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Wu Huei Siang: I Hope To Bring Joy And Spark Delight

The founder of WASAA Architects & Associates wants to do this through craft-making and active engagement with the community

“Architecture cannot be rushed,” says 34-year-old architect Wu Huei Siang, who lets us into his intimate office space at Kreta Ayer, which reflects his quiet and unassuming style.

The founder of WASAA Architects & Associates, he started it in 2016 to focus on the practice of craft-making and designing spaces and buildings that are simple and delightful.

His firm has five staff including his partner, Austen Chan, 37.

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 unfortunately did not materialise.

He is currently working on restoring one of the oldest shophouses along Hong Kong Street where he discovered pulley baskets within.

How did you become an architect?

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 had already been offered a place in engineering but changed my mind at the last minute. I wanted to try something different.

You started WASAA in 2016. What was the inspiration to start your own practice?

It was working on a friend’s father house that inspired me 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.  

What do you hope to bring across in your projects?

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.

What are some of the challenges of running the practice?

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.

What do you enjoy most about being an architect?

Being able to design meaningful spaces and create spaces that can trigger our emotions and influence people in a deeper way. 

Who inspires you?

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 of the importance of focusing on the craft. It takes time and effort to be good at it. Architecture cannot be rushed.

Which is your favourite part of Singapore’s landscape?

The coastlines of Singapore, whether it is the east or west coast. I like to immerse myself in the natural elements. It frees your mind and soul. 

How do you see the role of the architect evolving?

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.

If you can create something instantly in Singapore with no constraints, what would it be?

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 of and confronted with it.

WASAA Architects & Associates works were exhibited at the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) AUDE Space in July 2019. Launched in 2019 at The URA Centre at 45 Maxwell Road, AUDE Space is a dedicated platform that seeks to inspire good architecture and design in Singapore as part of URA’s Architecture & Urban Design Excellence (AUDE) programme. The URA Centre is currently closed until further notice due to COVID-19. Click here for more information about the AUDE Space. This article first appeared on the Board of Architects website.

Serene Tng
15 May 2020