WITH A VISION AIMED AT OFFERING FREELANCERS, TECHNOLOGISTS AND CREATIVES A SPACE TO COME TOGETHER AND CONNECT, APW SET WITHIN AN INDUSTRIAL PRINTING FACILITY IN BANGSAR, MALAYSIA HOPES TO FUNCTION AS A CREATIVE CAMPUS FIT TO ACCELERATE CREATIVE POTENTIAL.
art4d caught up with founder Ee Son Wei who is not only on a mission to revive the facility and its spaces, but also has his heart set on preserving a special family history along the way.
How did APW come to be?
Ee Son Wei: I studied management and marketing in Melbourne and when I came back to Malaysia in 2005 I wanted to take up more of a regional role and was looking at my family printing business which was established in 1938. This premise that you see at APW was established in 1952. My parents had been asking me to come back and run the business but I didn’t want to because printing did not seem like a very sexy business. We were manufacturing based and I was not used to it but I fell in love with the stories of my family’s printing press in Melaka. My grandmother used to wake up every morning, go down to the garden and pick flowers that she would then bring to the market and sell for one ringgit to people who needed to use them for worship. She would save those ringgits for one year and for every one that she had collected at the end of that year she would buy stock. When the stock appreciated she would then buy land. The land that we have today is from the work of her hands. Here I am, having just finished school and graduated with all of my education but this is one woman who, without any degree and with having gone through war, survived. This got me very interested about how she saw things and I wanted to try and embody these things.
And what was the state of the press when you returned to get involved?
ESW: When I came back the printing presses were very dilapidated and everything was really messy so we spent 14 months just cleaning up the factory. I think the journey for me was in many ways very accidental. I knew for a fact that I didn’t want to come back to run the print business because I felt that expansion and growth was not viable anymore. So, I decided to streamline the operations. In Melaka I started a conservation project and a living museum and I also realized that we had a pocket of warehouses available here so I decided to convert the spaces.
What functions have some of the converted spaces taken on?
ESW: The first space we converted was the café, Pulp, which was previously a paper-cutting warehouse. A lot of people started coming to the café and I saw that there was an increasing interest in alternative event spaces so I started working on the next space, which is an events space called Bookmark. I started building a theme around repurposed spaces within the printing factory and I wanted for all the spaces to be named after a printing term. Where we are at now is in the food hall, which is called Paper Plates. We also have Uppercase which is our co-working space and another events space called the Bindery. I am not architecturally trained nor am I a designer, so obviously I am very naïve, but I constantly responded to the space unknowingly. To be honest, if I was to work on another project I would be a lot more informed but I am not sure if the execution would be as pure and soulful as it is now.
Could you introduce the Pocket Park?
ESW: Think City is a corporate social club that looks at rejuvenating cities. When they moved to KL they felt that there were not enough trees planted around the city. I suggested to them that I could open up my own private space, and invite them to consider planting here. So I opened the space and they gave me a grant to build what I call the Pocket Park. My idea was that I was curating a lot of events and activities that were internally very focused but people were not using the external spaces very well. I thought that I should start cleaning up the external environment so that people could have interviews and talks outside as well and the results of that are what you see today. People often don’t see the point of spending or investing in external spaces and everybody is very interested in maximizing their profit ratio so everything is pushed towards that, but there is a lasting effect between the space and the user or consumer and I believe that it does add value to the space.
Do you have a favorite place here?
ESW: It’s a bit weird, I used to spend so much time around the spaces but have been so busy building that I have not been able to just sit back and enjoy them. So I can’t tell you what space but I can tell you when my favorite time at APW is, which is at night when everybody is gone and the dust settles. At that time I just walk around and sit at different places and I reflect on the time and the way it has evolved from what it was to what it is now.
Plans for the future?
ESW: The last few years were a lot about building the infrastructure and developing the responsiveness of that infrastructure. Now that this element is complete so we will look at building the software, working on programming and content and talking about having a sustainable impact.