Principle of 'making of things'

Robert Cheng is the founder of Brewin Design Office. He developed a design principle for architecture closely related to 'the making of things.' 
Principle of 'making of things'

Who is he?

Robert Cheng is the founder of Brewin Design Office. After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design and Harvard Graduate School of Design, he spent his formative professional years at Tsao & McKown Architects in New York City as an apprentice to architect Calvin Tsao, and later joined Pritzker Prize winner Atelier Jean Nouvel in Paris. As a trained architect and interior designer, Cheng developed a design principle for architecture closely related to ‘the making of things.’ This formed the basis for a conceptual design discourse and procedure in his work and his company, Brewin Design Office. BDO is a studio of highly creative and talented architects and designers across Asia with considerable professional experience designing a wide range of project typologies, from residential spaces, arts and cultural spaces, to larger commercial projects. 

Please share with us some of your works, and name the one you are most proud of.

We have recently completed the interior design of all public spaces of five 15-story Grade A office towers, located north of Shanghai Railway Station. The client, the developer of this project, is a joint venture partnership between real estate fund/developer Phoenix Property Investors and Financial Street Holdings.

This project allowed us to successfully execute what we had ventured out to do — that is, to apply our design approach and what we are about on a larger scale. We approached the design of the large floor area in the same way we would approach designing a piece of furniture — focusing very much on details, blending an artisanal and craft-oriented approach based on logic and rigorous research.

This is the same approach we apply to projects in the hospitality space, such as in the newly renovated executive lounge and pool lounge & spa at the Conrad Centennial Singapore and the contemporary Chinese restaurant at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.


What’s your design style?

We are categorized by four distinct qualities: minimal, timeless, understated and authentic. The programmatically innovative designs created by the studio is guided by the detail-oriented, rigorous approach I apply to my work. Our designs value material and spatial quality and stays true to the integrity of design no matter the size of the project.

Where are you most creative?

In the mornings at 6am. I find that being extremely fresh from a good night’s sleep recharges a particular state of calm that usually begins to dissipate once the demands of the day surface. I also find travelling to be the most inspiring. Being one degree removed from everyday demands and being immersed in new environments and cultures allows the expansion of thought and creative ideas. I always have my sketch book with me to jot down or sketch out new ideas.

What does your home mean to you?

I was privileged to have grown up in a home designed by one of my favorite architects Paul Rudolph. The house is full of rich details that embody modern architectural principles. The house also has a collection of old and new furniture masterpieces where one can study the work of other furniture designers and cabinet-makers.

This house, my family home, serves as an environment for design discourse between my father — also a trained architect — myself and my brother, who is a seasoned property developer.

As a designer and service provider, I spend all my time thinking about other people’s projects, so my own home is very much a refuge and place of reflection where I connect with an introverted side to myself.

What do you collect?

Art pieces by friends. I also collect furniture design pieces — most recent ones include the Haas Brothers. I love mid-century modern pieces and am currently building a collection from my own line of bespoke furniture, named The Brewin Collection.

Where would you like to go most in Shanghai?

The tree-lined city center is absolutely charming. I recently stayed at the Capella Hotel on Jianyeli that has a design that evokes history alongside a European version of Shanghai.

Another place I love is the newly minted ‘Living Room by Octave,’ a multipurpose learning and wellness center. This project was designed and developed by my ex-boss and mentor Calvin Tsao of Tsao & McKown in New York City.

What will be the next big design trend?

A convergence between hospitality, residential design and programing. It would be interesting to see how the ongoing trends of co-working and co-living spaces begin to weave themselves into the hospitality sector.

Most recently I stayed at Ian Schrager’s Public Hotel in Manhattan and began to imagine how a hotel concept like that could be easily adapted to become a co-living environment. Conversely, one can also imagine the opposite, where co-living programs might begin to operate like self-serviced hotels.

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