Designful

Design

Soori Bali
Soori Bali photograph by Mario Wibowo

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, architect Soo K. Chan, founding principal and design director of SCDA Architects, spent much of his time on the road overseeing projects across the world. They include well-known works like Soori Bali, the luxurious Soori High Line apartment block in New York City, The Sanya EDITION in China, as well as a plethora of elegant houses, hotels, and residential towers.

Soo K. Chan, founding principal and design director of SCDA Architects
Soo K. Chan, founding principal and design director of SCDA Architects

But with cross-border travel restrictions and work-from-home practices in place over the past months, Chan suddenly found himself at home for the longest period in 12 years. Is his abode anything like the restful, refined spaces he has come to be known for? “The design of our home is quite elemental, but it does embody everything I believe in, such as bringing in the landscape, ample natural light, and a sense of balance in the massing, proportions, and spatial planning, all to evoke a tranquil atmosphere,” explains the detail-obsessed architect who is inspired by modernists like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, and traditional spatial ideas like the courtyards and ventilation features of regional shophouses and colonial homes.

All these aspects converge to create a holistic environment, which Chan wholeheartedly champions. This approach places concepts of sustainability, morphology, phenomenology, culture, craftsmanship, health, and functionality on the same level as beauty and aesthetics. It was also the topic of his July KOHLER Bold Talk, an online discussion based on Dimensions of Wellbeing, Kohler Co.’s Perspective of the Year.

Lalu Nanjin photograph by Aaron Pocok
Lalu Nanjin photograph by Aaron Pocok

Chan believes that the pandemic will have huge implications on design, architecture, and even fundamental life beliefs. “Our understanding of life is much more fragile, and it has highlighted a lot of things we don’t need. It has also made me realize that shelter is primary,” he says, commenting on how the drastic inequality in the standards of “shelter” has become blindingly clear during the pandemic.

KL House photograph by Aaron Pocock
KL House photograph by Aaron Pocock

In the developed world, many will rethink their ideas of home and livability. The home office, home gym, and even the bathroom will see further development. “The bathroom experience is a huge part of hospitality design, especially in resorts. In our designs, we pay attention to the bathroom because you start and end your day there, and we are increasingly spending more time in it,” says Chan.

Key tenets of technology and wellness in bathroom design have progressed immensely in recent times and will continue to do so, making products such as KOHLER® intelligent toilets with sanitizing UV light and touchless faucets timely. They are designed to reflect the changing ways we interact with the bathroom space and enhance cleanliness and hygiene.

Soori Bali mountain pool villa bathroom suite photograph by Ken Pils
Soori Bali mountain pool villa bathroom suite photograph by Ken Pils

A seminal case study of Chan’s approach Soori Bali, designed, owned, and operated by Chan and his wife. The luxury resort champions holistic building and operating methods with architecture that respects the native land and its people. The resort’s facilities and 48 villas are designed around existing irrigation paths and specific religious processional routes and employ local materials like Batu Candi volcanic stone and grey sandstone from nearby riverbanks. Here, almost all of the staff are from the village, no plastic is used, and local produce is transformed into gastronomic delights.

Soori Bali photograph by Brad Walls
Soori Bali reception area photograph by Mario Wibowo
Soori Bali reception area photograph by Ken Pils

Chan’s other sustainability and conservation efforts include working with Parley for the Oceans to design an ocean research center in the Maldives, which takes the form of sustainably manufactured living pods. “The project came out of necessity: Every time there’s heavy rain, the river washes debris and plastic into the ocean, which sweeps it back onto shore. We spend all our time cleaning the beach,” says Chan. The project also enables collaboration with industrial manufacturers to come up with inventive solutions. Following the implementation of the pods in the Maldives, a set will also be built at Soori Bali, where they will be used to host educational seminars and classes, and events like the beach cleanups and turtle conservation programs that Soori Bali is already conducting.

Soori Bali photograph by Brad Walls
Soori Bali photograph by Mario Wibowo

“People realize that the next disaster is going to be climate-related,” Chan says. Driven by a sense of urgency, he joined local industry partners such as WOHA, DP Architects, and Web Structures to establish a Singaporean chapter of global petition Construction Declares. So far, the founding signatories have organized talks and webinars with professionals and academics to discuss steps that can be taken to avert the collapse of biodiversity.

Sky Terrace in Singapore photograph by Aaron Pocock
Sky Terrace in Singapore photograph by Aaron Pocock

“The Singapore chapter is still in its early stages, but at least there’s a place for dialogue. Hopefully from awareness comes change. But change will also come when the time is right. Now, many corporations want to embrace sustainability. I think the perfect storm of the pandemic and current global conditions and issues will also influence mindsets. It’s all coming together in its own way,” the architect says.