Committed to designing to enrich lives, WY-TO Group challenges the status quo with conscious interventions that traverse project typologies and set sights on mitigating societal global challenges in urbanism and the built environment.
1 August, 2023
As a multi-disciplinary and sustainable built environment firm based in Singapore and Paris, WY-TO Group has been making a mark in the design industry locally and internationally with projects that actively strive to achieve goals of optimising and meeting sustainable goals in urban landscapes. With local firm Provolk Architects as its newest member, the recently formed collective WY-TO Group is taking its design motto ‘Design With A Cause’ to new heights, aligning inventive approaches with humanitarian considerations while striving to make a difference with every project.
When it comes to WY-TO Group’s design philosophy, there is a strong humanistic and almost activist thread that runs through the firm’s many projects, with the ‘Design With A Cause’ motto also serving as a recognisable company trademark to the company’s returning and new clients. Although WY-TO Group’s Principal Yann Follain and WY-TO Singapore Director, Founder and Director of Provolk Architects Jonathan Poh refrain from calling their design interests as ‘activist’, they settle on what they refer to as ‘soft activism’.
“What we do, the way we convey and what we believe in – whether towards sustainability, towards well-being or towards conservation – it is not just activist,” clarifies Follain. “When we see how the change in climate is affecting our lives and our own generation, the urgency is beyond making an impact, it is our responsibility to act. This is the kind of soft activism we promote.”
WY-TO Group’s long running chronology of projects delivers a strong testament to the type of activism that the group has committed itself towards over the years. Whether it is working for a cause for the people, well-being, planet, sustainability, biodiversity or even prosperity, there is a strive towards protecting heritage, encouraging and remembering the intangible culture that makes every project and context unique.
The most recent series of projects has seen the WY-TO Group push the firm’s research in multiple directions and scales involving numerous consultants and stakeholders globally. Within the diverse project scales, Follain and Poh share the goal to connect complex elements to deliver a story – to constantly innovate in their design processes and to relate theoretical and practical applications to ways of generating intangible culture that will last and nurture the next generations.
“Our approach is always grounded in research and contextual sensitivity from which we start to develop stories,” describes Poh. “We never look at form first. Our first important consideration is the context; we dive deep into the context and we work from there to do something that’s meaningful.”
As a testament to the WY-TO Group’s overarching philosophy, some of the group’s recently-won projects have been pushing the boundaries of responsible and responsive contextual design. One example is the winning proposal for the Bukit Timah Fire Station that the WY-TO Group team is currently busy developing as a testbed to demonstrate how existing structures can be sensitively reused. The Paya Lebar Air Base Concept Masterplan was another eye-opening project in which Follain worked collaboratively with multiple teams that brought an opportunity to reconnect with urban planning (which was also a focus of one of Follain’s electives during his school years).
Other recent projects include the Old Changi Hospital and Pasir Panjang Power District competitions which have allowed the duo to testbed innovative ideas and develop systemic approaches to the subject matter and the design challenges that were initially very broad. In Poh’s words, “In both projects, we were not just interested in doing buildings per se, but how systems work around buildings and, subsequently, how buildings could act to respond to their environment.”
Beyond physical projects, the WY-TO Group’s brand of ‘soft activism’ trickles down even to the directors’ contributions through external involvements and engagements, where leading by example has become a part of the group’s philosophy. “Contributing to the society, the education, nurturing of the others – whatever we do at the office – we are also in charge of many things that raise awareness of how to build and create mindfully,” attests Follain.
Follain himself has been active in several local and international organisations such as (Society for Experimental Graphic Design) as a Singapore Chapter co-founder and as a curator of Cosentino Asia’s bi-annual TAB Series, while Poh has played an active role in the Singapore design and heritage community over the years as a founder of the Save Dakota Crescent initiative, the Secretary of Docomomo’s (Documentation And Conservation of the Modern Movement) Singapore Chapter and a council member at the Singapore Institute of Architects.
“All of our commitments in and out of the office are at the same level of importance which creates a set of values that our whole team can relate to,” stresses Follain, alluding also to the recently published set of six green commitments (WY-TO GROUP’S GREEN COMMITMENTS) that the WY-TO Group released to establish a framework to align its mission, values and vision with like-minded partners for longevity and success and as a running WY-TO Group ethos.
“The way we created our commitments is by understanding the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and also the local context in terms of the sustainable regulations,” concur Follain and Poh. “We really took a strong effort in understanding what we’ve been doing. All of that we’ve been lucky enough to share among our partners and members of the WY-TO Group. The six commitments totally represent what we do and what we stand for.”
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