I n Singapore, we live in housing, not houses, Pan Yicheng tells us. “A house is where you can decide how you want to live vis-a-vis the external environment. Whereas housing is a given – rather than expressed as the noun, it is used like a verb: ‘I house you.’ I want to free people from being housed.”
The conversation with the creative lead of design studio Produce unfolds like this, in a series of insights amid talk about its work. The studio’s claim to fame is that it designed the plywood structures for Xtra’s Herman Miller shop-in-shop. Yicheng had designed the rst shop-in-shop in 2012 while he was at former rm PAC; the second in 2016 was by Produce.
In fact, designing the 2012 Herman Miller pavilion led to the genesis of Produce, which he and three friends started the year after. “I found it difficult to nd prototyping expertise in Singapore,” says the 38-year-old. “In order to do projects that are bespoke and computational, we require frequent physical development through prototyping. So learning from this project became the idea for Produce, a design studio that is set up alongside a workshop, where we are able to incorporate the process of fabrication into the design process itself.”
The design studio adopts this same sculptural approach in its residential projects. “In most of our interior projects, we are almost placing an object or creating a building within the space. In a way, I began to see interior spaces as contextless, almost like a tabula rasa, in which I can create my own narrative and imbue it into an object.” This is evident in its projects, such as Copper House, a plastic surgeon’s residence in which easily tarnishable copper was used to clad the interior spaces, in deliberate contradiction to a job that pursues perfection.
Because the “way of living” in mass housing is predetermined by others, Yicheng finds that owners are usually dissatisfied with the space they bought. Thus he would propose an overhaul to the plan, as a way of “freeing” them from being housed. “I start by maximising the available floor space. Secondly, because the format is a given, I would like the client to have the flexibility of reorganising the space. I will introduce a dual or multiple plan, which can change the use of a space from a living room to a guest room for example, which allows for two lifestyles to be layered onto the originally fixed plan.”
Fundamentally, what’s at the back of his mind in every project is the philosophical question of how humans live, in relation to space, and the form of living that he hopes to create for the clients.
Produce hopes to increase the scale of its works, to eventually do architecture, although interior design would not be a lesser priority. Yicheng believes that, in the future, more computational design and digital fabrication will be incorporated into the practice of architectural design, and he reckons that the design studio is well placed to realise its experimental structures on a larger scale.
While he believes that every designer has a style, Yicheng does not think it can be quantified in words, nor does he think it important to, as long as it is being conveyed visually.
How style can be substantiated, more importantly, would be through consistency in his or her body of work, which is why he tends to be selective about the jobs he takes on.
“Otherwise, you would be compromising along the way,” he says, “and lose the chance towards creating your style.”
Sculpting interior spaces with a unique narrative
A condominium apartment in Balestier, Copper House is a plastic surgeon’s residence, with interior spaces segmented with copper-clad walls.