Currently an architect working with Tate Harmer in London, our 2014 DesignSingapore Council Scholar Muhammad Syafiq opens up about studying in London, working with Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, and projects to realise the future.
Project done for Tate Harmer. The artistic wayfinding installation is designed as an open system to activate the city centre of Croydon, London. Second place in Croydon I streets Competiton held in 2017.
Mohammed Syafiq was fascinated with machines from a young age, even taking a radio apart when he was four as he wanted to understand how it worked. This curiosity stayed with him while he struggled through the conventional academic requirements of school. Then, Syafiq’s passion for design was reignited when he took a Design & Technology (D&T) class in Secondary three. Even though he came from a humble background and had no experience in design, Syafiq was encouraged by his teachers and inspired by the curriculum at the now defunct Monks Hill Secondary School. In his first project for the D&T class, Syafiq built a model of a house that was tested using sensors. He recalled enjoying the project immensely, and even exclaimed to a classmate that he would like to build models for a living. Today, after years of hard work and training, Syafiq’s job as an architect allows him to do just that. After hearing about interior design as a course offered in polytechnic, Syafiq studied hard with this clear focus in mind: to pursue design as a career.
With his perseverance and passion for the craft, Syafiq clinched the DesignSingapore Council (Dsg) Scholarship in 2014, as only one of two scholars awarded that year. Syafiq has come a long way; he has since gone on to pursue a Masters in Architecture at The Bartlett School of Architecture, London. He currently practices at Tate Harmer Architects in London, researching on drawing and technology, while teaching Masters students at The Bartlett School of Architecture. At the heart of Syafiq’s work lies his aspiration to use design to improve of people’s lives, and to push the boundaries of traditional architectural practices to reveal new outcomes.
One of the projects Syafiq worked on was the Croydon Dragonfly project, a way finding installation within Croydon’s city centre that combined augmented reality with projection mapping. The project consisted of a series of dragonfly-inspired structures that could project artworks onto the ground and surrounding buildings, adding a new dimension to the physical space. Designed as a virtual periscope, the proposed "open system" would allow local artists in Croydon Council’s "guest take over" programme to create atmospheric installations projected into real life.
Thesis project completed at the Bartlett School of Architecture. The project is a development of an architectural drawing methodology that aims to tease out new types of learning spaces.
A large part of Syafiq’s work also deals with educational spaces, as he owes his passion for design to the exploratory and hands-on curriculum at his secondary school. As someone who learns better outside the confines of classroom walls himself, Syafiq creates learning environments carefully in his work at his architectural practice. His Masters’ thesis at The Bartlett was a research project of architectural methodology that looked at inventing a new way of drawing. It investigated how an experimental approach to making architectural drawings could tease out new types of learning spaces. The project’s conclusion was the design of a primary school that emphasized both structured and unstructured learning, something Syafiq believes is essential in developing into a holistic person.
In his practice, Syafiq also enjoys exploring new themes and possibilities for architecture. He has participated in numerous competitions, such as being part of the competitive team to design the York St John University’s New Creative Centre in York, and leading the pitch for the University of Creative Arts’ new Business School for Creative Industries in Epsom, London. While not all of the aspirations from competition designs get actualised instantly, Syafiq maintains that he opens these opportunities and themes up as research prospects to his students, and in his personal creative practice.
The new creative centre of York St John University proposes a semi public theatre venue and an atrium as a mixing valve to encourage interactions and spontaneous learning outside the classroom.
Syafiq credits the Dsg Scholarship for helping him set a purpose to his work and reminding him of his choice to pursue architecture. In the year he chose to apply for the scholarship, Dsg was also looking towards new sectors of the in the design industry such as digital technology, user experience design, and designing smart cities, amongst others. This shift helped Syafiq expand his horizons on what was possible with design, realigning his inner compass and bringing clarity to what his practice can offer to the world.
Pursuing his Masters in a foreign land was also challenging for him, but with the vote of confidence from the Dsg Scholarship, and being surrounded by brilliant and dedicated architects every day, Syafiq came to truly enjoy his time studying abroad. The dedication of students producing large volumes of work in high quantities, and their diligent work ethic, truly inspired him to be better. This work ethic definitely shows in his practice today. He affirms that there is a simple direct correlation between the frequency of attempts and the quality of the output, and one should trust every failure to add value to the final product.
The world of architecture also brings many rich opportunities and surprises. Just last year, Syafiq was made the design lead on a project to build a house for a famous pianist, who happens to be a good friend of renowned architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw. Through the project, Syafiq had the opportunity to work closely with Sir Nicholas, meeting at his residence to discuss and draw designs in real-time. Working with such an iconic figure in architecture has certainly been one of the most unexpected experiences for Syafiq.
In advising adventurous young minds curious about this profession, Syafiq advises them to aim high, and define success for themselves. He emphasizes intuition and risk-taking as elements that are important in a designer’s life, for the most interesting discoveries are borne from accidents and chances taken. One should take their time discovering and playing, then return to reflect upon their discoveries.
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