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Friday, June 27, 2008

Visionary Designers - Pictures courtesy of PAM 2008

A futuristic theatre in Rotterdam designed by Ben Van Berkel.

Are traditional construction material such as timber and stone still relevant in modern buildings and urban development? Global design visionaries Kengo Kuma from Japan and Ben Van Berkel from The Netherlands will offer a peek into futuristic designs at the PAM 2008 architectural convention in KL from July 3-5.

Organised by the Malaysia Institute of Architects (PAM), the annual event which includes the Kuala Lumpur Design Forum (KLDF08), will also have 13 other avant-garde architects and designers presenting their ideas, namely:

* Bjarke Ingels (Denmark)

* Hanif Kara (UK)

* Hou Liang (China)

* Nader Tehrani (USA)

* Rene Tan & Quek Tse Kwang (Singapore)

* Hailim Suh (Korea)

* Voon Wong (Malaysia/UK)

* Dr Tan Loke Mun (Malaysia)

* Shinya Kamuro (Japan)

* Benson Saw (Malaysia/UK)

* John Jong (Malaysia)

*Lewre Lew (Malaysia)

It is expected to attract 1,000 architects and designers from around the region. Regarded as a master in his field, the multiple-award winning architect Kengo Kuma, 54, is best known for his use of timber in a modern way. He was awarded the International Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture Award in 2002. Among his major works include the Kirosan Observatory (1995) and the Stone Museum (2000) for which he received the International Stone Architecture Award in 2001. Since 2001, he has been a professor at the Faculty of Science & Technology, Keio University in Japan. His architectural practice, Kengo Kuma & Associates was established in 1990.

Kengo Kuma

Hanif Kara

In an email interview, Kuma says he favours timber as it is a “light” material and can be “tender, warm and soft” on the human body.

“Every single tree is different and beautifully varied,” explains Kuma, “I commonly use cedar which has a sharp contrast of colours between red and white, and its grain is dynamic. Also, it is more ‘tender’ than other trees.” Other material used by the architect include stones but preferably those found locally.

“Stones produced in the region where the project is taking place. By using the local stone, you can draw out the originality of that particular region, such as Oya Ishi stone of the Tochigi Prefecture in Japan.” Kuma regards the way he makes full use of natural materials as his best achievement as an architect. And “making the architecture transparent”.

Ben Van Berkel is the architect for the Design School in Hong Kong.

He cites traditional Japanese architecture and garden - especially wooden teahouses - as his greatest inspiration. As for design trends in Japan today, Kuma notes that people are paying more attention to the design of ‘small spaces’. “Japanese people have always liked small spaces. If people lose interest in big space or the city, it might mean that the city would lose their energy and momentum.”

And any design that ignores or overlooks its environment can be considered as ugly in his opinion.

The most outstanding design project he has ever seen?

“Venice as a city. The city itself is the result of design, the result of the Venetians’ philosophy.”

An unlikely-looking Frankfurt teahouse designed by Kengo Kuma.

His dream project will be an architectural work built with nature in mind, “as if it is hidden in it”, he says, “The smaller it is, the more it becomes challenging to test our wisdom”.

As for his lecture in Kuala Lumpur, Kuma hope to enable participants to feel and be exposed to the philosophy behind his projects.

At the KLDF 08 preceding the main convention, two key speakers will be Malaysian products designer Benson Saw and his Singaporean partner Voon Wong, a graduate of the Architectural Association in London.

“We intend to share with participants our experiences of how we got started in London and what were the obstacles in being a product designer not just in Malaysia but in Europe,” says Saw, in an email interview.

“When I was working as a design engineer for Motorola, I realised that there are more than just compacting technology into a small apparatus. There were at least 200 engineers and designers involved in bringing a product to end-users. Each one of us had a role in changing how people interact with technology. Subsequently, I enrolled in a post graduate design course and quickly realised how good product design could change a person’s way of life.

“We started doing very small batch productions for European clients. Within a short period of time, we were engaged by some Italian companies and that’s when we started to have a more international audience. We have also recently started our own production of tableware which are distributed world wide.

“Most of our clients are those who wanted something more than just mass produced products. These are people who are highly sensitive to the value of good design.

“The media and press in the West are very encouraging throughout our careers as product designers. Through such exposure, clients who appreciate the language of our design come to us for commissions and collaborations.

Buildings of the future will look like this, if Hanif Kara has his ways.

“Our recently launched tableware were less receptive in Asia as consumers here in general are still not yet drawn to products that are not associated to established brands. We design lamps, lighting installation, furniture and tableware.” And the duo’s proudest achievement to have come out of the Voonwong & Bensonsaw company, was the Loop lamp for Fontana Arte which was short-listed for the prestigious Compasso d’Oro award.

“We came in second to Herzog and de Meuron. However, I think we are most proud of being beaten but these two great architects,” says Saw.

Does KL or Malaysia, offer a conducive environment for the kind of work that they do?

Hanif Kara designed this building as a science centre.

“The low cost of living in Malaysia enables me to experiment with various ideas. In Europe, it will cost too much to get certain ideas onto the prototype level. On the other hand, the number of practising product designers in this country has subsided, hence, it is increasingly difficult to engage good product designers. Most product designers get disillusioned with this profession two or three years after completing their formal education,” explains Saw.

“Product design is very much in its infancy in this region. One needs a lot of perseverance and determination. He or she needs to find his or her own identity and not merely duplicating others. There are a lot of European companies now looking for new ideas from the Far East. The time will come when there will be more designers from this region being recognised on the international level. This will not happen overnight but maybe in 10 years’ time when the designers in Asia have matured.

“It is very challenging to make ends meet being a product designer in Malaysia at this stage as the country is still very manufacturing-based. I do practise consultancy work in interior architecture.

This design project by Voonwong & Bensonsaw is for a private residence in London. It is actually a loft apartment converted from an old school in Kenington.

"From time to time, I do get projects where clients require a one-off product and furniture to be designed specifically for the project. More and more clients are beginning to be aware of the value of such commissioned designs. These kind of projects enable me to think more from a product designer’s point of view.” And what kind of design that he can't stand the sight of?

“The kind of design that make too much of a statement especially about the designer. It should be more about the idea and product not about the designer.”

* For details of the PAM 2008 Convention, log on to or call Pusat Binaan Sdn Bhd at 03-26932843.

By the Star (by Johnni Wong)

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