Cover WOW Architects and Warner Wong Design co-founders Wong Chiu Man and Maria Warner Wong

WOW Architects believes that creating truly effective biophilic spaces stems from a genuine interest in nature—here, they discuss the Mandai Resort and other upcoming projects

“From earliest memory, I’ve had a strong affinity for trees, flowers and the geology of our surroundings,” says Maria Warner Wong. The Australia-born architect met her husband Wong Chiu Man while studying architecture at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles; the couple founded their namesake firms Warner Wong Design and WOW Architects in 2000.

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The co-founders’ nomadic history contributes to an acute appreciation for context—their projects embody sensory encounters while being rooted in culture, memory and place. The couple’s work, ranging from homes, hotels and offices to masterplans, don’t just introduce greenery into spaces; they start by being attuned to a site’s natural qualities. “Just as poetry, music, art and cuisine are inspired by nature, so too is our design centred on experiencing nature with all our senses,” says Warner Wong. “It was always our goal for architecture to make people more aware of their surroundings and help them enjoy the beauty of nature in the rituals of daily life.”

The firm is a strong propagator of ecological design. For instance, the award-winning St. Regis Maldives is built upon Vommuli Island’s natural features and incorporates green practices throughout the construction process. These experiences are as indispensible for the Mandai Resort project—a Super Low Energy (SLE) resort operated by Banyan Tree Hotels & Resorts at the National Singapore Zoo. 

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How does the firm incorporate principles of sustainability into your projects?
Maria Warner-Wong (MW)
Our philosophy of sustainability is broad and integrates the environment with economic, social and physical aspects because we believe humanity needs to live in harmony with its surroundings, one another and the cultural traditions of world.

In our projects, we always conceive the landscape, architecture and interior as an integrated whole to create a total sensory experience.The most significant steps come in the buildings that will be realised in this decade—the Mandai Resort in Singapore, the Botanical Resort in Ubud, Bali, and other projects currently underway—in which conservation of existing forests takes priority over architectural expression and the spatial experience is one of deep immersion into the existing landscape.

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What should our approach to materials be?
MW
I believe that learning about materials in an applied manner is essential to the architect. The architects I admire most, such as Luis Barragan, Geoffrey Bawa, Louis Kahn, Kerry Hill and Shigeru Ban, as well as studios such as Case Design in India and Comunal Taller in Mexico, strive to use traditional materials and craftsmanship to create timeless architecture. The problem with nations in the developed worlds is that they sometimes forget their heritage and craft traditions, and assume that (only) modern, industrialised products can withstand the test of time.

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This article first appeared in the August-September 2020 issue of Tatler Homes Singapore; read it online at Magzter.