DP Architects' Jeremy Tan On The Uniqueness Of Singaporean Design
What does the Singaporean design aesthetic look like?
Homegrown firm DP Architects celebrated its 50th anniversary in May with a glamorous gala, held at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, and welcomed over 1,600 guests. The after-party, however, was a more intimate affair.
In Marina Square, just a few storeys away from its Singapore headquarters, staff gathered at Redpan, a restaurant the firm had launched in 2016, in collaboration with partner Grub. “There was a massive karaoke session, and we cleared some of the tables so people could dance,” recalls director Jeremy Tan fondly.
Creating a space where DP staff in Singapore could bond was one of the key motivating factors behind opening Redpan, he reveals. Besides offering a Mod-Sin menu for weekday lunches (think hae bee hiam or spicy dried shrimp pasta, and grilled kingfish served with chinchalok or fermented shrimp paste), this bistro has also become their informal brainstorming space and after‑work hangout. “This place is loveable to us because it’s where we can connect with one another,” says Jeremy.
The friendly curves of this dining space are just one example of DP’s work in this part of Singapore. The firm developed Marina Centre (which includes Marina Square, Suntec City and Millenia Walk), and its design stamp can also be found on the Esplanade – Theatres By The Bay, Singapore Flyer and The Fullerton Bay Hotel Singapore. As DP continues to expand its international presence—in the last three years, offices in London, Istanbul, Ho Chi Minh City, Yangon, Hanoi and Bangkok were added to its global network, which now spans 17 cities—it seems like a good moment to pose some ambitious questions. Could we one day see a distinct Singapore design aesthetic that’s as identifiable as, say, Japanese or Scandinavian design? And could this aesthetic become prominent in global skylines?
“We will get there one day,” Jeremy replies. “My personal interpretation of Singapore design is that it has this ability to intertwine tatler_tatler_stories of East and West, innovation and tradition, with a certain delight and charm. That’s the trademark, and that’s because we grew up in this environment with so many different languages and cultures. Sometimes when I go into certain developments abroad, even when these are not DP projects, I can see something Singaporean when I look at things such as the colour scheme. It’s perceivable, and it’s gradually developing as Singapore comes of age.”
Because Singaporeans are used to a multicultural environment, Singapore design may also be more attuned to local nuances when it ventures abroad. That’s particularly important in architecture, Jeremy says, because “architecture is still a patronage art, and our patrons are not just the developers, but also the users. We bring the Singapore brand vision, but we are not just designers, we are also psychologists and historians, we need to understand the geography, the historical context, and the cultural sensitivities and learn how to showcase local traditions.”
Another key feature of the Singapore design brand that’s very attractive for foreign clients is reliability. “They know it’s a brand they can trust, because Singapore designers are pragmatic and efficient, and we propose innovation that is doable and durable.” Combine this reputation for getting the job done with that multicultural flair, and that could well make for a winning strategy in the years ahead for firms looking to make their mark on a global scale.
“We have a beautiful tapestry to play with in Singapore,” says Jeremy. “Through our work, we express our history and identity not just to ourselves but to others, and make the Singapore story pertinent for a new generation.”
(Related: Liu Thai Ker On Building A Lovable Singapore)