We are delighted to have the team from global design and consulting firm Woods Bagot delivering the inaugural APDL Connect Project installation in June.

The APDL Connect Project gives designers from the Asia Pacific region an opportunity to develop and display their work in the APDL Design Lounge. In doing so, the project aims to document a design project from concept to completion, providing audiences access to an inspiring exemplar of design process. The Woods Bagot proposal, which explores the idea of cultural DNA, is an interactive design that will build over time, engaging the public and continuously evolving. The winning proposal was developed by Beijing-based designers Ray Yuen, Andrew Brett and Tak Lee, and will be project managed by Brisbane-based designer Laura Fenwick, in response to a regional workshop they held in the Woods Bagot Beijing and Brisbane offices, exploring the idea of cultural influences on design. We sat down with the team to learn more about what they have planned for the installation.

Can you tell us a little about the Beijing-based Woods Bagot team who developed the winning project proposal?

Ray Yuen, Tak Lee and Andrew Brett are part of Woods Bagot’s interior architecture team, based in the firm’s Beijing studio. Both Ray and Tak have Hong Kong heritage. Ray was raised and professionally trained in Australia but has since lived and worked in the UK, Asia and South-East Asia. He has been working in Beijing for over 4 years. Before Tak came to Woods Bagot, he had been working in various interior architecture firms in Hong Kong. He has also participated in various cultural exchange programs across China and in Europe. Andrew, who has Filipino heritage, has been located in Woods Bagot’s Beijing studio for the past year. Prior to joining the firm, Andrew travelled through South-East Asia and Japan. He was also part of a design/build project in Papua New Guinea. Integrating our architectural and interior design expertise, we worked collaboratively with Brisbane-based Laura Fenwick to develop the innovative concept for the installation.

How does your Brisbane office connect with your Beijing office?

A global design and consulting firm, Woods Bagot’s ‘Global Studio’ philosophy drives unprecedented knowledge sharing and collaboration across time zones. In practice, this means regular cross-studio design workshops held via telepresence. In addition, staff are enabled to move between studios on project based teams. For example, while Laura is now Brisbane-based, she spent one year in the Beijing studio working on a range of large scale commercial projects, including the Shijiazhuang Exhibition and Convention Centre.

Why did you choose to get involved with the APDL Connect Project?

As a team, we were interested to explore the idea of cultural DNA. In particular, we wanted to visually represent Asia as an international design hub. Four of Woods Bagot’s 16 studios around the world are located in Asia. For us, it was important to contribute to the discussion in the broader design community about design identities and the connections across the region.

Can you explain your design proposal?

Intended to stimulate discussion amongst the design community about design identities and global connections, the project will encourage greater dialogue between Australians and the broader Asia Pacific region, especially in the field of design.

Our proposition is that shared cultural backgrounds and increased global movement create stronger design networks with more culturally-sensitive designers. The concept explores the idea of cultural DNA and seeks to contribute to local understanding of design through experiential means.

How did the concept and idea come to you and your team and how long was the idea in development?

We held regional workshops in Woods Bagot’s Brisbane and Beijing studios to brainstorm the past, present and possible future connections between the Asia Pacific and Australia. We discussed historical notions of cultural identity and the future of networked practice enabled by globalisation and digital technology.

Each Woods Bagot studio has designers with mixed cultural backgrounds and diverse life experiences. Contrary to some initial preconceptions, each of our studios is as international as each other, which is why working collaboratively across borders is so important to the firm’s philosophy.

What area of the APDL collection have you selected to explore in the installation?

Communication, in particular data visualisation. We thought the theme of communication embodied our collaborative, cross-studio process. It also generated the most discussion in our Beijing studio workshop in terms of participants’ personal connections with Australia. Data visualisation is an emerging design area so the challenge for us was to design a framework that enabled user interaction while creating an insightful piece of art.

How does the installation link Australia and the Asia Pacific?

The installation will visually demonstrate the diversity of cultural backgrounds in the region. It will also provide a platform for new connections to form. We hope that the installation will encourage more young designers to consider Asia as an international design hub right on Australia’s doorstep. By illustrating the linkages in a physical way, the installation seeks to promote the Asia Pacific region as an attractive destination for design-industry professionals. We anticipate the installation will also open the minds of Queenslanders and assist in breaking down barriers and stereotypes of design within the region.

Can you explain the concept of ‘cultural DNA’?

Cultural identities and life experiences are no longer bound to an individual’s country of origin. Australia and the Asia Pacific region are now more connected than ever. As such, our cultural experiences shape our design approach. It is the collection of individual experiences travelling, living and working in another country that informs our cultural DNA. We are curious to question the influence cultural background is having on design and whether design will become more or less culturally specific in the future.

Is the installation’s evolution central to the final design outcome?

As the installation evolves over time, it will provide a visual representation of the diversity of cultural backgrounds and experiences of both designers and visitors who engage with the project. While we will create the framework, it will be the visitors and contributors who will form the final artwork. The result will ultimately provide a snapshot of the cultural DNA of visitors to the Asia Pacific Design Library.

How do you plan on documenting the design process?

Hand sketches, physical model, Rhino.

Can you tell us a little bit about how the design installation is structured?

The installation is made primarily of MDF and plywood donated by Sharp Plywood. The structure consists of 42 MDF panels (21 Australian Cities and 21 Asia Pacific Countries) that change in height according to population. Each panel features routered lettering to indicate the country/city name and duration of stay. The DNA box is made of MDF and flexible plywood. The string is carpet yarn donated by one of our generous carpet suppliers. Our builder, BuildCorp supplied the steel column and all fixings. The sign is supplied by Southside Signs. Sign graphics and animation is by Archer Avenue.

What materials will the installation use?

MDF, plywood, string and steel.

How long will it take to build the installation?

1-2 days – with 1 day to install.

Tell us about how you are incorporating digital / online elements into the APDL Connect Project?

Integrating digital technology, the installation will include QR code scanning which will provide another dimension to the project. A time-lapse video will be established to record the process of bringing the installation to life over a period of time. Capturing the evolution of the installation, the recording will portray the ongoing interactivity of the experience for visitors.

Can you give us a sneak preview of what people can expect from the workshop you are running at APDL?

Once the installation is constructed, the workshop will involve key visiting designers and a small group of the general public who will trace their journeys on the installation. Users will be invited to create a QR code tagged to their piece of thread, linking to online content that expands their story, including video, text and/or images of their work or contributed articles on APDL Online. The workshop will involve the set-up of the QR code, and the production and collation of this material.

What are your top 10 design books?

Between us, if we had to choose only 10…

  1. Law of Simplicity, John Maeda
  2. Designing Design Kenya Hara
  3. Combinatory Urbanism, Thom Mayne
  4. Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary, Dan Hill
  5. Defeated Architecture, Kengo Kuma
  6. “The New Digital Age”, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen
  7. Archigram, Peter Cook
  8. The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton
  9. WOHA: Breathing Architecture, Micaela Busenkell
  10. Form+Code in Design, Art and Architecture, Casey Reas, Chandler McWilliams, Jeroen Barendse

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