Home Tan Kwon Chong: Inspiration For The Young

Tan Kwon Chong: Inspiration For The Young


Beating out 11 other young designers who won the Nippon Paint Young Designer Award 2015 in their own respective countries, Tan Kwon Chong of Malaysia took home the ultimate prize as the regional winner in Asia. We caught up with the incredibly talented and admirable young designer as he talks about his winning project and the grand finale in Bangkok.


Tell us a little about your winning project – “Evolving Nature: Eco-learning Market Centre”.
My project overlooks the Pontian Kechil river, located within a small fishing village in Johor, which is like islands in a preserved landscape of cultivated natural vegetation. It is characterised by a sustainable design approach, while anchored in the poetic reverie of this natural riverfront site. The design provides an alternative community area where both the marketplace and learning center are integrated into one. This marketplace comes with an extensive recreational park that educates the public on the sustainable living culture of the fishing village. Visitors can shop, learn, work and play at the same time within this eco-learning market centre. The design also reflects the sites’ history and culture while preserving the natural environment. 

What was the inspiration behind the Eco-learning Market Centre?
The inspiration comes from the concept: ‘Evolving Nature’, which was inspired from the social and environment background of Pontian Kechil. The design first emerges from the site, and then blends into the nature. The design strategy is to Listen to the land and reflect on the sites’ history.


The theme for NPYDA was “Design with Heart: For a Sustainable Future: With People in Mind”. Can you share with us how you integrated this theme into your project?
The process that led to my entry design came from the heart of wanting to contribute to my hometown – Pontian Kechil, Johor. This was my last academic project and so I was motivated to design a functional and eco-friendly structure that could benefit something close to my heart – my hometown. I studied the site, conducting questionnaires, surveys and interviews with the locals of Pontian Kechil. Taking into account the people, culture and environment of this fishing village, I learnt what the locals needed and then came out with my design concept. The overall design aims to create an interactive community by connecting the community through recreational activities, communication, nature and the “Heartspace” – the main interactive space in the middle of the building.


Talk us through the sustainable elements in your project and whether they have specific functions.
The building is designed to be fragmented with open space in order to integrate with the surrounding environment. It explores ecological and tropical designs with a staggered green roof that emerges from the site, and also incorporates a rain water harvesting system. Various permeable and solid surfaces allow the design to blend with nature as well as reacting to nature itself. Some of the other sustainable aspects include:

  • Solar panels on the roof top for solar energy
  • A Bio-swale design to help harvest and filter rain and surface water as alternative water resource
  • A circular ramp design for OKU
  • Recreational green roofs at every level to help collect rain water
  • Maximising passive daylight through light shelves in market area while minimising the heat
  • Maximising wind ventilation through big openings with a large overhang and louver
  • A waste management program which recycles and up-cycles waste from the market
  • Using recycled and local materials for the construction of the building
  • Opting for vegetation and building material with low maintenance

What was the most challenging part in your project? And would you do anything differently if you had the chance to do it again?
The main challenge I faced during the design was the huge amount of feedback and information received from the local community and my supervisor.  Everyone has different opinions and needs and so being able to design a space that can cater for multi-generations and different groups of people – this was definitely a challenge. If I had the chance to do it again, there are a few things that I am would do differently. Firstly, I would conduct more field and feasibility studies in order to understand the market demands. I would also seek advice from experts from the construction side, taking into consideration the technical part of the design in order to make this building a reality, therefore construction cost will be considered. The only difference I would make to my design is to improve it and to come up with an improved version which is more practical compared to the current one which is tailored for academic purposes.

So tell us about your experience in the grand finale in Bangkok.
It was an exhilarating experience. I was excited because I was attending the learning program prior to my win at the regional level. The name of this program already shows what the programme is all about – to help us young designers gain more knowledge and skills. It was a trip that enabled us to learn beyond what classes in universities offer. The talks given by the three famous architects inspired me a lot. I gained a lot of knowledge and experience through their presentations. I learnt how to present designs and how to convert it into a real project. Their sharing sessions inspired me to be more sensitive to the users, to understand what they want and what they need. One thing that made me nervous was the coaching sessions before the real competition. I have never experienced a competition as intense as this before, and being able to see the other contestants winning projects, it was intimidating as they were just ‘WOW’. I will never forget the night before the actual competition where I spent the whole night to altering, upgrading and preparing for the competition. The stress was beyond what I expected before coming to this learning programme!


But you won the design competition! Congratulations!
Yes! My design won the competition! I was extremely proud of myself. My intention of bringing attention to the “Pontian Kechil” Eco-Learning Market Centre in Asia succeeded. Now, everyone knows about Pontian Kechil, a small but significant jigsaw puzzle piece which makes up Malaysia and its special and unique traditional cultural background, which is truly and essentially the soul of this country.

What was the best thing you took away from this learning programme?
Definitely the friendships built and networks made. It was my first time getting to know so many young architects and designers from other countries in Asia. All of them are so young and talented. Even though we only spent a few days together, our friendship grew stronger by the day. The competition was not the end for us but instead, a new beginning for each of us to continue to contribute to our country in the near future. I believe this kind of friendship is hard to gain since every one of us are from different countries. It was the best gift being able to meet one another, exchanging our own social and cultural background, sharing our ideas and our thoughts.

Why would you recommend this competition to those younger than you?
This competition is beneficial for the youth because it helps young designers to know where they stand outside the university, in the real world. It helps them to explore the society before they graduate. The young designers will get the chance to challenge themselves, pushing their thoughts and design skills over the boundaries. I believe this competition also helps the young designers to understand themselves and to also provide a much clearer insight into their future. In addition, they will also be able to experience the different teachings and exposures from the famous architects, designers and even developers.


What is the ultimate goal for yourself?
My ultimate goal is to design a space for everyone including the homeless or anyone who truly needs it. I would like to create a building that can respond to the site and be able to contribute meaningfully to the society. The architecture must also be able to represent Malaysia – its culture, identity, background and also worthy to be brought to the global stage.