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Meet the Thai designer making rubbish beautiful

By turning scrap into incredible furniture, Singh Intrachooto has established himself as one of Thailand’s most established and exciting eco-designers 

[caption id="attachment_52818" align="aligncenter" width="740"]Singh Intrachooto Singh Intrachooto[/caption]

They say that generosity can reap rich dividends. And for Singh Intrachooto it was a magnanimous gesture that helped steer him along a singular path towards becoming arguably Thailand’s most esteemed eco-architect and designer.

Although he always had an interest in environmentally responsible design and lectured on it to his students at Kasetsart University, his work focus upon returning to Bangkok after a long stint in the United States and Europe was traditional architecture. The eureka moment – the point that he really made a commitment to becoming an evangelist for sustainable design and champion of up-cycling from construction and industrial by-products – came when he was thinking about gift ideas for his partner, a building contractor.

“I was thinking to myself: what would make a cool present?” he explains. “So I collected scrap teak wood from her job site and made some benches for her. That was when I realised that all the waste that is created on these projects can actually be put to good use.

“Typically there’s about 32 times the amount of waste to the amount of materials actually used and that’s absolutely crazy. I was witnessing tons of waste being hauled away from my own construction sites, even when the projects were classified as eco-friendly.”

Since that fateful day, Singh has channelled his considerable energy into spreading the gospel of sustainable architecture and interior design both in his native Thailand and at lectures and seminars around the world.

More: Meet Shanghai’s most exciting design duo

His schedule has been particularly hectic of late. When we catch up with him, he has just returned from a green symposium in Beirut, Lebanon. Before that he spoke at the Salzburg Global Seminar where he discussed the concept of turning waste into something valuable with other thought leaders on sustainability. He’s also been busy overseeing his eco-design firm OSISU’s display of furniture and home-ware made with reclaimed construction scraps at international furniture fairs.

Given his packed itinerary, it is a slight worry that he won’t manage to make the timeslot for our call. However, he is ready to wax lyrical at exactly the allotted hour.

[pullquote]“We are in deep crap environmentally and nobody is doing anything about it,”[/pullquote]

“I attend so many meetings and seminars both here and overseas that I’ve perfected the art of being on time,” he laughs.

It is not just his punctuality that marks Singh out. Over the course of the conversation, the architect will muse on subjects ranging from sustainable architecture to the current political impasse in Thailand. On the depressing outlook for the planet, he offers a blunt remark.

“My personal view is that we are screwed,” he says softly. Despite frequent moments of frankness, Dr Singh is far from downbeat. He talks passionately about his work as design principle at OSISU, Thailand’s leading eco-design production house, and head of the Building Innovation and Technology Program at Kasetsart University’s Faculty of Architecture.

[caption id="attachment_52822" align="aligncenter" width="740"]A piece made from re-claimed wood A piece made from re-claimed wood[/caption]

Given Singh’s reputation as one of the country’s most prominent champions of sustainable design, it is not surprising to hear him express strong opinions. After spending more than 20 years in the US, where he obtained a Doctor in Philosophy degree in Design Technology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he returned to Bangkok, his home city, for what he thought would be a temporary stay.

“I was convinced I was going to hate it,” he recalls. “I’d formed a really negative impression of Bangkok when I was overseas: the heat, the traffic, the pollution, the corruption. But when I came back I was out of my mind with happiness. I found there were so many things that I could do and so many people allowing me to do it.”

One of these projects was forming OSISU, which Singh founded in 2006 to push the trash beautifying process, creating furniture and home ware from items ranging from stone, cement and teak to more challenging waste materials such as button scraps, industrial sandpaper and foil packaging.

He also consults with private enterprises, is Design Innovation Ambassador for Thailand’s National Innovation Committee and has worked with other government agencies in Thailand to promote a green building agenda.

More: Aussie designer reveals ‘bizarre’ love affair with nature

[caption id="attachment_52824" align="aligncenter" width="740"]"Pie chart" stools "Pie chart" stools[/caption]

Yet while you’d expect a man of his standing to be listened to intently, Singh is the first to admit the inherent difficulties in getting his arguments across.

“We are in deep crap environmentally and nobody is doing anything about it,” he bemoans of the situation in Thailand, where construction on condominiums continues unabated in Bangkok. “Whenever I talk to anyone at the ministries it is extremely annoying. It takes forever to even get a small project done. You need to rely on your own initiative in Thailand and not the government.”

Less frustrating is his lecturing work. Although he would like his Thai students to be more voluble – “they are brought up to be obedient and not to challenge the establishment viewpoint,” he says – he feeds off the energy and ideas provided by younger minds.


“My students inspire me all the time,” he says. “I don’t enjoy teaching for teaching’s sake. I enjoy it when the students are so brilliant they can feed back into my pallet of ideas.”

More: Architect gets eco-political with new underwater city design

With that, Singh needs to draw the conversation to a close. He has to prepare for another foreign seminar. It is, he admits, an unrelenting travel schedule, but one he insists is worthwhile in the long run in terms of forging professional friendships and forming new ideas that can be applied in Thailand.

“I’m so far out in the left field here that I need to travel a lot to get my thoughts out there and come back with new inspiration,” he explains. More than a decade after stumbling upon a unique gift concept, Singh is still searching for new ideas to improve the lives of others.

This article originally appeared in issue 136

Read next: Asia gets a ‘Green Star’ in global sustainability benchmark

Fashioning a globetrotter's dream home in Singapore

Acclaimed interior designer Gracinha Viterbo pays homage to the beauty of travel

Gracinha Viterbo

When it comes to creating unique interiors, few names resonate like Gracinha Viterbo. The president, partner and creative director of Viterbo Interior Design – a business her mother, Graça, founded in 1971 that has grown to become a truly international concern – Viterbo has created vivid interiors for countless clients.

“I am a storyteller,” says the Portuguese-born auteur. “Each project is a piece of art that needs to encapsulate creativity, comfort, technology and heritage.”

After learning her trade at the renowned Inchbald School of Design in London, Viterbo returned to Lisbon to enter the family firm. At first she helped to supervise the Viterbo showroom before assuming a more senior role managing large projects for hotel chains and residential developments across Europe, Africa and Asia.

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="50119,50120"]

“When my mother retired it was decided that I should take over her role,” explains Viterbo. “Today I have a multi-cultural and multi-skilled team. We have seven different nationalities and a wealth of talent at Viterbo. All of our guys are unique in their own way and they are as vital to our vision as I am.”

While the nerve centre of the Viterbo operation remains in Lisbon, the company’s tentacles extend far and wide through various subsidiaries, including the latest addition to the empire, Viterbo Asia, based in Singapore.

More: 7 innovations from the world's top interior designers

“We have worked all over the world for 45 years and our success is down to a desire to bring added value to all our projects,” adds Viterbo. “It is a collaborative process in which we adapt to everything whether it is the demands of our clients or even the cultural quirks of the countries where we conduct our business.”

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="50125,50122,50121"]

And it was this quest for perfection that informed the conceptualisation of a home design for a client at 8 Napier Singapore that is so full of life it almost breathes on its own.

“It is an homage to the beauty of travel,” says Viterbo. “It’s a collector’s nest and a globetrotter’s dream. It is timeless, but at the same time it displays a sense of history with vintage accents and a contemporary understanding through modern details such as the Vander Stratten sculptural mirror on the wall.

“I want to establish a rounded sense of identity through design,” she continues. “People connect identity to fashion and still feel that all exterior signs are the ones to invest in, when a balance is needed. People should live, sleep and breathe their own story – their own identity – through a home. A truly soulful design can illuminate any personality. It is a skin, an identity card, a refuge and an escape.”

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="50126,50123,50124"]

Inspired by the Avant-garde and other seminal influences such as German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Irish designer Eileen Grey, Viterbo believes that great design transcends time. In her view it is something that can’t be achieved overnight, but through long stints of hard work, travel and immersion in other cultures. Only then, she adds, can a designer know how to source the right materials and really address the needs and desires of a client.

More: Aussie designer reveals bizarre love affair with nature, plus more

“I’d like to think I go above and beyond when I’m working on a project,” says Viterbo. "I don’t do ‘by rote’. I’m not the kind of designer who opens a catalogue and uses a whole bunch of templates and is done. For me, that kind of designer blackens the name of the profession and should be banned from the industry.”

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" columns="4" ids="50130,50129,50128,50127"]

Having lived in Singapore for many years now, Viterbo has developed a keen appreciation of the artistry and craftsmanship she observes in Asia. “I see a lot of design talent in Asia,” she enthuses. “This talent is being recognised and appreciated. Therefore I don’t think that Asian designers should feel detached as they are very much part of the international scene.”

Headstrong and opinionated, Viterbo is no shrinking violet. With such a gilded reputation, you would hardly expect her to be. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that she has some strong words of advice for budding designers hoping to follow in her path. “It is necessary to break the mould,” she says.

“Beware of anything that resembles cookie cutter and believe in your vision.”

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="50132,50131"]

6 of Asia's greatest interior innovators

From gorgeously crafted objets d'art to sweeping architectural constructions, a talented crop of tastemakers and visionaries are shaping spaces across the continent

Asian Insiders

In March 2016, more than 7,000 guests gathered at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands for the third annual Maison&Objet Asia fair, an extension of Paris’s vaunted design and lifestyle showcase. To those in the industry, the event is the equivalent of glitzy fashion weeks in New York, Paris or Milan. Only here, couture-clad waifs, read curated collections of furniture and upscale décor served as the source of all the fawning and fascination.

Notable at this year’s expo was the calibre and quantity of Asian talent on display. Maison&Objet’s expansion into the continent three years ago signifies not only the presence of a mature market, but also an overall paradigm shift. Interior architects and designers from Asia have always been important, but seldom have they enjoyed the level of creative freedom and global prominence that they have obtained in recent years.

Some of the designers basking in the current limelight are the heads of established, multinational architectural firms that tackle projects of staggering scale.

Ed Ng, one of the two co-founders of Hong Kong-headquartered practice AB Concept, excels at conceptualising interiors for five-star hotels that are contemporary, yet deeply rooted in local traditions. For the W Beijing Chang’an in the Chinese capital the firm created a geometric interior inspired by ancient Chinese philosophical principles that incorporated modern elements such as an LED-illuminated catwalk.

Interior architects and designers from Asia have always been important, but seldom have they enjoyed the level of creative freedom and global prominence that they have obtained in recent years

Another standout firm catering to luxury hospitality clients is BLINK Design Studio. Under the guidance of founder Clint Nagata, the company has helped hotels such as the Melia Bali and the Regent Xi’an create unique interior spaces with a cohesive narrative. Though the two hospitality brands have distinctive styles, they are similar in that they make sure each piece of the final product adheres to a coherent, rigorously thought-out concept. The bland pan-Asian decor of generations past is long gone, replaced by specific and fully realised nods to individual aesthetic traditions.

This conceptual precision extends from the macro to the micro level. After all, sweeping interior spaces would be nothing though without the objects that fill them, which is where furniture wizards such as Kenneth Cobonpue come into play. A native of the Philippines, Cobonpue’s statement loungers, loveseats, sofas and tables use indigenous materials and weaving techniques from his home country to dramatic effect.

[caption id="attachment_52004" align="aligncenter" width="740"]Apolite Table Lamp by Denny R. Priyatna Apolite Table Lamp by Denny R. Priyatna[/caption]

Many of Cobonpue’s collections are grounded in either Asian nature or culture. Acacia is a series of rattan tables that derive their distinctive shape from the form of the baobab tree while Dragnet’s ottomans and chairs resemble the coarsely knotted nets of Filipino fishermen. A combination of exquisite craftsmanship and brand storytelling make these works enormously compelling to the international market.

Worthy as these globally lauded luminaries are, some of the most exciting developments in the region are coming from a new generation of designers, many of whom were educated abroad and draw on a broad range of stylistic influences. Denny R Priyatna, Melvin Ong and Sittichai Ngamhongtong all earned recognition at the first Maison&Objet Asia back in 2014 and have continued to produce slick, intelligently realised home accessories. Some of their creations speak to elements of their cultural upbringing while others move in bold, entirely original directions.

Fearless, timeless and wildly diverse, the results of their works are redefining how the rest of the world will view Asian design for years to come.

First: Kenneth Cobonpue, Philippines

Kenneth Cobonpue, Philippines

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51973,51974"]

"My inspiration comes from nature, different cultures, travel and my dreams,” says the Cebu-born furniture designer of his eponymous brand. Known for integrating natural Filipino materials such as abaca, bamboo, rattan and buri into handcrafted pieces that accent interiors of luxury resorts like the W Maldives and the Siam Kempinski Hotel, Bangkok as well as the private homes of celebrities including Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and even royalty.

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51972,51977,51976,51975"]

“What’s different about my work is that I start with the materials, and not from a computer screen. I play and experiment with the fibres and build small models and sections of the actual piece. To me, a design is finished not when I have nothing to add, but when I have nothing left to take away.”

Next: Denny R. Priyatna, Indonesia


Denny R. Priyatna, Indonesia

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="52000,51999,52004"]

After stints with both the Lumina Group and Eterno Workshop, this ambitious designer launched his own label. Both on his own and in collaboration with other firms, he specialises in producing striking pieces of furniture that engage both the viewer and the surrounding environment.

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="52001,52002,52003"]

“I am interested in exploring the relationship between human and inanimate objects,” says Priyatna. His Pipe Seat series, for instance, consists of electric cobalt constructions that seem to curve and vanish into the adjacent walls or floor, whilst Apolite, a lamp cradled by an iron and rattan frame, casts undulating shadows over its surrounding space.

Next: Clint Nagata, Thailand


Clint Nagata, founder and creative director, BLINK Design Group, Thailand

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51978,51979"]

“Great hotel designs tell stories and when shared, design becomes social,” says Nagata. “Our team takes stories of the owner and the local community and turns them into luxurious spaces that have a sense of place. We make it easy for guests to share the story – or be the story – which in the Instagram age is a requirement.”

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51980,51981"]

Unlike its sister company, Singapore-based Space Matrix, which focuses on creating corporate environments, BLINK is all about creating the kinds of instantly memorable settings that inspire hashtags and the kind of viral fame so coveted by high-powered brands. Since 2006, the company has expanded from its base in Bangkok to offices in Shanghai, New Delhi and Singapore, and designed interiors for clients including Six Senses Uluwatu, Regent Taipei and Jumeirah Dhevanafushi, Maldives.

Next: Melvin Ong, Singapore

Melvin Ong, founder of Desinere, Singapore

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51986,51982"]

After honing his craft at Central St Martin’s College of Art & Design and working at Brand42 in London, Ong launched his own label in 2012 focusing on carefully crafted homeware ranging from larger furniture all the way down to diminutive paperweights. From ornate ruffs and pleated fabrics in Victorian England to ancient tembusu trees in Singapore and folded banana leaves bearing dishes across Asia, his inspirations are varied, but the results are consistently subtle and sophisticated.

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51983,51984,51985"]

Of his somewhat cerebral style, Ong says, “If we take a step back from our surroundings, we become more attuned and sensitive to them.”

Next: Ed Ng, Hong Kong


Ed Ng, co-founder and principal of AB Concept, Hong Kong

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51992,51991,51987"]

Founded in 1999 by Ed Ng and Terence Ngan, this architectural powerhouse with offices in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Taipei boasts a prestigious list of hospitality clients from all over Asia including W Bali, Four Seasons Shang-Xi, Pudong Shanghai, Rosewood Sanya and The Ritz-Carlton Guangzhou. As lead architect, Ngan focuses on building soaring structures, while Ng is in charge of their eye-popping interiors.

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51990,51989,51988"]

For CÉ LA VI, an ultra-luxe dining and nightlife venue in Hong Kong, the firm used everything from lava stones and custom-crafted chandeliers to tropical plants to add an air of opulent mystique. “The world I see and experience is filled with radiant poetry, with marvellous expression and stories everywhere,” says Ng. “Every moment is an inspiration to me; every moment is about design in my life.” 

Next: Sittichai Ngamhongtong, Thailand


Sittichai Ngamhongtong, designer of +SENSE, Thailand

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51997,51994"]

“My style is to make simple things look interesting,” says Sittichai, a task at which he and his colleagues at +SENSE succeed. “I work under the principle concept of ‘less is more’.”

[gallery type="rectangular" size="full" ids="51993,51995,51996"]

The brand’s impressive portfolio is peppered with everyday objects elevated by sleek minimalism. Instead of turning to traditional Thai design, which often relies on intricate decorative accents, for inspiration, he grounds his creations in a form of modernism that calls to mind Scandinavian or Japanese design without fully conforming to either. From spare monochrome tables to stylish patio chairs, these creations command attention through their aesthetic restraint.

Go back to the beginning

This feature originally appeared in Property Report issue no. 136.


6 of the most creative landscape design firms in Asia

From sustainable eco-initiatives to bold designs inspired by ancient local traditions, these design firms are redefining how we view outdoor space around the region

[caption id="attachment_57877" align="aligncenter" width="740"]A pavilion at The Tree House, Singapore (scroll down for details) A pavilion at The Tree House, Singapore[/caption]

While other architects mould in brick and steel and glass, landscape designers navigate a far trickier toolbox.

At their finest, they define spaces and create miniature worlds. Their canvas evolves and shifts by the season, the hour, and the minute as their living medium withers, fades or flourishes. The manicured gardens, dramatically lit sculptures, and spiralling staircases, characteristic of some of Asia’s most illustrious five-star resorts, and residences serve as a necessary visual bridge between man-made artifice and its natural or urban surroundings.

More: Zen and the art of landscape gardening

Innovative landscape design in Asia is hardly new. Inhabitants of this continent have understood the vital role it plays for generations. Evidence of carefully composed landscapes can be found around some of Thailand’s earliest Lanna temples.

The Chinese concept of feng shui dictates how various natural and artificial elements should interact for the most harmonious final result. The name, which translates simply to “wind water,” fails to convey the weight that the idea expresses: that properly ordered landscape has the power to redirect life force and impact all beings that pass through it. Though the idea is thousands of years old, it continues to strongly influence architects today.

[caption id="attachment_57889" align="aligncenter" width="740"]Indochina Villas Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City (scroll down for details) Indochina Villas Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City[/caption]

Similarly, artfully arranged rock gardens in Japan date back to the sixth century and the Heian period. These sparsely decorated gravel landscapes combed to resemble water ripples use the utmost precision to evoke a contemplative atmosphere.

Over the course of the last several centuries, Asian societies have developed in fits and spurts. Rice paddies and thick jungle have given way to some of the tallest skyscrapers and densest urban populations on the globe. As if seeking an antidote to all this accelerated industrialisation, designers often seek to incorporate greenery any way they can.

Much of the industry’s focus tends to centre on public and hospitality sectors. While it’s true that urban parks and five-star resorts do tend to sport the most flamboyant landscapes, many of the region’s top firms are conceiving of equally striking works for residential properties.

Here we highlight six of the most creative firms currently transforming landscapes in Asia and beyond...

Take me to page 2: The Tree House, Singapore

1. COEN Design International


The Tree House, Singapore

Greenery is incorporated into every element of this award-winning addition to the upscale area of Chestnut Avenue, from the lush “sky terraces” to the vertical gardens -- —proclaimed the world’s highest in 2014 by the Guinness Book of World Records lining the sides of the building. “It is a milestone project for COEN,” says managing director Ann Teo with pride. “We have created an iconic green wall that stamps its presence in the neighbourhood.”





Take me to page 3: Zobon City Villas, Shanghai


2. SWA


Zobon City Villas, Shanghai

Zobon City Sculpture Garden - Gerdo Aquino 6952_epi.jpg

Few cities have transformed as rapidly as Shanghai, whose Pudong bank invites comparisons to Blade Runner and other glittering, dystopian visions of the future. In a sea of skyscrapers and neon-lit billboards, residents have begun to clamour for the kind of verdant spaces that are becoming increasingly scarce in contemporary Chinese mega-cities. “"Zobon City Villas is an innovative model for urban living in a city that continues to experience rapid growth,” says Gerdo Aquino, CEO and Principal.





Take me to page 4: Indochina Villas Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City

More: These amazing grass armchairs will transform your landscape design


3. ONE Landscape Design Ltd.


Indochina Villas Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City

The frenetic pace and rising skyline of Vietnam’s southern hub has created a greater need for serene spots, which is why ONE turned to a rural source for aesthetic guidance. “Inspired by the linearity of the paddy fields that characterise Vietnam’s dramatic landscapes, we included a series of vibrant community spaces that are interconnected through a safe and secure public realm,” says Viraj Chatterjee, Design Principle at ONE. These undulating lines throughout lend an organic feel to the luxury villas from MIA Design Studio.





©Aaron Joel SANTOS / NOI Pictures - all rights reserved

©Aaron Joel SANTOS / NOI Pictures - all rights reserved


Take me to page 5: 8 Napier, Singapore


4. Tierra Design


8 Napier, Singapore

Just in case its covetable location - less than a kilometre from the Singapore Botanical Gardens - didn’t give the game away, this is one green property. Three ancient Syzygium trees transplanted from Thai forests lend it a majestic air, while sculptural wall motifs and features including a 50-metre swimming pool leading to a lighted waterfall add visual allure. To compensate for the condominium's limited space, designer James Luhur employed optical illusions to evoke an open feel. “These levels create a sense of spaciousness, although the site itself is really not that large,” says Franklin Po, chairman of Tierra Design.






Take me to page 6: Kemensah Hevea Garden, Kuala Lumpur


5. Inside Out Design


Kemensah Hevea Garden, Kuala Lumpur

This upscale development was one of the first of its calibre in the suburb of Melawati and part of the reason city slickers in KL have started contemplating a commute. While the condos and townhouses are breezy examples of contemporary architecture, one of the primary perks luring affluent locals out of the downtown is the sprawling Everglade Park at the core of the complex. Designer Pajitpong Pongsivapai integrated pools, pavilions, sculptures and a striking fountain into the gardens with the hope that residents would truly feel at home in this inviting escape.




Take me to page 7: Quattro by Sansiri, Bangkok




Quattro by Sansiri, Bangkok

"In designing Quattro, a new condominium in the middle of overcrowded Bangkok, the main idea was to respect the existing ‘residents,’ which are old giant rain trees, and to encourage the new residents to live with nature,” according tosays Pok Kobkongsanti., Pok, a a Harvard University, Graduate School of Design graduate, who worked under the renowned Bill Bensley before going on to found TROP. His decision to put the focus on nature at the condo building in Bangkok’s fashionable Thonglor area was a brave one and presented a number of logistical challenges, but TROP insisted on seeing it through. “The rain trees become the heart of our design, while all other garden elements are created to complement those trees,” adds Kobkongsanti."





Read next: 8 of Thailand’s top landscaped properties


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