A Singapore design firm’s Lithuanian expedition

Singapore represent: Studio MAKAL’s entry into a Lithuanian competition is the only Singaporean firm shortlisted for consideration by an international jury

Studio MAKAL’s concert hall concept art. Capital Vilnius currently lacks a symphony music hall venue that complies to international standards. (Photo credit: Studio MAKAL)

When her ex-boss abruptly dumped an urgent, last-minute task of submitting a hospital design within the weekend, architect Mak Ai Ling pulled all the stops to see through the task. Her firm was – in her own words – ‘miraculously’ shortlisted. It subsequently even won the competition. This early experience set the stage for her to compete in similar competitions, as a way to gauge and improve her skills.  

Ai Ling now runs her own design firm, Studio MAKAL. The Singapore-based firm recently took part in an international competition to design the National Concert Hall in Lithuania’s  capital, Vilnius.

While her submission did not make the cut in the final rounds, her design still bettered hundreds of entries from all over the world. It also made it through the early rounds of evaluation by a panel of top international architects.

VoidDeck Media spoke to Ai Ling and learned that her design for the TautosNamai concert hall, takes a leaf from the country’s historical independence movement.

VDM: What inspired your concept art for the National Concert Hall proposal?

Ai Ling: Our concept celebrates the determination of the Lithuanians in their struggle for freedom in the 20th century which led to their independence as a sovereign state. The numerous columns enclosing the exterior facade represents the suppression on the Lithuanians throughout the occupation. However, the suppression failed to contain the organic zeal of the Lithuanians who ultimately broke free from the regime. This is represented by the curved columns opening up around the facades, which we strategically placed for entrances and to open a view to the city.

Numerous columns at the venue’s facade symbolises a period of suppression that Lithuanian’s eventually overcame.
(Photo credit: Studio MAKAL)

VDM: What motivated you to take part in the architectural competition? 

Ai Ling: I have been working in the UK and predominantly projects outside Singapore throughout my professional career, so I naturally gravitate towards international competitions for both exposure for the team, and to compete with architects and designers around the world. It is also a good opportunity for us to challenge ourselves and to learn from the experience. I believe that everyone should continuously learn a new skill, to keep our design muscle agile.  

Concept art of the venue’s lobby (Photo credit: Studio MAKAL)

VDM: What unique challenges were there in designing in a project like this? 

Ai Ling: A concert hall design is very specialised – it is not only about designing a wow building but it has to work as a concert hall. The movement of the guests and Back of House (BOH) has to be seamless too, but thankfully my 9 years of experience designing hotels at Kerry Hill has helped us to sort out the BOH flow. We started up with very little knowledge on the technical side but we are blessed as we have experienced consultants who have done many concert halls, who teamed up with us to make this possible. This gave us invaluable advice on technical requirements such as acoustics, ventilation, and viewing angles of the audiences.

A smaller hall for the more intimate, upclose concert experience (Photo credit: Studio MAKAL)

VDM: There were some famous architects (Zaha Hadid & Sou Fujimoto) that took part in this competition. How did it feel to compete with them in this competition? 

Ai Ling: Zaha scored better than us (ranked 27), but we did better than some veteran concert hall architects. We are ranked 97-133, while Sou Fujimoto ranked 159-189. We know that a few hundred participated from around the world but only 248 were selected to be ranked and we are the only one from Singapore and one of the two from Southeast Asia. What we like about this competition is it gives us a gauge of where we stand in international scene and we know we should continue to hone our design ability.    

You can check more of Studio MAKAL’s design work here: studiomakal.com/projects/

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