London, United Kingdom
Masdar City, Abu Dhabi
Auckland, New Zealand
New York, New York
You have spent some of your career at Woods Bagot using your skills to forge connections in new markets. What advice would you give to someone wanting to build cross-cultural connections in the design industry?
I would say that you must have a multi-faceted understanding of the meaning and relevance your daily work has in both cultures – being as sensitive to what they have in common as to what might set them apart. When you understand where your projects and work sit within the context of wider world, then you’re able to see your strengths clearly and consider how they might impact people’s lives in a positive way. To do this well, you must listen with the same vigor as you speak.
If we look specifically at building connections between China and the rest of the Asia Pacific region, then I would say its important to be generous with what you have already learnt. Working in China for as long as I have means that I’ve witnessed the fastest and longest sustained expansion by a major economy in history so, when I look to build connections with collaborators in other areas, I will often ask what lessons I can draw on to improve the outcome.
China’s openness to experiment and eagerness to embrace new technology means I’ve seen a quantum evolution of people’s lifestyles since joining Woods Bagot. In my role at our Hong Kong studio, the insight I’ve gained puts me in a position to develop know how and new strategies for future lifestyles that can be applied to the rest of the world.
I’ve recently been able to create cross-cultural connections in Japan by speaking at a retail developers conference, presenting a number of Woods Bagot’s projects in Asia before focusing on Funan. The response to our approach and critical design thinking has been very positive and has reaffirmed that we are testing new ideas in the field of mixed-use developments and place making.
Designed by Woods Bagot, this workplace for a highly creative, multinational technology company in Shibuya, Tokyo (above and below) was the result of connections made between cultures, clients and multiple Woods Bagot studios.
“China’s openness to experiment and eagerness to embrace new technology means I’ve seen a quantum evolution of people’s lifestyles since joining Woods Bagot.”
You’ve got a lot of experience designing facades on large-scale projects, how do you approach the task of making a large building inviting?
I have worked on various retail podium facades. Usually, the main question is ‘how to take these large volumes of mass and find ways to make it inviting and relatable? There are a few ways to achieve this:
An essential first step is to read and understand how the site relates to the local adjacencies, history and the greater urban context – considering scale, material, and form. Looking beyond our site boundaries to the urban context helps us discover elements that keep the project contextually grounded and ultimately relevant within its wider setting.
From there, we look to create a clear and welcoming narrative that defines the arrival experience. This can be done through massing and architectural expression, but the more successful result happens when we work closely with the landscape designer to create a holistic experience. When we blur boundaries between the building’s program and its surrounding, we can create permeable ground planes that invite the public in.
Another consideration when approaching façade design on large project is connecting the outside to the inside for a cohesive result. Woods Bagot takes an ‘inside-out’ approach where we express the internal program on the exterior in an honest manner – using similar materials, forms or patterning. This helps animate the façade and break the massing scale down to human elements – allowing users to understand and relate to the building’s interiors from the outside.
We achieved this kind of connection when designing Funan by creating a façade that expressed the project’s multiple programs via their own design identity. Folded façade panels coated with dichroic paint catch the sun and create an ever-changing spectrum of bronze and orange colours. These colours and forms draw inspiration from the roots growing out of the Tree of Life by reaching out and connecting to the city. The black box theatre uses black precast concrete panels with horizontal grooves to cast subtle shadows and create depth, giving a mysterious identity during the day. In contrast, lights within the grooves light up to animate the façade at night, celebrating Singapore’s theatrical culture and talent.
When we see something that intrigues us, I believe we have a natural tendency to want to enter and to explore things to satisfy our curiosity and excite our senses. From the façade design all the way through to the smallest detail, Woods Bagot designs with this innate human curiosity in mind, allowing us to create activated civic places and destinations.
You’ve described Funan as a “dream project” to work on. Why?
I think a good project works on multiple levels to be successful, and we were able to hit many of them with Funan.
First, we created a collaborative relationship and process with our client, allowing us to spatially manifest our vision of creating a mixed-use civic hub that fostered communities with open and engaging public spaces that give back to society.
We also aligned with many of Woods Bagot’s values, such as supporting arts and culture with the black box theatre, moving towards a carbon-neutral society via end-of-trip bicycle facilities, and demonstrating how to raise Singapore’s local food culture production with the urban farm. Tying into these initiatives allowed the project to carry many levels of meaning and significance with a long-lasting positive impact.
A while back, I had an opportunity to stay a night at Lyf service residences located inside Funan. By staying in the project overnight, I was able to experience how the building attracts people and creates livable spaces for the city over a 24-hour time frame. It was very rewarding to be able to see how our project can have an impact on people’s lives and hopefully we turned Singapore into a better place for it.
“I believe we have a natural tendency to want to enter and to explore things to satisfy our curiosity and excite our senses.”
You often mentor and critique young designers, why do you think it’s important to have a mentor?
During my time at Woods Bagot, I have been lucky to have worked with people I respect who have taken the time to allow me to grow in terms of responsibility and roles that I did not expect I could do. When I joined, I worked on workplace interiors, retail interiors but have now transitioned to designing architectural mixed-use projects. Every change and step along the way was an opportunity and challenge, but I received full support from my seniors and that allowed me to grow and develop my career.
Because of these experiences, returning or passing on the support that I received is essential to me. By supporting each other, everybody can reach their full potential and find fulfillment in their career and lives. The truth is I learn a lot from working with our young designers in different fields – their fresh, progressive ideas and technical input on new ways to design are inspiring.
Talk to Katsuhiro Ozawa