SINGAPORE-BASED ARCHITECT LING HAO IS INTERESTED IN THE WAYS IN WHICH BOTH PEOPLE, TIME AND NATURE MOVE THROUGH, WITHIN AND WITH ARCHITECTURE. ART4D CAUGHT UP WITH HAO TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE STUDIO’S PHILOSOPHY AND HOW AN ADMIRATION FOR THE EVERYDAY CAN BE TRANSLATED INTO A SPACE.
Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be an architect?
I grew up in Sarawak, Kuching, which is in Borneo, in a kind of compound house where the building was lifted up and the rooms were on the upper level with the lower level being a kind of open space. When I was growing up, my world was also that open space, the neighborhood and beyond. This is something that you have in you, the environment that you relate to and the things that you know.
Practicing architecture is to work with clients and contractors or other people who perhaps see things quite differently from you. It is a coming together of knowledge, skills and interest to make something new. To conceive something fresh, perhaps that’s what architects can bring. At this point it feels quite natural for me to practice architecture and it has become a bigger challenge but that gives you energy to carry on.
Can you talk about your studio’s philosophy?
I have been staying in this hotel for these past three days and you cannot open the windows. All these kinds of big spaces are really driven by a different kind of world. I was looking forward to coming here because I knew the hotel was next to this park and I saw this park quite a long time ago and I wanted to experience its transformation. At least I can go out, and come in, and that is quite important to me. I practice in a way where we decide on many things at a construction site together with the workers – something that you actually make as you are doing it. My everyday practice is quite related to the process of making a building, and that happens not in an environment like this. I’m interested in making a kind of continuous environment where things flow well. I think it is important that we make spaces that we like and that we ourselves want to imagine being in. If everybody did that the world would actually be quite radical, and why not?
Most of your projects seem to encourage movement in the space, allowing people to experience different aspects of the space.
If you walk out to come in; I think that would make my day feel nice. If in the place where you move around the sun comes through, that small experience becomes a bit richer. To explore also involves moving around. It involves physical activity, and in the tropics, sweat, downpours, dirt…I am thinking more about the possibility of the everyday.
Can you talk about how you articulate a sense of scale inside your buildings?
In the House with Mango Trees, the wall panels could be moved here and there, allowing this or that movement or air flow, opening to the rest of the house and the surrounding neighborhood. Within the long narrow space of the house, pathways and gaps connecting the different floors allow the passage of the sun or change of the weather to be continuously felt as you go about. The house has many kinds of scales or relations.
Do you find it difficult to practice in Singapore?
Singapore appears very affluent and where there is a great attraction for new things; you could say it becomes the everyday purpose. But if the purpose of design is to do more, other ways of relating becomes less. As if to regulate this volumetric density much discussion is around using higher performance glass and air conditioning that is more efficient. It is not about tropical building because a tropical building means you live with and have to engage with the tropics.
You mentioned a project where you were working with the bamboo craftsman in Bali and you described how you don’t really have that type of craftsman in Singapore. I think that in places where there is a strong sense of craft or a local technique or material you see it, in the art and the architecture, and so I was wondering if you don’t have that what is the character that you see across disciplines? Anything?
I talked with various workers working on a project from Thailand , China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India and most of them lived on acres of agricultural land at home and were farmers and when they work in Singapore they live in the construction site and here the cement, curries and sarongs coexist. In a farm like environment, there is perhaps a softer kind of definition, things are always changing or breaking down? It would be nice for my projects.
At present there are many discussions towards a highly mechanized construction process but I think it would be meaningful to say that we also labored over this building. Or each individual architect to design the housing flats that most people stay in.
Do you feel that Singapore needs to learn to appreciate or negotiate with nature more?
I guess talking about this in an air-conditioned space as we are says so much about our reality. If we spend more time in lesser-conditioned spaces, we might be able to uncover other ways of living, from our food to our clothing. At same time, we live so much through our digital relations. Which affects our sense of physical scale or sense of time. There are so many kinds of natural related to where and how you live. From one end, I’m interested in a most direct relationship with our surroundings.
Any advice for young architects?
One way is to imagine the life of an architect and how it could be, in relation to the everyday.