20 Sep 2012

People - OS Hotshot

Wong Mun Summ, Director, WOHA

“When we started our practice, we said to ourselves that we must be able to be financially independent, be able to survive with no salaries for two years and be prepared to work really hard,”

Clement Wan

“When we started our practice, we said to ourselves that we must be able to be financially independent, be able to survive with no salaries for two years and be prepared to work really hard,” reveals Mr Wong Mun Summ, Founding Director of renowned architectural firm, WOHA. Along with fellow partner Richard Hassel, their shared approach in architecture gave birth to the firm in 1994 and since then, the same value of hard work continues to drive WOHA forward today. And the world is taking notice.

With titles like the RIBA International Award, Singapore President’s Design Award and the International High-rise Award under his belt, Mun Summ had difficulty highlighting an award that best sums up WOHA’s achievements. But he tries, “I think the most significant one was our Aga Khan Award which we received in 2007 for 1 Moulmein Rise,” recalls Mun Summ. “It’s one of the toughest award submissions because other architects are sent to validate your design, inspect your buildings, talk to the people residing there and then return to a committee to defend the scheme.”

Mr Wong Mun Summ, Founding Director of WOHA

The reason 1 Moulmein Rise was able to tower over its competition was down to a key elemental design – the Monsoon Window. With the majority of Singaporeans living in HDB flats, we are all too familiar with the frantic rush to bring in the clothes and shut the windows when a downpour occurs. Mun Summ and his team have addressed this mad scramble and lack of ventilation during a thunderstorm by designing a Monsoon Window in vernacular buildings. This allows natural wind to enter horizontally into your home but not rain, so you can leave your windows open all you like to allow natural ventilation.

The ingenuity behind this artistic solution can be traced to WOHA’s flexibility and detailed understanding of their environment. “We have learnt to evolve high-density high-rise solutions into our work. If you look around the tropical belt, Singapore is probably the most advanced tropical city. So in a way, we are one of the few architects in the world that specialise in this field and people look to our work as examples.”

However, simply designing futuristic windows doesn’t automatically make you a leader in the architectural community. Mun Summ lets us in on the winning mentality behind the firm: “Through our 18 years of experience, we have been challenging ourselves to think laterally, to not just focus on a specific aspect of the project but to view the same thing on a macro level. We are able to jump from say, “how do I design a city” to “how do I design its chairs”.

WOHA’s successful approach can also be attributed to the flair and technical inclination of its Founding Director, for Mun Summ has always had a natural eye for building design since he was a kid. He recalls, “since young I was definitely noticing the built environment and I was quite good at the technical side of things. After National Service, it dawned upon me that architecture was something that I should pursue. I signed up for it, got it and never looked back”.

Judging from his firm’s transition from strength to strength, he certainly doesn’t need to. Especially when you look at one of WOHA’s projects, their work on SOTA - the School of The Arts located at Dhoby Ghaut. “We challenged the norm of using air-conditioning in designing SOTA,” says Mun Summ. “The classrooms were designed as non-air-conditioned spaces and they work very well, saving a lot of capital cost in the process. We don’t need mechanical means for ventilation when we can simply open windows.”

Mr Wong will be the SG Buzz speaker on 13th Oct in Munich, Germany.

Mun Summ definitely does things his own way and isn’t bad at doing so either Come 13th October 2012 (Sat), Singaporeans residing in Munich will get a chance to meet the man himself as we welcome WOHA’s founding Director, Mr Wong Mun Summ as our guest speaker at OSU’s SG Buzz event in Germany! Slated to take place at the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost, he will be sharing with you his personal views and experiences in design, architecture and Singapore’s built-up success. It’s also a golden opportunity to pose him questions as well as have it double up as a networking session with fellow Singaporeans in the city. Don’t miss this chance to meet one of Singapore’s top architects. So if you’re in Munich or will be passing by the city on 13th October, why not register for a place here and spend an insightful afternoon with Mun Summ and fellow Singaporeans.

By Clement Wan