“Architecture is not just about building. It’s a means of improving people’s quality of life.” – Diébédo Francis Kéré.
In that spirit, we look at 5 extraordinary Malaysians whose works were built on the basics of architecture with the aim to make a world a better place. Many of them have ventured beyond the blueprint, and we hope their stories will inspire everyone to join their causes, or even start one of their own!
Builder #1: John-son Oei, EPIC Homes
EPIC Homes (Extraordinary People Impacting Community) is an initiative focusing focused on providing homes for underprivileged Malaysians, and the team is currently working with the Orang Asli. Besides providing homes, they seek to connect people to the communities they are impacting, to learn about their lives, and work together in understanding the problems and challenges that they face.
John-son Oei, founder and CEO of EPIC Homes, says “I find joy when people come together to trust themselves with strangers to go beyond their limits and comfort zone for the good of others. I also believe that every time we build an EPIC Home, we also provide a chance for relationships to form, breaking down many preconceived notions we have towards each other, strengthening the foundation for a united Malaysia.”
“When one experiences a build, they challenge their fears, they challenge the notion that no one cares for you and therefore you need to take care of yourself first before others, they realise that a seemingly impossible task can be overcome when you come to trust one another and work towards a common goal. They then take these realisations and more back to their work, classroom and families sharing and creating similar environments for similar experiences to exist. Slowly but surely we believe we will change the way we live. We call this the EPIC Effect.”
Builder #2: Carolyn Joan Lau, Tak Nak Straw/Sampah Menyampah
Sampah Menyampah is an umbrella citizens’ action intiative aiming to spread awareness on litter pollution. Carolyn Joan Lau, a former landscape architect, founded this initiative with a few others and launched their first project, Tak Nak Straw. Tak Nak Straw focuses specifically on the education of the lifecycle of a straw and sustainable alternatives we can use, such as waxed paper straws and bamboo straws.
“This planet is the only home our children have, and current plastic/litter pollution is proving to be as equally detrimental as global warming. The mindless consumer conveniences…makes us careless and care less about the environment…
It’s a serendipitous coming together of my thoughts, ideas, interests and creative experimentations done in the last 30 years of my life…the timing is right – if we had started this 10 years ago, no one would have noticed. Social Media FTW! Every step of this journey has led me to meet really inspiring and supportive people, all from different causes yet all focused on making our Tanah Air healthy and beautiful again and I am thriving on the synergy.”
Builder #3: Rashvin Pal Singh, Biji-biji
Biji-biji was founded in 2013 with the aim of reducing waste through designing and building products out of discarded materials. The social enterprise provides a range of products and services, including educating interested people on how to ‘make sustainably’, ethical fashion, as well as building installations, furniture, and custom electronics.
Co-founder of Biji-biji Initiative, Rashvin Pal Singh says, “In current times, we constantly form short love affairs with different products and materials. We develop such strong desires for new products, only to discard them right after using them. We look at products only for its instant purpose to us, not its true material value. To capture the true value of materials, and use them beyond their menial shelf life. Ultimately, what we are doing is to establish a Circular Economy: returning materials into the economy rather than the landfill. A liner relationship with materials consumption is only going to last us so long, we must do things differently.”
“To empower a larger movement, we recognise the need for every individual to be equipped to play their part. Which is to have access to the knowledge, skills and tools to make change happen. This is why we are launching Me.reka Makerspace in Publika. Our biggest and most exciting project to come. Me.reka Makerspace is a 12,000 square feet space in Publika, equipped with a wood and metal workshop, textiles studio, electronics lab, rapid prototyping machinery and VR headsets. Me.reka runs classes and workshops for people to learn how they can make and fix their own products, using sustainable materials, or even better, your own waste materials. Visit our website www.mereka.my to learn more!”
Builder #4: Ong Jun Hao, light architect
Jun is a Kuala Lumpur-based architect and artist. His interest lies at the intersection of fine arts and applied arts in the context of South East Asia. His works are currently focused on coupling low-tech materials with hi-tech application primarily with artificial light.
Jun has previously worked at practices in Shanghai, Beijing & KL; most recently at the studio of British designer, Tom Dixon in London and has been featured in Hypebeast, Vice, Ignant & Designboom. He studied architecture at the University of Westminster in London and at the University of Melbourne.
“As an architecturally trained light artist, I look at how public light art can redefine public spaces and also rejuvenate forgotten areas in a city. It offers new perspectives on how we can experience and revitalise our cities without necessarily building architecture from scratch.”
“Public art has the ability to change the way we interact and operate within a city. Being in the tropics, we stay mostly indoors during the day. However, when night falls, are there opportunities for us to go out and utilise public spaces? I look at light art and hi-tech art as an exciting medium to attract attention, change the perception of an area and also foster participatory urban growth.”
Builder #5: Ng Seksan, Seksan Design
Known for his trademark minimalistic designs, use of lush greenery, and his views on urban planning, Seksan is no stranger to the architecture scene. His works can be enjoyed all over the country, from Suria KLCC to the Sibu Mist Garden, and not forgetting the iconic Sekeping retreats.
On what drives him, Seksan says, “I believe in self help projects now, where we reclaim and design public unused physical urban spaces for public use, using volunteers, crowd-sourced funding, and specialist mentors. In today’s world there [is] too much cynicism and pseudo-intellectual critiques on social media. Doing is much better than talking; doing small things matters and is easier…when added up can be significant, transformational, empowering, and inspirational.”
“I do what I do in my little way to “build hope”, to encourage younger people and to provide more room for them to be more resilent, enterprising, and giving. A lot of my friends are giving up and migrating…there is a perverse sense of hopelessness amongst us in recent years. Part of the problem I guess is that we are expecting unrealistic “massive” changes to be handed to us from higher powers. Our consciousness is still at a very low common denominator. By doing small things like urban farming or volunteering to build a house for the poor…we are opening opportunities for people to deepen our consciousness and empower ourselves to make changes – both within ourselves as well as our immediate environment. Hopefully this will all lead us all to a better and enlightened world, and will guide us in this country as we journey into the future.”
Evidently, being an architect isn’t just about designing buildings. There’s a growing movement using the principles of architecture to holistically design better environments, communities, and lifestyles. More and more people are leaving the drawing board and getting out there, using their hands as well as their voices to bring about positive change.
If you’re interested to learn more about architecture and the varying career paths it can lead to, check out a free seminar titled “Architecture: Building a Whole New World” on Saturday, 18 November, 2:30 – 3:15pm organised by Study UK at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. Conducted by the award-winning architect Professor Hugh Byrd of University of Lincoln, learn about the basics such as “what is architecture” and “how to become an architect”, and specifics such as applying to study architecture in the UK, what to expect from an architecture course, as well as what to include in your portfolio to get yourself to the front of a line as an architecture graduate.
Admission to Study UK Malaysia exhibition November 2017 is free of charge and online pre- registration is encouraged at https://my.edukexhibition.org/en. For full details on exhibitors and seminars, download the free app ‘Study UK Exhibitions’, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.
This is a sponsored post by the British Council Malaysia.
All photos courtesy of respective individuals unless otherwise indicated.
by Ching Yee.