For founder of MAKK Architects Lee May Anne, architecture is a personal and introspective journey with unique rewards.
28 January, 2015
The business of architecture is not an easy one, so it is understandably quite rare to find an architect that has built an entirely solo career by choice. But Lee May Anne, founder of Singaporean practice MAKK Architects, has done exactly that for the past 12 years.
Interestingly Lee began her career in architecture at the other end of the spectrum working first for the Housing Development Board (HDB), before joining a large local architectural firm.
“Half the time you are pressing the buttons of the calculator, trying to work out the GFAs and match your client’s requirements, which are mainly economically driven. Design is often secondary,” says Lee.
Having spent close to five years working for big organisations in both the public and private sector, Lee soon came to the realisation that to keep her personal passion for architecture alive would mean branching out on her own.
“I’ve always been very much a ‘solo’ type of person, even in school. I love my friends, we party… but when it comes to work, I work best by myself. And I tend to internalise my thoughts; I struggle within myself and talk it out [on my own]. I guess that’s my comfort zone,” she says.
Lee took the plunge in 2002 with the opening of her own studio, White Site Design Lab. A partner joined her soon after but left after about two years, prompting her to re-open her practice independently as Ash Works, before changing the name to MAKK Architects in 2005 when she became a registered architect.
Lee says that one important advantage of running the firm on her own is that it gives her the ability to take a selective approach to the type of clients she works with and ultimately, have greater control over the type of portfolio and profile she wishes to establish
The firm’s portfolio is made up significantly of residential projects; indeed, given Lee’s passion for creating emotive spaces, and personalised, idiosyncratic details that speak volumes about the client, it is hardly surprising that this is where her deepest passions lie. Each project begins with a friendly chat with the client where Lee takes in not merely what is said, but how it is said. She also makes quiet observations of the way they live. She reveals that more often than not, these clients – who would have already seen her body of work – tend to give her free reign in the design.
The firm also does commercial projects, including the interiors of offices and retail spaces, which she says are often rather conceptual in nature. “When I work on offices [for example, the clients are usually] younger firms in the creative field that are a little more open to different ideas… the interiors [therefore tend] to be more experimental or have a little more of an interesting edge.”
Lee says that commercial projects are interesting for the fact that they allow the designer to push an idea “all the way”. This is particularly so in retail as “it’s about this broad idea, something that will attract the passer-by.”
“I think because of that, the possibilities [here] for design are so much larger,” she says.
Lee notes that an increasing number of architects have chosen to branch out on their own in recent years. While she sees this as a positive display of an entrepreneurial spirit, she also personally feels that starting one’s own practice has to be done for the right reasons.
“I don’t want a nine to five job, I don’t want to do crazy hours… that’s often the first thing on people’s minds when they say ‘I want to start my own office’. For an architect, I don’t think that’s the right way to think about it. You start out [on your own] because you really want to do something that you wouldn’t be able to do in other firms.”
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