DESIGNER IN PROFILE Five Minutes with Colin Seah, Founder of Ministry of Design

Colin Seah5Name:


Position within company: FOUNDER, DESIGN DIRECTOR



Tell us a little about your background in design (education, experience, etc)

I was architecturally trained in the US, and later honed my sensibilities working for the likes of Rem Koolhaas and Daniel Libeskind. I also spent 4 years at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Architecture researching design pedagogy and serving as design critic.

In 2004, I started Ministry of Design in Singapore, with New Majestic Hotel as our maiden project. My interest is in Experience Design, providing a holistic experience spanning various disciplines, and providing relevant solutions.


 How would you describe your personal design style?

For every project, we have the mind set to always question convention. Then through design, we meaningfully disturb convention and arrive at a redefined experience. The trick then is defining what questions to ask. Not just the right questions but more importantly the ‘essential’ questions – questions that pertain to the essential characteristics of the experiences we are looking to design.

Our studio is run like a design class in a way, there is a democracy of ideas and a common desire to find the best relevant concept to drive the project.


Where does your design inspiration come from?

One of MOD’s core approaches is to employ a holistic range of design media to create a unified user experience: from the exterior experience of the building at the urban scale, all the way through to the interiors at the human scale.

For example, in the case of Vanke Triple V, a singular language of diagonals informed the site, landscape, the building’s form, tectonics, as well as interior spaces and furniture pieces. It’s the holistic and memorable experience that we try to design, that makes a venue a destination in itself.

Another example is Macalister Mansion, where this latest boutique hotel set in a restored colonial mansion would stem from a holistic vision, with the 5 F&Bs and 8 hotel rooms forming a holistic brand with a distinctive positioning, i.e. each of the 6 entities can be enjoyed as part of the overall experience but are branded as distinct rooms or spaces that are typically found in a mansion – Dining room, Den, Bagan Bar, Living room, Lawn and Eight rooms.

With “Experience design”, we embody the latitude for multi-disciplinary design, allowing a single concept to be translated and applied across architecture, landscape, interiors, art, branding and uniforms. Macalister Mansion is probably one of our most sophisticated hotels so far, providing a diverse variety of F&B experiences and a series of 8 unique generously sized suites, all infused with a touch of wit.


Name five key themes to consider when approaching design in 2013 and beyond.

Relevance is a key theme.

Adaptive reuse of heritage mansions is a popular thing to do, but many of these simply set out to preserve heritage as-is. We want to preserve the original windows, doors and frames, but we want to introduce a new programme, a new narrative, which is relevant to today’s traveller, someone hungry for new experiences which are authentic.


How important are The International Hotel and Property Awards as recognition of talent and achievement?

It’s hugely recognized and very discerning in its choice of winners, so it’s a very important milestone if one gets to win this.


What projects are you currently working on?

We are working on several new residential typologies for a highly urban and professional target group, in Kuala Lumpur, and 2 new architectural show galleries for a developer in Singapore. We are also in the process of completing the masterplan and architectural design of a mixed use development in Qingdao, China. These 2 months, we have just completed an art gallery, a new 10-storey CBD training campus for a bank in Singapore, and Level one of Tangs Flagship store in Orchard Road.