty. This is an interesting progression in typology—and it is uniquely rojak! Enabling Village demonstrates how old/vacated buildings or plots can be re-purposed into a meaningful social infrastructure deep in the heartlands.
Complete the sentence: Architecture is not…
Hong Wei: … about form, not about being iconic, not about “look at me”. It’s about how the design can contribute back to society and the environment.
Mun Summ: … about me, it’s about you.
The ‘20 under 45’ series recognises Singapore-registered architects across generations. The third edition was unveiled in 2017 recognising a new group of 20 architects under the age of 45. The architects for the series were selected by a panel of assessors from the architectural profession and other related industries, based on their range of works that reflect their achievements in design, ideas and leadership.
For more information about the series and to purchase the third edition book, go to URA’s website