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This year marks a decade of design for EHKA Studio. Led by the husband-and-wife team Hsu Hsia Pin and Eunice Khoo, the Singapore-based firm creates poetic spaces that encourage engagement. Their projects—ranging from residential towers and community centers to restaurants and exhibition pavilions—play on dimensions and enhance perception. Spaces are outfitted with features like glass floors, curved wood walls, sizable open formats, and flexible organizational systems to ensure two pillars of their practice: continuous exploration and logical clarity.
Their Jalan Seaview House, nicknamed the “Stiletto House” for its stiletto-like columns, is a dramatic white sculptural home of floating pods with curved edges and a setback roof. Its use of marble is balanced with concrete, allowing for the client’s art collection to shine. Glass is used in double-height windows for the entire mezzanine floor, and as balcony guardrails and staircase balusters.
For VOX youth center, EHKA worked with the disadvantaged youth organization to provide an inviting space that destigmatizes assumptions. Café-like environments in raw finishes are welcoming and comfortable, outfitted with furniture on wheels, pendant lights, and black steel glass windows. And for TRANS Family Service Centre, where those on both sides of physical abuse come for guidance, the studio created a safe, “wombic” place that offers smaller counseling rooms for privacy and softened spaces with rounded wood walls and low lighting.
To hear how their approach to design centers around comfort, connection, and purpose, Whitewall spoke with Pin and Khoo.
WHITEWALL: How does being partners in both life and work impact your creative process and overall projects at EHKA Studio?
HSU HSIA PIN: Both of us have very similar core values regarding design, thanks to our common background and life experiences. Nevertheless, we do have some differences in style. We are very candid and sometimes quite brutal with each other’s design but often it’s this process of criticizing each other’s work that helps us create designs that turn out well. Eunice is more of a right-brainer—more intuitive in approach—while I am more of a left-brainer, more rational. We sharpen each other’s design work.
WW: Hsu Hsia, why did you want to follow in your father’s footsteps and become an architect?
HHP: I think the fact that I followed my father’s footsteps is because I inherited his artistic genes. I recall when I was young my father brought me to do some urban sketching, and I was super impressed with his sketches. I suppose moments like that spurred me on to pursue art, and eventually architecture just seemed like a natural university choice. But, frankly, I was not aware of what my father did as an architect until after I enrolled in architecture school.
WW: Eunice, prior to EHKA Studio you worked at Timothy Seow Studio and RSP, garnering vast experience in a range of projects—from master planning and residential to institutional, commercial, and interior design. How did this diverse background impact what you wanted to accomplish at EHKA?
EUNICE KHOO: RSP being a much larger company doing large-scale projects, I learned to see things from multiple perspectives, to consider various stakeholders. I was in the design team and we churned our designs very fast, learning to explore and test multiple options to see what works. In Timothy Seow, I got involved as project architect for some houses, and that gave me the experience to see how buildings are really built and to look at designs in detail.
WW: How would you describe EHKA’s design ethos?
HHP: We believe design has the power to elevate one’s life. We are interested in purposeful form-making because forms have the raw power to inspire. At another level, we want our designs to be functional, cost-efficient, and bespoke. These are fundamental to our clients and therefore also to us.
WW: Today, EHKA Studio pursues “continuous exploration” and “logical clarity.” What are you working on now that exemplifies this pursuit?
HHP: We are working on a residential house that is a multigenerational house. This is the first house we are designing that is so large and with so many families living within one building. Three separate family units are planned for in this house—parents, their two sons, and the sons’ families—all living within a large bungalow house. Our exploration, together with our very enlightened clients, is to make these spaces work with enough privacy for each family unit while creating enough spaces for everyone to come together and building connections.
WW: EHKA has created spaces for those in delicate situations, such as the TRANS Family Service Centre that caters to those on both sides of physical violence. How do you approach an atmosphere that is safe and comforting, and that embraces a soft, approachable mood?
HHP: In design spaces for TRANS Family Service Centre, in particular their department dealing with abuse cases, we needed the space to feel extremely protected, both physically and visually. The victims needed to be able to be attended to without being seen by the potential abuser at the center’s exterior. In addition, it also needed to protect the staff from possible violence. Planning- wise, this meant compartmentalized and gated spaces. Even the reception table is designed to be deep enough to protect the receptionist.
Mood-wise, we wanted soft forms and soft lighting to illuminate the space, with warm woods to create a comfortable relaxing space. Conceptually, we even wrapped the waiting area with a free-flowing curved wall to protect this space.
WW: You’ve also designed projects for young communities, such as VOX and the Fajar Youth Hub. What kind of space do you aim to inspire the next generation with?
HHP: These centers are centers where social workers engage with youths during after-school hours. Some of these youths come from less privileged backgrounds. We wanted these spaces for them to be well designed, hopefully to elevate their aspirations. Furthermore, we wanted to allow youths to determine how the space would be used.
In this large undefined open hall, we have loose modules, boxes, blackboards, and more which the youths could use to create their own partitioned spaces, make seats, tables, et cetera. In this way, their creativity is tapped to make the space their own. This also gives the center great flexibility in programming, as what is trending today (like billiards) could be redundant five years later, and so spaces need that flexibility to adjust.
WW: Do you feel there is a rise in design interest from the upcoming generation?
HHP: I think the new generation is increasingly design-savvy, with social media making great design more accessible to the average person. Whereas in the past designers bought expensive design books to keep themselves up to date with latest trends, today almost everything is available online. I would see designers increasingly having to work with enlightened clients: learning to work together with them rather than dictate design to them.
WW: How did the global pandemic impact the way you saw design moving forward?
HHP: Residential design will evolve to accommodate residents to work from home. Increasingly, we see the need for separated space dedicated for work. I think residential developments will also prioritize well-designed breakout spaces for residents to work in while operating from home.
WW: Where do you feel design in Singapore fits on a global scale?
EK: Singapore has a reputation of being very modern yet pragmatic and efficient. Architects here, while trying to create works of art, have to deal with very practical considerations, such as space efficiency, buildability, sustainability, maintainability, universal design, et cetera. Much of this is due to our lack of land, high cost of living, strict authority codes, and regulations to ensure buildings are well designed. I think this has honed the practices locally and enabled architects in Singapore to be able to export their services overseas where Singapore design is well respected and received.