“Alila Villas Koh Russey: The use of earthy and natural materials anchors the project firmly to the site while imbibing a softness and elegance to its structure.”
“Alila Villas Koh Russey: A resort project in Cambodia that encapsulates the tranquillity of the sea by maximising the view of the horizon.”
“Chioh-Hui Goh and Kimberly Toh, studiogoto
Though small, studiogoto has its sights set on being a regional player. Muhammad Khairul Anwar interviews its founders. Text by Muhammad Khairul Anwar
As far as start-ups go, studiogoto has proven to be one of those architectural firms who adhere to the philosophy of working within a sustainable capacity. Having extensive experience in designing buildings within the hospitality and residential sector, principal architects Chioh-Hui Goh and Kimberly Toh have managed to balance the demands of pragmatism and aestheticism in their architectural design. Their design ideas are eloquently expressed through the conscientious effort they make in the details of all their buildings, from materiality to spatial configuration. Despite the studio’s small size, the projects that they undertook over the past few years reflect their dedication and commitment to broadening their horizons in the field of architecture. With projects spanning across the region, it is heartening to see a firm of their size having such a global outlook while retaining a unique interpretation of architecture.
SA Singapore Architect
CG Chioh-Hui Goh
KT Kimberly Toh
SA What made you take up architecture?
CG Personally, it all comes down to what interests the individual. It has to be based on passion especially if you want to last long and thrive within this field. I have always loved the arts but at the same time there has to be some rationale or practical intention for doing something, so architecture fits nicely in this. It is also about that sense of scale and spatial awareness that architecture provides.
KT I would agree on passion being the driving force in taking up architecture. And like my partner, I do appreciate the arts as well. Architecture provides a good balance between the fields of creativity and practicality as what was mentioned. It allows you to have a sense of play but at the same time it has to be sensible. That appeals to me.
SA Tell us about your start-up.
CG The name studiogoto was derived from our last names. We wanted to set up a firm that draws – upon the concept of the studio where there is no hierarchy among ourselves but more of a collaborative environment. There are a lot of discussions and dialogues in the studio as everyone has a stake in it and that is what studio culture is all about: creating that creative and open atmosphere.
KT The reason why we decided to start up this studio is to take on projects where we could have a greater say in the design development. As architects, having your own firm allows you to be more selective in taking up projects. There has to be a distinct balance between pragmatism and idealism.
SA What motivates you to get up and head to office every day?
CG Since setting up studiogoto allows us to be more selective when it comes to projects, we become more vested in it. The idea that we are making a difference to a particular group of people and the site itself is the prime motivation. Not only do we get to collaborate with different consultants but we get to generate interesting ideas among ourselves in this studio. This studio is at the right size when it comes to things like this and I enjoy the discussions with my fellow colleagues for all our projects that we undertake.
KT The reality of having your own project is very motivating as there is this strong sense of ownership. It is a very exciting experience as the whole process is about working with others and the discussions that we have provide many opportunities in coming out with good design.
SA What are your goals and vision for studiogoto?
CG Every architecture firm will have a certain way of approaching design and for firms of our size, our goals and vision is to remain competitive and keep on taking in projects that challenge us as architects. The challenges here would involve striking a balance between the aspects of realism and idealism. To create a building that is functional and at the same time sensitive to the context of the surrounding. This takes time and we have to be able to persevere.
KT The goal and vision is more towards the direction of sustaining what we have. Right now, the studio is at a comfortable capacity and everyone here in the studio is like family. There was no formal hiring process. It was more through word of mouth and that way, everybody knows one another. The kind of camaraderie that we have here is synonymous with what we want to achieve for studiogoto, and that is to grow together through the projects that we undertake.
SA Where do you see yourselves in 10 years’ time?
CG I would like studiogoto to be recognised in terms of how we approach and interpret architecture. In that sense, there has to be a high level of consistency when we approach all of our projects architecturally. That is a language in itself. To add, I would like the studio to be able to pursue projects that are interesting in terms of culture and society.
KT A lot can happen in 10 years’ time but it is important that we keep exploring and broadening our horizons. At this moment we have some projects overseas, mostly around this region, and so to be able to continually engage at an international platform would be beneficial for the firm and everybody involved.
SA Who is a source of inspiration for you? Any architects in particular?
CG There are few that come to mind. Primarily, I would say Le Corbusier. I marvel at his perseverance and his continuous pursuit in the field of architecture. Apart from his contributions to modern architecture, he was also a painter. He was very interested in cubism and explored this through his paintings. I am able to relate to this as normally, after every project is completed, I would paint an abstract of the work as a way of summarizing my thoughts and the whole process that was carried throughout. I do feel that the architect is an artist as well.
KT Mies van der Rohe. His works tell me that even in simplicity there is beauty. I have always tried to remain true to this philosophy. Mies used the technology of his time and pushed the boundaries of architecture, which became synonymous with the term “modern.”
SA What is your ideal project?
An ideal project would be one that has a strong social context. I am particularly interested in mass housing and the social implications that it has. Currently, this is a real-time issue and as architects we should strive to come up with a viable solution for housing-related problems. The situation has been encouraging as many local architects are vested in this. I feel that architects need to continuously generate ideas that help the society and in that sense architecture has to be accessible to the public. Another ideal project would be the concept of hawker centres. I am fascinated with the potential that hawker centres have as they are spaces where different social groups gather. To add, it is something that is uniquely Singapore and part of our cultural identity.
KT An ideal project for me would be one where all the parties involved are able to understand and appreciate good design. That is where the idea of balance comes in. In any given project, there will always be a compromise. That is the reality of architecture and many young architects should be prepared for this.
SA What is your advice for the young architects?
CG My advice would be for them to go back to the fundamentals. They should always remember that architecture has to add value to the people using its spaces. By getting this right, I feel that they would make good architects. They should also acquire knowledge through travelling and learning from others. It is a long journey and patience is key. At times, they will be lost and thus it is important to do some self-reflection and be unique. The sense of identity has to be established when one practices architecture. As I mentioned earlier, the younger generation and anyone interested in entering this field has to have a lot of perseverance.
KT We all know that getting involved and practicing architecture is something that requires a lot of time and it is indeed a journey and process of sorts. There is so much to learn, so many challenges to take up. Above all I do agree with Chioh that perseverance is very important especially if you want to set up a firm. Personally for me, the challenge in setting up a firm is the administrative aspect, the logistics, and the whole process of getting it running efficiently. You need to have good capable staff in setting this whole thing up.
SA Any thoughts about the Singapore architectural scene that you think has a positive and/or negative effect on emerging firms like yours?
CG The architectural scene in Singapore is very encouraging especially with how developed we are as a nation compared to other countries in the region. The quality of architecture that is present here is quite high and this not only comes from the foreign architects but the local ones as well. There are a lot of interesting buildings being developed here and it gives a certain sort of brand to Singapore. It is a positive effect on Singaporean architects as when we do projects overseas, clients expect a certain standard and judging by the developments in Singapore, they see the value in this.
KT However, we must not always be complacent and thus that explains why studiogoto ventures out in taking up projects overseas.
I have always liked the cultural aspect of doing overseas projects such as in countries like Indonesia and Cambodia. It is like a cultural immersion programme where we learn how things are being done in other countries. This would include the way buildings are being constructed and how they approach architecture as a society. Singapore as a whole has a lot of interesting buildings and I see more interesting projects being constructed here. It does create a lot of competition and that is good as it increases the quality and standard of how we architects in Singapore practice. At the end of the day, what is important for us is to be able to operate at a capacity where we are able to produce quality architecture and be allowed to explore certain interesting ideas in our projects.
SA If not architecture, what might you have delved into?
CG I love painting and I would have been a painter. However, I do make an effort to keep on painting and as mentioned I do paint an abstraction of the projects that we have completed. It is a sort of closure for me, as I feel the painting captures the essence of the project and summarises the whole process of it. I do believe that architecture and the arts go hand in hand. As in both fields it is about creating something meaningful.
KT Given my interest in the fine arts, I would have taken that route, which is also a long journey not only in terms of its formal education but where you have to gain a lot of experiences and be open to ideas. There lies its similarity with architecture.”
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