Issue 83 March 2016
Lekker Architects compare design to a game, in which they find great pleasure in unravelling. We speak to the firm’s founders on their playful, rigourous brand of architecture and design.
If you have stood before the Hermes stores’ window displays in Singapore, completely absorbed by the whimsical, colourful artwork – a flower created out of shuttlecocks, for instance – and felt inspired, you have Lekker Architects to thank. The Singapore-based multidisciplinary design studio is behind the ingenious presentations that are as playful as they are intricate.
Helmed by the husband-and-wife team, Joshua Comaroff and Ong Ker-Shing, Lekker Architects was established in 2002 (then as Lekker Design). With a portfolio comprising architecture, landscape, interior, exhibition, window display and product design, including their recent series of fantastical yet functional public seating for the National Gallery Singapore, the 12-person studio truly epitomises what it is to be multidisciplinary. In fact, the research-driven couple are also book writers, having released the tome ‘Horror in Architecture’ in 2013 about strange, atypical building types.
“We are both very curious about what makes design ‘tick’; about its theories and how people inhabit it,” says Ong on the conceptual rigour that goes into each project. “We have always thought that design, itself, is a form of research – if you do it properly.” Play and rigour – these define their design method. “It goes back to our Harvard days; we have always enjoyed the ‘game’ of design, where you take a bunch of rules or constraints and then discover your room to play,” says Comaroff (both studied architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design). “We compare the pleasure – and struggle – of design to being an escape artist. The more constraints you are forced to deal with, the more impossible the escape seems, the greater the thrill.”
At the same time, it is also important that their projects are emotive. This is particularly essential in their latest crop of projects: the President’s Design Award-winning The Caterpillar’s Cove child development facility, Kindle Garden – an inclusive school for both typically developing and special-needs kids – and Playbox, an artspace for young children in the Esplanade that is in progress. Like the Hermes window displays, these spaces are created to instil whimsy, joy and surprise. In fact, working on the former was instrumental in their design of spaces for children, “which we believe need to support a magical understanding of the world,” says Ong.
This beautiful way of approaching design has touched many. It is no surprise that Lekker Architects has received a Maison & Objet Asia’s Rising Asian Talent Award this year. For Camoroff and Ong, good quality design not only satisfies the brief beautifully but also articulates a highly personal voice that has something to say about architecture. Theirs certainly meet the criteria.