Wenhui Lim is a director of a practice delivering large scale projects in compressed timeframes and often without opportunities to develop design ideas to a satisfying level.

In this context, her curation of Places as They Might Be presents a group of projects from the practice that have allowed a more considered approach to the development of design solutions, the contribution of architects to the communities and societies in which they operate.

Wenhui identifies Fai-Fah in Bangkok as ‘one of the most enjoyable’ projects she has worked on. The project repurposes two shop houses as a free school for underprivileged children, and was sponsored by TMB Bank as part of their corporate social responsibility.

The design process included a series of collaborative workshops with children from the community. The children’s desires for a fun, colourful building with a strong visual identity challenged the architects to provide a solution outside of what might otherwise have been a normal adult-encumbered outcome.

The pairing of seemingly unrelated issues, and overlapping of apparently disparate ideas, is a recurring strategy.

Two other included small projects, Solar Orchid and Beach Hut, are more speculative and experimental in nature, without an immediate client or implementation and following on from the previous work by Spark in Homefarm. These projects allow Wenhui and her colleagues to give consideration to issues such as urban activation, cultural history, environment and sustainability, material use and recycling, and economic development. The pairing of seemingly unrelated issues, and overlapping of apparently disparate ideas, is a recurring strategy.

Two larger scale urban projects are also presented – Orchard Road and Shekou One Gateway – which offer innovative solutions to complex urban design solutions. These projects demonstrate the potential of what might otherwise be bleak and impoverished urban environments, dominated by cars and other infrastructure.

There is a conscious emphasis on enhancing the urban environment by drawing in nature…

The Spark proposals re-prioritise these spaces for human activity, with solutions that challenge established models such as the air conditioned shopping mall and the vehicle dominated ground plane. There is a conscious emphasis on enhancing the urban environment by drawing in nature – vegetation, light and natural ventilation, with design feature moderating for comfort even when the climate is less favourable.

The use of small and speculative projects as a continued opportunity for research and testing of design processes and solutions is employed by many leading practices whose body of work is typically much larger scale projects. This seeking out, or creating of opportunities for enquiry, speculation, creativity and innovation, as well as often making contributions to communities and society, amidst the other demands of practice, no doubt leads to improvement and development of design skill and knowledge, and are also what bring the greatest enjoyment and satisfaction in the practice of architecture.

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The engagement with small/speculative projects, or the desire for enquiry and innovation?

Are firms who don’t seek out or create these kind of opportunities impoverishing their own design culture? Are they falling short of their professional responsibility to contribute to community and society? Do there need to be more incentives for firms to make such a contribution?

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