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10 July 2012
Yann Follain on Tropical Architecture
The French director of WY-TO Architects’ Singapore office (WY-TO Pte Ltd) discusses spatial journeys and tropical experiences with Narelle Yabuka.
The first project undertaken independently in Singapore by French architect Yann Follain was an artwork in one of the city’s newest zones. A lighting installation for the 2010 i Light Marina Bay festival was an ideal opportunity for the young international studio he co-directs to explore its fascination with Asian metropolises and publicly illustrate its mission and philosophy.
Lighting installation for i Light Marina Bay 2010. Photograhy: Frank Pinckers
WY-TO Pte Ltd (which Follain directs in Singapore) and WY-TO Architects (which Follain co-directs in France with Pauline Gaudry) values ‘dreaming’ as much as functionality in architecture. On the opening night of the i Light festival, Follain eagerly watched how people took to WY-TO’s installation of 16 pairs of illuminated glass panels that reflected and diffused the city’s lights. “While they interacted with it, people were simply ‘dreaming’. They were escaping from their daily lives,” he says. “It’s amazing to be able to engage people like that – to make them dream.”
There’s certainly a hint of Peter Zumthor in Follain’s goal to have his clients actively ‘feel’ their spaces physically and emotionally. “For me, the success of a building is when people feel comfortable inside,” he says. Indeed, a sensory approach to the crafting of space can be read in all of WY-TO’s work, from exhibition designs to residences to public restrooms.
Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal exhibition. Photography: Jeremy San
Recently, he had the opportunity to craft a series of spatial journeys with the design of the high-profile exhibition Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal at the ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands. This, along with his performance as the Art Director of Singapore’s ArchiFest in 2010 and 2011, has fuelled his desire to design a museum – an ultimate machine for dreaming.
Exhibition design for Archifest'11. Photography: Jeremy San
In the domestic realm, Follain’s concern for “living with the surroundings” sees him discouraging the use of air conditioning and exploring tropical architecture, which he defines as “having no boundary between inside and outside.” Embracing the opportunities of his new home country, he adds, “I see a trend among young architects to redefine tropical architecture. I would like to be part of that.”
Private residence in one of Singapore's conservation neighbourhoods. Photography: Jeremy San
Follain is currently keeping himself and his 5-person Singapore team busy with competition entries, residential projects, and ongoing refurbishment work for the Millenia Walk shopping centre. Presently, the WY-TO team is designing new experiences for the Millenia Walk car park.
Ongoing project at Millenia Walk. Photography: Jeremy San
Despite the common conception among his Europe-based counterparts that Asia’s boom conditions equate to a goldmine for architects, setting up a practice in Singapore hasn’t been easy, says Follain. “But what I find great in Singapore,” he adds, “is that among many young architects here there is a sense of solidarity. I really appreciate that.”
Natural History Museum of Singapore (competition entry)