The home of architecture and design in Asia-Pacific

Get the latest design news direct to your inbox!

Studio Twist

Luo Jingmei speaks to Lip Chiong of Studio Twist, a Singaporean-led architecture and interior design firm that has made its home in Shanghai.

Studio Twist


May 28th, 2013

Cubes Indesign: Revisit

After graduating from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1999 and the Architectural Association (AA) two years later, Lip Chiong stayed in London working in the Advanced Geometry Unit at Arup (involved in projects like the British Pavilion for the 2003 Venice Biennale and the Twist building design proposal in the Battersea Power Station Development). In 2006, he moved to Shanghai and now heads a tight, 10-person office housed in the former French Concession. Having worked mainly on interior spaces, which include the library of the prestigious Kunming University of Science and Technology, Studio Twist has most recently moved on to work on architecture projects.

Studio Twist

A vertical atrium is a nucleus of light and interaction in the Kunming University of Science and Technology

How did you come to be based
 in Shanghai?

[While] working at Arup, I was also teaching in the AA. In 2006, the family of one of my students acquired a 3,000sqm warehouse in Shanghai and wanted to turn it into a retail gallery selling high-end, imported furniture. It became the first job for Studio Twist and I moved to Shanghai.

Describe the nature of the work you do.

I try to push the company into doing projects that are really creative regardless of the program, to try and [challenge] the design problems and come up with appropriate but surprising concepts.

Design with a twist?

Yeah. (Laughs) I am interested in how geometry can order spaces in design. The name itself is also catchy.

Studio Twist

Studio Twist

The Shanghai Design Centre (2008) features a multi-level space showcasing high-end furniture

What do you like about working
 in Shanghai?

You get the chance to do something bigger more easily. Take for example
 the Kunming University of Science and Technology library project. Who would have thought a small studio could be given the chance to work on a 27,000sqm project? In Singapore, the big firms basically eat up all the big jobs.

Here, clients are also more open-minded about how things should be done. On the other hand, some may have ideas about beauty that refer to classicism; the taste of
 a rich client in China is absolutely different from that of a rich Singaporean client. But we do have a lot of rich and young clients here who are willing to push boundaries.

Studio Twist

An in-progress luxury villa in Sanya draws from its surrounding undulating contours

You’ve taught at the AA in London and tongji university here. Are there any differences in the experience?

Massive! In AA, teachers come up with something really open-ended, throw it to the students who will come back with ten things in multiple directions but not the students here. It seems the education system adheres closely to a strict curriculum instead of emphasising the nurturing of the students’ ability to conduct independent thinking.

Studio Twist

Luxury villa in Sanya – rendering

There are many foreign architects coming to Shanghai to do work for the super rich. Do you feel that the non- super rich are being ignored because of that?

It is no secret that architecture is a product of societies of affluence. At the 
same time, there are a lot of public buildings commissioned by government-related agencies providing wonderful spaces for the general public such as our library for Kunming University of Science and Technology.

But China has a big pressure to build millions of houses for the population. [I think] they have been learning a lot through what [Singapore’s] HDB (Housing Development Board) has done, but the Singapore case is not immediately transferable.

Here, it’s more complicated because China is the equivalent of a mini world – different cities have different requirements, climates, ways of talking, doing business, sensibilities of what is beautiful and what is not. I don’t know if they are getting top-notch designers
 to deal with the [housing issue], which
 would be a great opportunity in encouraging experimentation – like in Holland.

Studio Twist

The Connoisseur Group Gallery (2011) is a theatrical gallery housing objets d’art

Would you be open to working on these kinds of projects?

Yes, of course. I’m interested in well-shaped design issues but clients must first understand that good design will bring valuable solutions to their problems, and act on this long-term vision. Fortunately, our clients are deeply committed to bringing out the best in their projects.

Studio Twist

The Connoisseur Group Gallery

Do you think there is such a
 thing as a Western aesthetic and a Chinese aesthetic in this time, age and place?

Yes, initially when I came to China, I frowned upon all classical ornamentation in architecture, especially in recently
 built classically styled projects. It was something our Modernist education taught us not to do: ornamentation is bad; anything that is classical done today is wrong. But after living in Shanghai for five years, I’m starting to think there could be some kind of a Chinese aesthetic that doesn’t shy away from ornamentation.

The Connoisseur Group Gallery project was where I tried to creatively employ classical ornamentation for the first time. Now, I’m trying to develop a new geometric design language that has hints of ‘Chinese-ness’ for a hotel in Qidong, Shanghai.

Images courtesy of Studio Twist

Studio Twist

This article first appeared in Cubes Indesign issue 58.

INDESIGN is on instagram

Follow @indesignlive

The Indesign Collection

A searchable and comprehensive guide for specifying leading products and their suppliers

Indesign Our Partners

Keep up to date with the latest and greatest from our industry BFF's!

Related Stories

While you were sleeping

The internet never sleeps! Here's the stuff you might have missed