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Park+Associates: Architecture as a Way of Life

Park+Associates was recently propelled into the limelight with their award-winning office design that melded modernity and heritage. Luo Jingmei finds out more about the architecture firm’s ethos and ambitions.

Singapore-based architecture firm Park+Associates is helmed by Lim Koon Park in 1999. In the following years, he roped in Tan Peng Geok and Christina Thean, who are now directors.

The firm recently garnered much attention for the design of their new office, housed in the old Nan Chiau High School’s staff lounge and library. Their design integrated new functions into the old, barrel-vaulted space in a way that was sensitive to the old architecture but also exuded a sleek, contemporary vibe. It is a workspace that is by no means staid. For their efforts, the office won several accolades; it was the Design Award Winner for the 14th Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) Architectural Design Awards (Interior Architecture, Commercial category), the winner for the Interior Design Best of the Year Award 2014 and also a shortlist at the INSIDE World Festival of Interiors Awards 2014 (Adaptive Re-use category).

“The design direction for this new workspace was largely driven by a reaction against the rigidity of the typical bureau. We were looking for an alternative environment that questions convention; celebrates informal spaces and revels in the masquerade of commonplace office functions, hence the theme ‘Anti-Office’”, says Park.

Winning the SIA Architectural Design Award was particularly significant for the firm in affirming the quality of work it has been focusing on. Additionally, shares Park, it has helped to improve the profile of the firm. “The award has put out firm out there and we are getting letters of interest from job applicants locally and within the region. This is important as we are always looking to nurture talent and work with like-minded individuals who are passionate about architecture as a way of life and not just a job.”

This statement is in line with Park’s ethos of going beyond just dollars and sense. “I started the practice with the idealism that there is more to the practice of architecture than bottom lines and profit. The practice should also embrace passion and enthusiasm for the projects, exploration of ideas and joy in wanting to create something different. It is this similar belief that has drawn the founders together,” he explains.

When it comes to working on projects, each new commission is seen as “an opportunity to transform a space into a delightful experience – an experience that transcends visual stimulation,” Park expounds. Understanding the site, recognising subtleties – the strengths and character inherent in the space – enhancing and celebrating them are key factors in a design, much like what has been done to their office space.

Not coincidentally, their previous office space, while quite different in design from the current space, embraces the same spirit of adventure and ingenuity in its attempt to create a different kind of workspace. That project also won an SIA Architectural Design Award.

“We try to approach each new project (regardless of typology) as a fresh opportunity to do something new, something different. Built environments are not just about fulfilling functional requirements but also about fulfilling client aspirations and allowing the spaces to transform and elevate the way people behave and interact,” comments Park.

This way of thinking extends to how he runs the office – as a democratic, discussion-based and community driven studio. Park stresses that it is vital to cultivate “an environment that promotes experimentation and motivating one another to produce better architecture. Therefore we try to keep the energy within the office intense, yet harmonious.” Indeed, as the generous and cosy pantry in their office goes to show, staff welfare is well taken care of. Furthermore, it continues to encourage the casual and intimate atmosphere of the previously 10-person office that is now 60-strong.

While the firm started off with more residential projects in its fold, its portfolio is steadily increasing in diversity and scale. In 2012, they were presented with the opportunity to work on a mixed-use development from a Malaysian developer spanning 10 acres of land, and also won a closed competition for the design of the Hwa Chong International School and alumni building. To date, they are also working on a warehouse – a project they are clearly excited about – an addition and alteration project to the Nanyang Girls’ High School (in progress) and the Ritz Carlton in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia (in progress).

And while the firm continues to search for new typologies to design – “a resort hotel” is on Park’s dream list – single-family houses will always be part of their portfolio. “They provide a great platform to work with like-minded clients to produce interesting results in a short turnaround time. With home, there is typically more opportunity to create something innovative as there is less focus on efficiency and also the regulatory guidelines are less stringent than say in that of an apartment building,” says Park.

For now, he is grateful with the opportunities presented to the firm. “The range of projects that we have helps to retain talent as the staff do not feel that they need to move to a different firm in order to experience different types of projects,” says Park. “It also helps to keep our colleagues enthused and motivated, and prevents the work from becoming boring as we constantly feel that we are discovering new things and that we are still learning.