CS Architecture on cross-cultural design sensibilities

CS Architecture co-founder shares about the company's design DNA and global architectural trends

Headquartered in Connecticut and Manila, CS Architecture, founded by Anna Sy and Jason Chai, has created its signature design language that blends 19th century Beaux Arts Western classicism and early 20th century European modernism. Its ‘smart designs’ are luxurious, yet seamless with the surroundings. The secret success? We talked to Anna Sy about that.

1. How do you describe the style of CSArchitecture?

Our design style is mindful, sensitive. It is also both culturally and geographically relevant. Due to our training as well as our exposure, our designs are conceived from a global perspective but with cultural sensitivities towards Asia.

2. Working both in the US and Asia, what’s the differences in terms of design preferences and sensibilities in these two continents?

Environmental differences are primary to this comparison. In the West, there is a focus on the need to heat a house during half the year, whereas the East requires cool air throughout the year. Similarly, due to tropical weather,an open layout which brings in ventilation and daylight is an ideal design response. In contrast, the West requires a more contained volume, limiting the amount of exterior surfaces exposed to the elements.

In addition, regional project variances are also due to culture and lifestyle. In the east, the concept of the “extended family” as well as an extensive household service staff are prevalent. This of course translates to design requirements: additional bedrooms, an extensive area for entertaining regular family gatherings, as well as large living quarters for staff members. In the West, the layout requirements are usually less complicated.

3. Are there any types of projects you like to work on (e.g. residences, hotels, office buildings)? Why?

Residential projects remain my favourite in that the structures remain horizontal in nature and that there are more opportunities to be creative and innovate. This of course differs from office buildings, where layouts are often a redundant iteration of an initial design. When you design residences, you are ultimately designing a home, not just a house. The connection is personal and the journey with the client is shared. In fact, many of my residential clients have since become good friends.

4. For you, which project is the most challenging so far? And Why?

What remains challenging is not a particular type of project but rather a particular type of client. Much of what we do as architects involve a transformation of ideas on paper into the fruition of a physical structure. To do this effectively, a meaningful and positive engagement with a client is critical. Without this, our task becomes very challenging.

5. How do you see the architecture and design scene in the Philippines?

The architectural industry has evolved immensely since the mid-90’s when we first opened our doors. There is much more of a discussion about the development of the local vernacular & its position globally that did not exist before. Philippine Architecture as a profession in general is now growing from a global perspective. But it is also a perspective that is mindful about carving out its own space on the world stage.

6. In your opinion, in terms of architecture, do Thailand and the Philippines have anything in common? What can we learn from each other?

Although based in very similar environments, similar geographies and the shared need to incorporate light and air into design, both design aesthetics also have differences. With a history of cultural continuity, Thai designs are perhaps more purist at its core, adhering to a definitive, indigenous sensibility. In contrast, 300 years of conquest in the Philippines has created an aesthetic with many adaptations. We have been influenced by the Spanish, the American, and even the Japanese. Said experiences cannot help but craft a more eclectic design template.

7. Could you help sharing about global architectural trends this year and may be in the next coming years?

We do not pay too much attention to trends that come and go quickly. We are more concerned with principles that stand the test of time. One example is conservation and an awareness of finite resources. Though by no means a new idea, it has since been regarded with even more urgency, with the advent of COVID-19 and the real effects of climate change. It has been and continues to be a significant aspect of our design considerations, now more than ever

From a design standpoint, we do not think of architecture as something transient, but rather something that is lasting. We’ve been told that our buildings are not identifiable with any particular trends – we take great pride in timelessness. Our designs attempt to transcend trends, and choose instead to uphold values that will stand the test of time. Architecture is about legacy just as much as it is about relevance.

See more information at CS Architecture Website

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