ABOUT THE DESIGNER
On paper, W Architects is a relative newcomer to Singapore’s architecture fraternity. The reality: its antecedent goes back to 1982 when William Lim, one of Singapore’s most respected and influential architects, opened his eponymous practice William Lim Associates. When Lim retired in 2003, his long-time colleague Mok Wei Wei continued the practice under the newly formed W Architects.
The depth of W’s practice is entirely belied by its size. With just around 25 staff, the firm’s catalogue of designs – including the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and the National Museum of Singapore – is impressive, ranging from architecture and urban design to interior architecture and exhibition design.
In and of itself, this broad remit betrays Wei Wei’s restlessness and dissatisfaction with the status quo. He is rarely still, always on the move through classrooms, offices and galleries, scrutinising the work of young designers, always on the lookout for new perspectives and innovative design.
Indeed, the sweep of his extra-curricular activities, past and present, is exhausting – a board member of the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Arts House Ltd, visiting critic at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Architecture in the School of Design and Environment, committee member of the Singapore Heritage Society and Preservation of Sites and Monuments, member of the Architectural Design Panel for the Housing Development Board, Grand Jury member at the World Architecture Festival.
It’s impossible to be involved at this level without a genuine interest in the architecture profession, its practitioners, its work, and its future. It also explains why so much of W Architect’s work feels imbued with a quality of rigorous discipline that’s based on solid fundamentals and ever questioning curiosity. One suspects that internal staff meetings are peppered with “Why?” and “Why not?”
“I am very much exposed to both eastern and western influences,” Wei Wei says. “My work is often positioned at the confluence of the two. In today’s context of globalisation, it’s not so much about the east-west dichotomy anymore, but about how we negotiate the global within the local context. To me, that negotiation is exciting.”
Part of that negotiation also requires making room for the next generation of architects. Here, Wei Wei makes the point that the President’s Design Award “is an important platform that recognises good design”.
And still, there is so much more work to be done. If Wei Wei has one prescription to make, it is for more good design education. Here, he cautions the next generation to be patient.
“Give up instant gratification in order to reach a larger goal,” he counsels. “In the field of architecture, many types of talents are needed – it is not just for the design-oriented. You can have a rewarding professional practice and make meaningful contributions in many different ways.”
Advice to Emerging Designers:
“Have the wisdom to wait. See the bigger picture. Good work takes time. Don’t despair and give up because you think you cannot design well. Find out what you’re really good at.”