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HASSELL And Distillery Join Forces

In light of the recent merger between HASSELL and Distillery, Stephanie Peh speaks to Matthew Shang and Paul Semple (Distillery principals), as well as Robert Backhouse (Managing Director of HASSELL) on how both studios complete and strengthen one another.

HASSELL And Distillery Join Forces

Top image: Matthew Shang (left) and Paul Semple (right)

“Hospitality is about user interface – that is the essence,” said Matthew Shang to the audience and panelists at the recently held Design Conversations during Singapore Indesign Intimate. This is an approach that will remain at the core of Distillery, despite having announced its unity with international design practice HASSELL. Continuing its practice under the HASSELL name, Distillery will now extend its hospitality ethos across other disciplines and sectors, including larger-scale projects.

Manhattan Bar by Distillery. Photo by EK Yap

How did the conversation for the merger begin?

Matthew Shang and Paul Semple (MP): We had professional and personal associations with HASSELL and were looking at different models to grow and do more diverse work. The initial conversation was actually [the result of a] consultation with HASSELL – a practice we felt we had an affinity with. Coincidentally, HASSELL was looking at strengthening its hospitality offer and the merge became a natural progression of those initial conversations.

Robert Backhouse (RB): There was a mutual respect and a lot of commonality in our design approach, so the merging plan really grew out of that initial conversation. It was an easy conversation because we are so aligned in our thinking, approach and aspirations.

More Passion by The Hourglass by Distillery. Photo by EK Yap

What does each company bring to the table?

MP: Both parties share like-minded teams, an ethos of collaboration and a desire to create places people love. This is part of the DNA of both practices. At Distillery, we have always talked about the importance of storytelling, narrative and spaces that are rich in detail as the cornerstones of our philosophy. We feel that each project should express a point of view and possess a distinct personality.

At HASSELL, there is that same commitment to create exceptional places that are rich in meaning and highly responsive to the unique context and aspiration of each individual brief. What HASSELL adds is a breadth of talent outside Southeast Asia and across other sectors and design disciplines, as well as a depth of history and knowledge.

RB: Paul and Matt significantly add to the existing energy and creativity of our team, bringing fresh perspectives. From the HASSELL side, we offer the efficiency and structures that are inherent to a larger practice, as well as a global presence. We bring access to resources and knowledge, cross sector expertise and insights.

Amari Dali Resort by HASSELL

Are there significant changes to your individual roles?

MP: No. If anything, our core roles have strengthened: Matthew in terms of design direction and Paul in terms of project delivery. We will be strengthening the key relationships both practices have with Southeast Asian and China-based clients and broadening our contacts and opportunities in other global regions.

Ave 23 by Distillery. Photo by Darren Soh

Does this mean that the Distillery team will be involved in larger-scale projects now?

MP: Yes, there is a lot of scope and potential for us to be involved outside our traditional backgrounds. It’s an observable thing at HASSELL actually – the ethos that good ideas come from anywhere and everywhere – so we do expect to have input on a range of projects beyond interiors and hospitality design work.

Coppersmith Hotel by HASSELL. Photo by Dianna Snape

What is the creative environment that has been created internally to allow both teams to thrive collaboratively?

MP: It will be a gradual and natural evolution. Physically, Distillery has moved into the HASSELL studio – people, sample books and all. We’re loving it. It is a great open, collaborative and creative space with a really welcoming team.

RB: We have a fantastic new studio in Singapore that opened in August 2014 to accommodate our growing team here. It’s a really inspiring space in a typically Singaporean setting – three converted shophouses. It’s a big, open studio that has given new life and purpose to an old, character-filled space.

Several other HASSELL studios have been similarly converted from a range of previous lives including a bread factory, clothing plant, motorcycle factory and an historic wharf.

South Coast Bistro and Bar by Distillery. Photo by Aaron Pocock

Robert, now that both companies have merged, what’s next for HASSELL?

RB: This is the latest of a number of decisions we have made to strengthen our commitment to Singapore as a hub for our international practice.

A few months ago, we appointed Su Lim to the new role of global Head of Client Engagement based in Singapore, while Principal and Board member, Caroline Diesner, moved from Perth to Singapore last month, bringing her vast experience of delivering integrated, high-performance workplaces to the region.

[For more information on Caroline Diesner’s move to the HASSELL Singapore studio please see:]

Ovolo Laneways by HASSELL. Photo by Nicole England

What are some of the early projects that we can expect from this merger?

PM: We will be continuing work on a really interesting commercial workplace project: a new generation flexible, multi-business hub that draws ideas from hospitality.

We’re also working on a private members club with a social and business focus, a hotel refurbishment with a strong landscape component, and continuing some original hospitality work.


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