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18 July 2012
In Profile: FUUR Associates
Ken-Hin Teo and Jasper Chia of young Singaporean design studio FUUR Associates tell us why they are keen on project diversity and their ambition to remain as an architecture firm in the most traditional sense.
The founders of 6-year-old design studio FUUR Associates, Ken-Hin Teo (36) and Jasper Chia (38), are not preoccupied with getting their projects into the pages of glossy design magazines. The partners are in fact quick to establish that doing an interview with Indesignlive.asia is “really quite unusual” and add that, among their generation of designers, they are probably the most ‘invisible’.
“I think when you’re young you can be quite fascinated with doing signature and eye-grabbing projects, but I think in spirit Jasper and I are not really like that, which actually does in many ways run counter to the ambitions of most [youthful] design practices,” says Ken.
The firm prefers instead to focus on their work and engage and build relationships with clients, many of whom are friends brought together by common interests or simply people that they happen to chance upon.
This makes FUUR’s design process “very organic” says Ken, and the entry point to each project is “a lot softer”. “The firm has existed in this sort of nebulous way, and therefore we are aware that maybe we are not like every ‘gung ho’ practice out there,” Ken explains.
Loysel's Toy Cafe
“It’s not that we don’t do free pitches,” Jasper adds, explaining that the studio does extend itself to find new projects.
FUUR has deliberately set out to tackle a diverse range of projects in different scales, from F&B to private residences to a 10-hectare master plan in China.
“I think what we’ve managed to maintain in these years is this curiosity. It’s something you can see quite clearly in our work… we’re curious about how the world works, different businesses, and how systems operate. That’s why we like [to do] a range of work,” says Jasper. “Curiosity is something that defines us, I would say.”
Jigger & Pony Bar
Having a good listening ear is also a fundamental part of the business. “I think that as designers, even if you’ve done something a hundred times, it’s very important to be interested in listening again for the hundred and one time and say, ‘Let’s see if we can do this better or differently’”.
Despite the increasing number of multidisciplinary practices seeking to straddle the gap between different genres of design, FUUR is single-minded in its focus to remain as an architecture practice in the most traditional sense. “We like to think of ourselves as old-fashioned architects who are focussed on our profession,” says Ken.
When the task calls for it however, the firm readily collaborates with other professionals engaged in different fields of design, such as branding. As Ken recalls, his tutor at the Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) in London had taught him that “architecture is not an act that one can do alone” –one needs an army of people to come alongside to get the job done. “I think that extends to all design professions,” says Ken. “ We acknowledge that certain people do certain things better.”
The team has grown slowly but steadily over the past 6 years, with partner Dean Chew (who came onboard soon after the firm was established) and 5 other designers putting the current staff strength at 8.
FUUR has also grown in other ways. “We grow even in terms of our taste, the way we detail,” says Ken. “[That’s how] we move forward. It has been a very cautious process of refining a lack of aesthetic, because with every project we do, we purposely flip a part of it… [so] every subsequent project subtly shifts. That is by design.”
Being a young studio, it is also no surprise to hear that the team has its eyes set firmly on what is to come. “Quite honestly, at this stage in our profession we can only look to the future,” says Ken. “If anything, I think where we want to go is a bit more interesting than where we’ve been!”
Top image: Mayo Inn Hotel