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Ong Ker-Shing: The Edge of Architecture

Is multidisciplinary practice for everyone? In a seminar at 100% Design Singapore 2013, Ong Ker-Shing shared insights into Lekker Design’s diverse project portfolio. Afterwards, Narelle Yabuka spoke to her about industry shifts, changing client priorities, and the growing need for diversity.

Ong Ker-Shing: The Edge of Architecture


BY

18 September, 2013


Top image: Ong Ker-Shing, pictured here with husband and business partner Joshua Comaroff

An enormous breadth of project types fills the portfolio of Lekker Design – from a landscape master plan for Singapore’s Mediapolis (with Bernard Tschumi and CPG Consultants), to houses, book authorship, shop scenography, and a fleeting pop-up ‘secret garden’ for a one-night Hermès event.

Mediapolis

Mediapolis

In a seminar titled ‘The Edge of Architecture’, Lekker co-director Ong Ker-Shing led her audience at 100% Design Singapore on a tour through a range of the studio’s diverse projects and shared insights into the growth of a multidisciplinary approach to practice.

Belmount

Belmont House

Ong and her husband/business partner Joshua Comaroff met at Harvard where they obtained master’s degrees in architecture and landscape architecture. Explains Ong, “Halfway through our architecture degrees, we decided to do landscape as well. We found that really helped us as architects to think a little more experientially about our work, rather than getting caught up in conceptual ideas and being purely formalist.”

“Our happy place is right in the middle,” she says, referencing projects such as the Belmont House, for which Lekker undertook the design of the landscape as well as the architecture. “When we get to do both, we get to produce a better, stronger total environment.”

Lekker Design

Artist’s home and studio

She continues, “And we’ve been lucky with our landscape capability; people give you far bigger projects than they would if you were solely an architect.” Lekker is currently working on designs for the landscape at Yale-NUS College, some large parks for Singapore’s National Parks Board, a childcare centre, and two small houses.

Hermes

Hermes window display

Hermes

Hermes window display

But it is what Lekker calls ‘special projects’ that have been keeping the eight-person studio particularly busy of late. “A lot of the work we’ve been doing recently is temporary construction,” says Ong. “This portion of our practice has really grown. We enjoy it and our office is becoming known for it.”

Hermes

Hermes window display

Temporary installations for arts events and window displays for Hermès have not only provided a steady stream of projects; they’ve also been invaluably refreshing for Ong and Comaroff. “Having the chance to completely switch scales and figure out how to put together shuttlecocks, for example [for a Hermès window display], is a wonderful relief from drawing abstract lines all day. It’s like exercise for the brain. We find it’s really healthy for us as a practice.”

Lekker Design

Hermes Secret Garden

So was this multidisciplinary approach to practice designed, a necessity, or a bit of both? “It started out designed, but it’s really become a necessity,” says Ong, referring to the competitiveness of practice in Singapore. “Small architecture firms need to diversify. Small houses – even semi-ds – are being done by gigantic architecture firms these days. It’s kind of crazy that small firms don’t even have houses as their main fodder anymore.”

Lekker Design

Hermes Secret Garden

Lekker Design

Hermes Secret Garden

The shifting boundaries of creative practice are also having an effect. “A lot of graphic designers become interior designers, and some want to become architects. I always thought of them as being very separate skills sets or knowledge sets. But increasingly it seems that the industry is moving that way, and somehow clients seem tolerant to that. Before, there was this idea that you needed to have expertise in something. Now it seems that expertise is not important, but rather it’s the way you think.”

Lekker Design

Memory Garden, Singapore American School

Lekker Design

Memory Garden, Singapore American School

Despite the challenges faced by small firms, Ong relishes the experiences that continue to emerge for Lekker. “I’m really enjoying the breadth of projects we have, and getting to understand a little of how everything works. I’m glad we don’t have just one type of client.”

Lekker Design

Singapore Arts Festival ‘Village’

See Lekker Design’s shophouse reinvention at Lorong 24A, Geylang in Cubes issue 63.

Lekker Design
lekkerdesign.com


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