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Staying Cheeky in East London

I step off the London cobbles of Hackney Road and into the airy offices of VW+BS. Two of the partners Voon and Ian insist I join them for lunch and the discussions turn dangerously witty as only British humour could.
  

I’m sitting in front of a terrain of smoothly lathed mushroom-resembling wooden abstractions. I can imagine Super Mario jumping to and fro collecting golden coins. The “mushrooms” are attached via magnet to an equally smooth wooden tray masking a plate of steel beneath. On contact, magnet meets wooden surface and the sound of the resulting click is addictive. It however runs the risk of embarrassment, so I reluctantly pull my hand back from fun-land.

Who are these current hosts at hand? As an architect, Voon Wong from Singapore is part of the AA crowd and set up his own architecture practice in 1997. The next generation of this firm’s growth saw the 2001 addition of engineer and product designer Benson Saw from Kuala Lumpur. Finally in 2006 London’s own economic guru Ian Macready, signed on board “to cook the books,” officially founding the multidisciplinary practice VW+BS. Under one house since then, VW+BS bridges the scale gap between product design and architecture.

I sit down with Ian and Voon for a chat (Benson runs the Malaysia branch and is unfortunately not present) and it becomes apparent that material investigation – porcelain in particular – and formal expression are their primary interests. Voon elaborates on how designers are leaning towards the use of traditional materials to produce new and updated products for a contemporary desire.

Ian excitedly disclose that VW+BS are also the Creative Directors of the new 100% Design Singapore fair, designing the event as well as curating some of the content. I make mention of how such fairs, Salone di Mobile in my personal observation, stirs city wide interests. Drawing a parallel to their home base, Ian and Voon notes with chuckles that the likes of 100% Design and Design Junction “does cover a wide range of London, thought it doesn’t exactly go into Wandsworth.”

After a photo review of their office, lunch is an all-office affair with the team sitting around the conference table. Wine is graciously poured and as all great conversations go, the topic bounces from one mad interest to another extreme. Christmas vacation stories turns into the failure of sprouts simply not complimenting a serving of gnocchi.

“It just doesn’t!”

My Japanese origins and language comprehension skills are tested out by a team member, after which Spanish ham makes an abrupt entrance into the conversation. “And where do you live now?” to which my response involving MBFW Berlin has Ian claiming to be a runway model. The tone in this studio, speak volumes as to the high quality of this team’s work and creative process laced with a plethora of humour and sharp wit.

 


Gabriel

: How would you describe VW+BS?

VW+BS

: We are clear-headed and rational. Mixed with a bit of randomness to the work which could be a chair, an airline cabin, an exhibition design or a house.

Gabriel

: Your team is extremely international. Why London as the headquarters?

VW+BS

: It was just how it happened. We all met in London because of work and study. And London has turned itself over the last twenty years into a hub for design and so it makes sense to stay here. And it is easy to get to most places from London. Except when it snows.

Gabriel

: Does the city mean something to your design?

VW+BS

: Yes of course. London is chaotic, international and outward looking. It has to have some impact on how we work. London isn’t exactly pretty. It requires you to look closely at things to see the beauty.

Gabriel

: What’s been the most unexpected source of inspiration?

VW+BS

: We are not really the types to claim anything except a place in the lunch queue. We look in all the usual places for inspiration from 1950s Latin American architecture to basket weaving in Asia. We like it when we see an object used differently from its intention: a taxi driver using his car bonnet as a lunch table; a street divider being used as a bench or clothes rail. It’s interesting to see how people use things.

Gabriel

: Speaking of things, what's an essential tool in the studio?

VW+BS

: The Braun coffee maker keeps us awake!


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