When someone describes life as something that “progressed organically”, you would get an inkling that he’s terribly fortunate, incredibly talented or he’s met with the right people at the right time. More often than not, it is the combination of all three. Voon Wong however, attributes the success of London-based VW+BS, a multi-disciplinary architecture firm to, well, good fortune.
Founded with business partner Benson Saw back in 2000, the firm has gained a strong foothold with offices in London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and, since then, caused quite a stir in the architecture and design world. Much recently, Wong was made chief curator for prestigious design-led interiors exhibition, 100% Design Singapore, held here in October.
With VW+BS set in place as the exhibition’s consulting firm, quality design from both local and regional design houses were put on show, fostering quite the exceptional hotbed of inspiration. The firm’s project list runs the gamut from residential to commercial developments and earlier this year...airplanes. Prestige checks in with Voon Wong.
You were born and bred in Singapore, but relocated to London. What convinced you to make the switch?
It’s a slightly organic kind of decision. I went to London to attend university, in architecture school. I stayed on to work there. My career, I guess, progressed organically there. It made sense to stay on and grow that.
When you left Singapore, did you envision yourself ever setting up an architecture firm?
When I left Singapore? I didn’t know what I was thinking! (laughs) I mean I was 22, I didn’t plan ahead too much. I was just thinking, my next immediate goal was to study and finish it. I didn’t think beyond that.
Did you encounter difficulties while setting up the firm?
I suppose setting up a firm from scratch anywhere, whether in London or Singapore has its challenges and difficulties because you’re on a steep learning curve and you normally would have to do everything yourself. You’d have to be at different places at different times. The environment wasn’t new at that point, since I’d been in the country for about six years or more. I was working for a few practices in London and then an opportunity came and presented itself. I had a client who was happy to commission me then, so it just seemed like a natural progression. I started practicing on my own because of this opportunity, it wasn’t intentional.
What’s the company’s design philosophy?
We try to apply creative thinking to whatever we do, so we engage in a variety of different types of work. We do architecture, interiors, product and furniture and lately, we’re doing transportation design. It’s a fairly new thing for us. We’ve just completed the Virgin Atlantic upper class cabin and bar, and that came out of the blue. Again, that was a fortuitous thing. We were just sending out our portfolios to various companies, randomly almost. I guess our combination of different elements sort of piqued their interest.
What are some of VW+BS’ highlights?
One can only look back in retrospect, and say that this has been important in the development as a company. We’ve had a couple of milestones, one of them is the loop light first presented in 2001. Two years later, it was produced by an Italian company. That’s our first foray into product design. It was pretty significant. Later on, we started to investigate the influences of China. It started our interest in finding old materials, traditional materials and reworking them into something modern.
The Royal Selangor range is a continuation of that investigation. We’re very happy to work with Royal Selangor as it’s a company with great heritage, history and craft as well. At the same time we’re investigating other materials like purple clay, which is a clay used for producing Chinese tea pots. So things like that interest us. Not so much cutting-edge technologies, they’re all very old technologies, which you can use them in any way. Another one is the Virgin Atlantic project. We feel it epitomises what’ve been trying to get to, in terms of the combination of architecture and product design. It is a piece of architecture within the plane.
It was challenging. The technicalities and the regulations are very different from what is on the ground so a lot of the things and materials that can be used on the ground cannot be used on the air because of its weight, flammability and so on. They also have this g-force test, so for example, if the plane drops, what the g-force is for the material has to meet those requirements. All these things are new to us. We’re fortunate because Virgin Atlantic has their own technical design team and they work alongside us. They were very knowledgeable and helpful making it a very educational process for us.
What would you, if you had no restrictions whatsoever, want to create?
I wouldn’t want to create anything with no restrictions. I suppose I would like to create my own environment but maybe that would be too much. If say, I own a hotel, I can control everything from the architecture down to the collaterals, the branding, everything, I think that’d be pretty cool to do. But maybe it’s too much I don’t know (laughs).
What’s keeping you busy right now?
This year we’ve been pretty busy with 100% Design Singapore. We came onboard since April so we’ve been working quite hard at it since then. That’s taking up a big chunk out of our time and we’ve been working alongside Reed of Golden Paris – they’re a great team to work with.