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A Detour Cemented Dsg Scholar Jonathan Ng's Love for Architecture

6 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works of some of our Dsg scholars. Some had to defer their studies, while some had to settle for virtual lessons, and some even braved all odds to continue pursuing their education overseas.

Jonathan Ng is a Dsg Scholar from the 2018 batch. He is pursuing a Master in Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD). But COVID-19 hit, and he returned to Singapore at the peak of the outbreak. But we find out that his post-graduate journey has by no means ended, and this brief hiatus has inspired him to press on.

When did you come back to Singapore after COVID-19 broke out?

I returned to Singapore in April 2020. This was mid-way through the spring semester and right after Harvard University announced the closure of all its campuses, including the GSD. Thereafter, Harvard transitioned to full online learning where I completed two semesters in Singapore, before taking a leave of absence in Jan 2021 to intern at WOHA Architects. 

How far along are you on your Master’s degree? Do you have plans to go back to the US anytime soon to resume your studies?

I am currently in Year 2 of my 3.5-year Master of Architecture programme. My research interests in digital making and fabrication were put on hold with the closure of school facilities. I am looking forward to returning to GSD the moment it reopens – which I am cautiously optimistic will happen in August 2021, in time for the fall semester.

Despite being halfway across the world, I have been proactively engaging and connecting with the university. Most recently, two of my studio projects were selected to be exhibited at the Harvard Druker Design Galley “Inside Out” exhibition. In the past, selected studio projects would be displayed in the gallery. But now, because of closed campuses, GSD showcased the selected studio projects by projecting large film-images onto the exterior walls of Gund Hall. This is an amazing initiative to display selected works to a wider audience, while maintaining social distancing and offering a space for discourse beyond the campuses.

Jonathan’s studio project “Urban Mutualism” presented in film format; photo courtesy of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and Justin Knight, photographer

How has Dsg supported you during the past year, as you were navigating the challenges/uncertainties that arose?

I am grateful to Dsg for its unwavering support in these unprecedented times. While online lessons have allowed learning to continue despite the campus closure, there were many limitations, more so for a course like Architecture. Studio work, physical model-making, and engagement with the professors, industry practitioners and fellow students are critical elements of the creative design and learning process. Hence, when I wanted to take a leave of absence from online learning to pursue an alternative form of architectural education, i.e. internship, Dsg was not only understanding but was very open and helped with initial introductions to WOHA.

Please share how your internship experience at WOHA has been.

Working at WOHA has been amazing. Top on my list is the opportunity to interact with its founding directors, particularly Mr Wong Mun Summ, through weekly design reviews. This experience has provided me an invaluable behind-the-scenes perspective of how a project develops, and still advances the firm’s design agenda of sustainable green architecture while balancing various commercial constraints and stakeholder requirements.

Another fascinating aspect of working in WOHA is its office space. Some architectural offices make beautiful projects but have conventional commercial offices. For WOHA, its office serves as a living laboratory, where they test new and exciting ideas. Its interior courtyard is planted with lush vertical greenery, introducing both light, fresh air and nature, throughout its shophouse core. It enlivens my everyday experience of passing between office spaces or waiting for the lift. It is the undeniable expression of WOHA’s holistic methodology and passion for green biophilic architecture, which extends from its designs to their own office space.

Photos of WOHA office – courtyard on the left and rooftop garden on the right

How would you encourage Scholarship applicants who are still sitting on the fence about applying due to the pandemic?

Beyond just monetary support, the Dsg Scholarship plugs you into a rich community of designers and design practitioners in Singapore and abroad. Platforms such as the DesignSingapore Associates Network (DAN) offer enormous opportunities to engage and interact with the wider design community on design-related issues and conversations. An example is “Play!: Tomorrow’s Tropical Cities” exhibition at the National Design Centre, organised by Dsg late last year, which I participated in.

DAN is an invaluable resource in my personal development as a designer and architect. As a student, the opportunity to have a platform to showcase my works and engage with other design disciplines has helped me to develop a more holistic multidisciplinary approach towards design.

So if you are an individual who is serious about design as a career, I can’t think of a better scholarship than the Dsg Scholarship.


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Singapore’s highest honour for designers and designs across all disciplines
One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
National Design Centre