FOR KL-BASED STUDIO BIKIN, SPEAKING THE LOCAL DISCOURSE IN TERMS OF CONTEXT, MATERIAL AND TECHNIQUE ALLOWS FOR REAL LIFE DYNAMICS TO SET IN
“Bikin’ actually means make” described Adela Askandar of the name behind the Kuala Lumpur-based design studio’s practice. “It is a very local language and a type of slang if you will, something of a workmens’ language,” furthered co-founder Farah Azizan.
A fitting dialect for the character of designs Studio Bikin has been producing that, while ranging in scale from architecture and interiors to hand-crafted works of furniture, are all in close conversation with the local discourse in terms of context, material and technique.
“My background is in landscape design and Adela’s is in interior design, but we are never strict about setting ourselves within a category. Regardless of whether we are designing a house, a garden or a chair, we apply the same overriding conceptual principles,” explained Azizan. “Whatever construct you build changes the dynamics of the city and the physical landscape but it also affects the people who use the city, so for us, it goes beyond the physical construct to what the real localized world is living – then the real life dynamics set it.”
Bikin’s recent renovation of a row of 1950’s shophouses welcomes those dynamics in through design, with the introduction of an open plaza environment mediating directly between the public and the building itself, as well as the programming, the newly achieved sense of visual connectivity giving both a bit more space and say to the public. “I think that what was exciting about the project was the opportunity to bring together a kind of public infrastructure facility and pedestrian pathway while also in a way inviting the public to enjoy a kind of pedestrian shopping experience,” furthered Askandar. “Applying what we’d learned from some of our heavy renovation and residential projects to a commercial project, introducing both visual and physical connectivity.”
The studio’s practice applies one thing to another in terms of the scope of projects it takes on as well, the need to furnish the interiors of the spaces they design leading to what has become Kedai Bikin, a Malaysiancrafted furniture line and something of the retail arm of the practice. “Our furniture designs and our consultancy practice have a symbiosis with one another in the sense that the interior projects we were doing required us to design some tables and some chairs. So, we were in the midst of developing prototypes for particular projects and then it was just a matter of extracting those objects out and further refining them for public consumption,” explained Azizan.
Public interest on one hand, Bikin has kept its makers in mind as well, staying true to the meaning of the name and paying mind to what the local context has to offer, as well as what it requires. “Part of the whole reason we wanted to make furniture was because we felt there was a need to help revive and sustain our own craft industry,” described Azizan. “We felt that it was our responsibility to design products that involve working with craftsmen and the dying trades such as rattan and the rubber string guy who used to sell cheap chairs in the night market.” “We reuse those materials to generate new interest, as well as cultivate an appreciation within the public for locally designed furniture,” furthered Askandar. “We design the pieces but we also don’t bargain with our makers, as we want to make something that is viable for them as well.”
While Bikin’s portfolio encompasses a wide range, from commercial to bespoke, there is a similar dialect of language spoken throughout, one that picks materials from its own ground and welcomes the responsibility to utilize what the local context has to offer. “We have something that a lot of western countries don’t have and that is a high-level of local handiwork and craftsmanship,” voiced Askandar. “That still exists and I think it is high time that we rediscover our own traditions,” furthered Azizan. “Get inspired by that, and take on our own references as to how we can contemporize and make ourselves relevant in the world.”