To understand one's own architecture requires an understanding of self. We are a product of the sum of all our experiences and this is true of architecture as well. The influence of my training in the early 1980s, and coming into contact with influential mentors, played a big part in my own development as an architect.

The projects designed at SCDA refer to the fundamental elements of architecture (light, space, transparency, materiality, and order) and aspire to humanist qualities of serenity, and beauty. Spaces are composed to be experienced sequentially, through choreographed processions that re-center and re-align the perceptual ‘axis’, terminating in landscaped vistas or open spaces. The approach is phenomenological and is about the emotional response of the user to the space. The figure of the architectural forms, often a series of rectangular boxes, define equally important courts, gardens and other external spaces set against the walled boundaries of the lots. Building lots tend to be fairly rectangular, and when not, differences are usually taken up by shrubs or landscape as poche. This organisational strategy allows for the concept of inversion. This can be interpreted architecturally as the building and outdoor court spaces (grounds) being given equal importance and weightage. This strategy has been applied to projects such as ther Heeren Street House in Malacca, the Emerald Hill House and the Sennett House, among others, where the diagram of the expected open spaces (grounds) has been used to generate the building form.

Interstitial spaces between a building and its perimeter, often created by zoning bylaws as setbacks, are claimed to become defined view courts. Corners of rooms are often cut to destabilise the space propagating it outwards towards the garden or courts while allowing for possibilities of refocusing the spaces centrifugally towards internal courts in the more urban typologies. Large sliding doors that disappear into pockets blur the interior zone to the fully exterior surface.

Liberated from notions of representation and the vernacular, massing and façade is built on archetypal elements, of volume, light and surface. Walls are treated as separate planes allowing for physical material separation between walls. While this vocabulary provides possibilities to re-interpret and transform the spatial essence of a given vernacular, it is also able to incorporate the rudimentary elements of place-making, through considered interpretation of local craft, culture and climate.

This process of understanding by rote the basic building blocks of the architecture is not unlike the training in architecture in the Beaux-Arts. One must not confuse a consistent design language with a familiar style. I must stress that this approach has not in any way diminished the ability to layer a process and concept-oriented approach with the design practice; while the spirit of the spaces are classical, the details are universally modern.

Increasingly, as practice becomes globalised, the applied design vocabulary has to absorb nuances of climate, culture and place. Working with a clean design language allows for the reconciliation of issues of universality versus regional specificity.


Soo Chan,  SCDA Architects: The Architecture of Soo Chan,  2004