Winston Churchill said it best: Environmental design matters. It represents our cultural and social identities. It influences our actions, thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, it outlasts generations. When we speak about experience design today, we often mean the digital. In reality, modern lives are still shaped by physical worlds. What we build is updated infrequently, good and bad designs are more permanent.

“First, we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

The most impactful designs are likely to always be the domain of the tangible world, something virtual experiences will struggle to entirely replace. The real world remains our most important design arena, and it’s essential to pay tribute to its most audacious and beautiful creations. Doing so, we raise awareness for their pivotal role in shaping human lives. We picked four stories of standout architectural and interior design creations across this region; one of them being Singapore’s iconic Pearl Bank apartments. Big or small-scale, they reimagine our world as we know it. This makes them driving forces of progress and cultural interpretation.

Peace Oriental Tea House, Bangkok

Peace Oriental Tea House, Bangkok

Peace Oriental Tea House, Bangkok
A contemporary oriental tea house contrasting Bangkok’s high-energy living
Aiming to be ordinary can yield extraordinary experiences. Born to Chinese immigrants in Bangkok, Teerachai Limpaitoon grew up with tea. Every morning, his father would prepare several kinds for the family. For him, it was not love at first sight. He basically had no choice but to drink up. Over time, this repeated exposure turned into appreciation. Graduating as a music engineer, Teerachai enjoys mixing science and art. With tea, it was no different. From music, life led him to monkhood for six months. He realised he wasn’t strong enough to continue. Returning to everyday life, he decided to be the best ordinary person he could be. This is how Peace Oriental Tea House was born.

“A contemporary oriental tea house contrasting Bangkok’s high-energy living”

Founded in Bangkok, the small collection of tea houses started in 2015. Representing oriental tea culture in contemporary Asian design, its timeless interiors are as much an expression of heritage as they are of modern luxury. Patrons enjoy a journey through interesting teas Teerachai procures. Especially their matcha products put it on firmly on the map with foodies in Bangkok and beyond. Today, the brand has become a kind of modern cultural institution. It feels traditional and avant-garde at the same time. Teerachai is currently designing a new outlet in Lumpini with a contemporary Chinese aesthetic, reflecting his own tea journey: Over time, his personal preference circled back to Chinese teas.
Peace Oriental Tea House, 47 Soi Sukhumvit 49/1, Bangkok. www.facebook.como/peace.t.house

"Pencil towers" high-rise buildings in Hong Kong

“Pencil towers” high-rise buildings in Hong Kong. Photography by Simon Zhu.

Pencil Towers, Hong Kong

Hong Kong has always been a special place for me. It’s a vibrant display of urban humanity, an eclectic confluence of cultures, capitalism and art. Contrasting steep slopes, saturated green spaces and ocean with ultra-dense developments even upcountry, Hong Kong’s cityscape is iconic by any standards. This urban identity is marked by Pencil Towers, which emerged in the 1970s as an answer to the downsides of giant composite mixed-use buildings. As the city and real estate prices grew, large buildings became unsuitable and inconvenient.

“A novel approach to public and living space on ultra-condensed Hong Kong Island”

They blocked daylight at street level, which limited their height, and housed a plethora of savoury establishments including night clubs and factories. Smaller developers opted instead for buying two shophouse lots, on which they built narrow skyscrapers with 20 or more stories. Pencil towers with a single or few apartments per floor rose into the sky, and commercial space followed. In decades to come, this architectural answer to the economic and social dynamics of Hong Kong created unique urban patterns of vertical indoor public spaces. Hong Kong’s cityscape is anchored by a patchwork of restaurants, rest areas and connecting bridges well above or beneath the ground level that creates a vertical city. While vertical cities exist primarily in the domain of science fiction, they are a unique reality of life here, and Pencil Towers are foundational to this topography.

Pencil Towers scatter across Central in particular, defining its unique aesthetic.

Capella, Ubud - The Lodge

Capella, Ubud – The Lodge

Capella Ubud, Bali
When Bill Bensley first set foot on Bali in 1984, he found a mystical paradise untouched by mass-market tourism. Capella Ubud is a journey back in time that comes to life in a forward-thinking luxury concept humbly integrated into the rainforest. Bensley’s maximalist style lends his 23-tent glamping adventure a vernacular that pleases artistic souls and teases us to embrace our inner eccentric. Its playful and light-hearted take on Bali’s grim Dutch colonial period is a subtle history lesson to the observant traveller. Sounds of the forest and light permeate the tent day and night.

“A luxe journey to Bali’s early splendours and colonial sacrifices”

Cocooned in creature comforts and surrounded by utterly civilised hospitality, it’s the Bali encounter we’ve all hallucinated about. My favourite memories include the cistern, a pool fashioned entirely of marine-grade steel, private outdoor showers and copper bathtubs, wonderful locally-made Republic of Soap bath amenities and outstanding breakfast. Capella Ubud invites patrons to dream of a mystical young Bali and imagine the thrills of spending day and night in the wilderness. This invigorating deep respect for nature with eclectic man-made details defines the unique beauty of this ultra-luxe dwelling. Conservation is core to this, and a personal passion imbued in Bensley’s work: Capella’s foray into Bali only came to be because he changed the site briefly to an exclusive 23-tent project in total harmony with nature.
Capella Ubud, Jl. RY Dalem, Keliki, Bali. www.capellahotels.com/en/capella-ubud/wellness

Pearl Bank's iconic horse-shoe design (photo by Fahrul Azmi)

Pearl Bank’s iconic horse-shoe design (photo by Fahrul Azmi)

Pearl Bank, Singapore
Completed in 1976 to be the tallest building in Singapore, Pearl Bank Apartments pioneered dense urban living in a landmark structure beloved by many until this day. Perched on a hill, it was a bold, brutalist omen of Singapore’s remarkable rise to become one of the world’s most advanced countries. Locally and regionally, the Pearl’s Hill site and its eponymous structure redefined urban living.

“Many iconic designs across Asia treat us to unique experiences and remind us of another famous saying: The future isn’t something we enter, it’s something we create.” – Leonard Sweet

Architect Tan Cheng Siong’s celebration of urbanity may be bold, but until this day feels purposeful and measured. Ascending the elevation from Outram Park station towards the building resembles a gentle stroll up to a Pagoda. There’s a genuine air of calm about its surrounds. Pearl Bank may not be the most aesthetically pleasing artefact in today’s Chinatown, but it’s hard to imagine the area without it. Redevelopment into a condo attempting to pay tribute to the original design is a controversial, but pragmatic move. Hopefully, it will continue the site’s legacy appropriately. Read about how Singapore is future-proofing its urban planning.
Pearl Bank Apartments, 1 Pearl Bank, Singapore 169016

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