| Haven/The Edge Property | Gurdwara Design | 27 April 2016 | Asia Samachar |
VISHAL J Singh, the man behind boutique design practice, Solar Design Services, is a great fan of simplicity and clarity in design. He likes flourishes but finds them in building materials, textures and structural elements. He does not subscribe to any particular style or period because he believes that “fashions come and go but geometry lasts forever”.
He says, “There was a documentary I watched a long time ago about the Chinese-American architect I M Pei who designed the glass-and-steel pyramid at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. In the documentary, he said, you can use all the isms you want but fashions come and go, geometry lasts forever … and that has resonated with me since.”
The work Vishal has done since establishing Solar in 2003 is wide and varied. His portfolio reflects his evolving design language as well as the growing experience and confidence in his own creativity.
SEE ALSO: Gurdwara docked by the riverbank
Vishal’s style is difficult to pin down at one glance. It can certainly be described as eclectic but each project is considered separate from the other and is a true collaboration with the homeowner. He sits with them and has intense discussions about what they want and what he can deliver within their budget. Even with young families, he will eventually come to the children and ask what they would like to see in their new home. Vishal’s design language is founded on a Zen-centric philosophy.
“The idea is to keep things as clean and simple as possible, and to highlight materials for their intrinsic beauty, like the pop of a brick wall. In Zen, it is very important to declutter your surroundings. According to Buddhist philosophy, clutter crushes your spirit but I’m sure you don’t have to be Buddhist to appreciate what that means, right? At handover, the building is clean and simple in aesthetic with focus on texture and materiality and how light enters it. It’s up to the homeowner after that to curate the space with artwork or other personal touches to make it homely,” he says.
“Sometimes, a client is set on a design seen in a magazine somewhere but the problem is that it’s Western-centric. Not that that’s a bad thing; of course, Western design is good but not everything translates well in our climate. Of course, the challenge here is to get the client to see my point of view, to understand that we’d still need to improvise on or ‘Asianise’ that particular idea so that it works better here. It’s important as a designer to make them understand certain impacts of their decisions, of the end result and even the budget.
“I always make sure my designs are tropical climate-friendly, borrowing certain principles from the kampung house, such as elevated structure, long overhangs, proper natural ventilation, sun-shading devices and things like that.”
Vishal fell in love with architecture at the age of 12. It had been an assignment in art class — to sketch a building, capture its details and paint them in. It was then that his interest stirred as he realised there was more to a structure than doors, windows and such. From then on, he took a deeper interest in buildings, finding himself more interested in the architecture than the occupants when he travelled to other cities.
“After my final year in secondary school, I spent three months in North India. I loved the idea of going back to my roots and seeing what my ancestors built. I realised how rich and vast building was, from the aesthetic to the materials used. I really appreciated the experience. When I came home, I immediately enrolled for architecture,” he says.
The design consultant holds a Bachelor of Applied Science and Bachelor of Architecture, and is currently waiting to be registered with the Board of Architects in Malaysia as a graduate architect. In the 14 years between his first and second degrees, Vishal explored his creativity and tried to ascertain if architecture was what he really wanted to do. He was 24 when he obtained his Bachelor of Applied Science (architectural science), right at the start of the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.
“A lot of architecture students are encouraged to take a year or two off between parts one and two of training to gain work experience in the field and expand their horizons — not mandatory, just highly recommended. My break went on for over a decade,” laughs the 39-year-old. “When I took my break, the industry didn’t seem promising. Development was slow and the economy was bad, so I decided to venture into other fields, including advertising — as a copywriter — and even teaching. I’d take whatever I could and give it a try. No matter what I did, though, I was not happy. It wasn’t about the money, it was job satisfaction. And I really missed drawing.
“Then I got the opportunity to do a small landscape renovation job and took it on as a challenge. It went well and from then on, I started to get more and more jobs, which got bigger and better through the years.”
September 2009 was a turning point for Vishal — he won a competition that sent him to South Korea to represent Malaysia in a design Olympiad. That experience motivated him to go back to school to finish his architectural degree. “I saw the opportunities getting better and better and I realised that if I didn’t finish, I would lose out a lot,” he confesses.
While Vishal does design for both residential and commercial properties, his favourite is designing a home.
“The idea of designing a home for someone is very appealing, that you’re actually helping someone build a sanctuary, a place they can come back to, leave their daily burdens at the door and enjoy a sense of calm. I’ve received emails even three years after completing a home telling me how much they appreciate the design — when you get a note like that, it’s very gratifying,” says the designer proudly.
“What inspires me? The opportunity to do another design. Honestly, that’s what excites me. Frank Lloyd Wright was once asked which of the many projects in his 40-year career was his favourite, and his answer was, ‘The next one’. The possibility of the next one is thrilling.”
This original article by Jacqueline Toyad, entitled ‘Stepping up’, appeared in the February 2016 + March 2016 issue of Haven, a pullout with The Edge Malaysia Weekly. See full story here.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]
FROM THE SAME AUTHOR:
Gurdwara design: A Sikh lantern in Far East (Asia Samachar, 6 Feb 2016)
Gurdwara docked by the riverbank (Asia Samachar, 23 Jan 2016)
Designing a gurdwara for Sikh youth, where pray meets play (Asia Samachar, 25 Dec 2015)
Gurdwara design that listens to earth (Asia Samachar, 1 Oct 2015)
Creating deeper social connections (Asia Samachar, 13 July 2015)
A sanctuary by the sea (Asia Samachar, 7 June 2015)
Rethinking gurdwara design (Asia Samachar, 21 Apr 2015)
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