Designworks: Spaces inspired by nature and human society

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on November 23, 2020 - November 29, 2020.
Bank Negara Disaster Recovery Centre in Batu Tiga, for which Garis Architects received the Honorary Mention for Institutional Building from PAM in 1997 (Photo by Garis Architects)

Bank Negara Disaster Recovery Centre in Batu Tiga, for which Garis Architects received the Honorary Mention for Institutional Building from PAM in 1997 (Photo by Garis Architects)

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There are only a handful of firms that have both architects and town planner, and Garis Architects Sdn Bhd is one of them, says founding director Mok Chee Paan.

“Through the collaboration between architects and town planners, the developments benefit from the integration of design principles from both practices, from concept to completion. Quite often, the design process of large townships starts with the town planner, somewhat independent of the architects. By discussing the concept with the architects, the built form is envisioned from the early days and it determines viability and outcome,” he explains.

Garis Architects, founded in 1991 by Mok, Ahmad Jefri Clyde and the late Razak Hitam, mainly focuses on architecture, urban design and town planning. With the addition of Haryati Abdul Halim and Liew Kim Kiew, there are now four directors.

The design philosophy of the firm stems from an architecture of ideas, sustainable innovations and substantive intentions, says Mok. “We are reminded that we build for human habitation and our inspiration comes from life’s diverse expressions through keen observation of the natural world and human society. Hence, the firm avoids adherence to specific styles or passing trends and prefers to apply principles of fulfilling the need through problem solving.”

The firm also thrives on providing better-personalised services through a collaborative team effort, respecting all contributions and relevant viewpoints. “Honesty, reliability and trustworthiness in delivery of services are our hallmark, satisfying the objectives of the client and the public at large,” Mok says.

As such, reputable property developers such as S P Setia Bhd, Tropicana Corp Bhd, IJM Land, Sunsuria Bhd and IGB Bhd engage its services.

Projects that the firm has completed recently include semi-detached houses in Setia Eco Park, terraced houses in Tropicana Cheras, commercial lots in Sepang,

Stonor [email protected], The [email protected], and a commercial complex and Xiamen University Malaysia in Sunsuria City, Sepang.

Garis Architects has received awards from Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM), International Real Estate Federation (Fiabci), Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB) and The Edge Malaysia.

According to Mok, the collective buildings in Tamarind Square form three outdoor courtyards of unique ambiences and functions (Photo by Garis Architects)

Notable projects

Last year, the firm received the Gold Award for Low Rise Commercial Building from PAM for Tamarind Square. The 14.54-acre freehold commercial hub in Cyberjaya comprises 2-storey semi-detached shopoffices, small office/flexible office (SoFo) and retail shops.

The inspiration for the project came from reliving the pleasures of life under a shady tree in a bygone era, says Mok. “Instead of the usual retail mall, the collective buildings form three outdoor courtyards of unique ambiences and functions.”

The buildings are arranged around concentric roads, recreating an ancient medieval city where the paths and alleys lead to the central market square, the Agora. Similar to any hill town, the outdoor escalators and streets lead to the centre of activities, he explains.

In 1997, the firm received the Honorary Mention for Institutional Building for the Bank Negara Disaster Recovery Centre in Batu Tiga from PAM. “It is a building that explicitly expresses the internal functions in various external physical forms,” says Mok.

The operations office has a gentle curving façade that leans into the green park. Being a restricted facility, security is afforded by a drawbridge entrance to the reception.

Meanwhile, those who reside in or have visited Bandar Rimbayu by IJM Land will have noticed the bow-shaped structure that surrounds a football field. It is The Arc, another of Garis Architects’ award-winning projects.

Public placemaking for the community to gather, recreate, celebrate and live life is central to the concept of The Arc, says Mok. Created as a shelter, The Arc is effectively a raised landscape deck that replaces ground-level greenery and incorporates an ecosystem of rainwater collection via filtration through layers of soil.

Created as a shelter, The Arc in Bandar Rimbayu is effectively a raised landscape deck that replaces ground-level greenery and incorporates an ecosystem of rainwater collection via filtration through layers of soil (Photo by Garis Architects)

“The structure symbolises a man marking the ground, modifying the landscape,” says Mok. Each end of the structure has a gentle ramp that provides access to the vantage platform where one can enjoy panoramic views of the township.

Festive celebrations, open houses, musical performances, art exhibitions and corporate functions can be held in the undercroft spaces, which are linked to various other facilities in the seamless spine.

Future plans and advice for young architects

Mok says Garis Architects will continue to nurture the next generation of directors and employees to ensure continuity and stand the firm in good stead. “We will build the capacity in younger architects by continuously teaching and exposing them to the rigours of the industry. We believe an architect should, foremost, cover all aspects of the profession from A to Z.”

On the business front, the firm does not envisage building a larger practice as the directors believe in providing personal attention, he says. “We owe it to the clients by not having representation other than by the directors or associates. This limits growth but it is a truly satisfying and fulfilling endeavour.”

On advice for aspiring architects, Mok says the list is endless. “Learn to draw, build, communicate, observe and apply. Architecture must exist in the physical realm and not only on paper and the computer screen. It is important to be able to communicate and explain the design concept to the contractor to achieve the desired result. The power of observation is critical to learning from the environment that surrounds us, and to be able to apply head knowledge and find solutions to problems.”