Farmers’ market: Designing user-centric spaces

/ EdgeProp Singapore
May 22, 2020 9:00 AM SGT
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Now that Covid-19 has changed the perception of public and communal spaces, new designs have to address issues beyond architectural lines. One firm that is prepared to take on such challenges is Farm, a Singapore-based, cross-disciplinary design firm with over 40 staff who call themselves “Farmers”.
Last year, the firm started Farmacy — a sharing platform for them to take on research-based projects, says Tiah Nan Chyuan, director of Farm. “[These projects] always begin with a question or a problem that is posed to us. And a lot of these problems do not yet have a domain expert,” he says.
Tiah Nan Chyuan (left) and Selwyn Low, directors at Farm with fellow Farmers in their office in Waterloo Centre (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
For instance, Farm has been engaged by a local bank to look into the issue of adult learning. Farm also participated in an architectural research project on future design of nursing homes, helmed by Ministry of Health, National University of Singapore (NUS) and URA.
It helped that Farm was involved in the positioning of lyf, a co-living brand targeted at millennials and millennial-minded travellers since its inception. It was launched at the end of 2016 by The Ascott Ltd, the lodging business unit of CapitaLand. Farm was involved in the design of the 32,000 sq ft “living lab” to field-test the brand in partnership with Singapore Management University (SMU) as well as the design of lyf Funan Singapore, which has 329 apartments and opened last September.
Farm has become the go-to for companies wishing to test new concepts or reimagine the use of space. The firm had a hand in the branding and design of Core Collective. The brainchild of Michelle Yong, its founder and CEO, Core Collective was inspired by co-working but caters to healthcare and wellness practitioners. The flagship space for Core Collective was launched at 79 Anson Road in the CBD in 2018, while the family-friendly alternative at Dempsey Hill opened its doors last August.
One of the communal spaces at lyf Funan Singapore, which opened last September (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
“Designing user-centric spaces is what we at Farm relish,” says Selwyn Low, director of Farm. “We don’t want to be trapped in one particular domain, doing the same type of projects every day. The team has the capability to get together and look at issues. And it’s something we enjoy doing.”

‘A bit of everything’

Perhaps it helped that right from the start, in 2007, Farm was not set up as a mainstream architectural or design firm. “We are not hospitality designers, we are not advertising and promotion specialists,” says Tiah. “We’re a bit of everything.”
A recent new project launch where Farm was involved in the brand concept, design of the sales gallery and all the showflats was Kopar at Newton, a high-end condominium on Kampong Java Road, just off Bukit Timah Road and Newton Circus.
The sales gallery of Kopar at Newton was inspired by the copper material used by the design architect for the project, ADDP Architects (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Developed by CEL Development, the property development arm of Chip Eng Seng Corp, the project sold 77 units out of a total of 378 units or 20% in the first weekend of April before the two-month “circuit breaker” period. The brand design for Kopar was inspired by the use of copper in the project by the architect, ADDP Architects, says Low.
At One Holland Village Residences, the sales gallery and the showflat for the low-rise block, Leven, were created by Farm. Launched in early December, the 248-unit, 99-year leasehold condo is half-sold to date. Farm was also behind the brand design of Far East Hospitality’s three new hotels that opened on Sentosa late last year, namely The Barracks, The Outpost and Village Hotel. It was also involved in the repositioning of the hospitality group’s Rendezvous Hotel on Bras Basah Road and The Clan Hotel on Cross Street.
Allgreen Properties engaged Farm for the design of the sales gallery and some of the showflats in its Bukit Timah Collection, namely Fourth Avenue Residences, Juniper Hill and Royalgreen, all three of which were launched last year. The developer also engaged Farm to work on the revamp of Tanglin Mall.
The sales gallery of Juniper Hill, the second of three projects in Allgreen Properties' Bukit Timah Collection that was designed by Farm (Photo: Albert Chhua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Last year, Farm was involved in the branding and design of The Iveria by Ove, a collection of luxury residences catering to millennials, on Kim Yam Road. The idea was conceived by Joan Chang of Macly Group. When it came to the design of the sales gallery and the showflat, Farm worked closely with the project’s design architect, JGP Architects. Farm is also behind the design of the brand, the sales gallery and showflats of two other developments by Chang this year, namely Tedge on Changi Road that was launched in February and FiveNine at Telok Kurau, which is slated for launch later this year.
Besides residential projects, Farm was also behind the concept and design of Lloyd’s Inn, a series of hotels by Chang. The first Lloyd’s Inn, which opened in Singapore in 2018, was followed by the second hotel in Bali last year, and a third, scheduled to open in Kuala Lumpur in the coming year.
The entrance to the showflat for Leven, the low-rise block at One Holland Village Residences (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

From spatial design to branding

Some property developers engage Farm to handle their positioning, branding and advertising & promotion (A&P), along with the design of marketing collaterals. One such developer is UOL Group, for which Farm is handling the brand design for Clavon at Clementi. Farm is also involved in the rebranding of The Peak Collection at Avenue South Residences, by UOL Group, United Industrial Corp and Kheng Leong Co.
Other UOL projects where Farm was involved in the A&P and brand design were Riverbank @ Fernvale and Seventy St Patrick’s, both launched in 2014; Botanique at Bartley in 2015; The Clement Canopy, launched in 2017; and The Tre Ver, in 2018.
“Having worked on quite a few residential developments, it has become quite clear that the brand narrative and design for a development can come from different angles — it does not always come from a brand statement,” says Low.
The brand positioning and advertising & promotion at Clement Canopy was inspired by the landscaping and the trees (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
“Sometimes, it can start from the landscape design; for instance, The Clement Canopy was very much about walking underneath the trees and the silhouette created by the canopies. That was the key proposition of the development, and the brand design took on the idea of the foliage and looking through the trees,” he adds.
GuocoLand engaged Farm to handle the positioning, branding and A&P for Martin Modern, Guoco Midtown and the upcoming project at Tan Quee Lan Street.
Farm first broke into A&P and brand design at Heron Bay, an executive condo (EC) launched in 2012. The project was developed by a consortium led by Evia Real Estate’s Vincent Ong. “We were actually invited to pitch for the interior design of the project,” relates Tiah. “But Vincent [Ong] found the backstory to the design so interesting that he invited us to come back in the afternoon when the ad agencies were pitching their creative designs. So we went back that afternoon and gave the same pitch.”
The showflat at Gem Residences designed by Farm (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
After Heron Bay, Farm handled both the A&P as well as sales gallery and showflat designs for Evia Real Estate’s next two projects — Lakelife EC in Jurong and Gem Residences at Toa Payoh.
“Normally, developers will use multiple interior design firms to do the different showflats,” notes Tiah.

Boutique hotels

The new and refreshed Wanderlust is expected to be launched in the coming months. The boutique hotel was repositioned after 8M Real Estate purchased it for $37 million in July 2018 from its first owner, Loh Lik Peng.
Farm, which was involved in the repositioning of Wanderlust and the revamp of the rooms, found the history of the building interesting. Prior to becoming Wanderlust with its modern pop art interiors, the building used to house Hong Wen School, and then Hin Ann Huay Kuan, a clan association. “We are rooted in the past, but sometimes, we take a step back to look at what a building or a space wants to be, and whether the outcome is befitting of the location and its personality,” says Low. “That was how the brand repositioning came about, and the interior design reflects that too.”
The design of The Great Madras pays homage to the whimsical and fantastical nature of Little India, and the architecture of a small Art Deco building (Photo: Farm)
Another boutique hotel that Farm recently completed is The Great Madras on Madras Street, off Sungei Road. Initially a block of public flats built in the 1950s–1960s with Art Deco influence, it was then converted into Hotel Madras, which was a hotel for merchants and traders in Little India. Farm has repositioned the property as the Great Madras. “The design pays homage to the whimsical and fantastical nature of Little India, and the architecture of a small Art Deco building,” says Low.
In fact, the very first boutique hospitality project that Farm worked on was the serviced apartments, ST Residences Novena (formerly known as The Forest by Wangz) on Moulmein Road. This was followed by Porcelain Hotel on Mosque Street, which opened in 2011 and is now on the market with a price tag of $115 million.
When Farm was engaged for the branding and design of Porcelain Hotel by Jason Lee of JL Asia Resources a decade ago, the layout of the rooms had already been fixed. “We told the client that perhaps we could play on the rooms being small but precious, hence, Porcelain Hotel,” says Tiah.
The exterior of The Porcelain Hotel, where the name and branding was inspired by the rooms (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
JL Asia Resources also engaged Farm to handle the repositioning of Kum Leng Hotel. The property along Jalan Besar had been a hotel since 1927, and JL Asia Resources took over the management of the hotel, which reopened in 2012. Lee wanted to retain the original architecture of the building and keep a lot of the interior fittings and fixtures intact, including the lifts.
“Sometimes, such constraints are also the strength of the project,” observes Low. “We thought that it was such a beautiful building, and we were so happy that [the client] was keeping it intact instead of redeveloping it.”
One hotel that Farm has just finished is also the biggest in its portfolio: the design of the 294-room 1 Hotel at Haitang Bay in Sanya, China. 1 Hotels is an eco-luxury brand under Starwood Capital, and it spent four-to-five years in development before opening early this year.
The 294-room 1 Hotel at Haitang Bay in Sanya, China is the biggest in the portfolio of hotels designed by Farm over the years (Photo: Farm)

‘Rojak’ days

The firm that would become Farm initially started in 2005 with just Low and Torrance Goh, his classmate at NUS when they were both pursuing a master’s degree in architecture. Tiah was Goh’s classmate when they were first-year architecture students at NUS. The pair later became roommates in London when Tiah was studying at Architectural Association (AA) and Goh was working for Alsop Architects. Peter Sim, the other director of Farm, who joined the firm in 2007, was also an architect at Alsop Architects in London at that time.
Before Farm morphed into a multi-disciplinary design studio, it began as a society in 2005. It held Rojak, a quarterly social networking event for those in the creative industries — artists, architects, designers and filmmakers. The concept was inspired by Pecha Kucha, a visual storytelling platform. “We felt that the Singapore art scene was rather quiet then, so we decided to start a society for those in the local creative industries to network,” says Low.
In its heyday, Rojak had up to 200 to 300 attendees a night, recalls Low. But when Pecha Kucha came to Singapore and Culture Push, a non-profit organisation supporting artists, was launched, Rojak was discontinued in 2012. “We realised that times had changed, and there was no need for duplication since Singapore is so small,” explains Low.
Low (left): Our first company was called ‘FarmWork’ because that was when the ‘Farmers’ started working; it was no more just socialising (Photo: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
Rojak was followed by Lobang, a platform for design students to give away their leftover materials to others. Soon, Lobang turned into a bulletin board for job postings. Then the firm took on Bench, a movement to salvage timber from the old National Stadium that was being demolished, and to turn them into public furniture. “That was a bit of an ‘itchy backside’ thing,” says Low. “But we felt that it was meaningful too.”
Another public art project was Stamp, a movement to paint SingPost postboxes. It started in 2007, and it was a project in collaboration with SingPost and URA. “We got approval to get people to paint the postboxes over three weekends,” relates Low. “Then we got worried that some people may not actually know how to draw. So we turned it into a contest.”
These public art projects did not go unnoticed, and people began to realise that those behind the movements came from an architectural background. “So we were engaged to do interior design projects,” says Low. “Our first company was called ‘FarmWork’ because that was when the ‘Farmers’ started working; it was no more just socialising.”
Known collectively as Farm from 2007 onwards, the firm is organised broadly along these lines: Farm society, Farm architects, FarmWork interior designers and FarmWork brand specialists.
Designing exhibition spaces for museums were among the first projects that Farm took on. “That’s why we moved to Waterloo Centre — to be near the museums,” says Tiah. “We are very comfortable in designing developers’ project sales galleries because in a way, they are an extension of exhibition space.”
In hindsight, being open to collaboration and sharing in the early days has proven to be a useful background. Conversations during the Rojak days were held with artists, fashion designers and filmmakers, notes Low. “We are now having the same type of conversations, but with people of different skillsets — those from the healthcare and medical fields, scientists or academia.”