Penang-born, Singapore-based architect Soo K. Chan’s designs can be found all around the globe – from the concrete jungles of Tokyo and New York to tropical locales like Bali and the Maldives. While his diverse portfolio includes residential projects, commercial buildings and national embassies, his designs are all characterised by a signature aesthetic that facilitates a sense of fluidity between the built and natural environments.
Hot on the heels of the Soori High Line – a luxury boutique condominium in New York City, where units are equipped with indoor ionised saltwater swimming pools – comes Chan’s latest project: Soori Bali, a luxury resort and spa due to launch this March. Here, Chan discusses his creative process, delves into the relationship between design and happiness, and highlights some of his favourite spots on the SilkAir network.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue architecture as a career?
From the time I was old enough to play with Lego bricks!
You grew up in Khoo Kongsi, a Chinese clanhouse in Penang that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. How did being raised in this historical locale inform your design process?
Growing up in Khoo Kongsi was certainly unique. The compound’s long, narrow houses open into air wells that allow light and rain into the building. As a result, I became attuned to natural elements, as well as the interplay of light and darkness, from a young age. Today, I always consider the choreography of the spatial experience and how light, sound and the elements influence the user.
What are some of the factors you consider when designing for different countries?
For me, the starting point of any project is its local and environmental context. By integrating the local culture, flora and fauna, raw materials and craftsmanship, my designs capture the spiritual essence of a place, while remaining environmentally and socio-culturally sustainable.
For instance, I designed Soori Bali in a way that respects the integrity of subak, the centuries-old practice of rice field irrigation. The resort’s villas, residences and common areas were built around existing irrigation paths and ceremonial routes for the villages’ religious processions, while several new temples were constructed in accordance with local beliefs. Daily life as it has been in this part of Bali for centuries can therefore continue in harmony with Soori Bali, thanks to this holistic design.
What are some design challenges that preoccupy and inspire you?
I am challenged by bureaucrats who do not contribute to the design process but hinder it. I am inspired by passionate people and those who rise against challenges to achieve their aspirations.
What are some of your favourite spots in Asia?
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Silkwinds magazine