This is the third instalment of a four-part series The New Creative Economy on homegrown professionals who are driving Singapore’s creative, innovation-based economy.
“We are at the nascent state of the technology,” says architect Yong Sy Lyng as she describes the metaverse.
As a result — and probably because of this — the Founder and Principal Architect of OWMF Architecture, who has dipped her toes into it, is passionate about working in this space.
She already has her name on two projects: the Crypto Art Museum for crypto exchange Matrixport and its virtual headquarters. She plans to one day turn the unused designs and drawings for these projects into NFTs.
Yong studied architecture at the prestigious Cooper Union in New York, where she developed an interest in non-linear parametric geometry and even teaches and researches in this field. The shapes she favours are unconventional ones created by using mathematical equations or algorithms.
In the physical world, it often results in higher costs brought about by more challenging construction and, oftentimes, controversy over whether the finished building adds value to the environment. The metaverse, however, has very few boundaries, so it is practically the norm. This is precisely why Yong is excited about staying the course.
“Most of my parametric geometry ideas have not been realised in the real world because there are too many practical constraints like functionality and budget, but I might just get them all built in the metaverse,” she says.
Creating ‘Open, Wild, Magical Fun’ in architecture
As Yong explains, she chose architecture because she wasn’t interested in the other courses at university. “But I knew after the first week of class that it was for me,” she reflects. Drawing and model creation were some of the things she enjoyed about the homework, as well as the constant critical analysis and inquiry that led to some kind of innovative work.
After graduating, she worked for various firms in Singapore, China and New York, including Arc Studio Architecture & Urbanism, before starting OWMF Architecture in 2013. Her practice’s long-form name embodies what she stands for: Open Wild, Magical Fun.
“I tend to focus on the structure of spaces, the skeleton of a building, not just its skin,” she says. “I use transformable, nomadic structures to disrupt them and I like to explore and experiment with materials.”
As an example, she cites financial advisory and investment firm Odyssey Capital’s office in a conserved shophouse near Raffles Place. By using copper pipes, porous, wave-like screens create a sense of space and privacy at the same time. The allusion to water is no accident — Odyssey manages a fund that invests in companies related to that industry.
The whole new world of NFTs, metaverses and decentralised blockchains
It seems as if Yong was unconsciously paving her own way for where she is today.
When introduced to Matrixport by a friend, she met all the requirements of a small firm open to trying something new and non-conventional. “I was curious,” she admits. “Then the client came to our studio and introduced us to a whole new world of NFTs, metaverses and decentralised blockchains.
“I was sold, and I went down the rabbit hole from there. I thought I could finally get all my parametric ideas built!”
As part of the process of designing the art museum and virtual headquarters, she had to learn how to convert or “voxelise” the buildings into the 3D pixel format recognised by the metaverse platform.
At the same time, she took advantage of its three unique properties of the space to create the museum: the ability to change according to the requirements of the NFT artworks; the ability to to navigate by flying or teleporting; and the lack of gravity. “Some of the schemes we designed are floating — like a field of exploded rocks — and cannot exist in the real world.”
Despite all that she has accomplished, Yong has barely scratched the surface.
As she goes on, she points out how there are “new materials, new interactions, new economics” just waiting to be realised in the metaverse that cannot be replicated in the physical world. “The possibilities are limitless!”