Making Spaces Work

Aspiring interior designers get equipped with professional skills at SIT

"A key feature of the SIT / GSA Interior Design programme is developing our students as critical and independent thinkers. The students are encouraged to develop their own points of view which needs to be grounded and rigourous,"

Mark Teo, Lecturer, Singapore Institute of Technology.

When Marcus Choo enrolled in Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) Interior Design course, the aspiring interior designer was following his dreams.

Today Choo graduated top of his cohort. "I believe that I have managed to hit one of my life's biggest dreams which is to attain academic excellence within my study in SIT," says Choo who admits to being a slow learner. "My journey has just begun and this dream will enable me to unlock and achieve even greater aspirations in the near future."

MAGAZINE 136 P5_Choo Hao Xin IMG_2646

The annual GSA Singapore degree show in June this year at SOTA Gallery is the culmination of the work that the BA (Hons) Interior Design have completed in the two years programme. The students present critical work that addresses a variety of issues relating to contemporary design in the Singapore context. Photography by Choo Hao Xin.

The two year course at SIT is part of the university's Design and Specialised Business Degree Programmes. Choo is amongst 40 students in the Interior Design module whom the university enrol every year.

According to SIT's prospectus, the course has an established professional structure which allows graduates the opportunity to gain invaluable experience at various levels of responsibility before choosing to set up an independent practice or take leading roles in established studios. Its degree programmes are validated by University of Glasgow where students get the opportunity to experience a 4-week attachment at the home campus of Glasgow School of the Art (GSA) in the UK. The study trip includes visits to key cultural sites and institutions in the city of Glasgow to help students acquire a critical understanding of the global practice of design.

"A key feature of the SIT / GSA Interior Design programme is developing our students as critical and independent thinkers. The students are encouraged to develop their own points of view which needs to be grounded and rigourous," explains Mark Teo, a lecturer in the Design and Specialised Businesses cluster.  "In addition, the programme is well connected to the industry where we bring in professionals for guest lectures but also industry partners for live projects. This provides the necessary grounding and also an awareness of the current landscape."

One industry collaboration is with the Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital where the students are tasked to design a specific activity area within the wards in the hospital. A couple of the designs have since been implemented.

The live community-focused projects are embedded within the curriculum for good reason. "This is in the hope that the students, in addition to being prepared for the industry, will also be grounded within the community," says Teo.

Teo admits that students now are increasingly more skilfull, technically-inclined and IT savvy. While many design references are accessible online, the theory behind interior design is often misconstrued as 'easier' making the need to be critical thinkers an essential skill in today's social landscape.

"Our students . . . join us armed with a diploma from relevant design courses. There is now an increasingly need for interior designers to be critical thinkers, which enables them to ask the right questions and craft out projects that are both meaningful and impactful."

Looking at this year's graduating projects, it is clear that creativity is aplenty with people centric themes which addressed community, cultural and social issues. A submission by Kinglsey Koh involved a columbarium reimagined into a calming concrete respite to mourn in solitude or with company. Other noteworthy submissions include spaces designed for children with learning difficulties, a proposed revitalisation of Redhill Close and a sensorial film experience.

Slow and steady wins the race for Marcus Choo

For his graduating project, Marcus Choo chose to revitalise Chinatown, a place which holds fond childhood memories. The top scoring student cited People's Park Complex as an important building which bore witness to his journey into adulthood.

"The Complex is not only a reflection of my childhood but also a place where I can see the stark differences of the various phases that I have experienced so far. It provides me with a clear image of how much I have grown as a person and as a designer," shares Choo.

Choo's submission explored the concept of layering, continuity and familiarity to create spaces that enables the iconic building to experience a process of adaptive reuse in three strategic areas within the complex - Social Circle (a lively community-centric space), Healing Space (a space integrating acupuncture facilities, a medical hall and herbal tea house) and Maker Space (a space where people can learn about Chinese culture through events and workshops). 

MAGAZINE 136 P1_MARCUS CHOO_Project 1 Dome

Organic shapes and greenery are main design strategies for the Healing Space to engage the elderly community.

MAGAZINE 136 P2_MARCUS CHOO_Project 3 Makerspace

The main intention of incorporating Maker Space was to create liveliness for the complex. The space maintains and encourages innovation, workmanship, apprenticeship and mentorship key to Chinese culture.

The journey for the 25 year old was arduous and a self-revelation one too. He recalled being riddled with personal insecurities which hampered his progress. Like his classmates, Choo's initial goal was to perform and get good grades in class. He soon learned that work driven by passion is more rewarding and self-fulfilling.

"Although it was stressful and draining, this was a very rewarding journey as it provided me the opportunity to see what I was capable of after being tested, in turn it has also broadened my understanding of the interior design industry," he says.

Before SIT, Choo had studied Retail and Hospitality design in Temasek Polytechnic, his initial foray into interior design. Through SIT Interior Design module, Choo gets to fulfill his dream of becoming an interior designer in two years instead of four. Another winning determinant is its immersion experience at the University of Glasgow which enhances his learning journey.

"Mostly, I appreciated the fact that SIT‐GSA empowers the students with the freedom to plan our own schedule in addition to allow us to present our work-in-progress to the professors for amendments and improvements for their invaluable feedback," he says. "Despite having to produce a substantial amount of work alongside my final year thesis, this facilitated my understanding of the importance of time management and Master-Planning."

MAGAZINE 136 P3_Project 1 Walkway

The Social Circle offers resting spots where people can take a break and enjoy the scenery.

MAGAZINE 136 P4_SIT_Marcus Choo Jun Fei

Marcus Choo

When DCRS - Decorations asked of his role model, Choo did not cite a famous interior designer or an architect. Instead he began to wax lyrical about his mother as the pillar of his strength, who has inspired him to overcome barriers physical and emotional and to soldier on bravely.

Choo is most grateful to his mother for equipping him with precious life skills to make good decisions responsible for his success today. "During my educational journey I wasn't the most gifted student academically, but my mother never once doubted my abilities . . . She taught me the importance of being positive and courageous when facing obstacles, to show compassion and acceptance to others who may not agree with my point of view," says Choo.