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  • Unagru Architecture & Urbanism

Unagru New Office in Malaysia



We are thrilled to announce an exciting development for Unagru - we are extending our wings to Asia by opening a new design and research branch in Malaysia. This initiative is led by Gary Yeow, our brilliant associate and a dearly missed former member of the London team. We had several conversations about what Unagru Malaysia could and should become, so we shared our thought processes in the same dialogue format.


Tell us about yourself.

Hello everyone! My name is Gary Yeow. I was born and lived most of my life in Malaysia. I am an associate of Unagru Architecture Urbanism and am now leading our newly launched multidisciplinary Unagru design office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I also teach interior architecture at the Malaysia Institute of Arts. I write for some publications and host some podcasts during my free time.

I completed my architectural degree at Taylor’s University, Malaysia. I worked for a year at ZLG Design Office, an architectural practice in Kuala Lumpur, before furthering my studies at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland. I worked at the Unagru office in London for two years as an office manager, and now I am permanently based in Malaysia.


Why did you choose to study architecture? 

Close-up detail of KLIA's vaulted roofs in Malaysia, by Kisho Kurokawa


It's interesting to recall why I chose to study architecture because it was not my first, or any considered, choice at all. When I was young, I found KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), designed by Kisho Kurokawa, fascinating. It is still a fantastic place to visit. I used to ride my motorcycle to the airport at night to see the empty (sometimes crowded) airport and the moments when the planes took off. 

So, I initially considered studying aviation engineering or becoming a pilot. Aviation engineering was a niche field in Malaysia, so my brother, who was already studying at a local university, suggested that I choose mechanical engineering as an alternative closer to what I wanted to do. Eventually, I chose architecture and decided to try my luck. So here I am! I'm not working as a practising architect but revolving around the world of architecture.


Favourite books?

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton is my all-time favourite. I bought the book while completing my architectural foundation course, and it took me quite a while to finish reading it. I was always keen to know more about happiness from a general humanistic perspective, so that book holds a special place in my heart. Another one, not a book but an exhibition publication, is Architecture Without Architects by Bernard Rudofsky.

There are books I enjoy reading for ‘academic’ purposes and the clarity of their writing, such as On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, and Utopia or Oblivion by Buckminster Fuller.


Favorite building in Malaysia?

I am a fan of modernist / art-deco concrete buildings, simply practical and elegant in the tropical context. It's hard to identify my favourite building in particular because it is scattered around Malaysia in urban and rural settings.

Teluk Anson Chinese Club, an art deco building in Perak, Malaysia


I recently discovered the Teluk Anson Chinese Club, which is a memorable one. It has a well-designed facade for natural air ventilation, beautiful proportions with shades and brise-soleils, and the 'least disrupted' facade with minimal signboard intrusions. This is noteworthy as many buildings in Malaysia, modernist or not, need to be more focused on shop signages and billboards. 



PJ Trade Centre, an office tower with well-designed landscape, materiality and openness


Oh yes, a rather contemporary one is the PJ Trade Centre, designed by Kevin Mark Low. It stands out as a gem representing a good Malaysian architectural example. Interestingly enough, I live across from this building, and the familiarity contributes to my liking.


Share with us how did you join Unagru.

After completing my master's at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, I moved to London to look for a job. I came across Unagru’s job ads for a recruiting office and content manager, and I found it interesting, so I applied. Partly because my final year thesis focused on sustainability and resilience in architectural business and its operations, it's intriguing how architects often discuss buildings or society but seldom talk about themselves, their stories, businesses, or their well-being—my time in the London studio allowed me to observe the evolution of architects' roles over different periods, offering a contemplative moment to rethink the building and construction industry's ecosystem. 


What inspired the decision to move back and set up new office in Malaysia?

The decision to move was challenging. Life in London was enjoyable, mainly when I could cycle everywhere and work with fantastic colleagues. However, there were limitations to my growth for new challenges, particularly in teaching and for personal reasons. Also, having more friends and collaborators across different disciplines who shared a mutual passion in the Asian region, I decided to move back to initiate more conversations around architecture through practice and education, hoping to contribute more at home. 

  

Speaking of setting up a new office, I want to applaud and thank Davide, the director of Unagru Architecture Urbanism, who believed in and respected my decision to move back to Malaysia. This has allowed me to embark on a new journey, personally and professionally. While I continue to assist the UK office with marketing matters, we stay in touch while exploring exciting opportunities to expand Unagru’s business globally and locally. 


What would be the projects are you planning to do?

Unagru’s philosophy centres on creating ‘ecological and narrative design.’  

  

Our multidisciplinary design office in Malaysia operates as an extension, closely aligning with ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) principles as design strategists. We view ourselves as researchers, communicators, educators, writers, participants, and designers of places—in a regionally and locally engaging manner, enabling good architecture and design. 

 

The approach is inspired by modern-day polymath Buckminster Fuller, motivating us to utilise design as a holistic solution by ‘doing more with less’. This prompts us to interpret efficiency and economy consciously when considering existing and new energy, resources, and labour—not exploitatively, but through embracing mutual collaborations to deliver optimal results by prioritising communication and trust. 

  

Our Malaysia office aims to be sensitive, conscious or frugal about energy, people, and economy as a sustainable business ethos. When we demand an efficient workflow and planning for our (and our clients') expectations, we can achieve more with less... which will provide a surplus of time and energy to observe our everyday problems and solutions. This method of working provides, most importantly, many opportunities to collaborate with individuals that we usually do not encounter in a construction project. Therefore, as a collective, our work revolves around everyday life, including culture, art, small businesses, finance, city connectivity, and more.  

  

There was a podcast by Scaffold, and during the conversation, Tony Fretton mentioned that 'nothing is too trivial' when he was asked about his photographic documentation of everydayness and ordinariness. I like it very much, where daily observations are critical opportunities for designers like us to engage in conversations and initiate design as solutions. We must be proactive rather than wait for the right time or client. Architectural thinking or approaches can be the starting point, where we can expand architecture, predominantly perceived as a building-making medium or instrument, to offer a broader range of creative outputs. 

  

Our directions hinge on two keywords: purpose and collaboration. 


A sketch depicting the possibilities of revitalising KL downtown by adaptive reuse strategies


The first direction is termed ‘the purpose to activate.’ We initiate projects by sensitively observing everyday surroundings and proposing what we can offer to improve our surroundings. Ongoing research projects may evolve into architectural endeavours, such as exploring the potential of unused office towers in downtown Kuala Lumpur with circular economy and adaptive reuse strategies (inspired by 51N4E's ongoing WTC re-using project), or experimenting with low-carbon materials like rammed earth or mycelium. Though this process is time-consuming, we can highlight critical or urgent issues through strategic project brief planning and collaboration with various disciplines. This category also includes participating in design competitions or open proposals.  

  

The second direction is termed ‘the purpose of alternating.’ This occurs when engaged by clients, consultants, or builders with their brief, like a housing project. We collaborate closely with local architects to understand project potentials and weaknesses, proposing alternatives to enhance design, reduce costs, and minimise environmental impact.

Tales of Vessels, an artwork by Gary during KL Design Festival 'DomesticDomicileDominate' exhibition, curated by Danial Ismail, Shamin Sahrum and Gary Yeow


The exciting aspect of this research-and-practice business model is its diversified outcomes. 

  

In the architecture and construction scene, we help clients define clear and feasible project briefs, work on designs with Unagru UK, collaborate with local architects and builders on project progress, and engage in post-occupation stages with marketing or branding strategies if required. We lead the project by distributing the workload to other collaborators. The takeaway is everyone learns from each other while zooming into different deliverables. 

  

Meanwhile, our framework of architecture expands beyond buildings. The most recent ones would be my writing on Malaysian architecture history on the period between the end of WW2 and the national independence and an exhibition about Domestic Culture titled “DomDomDom” (Domestic, Domicile, Dominate) I curated with my friends Dan and Sam for KL Design Festival 2023. So, don't be surprised to see exhibitions, events, or publications in our portfolio.


Stay tuned for more!


For collaborations, please contact Gary at gary@unagru.com or you can visit us at:

15-05, Tower 2, Faber Towers, Jalan Desa Bahagia, Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur 58100, Malaysia.


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