ABOUT THE DESIGNER
Born, bred and educated in Singapore, Fong Hoo Cheong, founder partner of the boutique architectural firm HCF and Associates, is very much a man of his place.
“I’ve lived all my life here in Singapore,” he says simply. “I practise here and I run a practice that is, for all intents and purposes, grounded and sited entirely in Singapore. This makes me a physical expression of the habits of the nation and its culture in the sense that we are precise and mannered. We value studiousness and, by circumstance, we are definitely aware of our past even as we look towards the future. We are, at times, fearless.”
This detailed insight is a handy semaphore for HCF and Associates’ work. Indeed, Hoo Cheong readily admits that Fugue 1, 3, 5, 7 reflects a design philosophy that is “precise, multi-layered with multiple readings, studied, anchored in history yet contemporary, and different”.
All of which helps explain the breadth of HCF and Associates’ portfolio which ranges from boutique retail concepts to private residences, and architectural concepts to small- to medium-scaled complexes and master plans.
Clearly, for Hoo Cheong and his team, scale is simply a matter of mind. Fugue 1, 3, 5, 7 manages to be both intimate and expansive at the same time, depending on the observer’s point of view. In the world according to HCF and Associates, what is important is being completely present in the moment and the site, so that the design can emerge organically.
“The best piece of design advice I ever received,” says Hoo Cheong, “is to let the site tell you what is needed and then to respond without hesitation.”
And if that response requires killing a few sacred cows, then so be it. “I don’t believe in any ‘golden rules’ about design. In fact, rules are malleable and can be broken.”
It’s an approach that Hoo Cheong is keen to pass on to the next generation. Since 2000, he has taught at his alma mater, the National University of Singapore as a studio master, and is currently adjunct associate professor lecturing on architecture and architectural pedagogy. On pushing Singapore’s design scene to the next level, he says, that requires a deeper understanding of the humanities from a young age. “We can’t have just lip service humanities education.”
Against this background of struggle to place architecture in its proper context, Hoo Cheong continues to fight the good fight, always alert for ways in which to become a better architect, to create better, more meaningful designs. From that perspective, he says the President’s Design Award is “a good way to celebrate design and designers in all their myriad forms. It is a kind of relief as well as a form of recognition. Another avenue of hope”.
Advice to Emerging Designers:
“It’s best not to dwell on mistakes. Keep designing. It gets better. Just absorb the change that mistakes inevitably bring about in you and move on. Do less wrong as a result.”