“Feel the energy” – Sean Tan of Woods Bagot likes to design cities in flux

“Feel the energy” – Sean Tan of Woods Bagot likes to design cities in flux

Beijing, Dubai, Sean Tan, UAE, Urbanism, Woods Bagot


The energy of an ever-evolving urban environment is what inspires the designs of Sean Tan of Woods Bagot.

The 29-year-old, who was born in Malaysia but grew up and studied in New Zealand, is attracted to cities which are in the process of being formed.

“I’m always drawn to places which are new or in a state of change,” he says. “That is certainly the case in Dubai and in Beijing where I worked earlier. They are incomplete environments and that is where you want to be if you are an architect.

“You can see the cranes all around you as the buildings are going up and feel the energy around the place. This is what I prefer, rather than, say London or New York, where the designs are already in place.”

He adds that the amount of work underway at Woods Bagot means that design talent has to be brought in from elsewhere.

“The firm has got its other studios around the world, such as those in Australia and New Zealand, working on projects in the UAE,” he says. “That shows the level of demand in this region.”

Aesthetics have their place in architecture but buildings really need to have a purpose, not just a pleasing form, according to the designer.

“I do like sculptural elements but the function is more important,” he says. “Also, for me the more constraints the more interesting the outcome.

“I feel that at the start of a project the architect should have a sort of naivety about them so that they can react to any changes which may be necessary.

“Also they need to have ambition as in some cases the project will be scaled down, so it has to start at a high level. Then, of course, there is always the chance that the designer will be very pleasantly surprised as the project is realised in its entirety.”

Sean Tan is originally from Malaysia but left at the age of two year for New Zealand. He studied architecture at the University of Auckland and worked for Woods Bagot in Beijing for the three years before joining MAD Architects where his projects included George Lucas’ proposed Chicago Museum, a project which has since been relocated to Los Angeles.

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