Improvised jazz inspired this Singapore architect’s freeform designs

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Inspired by his love of music, Mink Tan has applied his harmonically minded approach to his latest property

Mink Tan, founder of Singapore-based firm Minkke Architects

Although his passion for design shines through in his innovative work, architecture was not Mink Tan’s first love. Tan, the founder of leading Singapore practice Minkke Architects, initially set out to chart a career in music. The Penang-born, Australia-bred designer was about to embark on an education at Sydney Conservatorium of Music when a last-minute change of heart altered the course of his career. Dedicating himself instead to architecture — “my parents said there wasn’t enough money in music” — he earned his design spurs from the University of Sydney in 1990 and he hasn’t looked back since. This change of tune has allowed him to riff on buildings around the world, including notable commissions such as the IBM Business Park in Sydney and the Silvian Imberg flagship store in Israel. One of his most recent residential projects in Singapore, The Jasmine Road House, demonstrates Tan’s adherence to freeform architecture and love of open space.

How has music influenced your design?

It has influenced me tremendously. I love jazz and the need to resolve opposing pentatonic scales in jazz has honed my ability to bring together and reconcile various — and at times contradictory — forces: financial, sustainability, community, political, aesthetical, etc. On a more layman level, it has also pushed me to produce designs that are functional yet beautiful, progressive yet historical and urbane yet natural. Jazz music has taught me the ability to have my cake and eat it too.

What is your design philosophy?

Our design philosophy is what I would term ‘super Asia’, which is about going beyond the typical and traditional. It’s something that looks very modern yet with a underlying feeling of Asia. That’s we’re looking for. I’m very influenced by the Thai ‘sala’ and Balinese ‘bale’ in the ways that various parts of the house are expressed as individual pavilions that can open totally to the outside.

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Are there certain techniques that you use when working with limited space in Singapore?

There are many techniques, but the one we regularly deploy is the technique of borrowing space, especially from the outdoors. It means that we typically open up the walls to bring external spaces inward and also afford views of the far exteriors. We typically like to conceptualise our houses as a series of pavilions where the walls are non-solid and can at times be expendable. This is a traditional technique in various parts of Southeast Asia to cope with the region’s overbearing heat and humidity.

What challenges did you face with The Jasmine Road House and which features would you say are truly unique?

The owners left us a blank canvas. They’re a couple of doctors, with one daughter, who also want space for the in-laws to come over and stay. The concern we have for this land is that it’s smaller than the minimum required plot size for bungalows. So how do you build a house that will feel more open? Instead of building four walls, we just opened it all up and just built a boundary wall. The best way to deal with small land in Singapore is just to open up rather than have a big and bulky building. In fact, this house almost has no solid walls. Just about every room is all glass, except the bathroom. It looks like concrete and glass grew out of the water. When you’re standing in the living room on the ground floor, the sense of space is quite amazing, because there are no walls. It’s all glass on both sides. And the water being so near to the living room, it really almost feels like you’re outdoors.

Are there any particular design trends that are becoming popular in the region?

Wooden architecture is going to boom. Buildings built out of timber could now go high-rise, or at least mid-rise. It’s all thanks to cross-laminated timber technology, which is literally going to change the face of architecture. As for interior design trends, I foresee a movement towards softer lines in forms and shapes because of the continued eschewing of minimalism. These will be blended with strong tactility in materials and finishes.

I believe Southeast Asian architecture is going to go through the roof. You can already see various international star architects making their mark in various parts of Southeast Asia. Before too long, the respective local architects will heed the lessons and forge their own way ahead, aided by a new breed of developers who are internationally savvy yet sensitive to local cultural values.

Which song has most influenced your design?

“Alice in Wonderland” by Bill Evans.

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