With his integral role in taking DP Design to new heights, Mike Lim discusses the importance of seamlessly integrating exterior and interior architecture and infusing character into interior spaces for improved user experience. Olha Romaniuk writes.
Having worked on his fair share of mega projects like the Dubai Mall, Abu Dhabi Tower and Paragon Shopping Centre, Mike Lim, Director of DP Design, is no stranger to working with interiors at a scale often beyond that of other interior design firms. Trained in architecture, with diverse experiences in business administration and exhibition design and with an impressive roster of regional and international projects, Lim projects infectious optimism charting DP Design’s future with aspirations of cementing the firm’s reputation as the innovator and trendsetter in the realm of commercial, retail and hospitality sectors of interior design. The launch of the book Designing Spaces – a comprehensive catalogue documenting the breadth of DP Design’s work – is a culmination of Lim’s endeavour to present a curated collection of some of the firm’s most notable projects that exemplify DP Design’s core philosophies for designing spaces with spirit and soul.
How did the book Designing Spaces come about?
The idea was to create a good photographic record of our work – it was that simple. When I first joined DP Design, I worked on the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh, which is still standing and the finishes are preserved very nicely after 15 years. What I found was missing, however, was a presence of a good photographic record of the project. We have decided to invest some money and take really good photos of the HDB Hub and that endeavour, in turn, gave us the idea to put this and other DP Design projects in a book.
The idea behind the book was to let people know that DP Design does interiors. If you ask people about the designers of the Esplanade or the Paragon, they will readily think of DP Architects, but the interior architects are not as well known. This book is to shed light on DP Design and our work.
What is the key message that you want to communicate with this book?
We just want people to know that DP Design can do interiors and can do them well. We have been doing very large scale interiors with little knowledge to the public and we have not really been out in magazines or publications. At the end of the day, it’s very much to tell people that we can do it, that these are our prominent projects and that we have been getting better and better at what we do.
What are some of the benefits of treating interior spaces as extensions of the buildings’ architectural forms, rather than isolated entities?
To us, it always starts with space; we pride ourselves on our ability to see through the many sets of architectural drawings to visualise architectural spaces as they have been designed. We work very closely with the architects from the inception of every project. Many of the team members at DP Design have been trained in architecture, so we are able to visualise very large spaces.
I always see our job as making architectural spaces better. That is why DP Design’s philosophy and also the title of the book, Designing Spaces, go hand-in-hand – this is how we start every project and it is also the most important aspect of our approach.
It is not about what you put on this or that wall, what you put on the ceiling or on the floor. It starts from a good understanding of space first and how it affects the user experience in subtle and not so subtle ways.
What are some of the strategies that you and your designers employ in ensuring that there is a dialogue and a connection between interior and exterior architecture?
We usually ask, “How much does the client want us to do within the space and how fixed is the architectural plan?” We do not touch the façade: we want to make sure that the original architectural concept is kept pristine, but we want to know how many columns we can move and how much slab we can hack. We ask fundamental questions that have to do with the architectural space and the volumetric understanding and feel of the interior behind the external skin.
From there, we build and visualise the entire project, no matter how large it is, in 3D, so that we can really get a feel for the original space before we start doing things to it. We build the original so the client also has a fair understanding of why certain things might need to be relooked. We do not change for the sake of changing. We must change space for the better and for the benefit of the client and the project.
What are some key projects that define the philosophy of DP Design?
One of the defining projects in Singapore would be the Paragon shopping centre and another one outside of Singapore would be the Dubai Mall where we did every single corner of the interiors in the mall. Both are very large projects completed in collaboration with DP Architects.
After the successful completion of these large-scale projects, we undertook some projects at a smaller scale (Singapore Dance Theatre would be one example), showing that DP Design could do projects of varying scales.
This series of moves has also set up our path for the next several years where you will be seeing DP Design doing a lot of projects that are in collaboration with other architects, besides DP Architects, in different geographical locations.
How do you ensure that DP Design secures its place as an innovator and a trendsetter in interior design? What upcoming trends do you foresee in the areas of retail and hospitality?
In-house, we have done quite a bit of pushing in the direction of innovative design in order to be at the forefront of design thinking and foresee future design trends. I do not believe in simply applying materials to surfaces – I much prefer it when designers and architects are the ones spearheading a trend.
As far as the upcoming trends go, I have presented my research on hospitality interior design trends that include the growth of mid-tier hotels, hybrid developments and multi-functionality, and factors like technology, globalisation, sustainability and demographics that are affecting those trends. I will also be speaking about trends in retail design at the World Architecture Festival, where I hope to provide insight into the changing needs of consumers and the evolution of retail space to meet the future.
Can you mention some of the projects that DP Design is working on right now?
We just finished the Temasek Club, which was an interior design-build where budget was a big consideration but that turned out to be very good at the end. Other significant projects in the pipeline for us right now would be a large-scale project in downtown Kuwait and another one in Wuhan with a Hong Kong developer.