Kam: Imagination To Reality In Architecture (Part 4 Of 10)

Previously, I introduced Salehah from Penang, who shared her views, experiences and struggles during her four years of architecture studies. Today, my featured guest is a girl who hails from Brunei. Like me, she also pursued her architectural studies at Taylor’s University, Malaysia. Lieng Kam Wong, fondly called Kam by her close friends, initially gives me the impression that she is an introvert. Perhaps, it’s due to her soft and timid personality. But when I got to know her better, I find she’s filled with big ideas and exceptionally creative. She’s a person who’s ever ready to unleash her creative juices. Passionate, determined and an overthinker… this is how she describes herself. Here’s her story about her architecture life, from being a student to a budding professional…

A picture of Kam with a hat on at a coffee shop, smiling bright.
Kam is a timid person, always imagining and creating ideas in her small head. But once you get to know her, she is full of wonders!
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

“What we perceive, we can achieve. Where built environment affects people internally and externally from the moment we start crafting it… until we construct it into reality where people inhabit in it.”

Lieng kam wong, former architecture student at Taylor’s university (2015-2019)

From A Small Town Life To A City Life

Kam, a Brunei-raised Malaysian, came to Malaysia with a dream to experience new things. Brunei is known to be a small town, so for her, coming to Kuala Lumpur was like coming into a whole new environment of city life. So this brand new city life experience made her ponder on how the built environment can impact one’s experience in living.

A picture of the view towards the Petaling Street, taken by Kam.
Kam loves the idea of experiences in the city, or in the urban context. The picture was taken at Petaling Street, where she usually goes with her friends to enjoy the vibes of the shophouses, market stalls and food!
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

Architecture major was actually not her first choice. Kam was into interior design at first where she wanted to design the interior spaces that people feel and experience. With a fascination in café hopping during secondary school, she and her friends would visit different cafés in their free time to enjoy the food, ambience and vibes. But in the end, she chose architecture. Kam wanted to learn more. She wanted to learn something bigger than the space that people are in. “How can I change someone’s perspective or behaviour, when they are in certain different designed spaces or places?”

Kam Finding Herself In The Architecture World

“I like to convert my thoughts and imagination into reality and let people experience it. Isn’t it interesting how imagination can get you into a different medium to experience life?”

lieng kam wong
A picture of the interior of REXKL, an urban food hall and marketplace.
The picture was taken at REXKL, an urban food hall and marketplace. It was during a pest control day at her office where she and her colleagues move to REXKL to do their work. Capturing this photo signifies her interest in how the materials, light, and colours enhance her experience of the space.
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

Being in different types of spaces and environments are one of Kam’s inspirations that had motivated her to do architecture. Everything that she did and faced during her journey, she would always try to relate it to architecture. Kam started her architecture journey during her Foundation in Natural and Built Environments programme at Taylor’s University. She started out not knowing how it would start and end. At first, she felt lost and wandered around aimlessly. During the first semester, Kam was unprepared due to her lack of knowledge. But as she progressed to the following semester with some basic knowledge on how to approach her assignments, she gave it her all!

1. Kam Bringing In What She Loves Into Her Projects!

Kam had enjoyed every moment of her architecture degree, but her most enjoyable project had to be the one in semester two, the first year of her Bachelor of Science in Architecture. For her, it was the best semester in all her university days. The moment she arrived on-site, she immediately fell in love with it. The site was located at the Bharat Tea Valley Plantation in Cameron Highlands. Lushes of greens spread throughout the valleys. The wind and surrounding nature gave her a cosy vibe, just as she likes her space to be.

A picture of Kam's most favourite project of her university days. A retreat house located at Cameron Highlands.
This project was a retreat house located at Cameron Highlands. The idea was for each space to have the quality of experience for the users as they take in the breathtaking landscape views.
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

The project’s task was to design a retreat house at the tea plantations. At the time, Kam was into watching the cooking show, MasterChef. So she thought of bringing in the two things she loves into her design. Food and love! By love, it was more about the relationship between an element that was put into the built environment. For example, how food actually connects people and makes the space much more alive. Everything turns out as she had planned. She translated the ideas in her head into drawings and models.

“Everything was so pure at the time, with so much honesty in the design. No MSG was added!”

Lieng kam wong

2. Kam’s Outlook Towards Her Challenges

Time is an important asset during architecture studies. Whenever Kam would collect data for her research and studies, she would end up not having enough time to convey all of it into her design. That is why planning ahead is so important. But after working so hard chasing after submissions, Kam would sometimes feel like she’s losing herself. And her way of escaping the hectic days was to feel something different in a different environment such as being outside in the city. In a way, it was therapeutic for her.

A picture of the studio space where architecture students spend most of their days and nights.
Most of the time is spent in the studio, where it becomes the second home for Kam and her friends. A place to work, discuss, play, eat and even sleep sometimes.
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

Kam tends to overthink a lot during her ideation process. When it comes to crafting the idea into something more solid, it takes a lot of pieces to form a whole picture. Then you have to think of how you are going to present this idea so that it sells to your audience. Everything requires critical thinking, observation skills, leadership skills and so forth.

“It requires a lot of brain cells. Each semester, I would get the same comments from my tutor: “Kam, you’ve been overthinking too much!”

Lieng kam wong

Despite the challenges she went through just like any other architecture student, she didn’t dislike any of them. But for her, it was so important to keep in mind what she is good and weak at, and plan ahead. As Kam would say, “Know yourself well to avoid downfalls ahead.”

3. “Don’t Limit Yourself To Just Architecture”

Other than architecture, Kam practises copperplate calligraphy as one of her hobbies. She had her first calligraphy experience at Little Red Designs, a calligraphy workshop based in Brunei. She instantly fell in love with it. Kam also loves taking walks during her weekends especially in Petaling Street (also known as Chinatown). She has a passion for photography where she likes to capture the moments through the lens. Snapping the people, time, ambience and context as memories. Whenever she goes out on trips with her friends, she would be the photographer and videographer for them.

Kam's copperplate calligraphy writing with a note: "Dear Millie, wishing you a Selamat Hari Raya"
Kam’s copperplate calligraphy writing on a wish note for her friend during Hari Raya.
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

The source of inspiration for architecture is unbelievably huge. It can be anything. Kam believes that anything can inspire you. Always remember that architecture is just part of what design can be. Design is incorporated in everything! To find out, you have to always read. You can literally get inspiration from photographs, fashion, music, art and so on. Kam came across an art installation project that made her realise the importance of art/design. It was The Weather Project (2003) by Ólafur Eliasson, a Scandinavian artist. He quoted:

“Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with a good work of art can connect you to your senses, body and mind. It can make the world feel. And this feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.”

Ólafur eliasson, An icelandic-danish artist known for his sculptures and large-scale installation art

4. The Precious Little Moments

The best moments are always small but so precious when looked back. For Kam, it revolves around things that she can enjoy with her friends. From trips to surprise birthday parties and weekend dinners, she finds comfort in spending time with her friends in any way she can.

A picture of Kam's friends enjoying dinner at her house.
Kam would always invite her friends over to her house to eat together. This was taken on one of the nights when they are about to do their work at the studio and made bak kut teh for dinner. “I love how food brings people together!”
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong
A picture of Kam and her friends at the beach in Phuket, enjoying their retreat after finishing degree.
This was taken at Phuket, Thailand! After finishing her degree, Kam (wearing a striped shirt) and her friends decided to go for a retreat. This was a funny picture for her! They dragged one of their friends, Rudy, put him on the ground and started burying him in the sand, and created a masterpiece!
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

Despite everyone being on their own path, in different parts of the country and world (some in Jakarta, Sabah and Johor), they still try to spend their weekends together online! Distance and the pandemic do not stop friends from having time off from work and having fun!

Kam and her friends taking a group photo wearing all black.
This photo was taken on the last studio site analysis presentation. They were all from different groups but planned to have a friends’ group photo. The concept was “designer in black” but not all followed the brief! Kam is at the back, third from the right.
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

5. Transitioning From School To Working Life

After graduating from Taylor’s University, Kam started working in Malaysia. Until now, she has worked in two architecture firms. The first one was at Mentah Matter and the second one, where she currently works, Linear Vista. Working at her first company didn’t go as planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Kam had struggled a lot when she transitioned into the real working environment. She started asking herself questions that she was unable to answer right away. What is architecture? What can architecture contribute to people’s needs? It was totally different from being in her small-knit studio with her friends. It’s definitely not just design anymore. She felt restricted and unhappy because she became someone that produces drawing instead of designing.

Kam and her former colleagues at Mentah Matter, for a reunion gathering during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Taken during the Mid-Autumn Festival (Mooncake Festival), she and her former colleagues at Mentah Matter had a reunion gathering. From left: Yew Shin, Cliff, Bing Bing’s boyfriend, Wei Hong, Edwin, Shirley, Kam and Bing Bing
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

Nevertheless, instead of feeling that way, she started to observe more and make use of what she has in front of her. Kam realised that she didn’t really know how things actually work. She might have a big picture in mind, but she was unable to solve the issues when it comes to details such as what materials to use or the right sizes. Kam learnt that her expensive architecture course doesn’t fully assist her with the technical knowledge that she needed for the real world. So after realising what she lacks, she decided to get into the technical and detailed parts of architecture and learn.

Applying Architecture And Design Everywhere She Goes

Other than her full-time job as an assistant architect, Kam works part-time in the food and beverage industry, crafting air dry clay and freelance graphic design. Her friends and she had collaborated together in creating BUNTAO, an online weekend business selling homemade burgers with a twist by using traditional Chinese steamed buns or mantou.

An instagram post of the Rempah Chicken Buntao burger at BUNTAO.
The name BUNTAO is derived from Burger + Mantou, as well as from the look of the bun as a white fluffy pillow or bantal (a Malay word for pillow). If you are interested to give it a try, do check out their Instagram and Facebook page for menus and updates!
Image credit to BUNTAO

“My goal will always be to keep experiencing and exploring the different forms of design and later translate them into something fun!”

Lieng kam wong

Kam: “Anything Can Inspire You!”

Kam is on a constant hunt for inspiration. Architecture had expanded her creativity to do greater things than architecture alone. With her love for food, design, art and more, she tries to get inspiration and make something fun and new out of them. Architecture has taken her so far, but of course, this is just the beginning!

“Personally, I feel that architecture is an extension of self-exploration in knowing ourselves. How “you” can learn from yourself and translate it into the form of “us and them”. Architecture is not an easy job. But it is always fun when people get together to share and discuss about design. Because you will never know how far it will take you.”

lieng kam wong
A picture of Kam's colleagues discussing and drawing out details for a project.
It’s amazing how when like-minded people gather, they can come up with so many ideas. This was taken during the time she worked at Mentah Matter where they discussed how decking detail works. Figuring out how they can simplify it so it’s easy to construct on-site.
Image credit to Lieng Kam Wong

Expand your horizon to learn much more! You will realise that everything is connected to each other in ways that you might not expect. Read, listen to podcasts, follow a lot of design platforms to expand your knowledge for your creativity to keep growing and your will to create! And more importantly, share with others! Instagram is a highly recommended platform to get exposed to what others are doing. You can get insights from different people around the world about various topics, including architecture! These are some artsy pages on Instagram that Kam follows, which you can check out: Monster and Beer, Bendang Artisan, Little Red Designs, A Little Farm on The Hill, The Millie Vintage, Bijou Home, Areaware, and Isometric Pixel Art.

Coming Up Next!

In the next episode, we shall share the views and experiences of Chee Jia Xin! A former architecture degree student who puts 200% in everything she does and creates amazing work of architecture with a story.

About Atiqah GHAZALI

Grew up overseas in a melting pot of global culture to expat parents, Atiqah is well read, and expresses herself best through writing, art and photography. Architect by qualification, but makes a living as an interior designer.

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