An Interview With Yee-Chin Teo Of Singapore Architect
To start us off, could you share a bit about yourself and how your journey with The Singapore Architect begun?
I design buildings and guide their construction. I run a practice called Red Bean Architects and our portfolio includes houses and small public buildings.
Most of my time is spent wrestling with different aspects of how this process unfolds. This can range from dealing with problems in the present, say issues on site or with certain building codes, to figuring out how things can get done better in future, as I am writing about architecture or when I am mentoring younger architects.
I first started writing for this journal 20 years ago, when I was still an intern. That first piece was an essay on upgrading in HDB estates, if you recall, in the time when they first started attaching things onto old flats to make them look new, some decorative, some useful. It was an agonising assignment as I had my draft thrown back by the editor a few times, but the re-writing helped me to clarify my ideas.
After my internship, I continued to contribute articles as I finished up architectural school and then after I started working I continued to write every now and then. Four years ago I was invited to join the editorial committee and two years ago I took over as editor.
I would like to mention that I think The Singapore Architect hits home for a lot of Singaporeans. Not only is the material well-researched, it is specially curated to pique the interest of Singaporeans, or anyone interested in Singapore. As the chief editor of The Singapore Architect, what process do you go through to come up with these topics to reframe Singapore's buildings and architectural landscape?
I hope many more share your sentiments about the journal!
There is an editorial team, and we meet every two months or so. Most of us are practising architects and so we have our pulse on current issues concerning the built environment. Not so much aesthetic trends but broad socio-economic changes impacting our built heritage, affecting how people use space or changing building legislation.
I usually come up with the broad themes and the team will freely discuss. I then take back the ideas, digest them and clarify into a coherent theme for each issue.
I saw an interview you had about the house in Siglap that you built for yourself and it is so beautiful! As an Architect yourself, would you say you have an "architect-sense" (Somewhat like a Spider-Sense) that find its way into your work on The Singapore Architect?
Thank you for your compliments! As an architect living in one of my own designs, I am keenly aware that the house needs to not only be beautiful but also have a snug fit with the living habits of the occupants. This is a balance I am constantly trying to perfect.
I think a writing architect can be two types - lyrical or clinical. I am more of the latter. I try to construct ideas and arguments with a flow of words. The linkages are important. I am not sure, but I can only hope that an architect's sensibility for clarity, simplicity and elegance somehow contributes to writing and editing.
I think the interesting quality that The Singapore Architect possesses is the beautiful photographs that bring the buildings into a different light and gives them a life of their own. What is your relationship with things as inanimate but dynamic as buildings?
Visiting a building is still the best way to know one, but if we can't be there, photography is the next best thing. We have been fortunate to work with gifted photographers, especially Darren Soh who has supported us generously with his beautiful work.
Building forms may be fixed but space that flows within and around them are very fluid. So the interesting thing is to make these inanimate objects inflect the space around. I have stopped thinking of buildings as things in themselves, but constantly think of how people encounter and engage them.
Ever since assuming the role of Chief Editor, how has it been for you and in what direction do you hope to take The Singapore Architect?
It has been a real honour. There are many things to discuss, but being in this position has made me realise that it is actually quite difficult to say something properly, to have a strong point, to go deep and to cover different aspects of an issue. You need to find original angles and have good writers who know their stuff. Overseeing the figures for ads, sales and readership has also made me realise how precarious PRINT media is.
The Singapore Architect must be accessible, but the content should be relevant, thoughtful and honest. In the near future, I hope to make The Singapore Architect the platform to bring local architecture to the region.
Do you have an architectural belief that guides you in your practice?
Don't sell your soul.
Are there any buildings that you feel are absolutely beautiful but terribly underrated?
We have been talking about Pearl Bank Apartments, but we haven't talked enough about People's Park Complex, which may be the next one we will be fighting for. Because the form is more conventionally orthogonal (as opposed to the horseshoe of Pearl Bank), people may dismiss it as just bland modernist. But look closely and you will see how bold and crisp the forms of the tower and the podium are, composed in opposition to one another.
Peninsula Plaza (across from St Andrew's Cathedral) is another under-rated building. It has beautiful details in moulded concrete and mosaics.
St George's Church off Dempsey is also a gem, but pretty much forgotten. If you have time, just walk in and sit down there for a while.
How about buildings that are ugly and over-rated?! Because there are quite many!
All the best in your journey with The Singapore Architect! To close, describe The Singapore Architect in a sentence!
The journal that best understands Singapore Architecture - past, present and future.