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Randy Chan Reflects

Randy Chan doesn’t mince his words when it comes to talking about architecture. Here, the candid architect of Zarch Collaboratives dishes out some interesting anecdotes to Luo Jingmei.

Randy Chan Reflects


August 16th, 2012

On choosing to study architecture

In secondary school, I went to a technical school. [After that] I studied Arts. Going into architecture seemed to marry both [disciplines]. Of course, like most other people, I did not know what architecture was then. At that time, it was not difficult to get into [the course] partly because you hear horrible stories [about having] to work night and day, that only a certain percentage of the original batch could graduate. Singaporean parents don’t want their kids to go but I chose it as there were not many other courses I was interested in.



The Sustainable Singapore Gallery (2008) within the Marina Barrage is an informative and sensory showcase

Design Advice

TK Sabapathy (Chan’s lecturer in NUS) taught us that you do not just use your architecture knowledge of your five [academic] years to see the world. The problem with our education is when we graduate, we forget that we have actually been taught by our parents… that we can actually use our common sense [built over our twenty years] to deal with design, deal with people. We fail to see day-to-day tasks as [being as] simple as how we deal with life on an everyday basis. It seems so simple but it actually hit me when he said that.



‘Building as a Body’ (2011) is an installation at The Substation by Randy Chan and artist and fashion designer Grace Tan

On the curse of beauty

I think the problem why our life is a bit more painful is that we like beautiful things and we study beautiful things; we study aesthetics. I always think that beautiful things are like a beautiful but poisonous flower. You are drawn to it but it’s like forbidden fruit. And it’s not lasting, most of the time. So when it’s not lasting, it gives you a lot of pain. This is my theory.


The firm curated the gallery of the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in 2011

On learning from the older generation

It’s very important [that] we have this dialogue and relationship with the older architects. When we are young, we say the world is our oyster, but what is now is also because of what was before, what they did, that’s why we are what we are today. Even if you form your own young practice, you need to hear from them [rather] than [walk] the painful path by yourself.


Part of the Lien Villas Project, Holland Park House (2010) is one of six homes, each designed by a different architect

On Robert Powell, author of the ‘Singapore Houses’ book series

Robert Powell is a very important person. When I was in NUS, he was a fourth year tutor. He was writing, documenting, observing how Singapore architecture had started to bloom. It took an ang moh (Caucasian foreigner) to believe in the local scene, to tell us to appreciate our own architecture. When you talk to a lot of the [local architects] about him, they’re very appreciative. He wrote about my Jalan Kampong Chantek House in the third book.


A leaf-print trellis brings in the surrounding green into the Lynhurst House (2009)

The story of how he landed up in his existing shop house office

Normally when I have a bad meeting, I drive around to cool down. [One day] I arrived [in the Selegie area] and saw a nice ray of light shining on a particular shop house on Niven Road. I asked these two men, [the landlords], if I could take a look inside. They brought me up. It was very nice but one of them said in Hokkien, ‘Young man, your aura seems to require a space much bigger than this’. We walked through the back lane [to this particular shop house] and I liked what I saw. What came out of my mouth was very important as I came to know about it later. ‘Wow! I could keep everything as it is!’ I imagined my office to be here. [Apparently] for twenty years, it had been unoccupied because they were looking for someone who was able to respect the building and they couldn’t find the right candidate; they had lived here during their childhood. So when people ask me how I acquired this place, I tell them ‘You have to be angry’. (Laughs)

Top image: Randy Chan with business partner Linda Koay.

Zarch Collaboratives 

Get your copy of Cubes issue 57 to read the full interview.

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