Suzie Lim is an architect who has worked in various projects across Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. Formerly the head of property at HSBC Malaysia, Suzie’s architectural experience ranges from housing and office design and construction, corporate facility management, corporate fitout and construction project management. She has now moved towards providing conceptual designs and other advisory services as a freelance architect. In her spare time, Suzie enjoys painting, serving in church and raises funds for charitable causes.
What is the pathway taken to where you are now?
After graduating from UNSW, I worked with a small architecture practice in Sydney; I worked mainly on factories, renovation and small housing projects. After two years, I joined a large firm, working on a prestigious high rise building project in Sydney’s central business district.
I was then headhunted to work for one of the biggest banks in Australia- Westpac, as an in-house consultant. Here, I learnt about facilities and project management on corporate fitout, the setting up of data processing centres and corporate training centres. This was very fulfilling: Seeing the projects going from the drawing board to becoming a fully functioning building.
After becoming a chartered architect in Australia, I took on a role as an Interior Architect for the SunTec City Project in Singapore under the firm Richards Basmajian, providing a full range of design, space planning and project management services. The project included a convention centre, hotel, retail and more. Today, Suntec Singapore is still a world class meeting and conference centre with some of the most integrated facilities.
After Singapore, I returned to Malaysia and worked on a condominium project in Port Dickson before joining HSBC as the deputy head of the Property Department. In this role, I oversaw all bank owned and leased properties including headquarters, branches, backroom premises, senior staff residences and holiday bungalows.
After being promoted to the Head of Property Department, we also managed the setting up of new business centres such as Premier Centres, Card Centre, Call Centre etc. The project that I enjoyed the most was setting up the HSBC Global Processing Centre in CyberJaya; I oversaw the project from site selection until the handover of the premises.
After more than 10 years with HSBC, I decided to leave the corporate world to spend more time with my daughter who was then 6 years old. I now work as a freelance architect and have a partnership with a design company based in Singapore. My current scope of work centres around conceptual design, preparation of construction drawings and other advisory service for their projects in Malaysia.
What do you think is a misconception that the general public has about your job, or an aspect of your profession that many people aren’t aware of?
One misperception that people have is that architecture is not suitable for women. In response to this belief, it is true that construction sites naturally do pose health and safety hazards. Yet, from my experiences, I never found this to be an issue as long as one is careful at the project site and they follow the required instructions; the potential dangers posed affect everyone irrespective of gender.
Furthermore, many are unaware of the versatility of the profession. I think my path is representative of how an architect can add much value to different industries. An architect is not restricted to only working in an architecture firm. One of the most frequently asked questions I encountered while working in HSBC was ” What do you do in the bank? Why do they need an architect in the bank?”
While it’s true that our basic training focuses on design and construction of space, form and order, we are also trained to be good contract administrators. We are not just a designer or builder, but we also have the ability to carry out many other duties such as providing advisory services, project and facilities management, real estate and marketing.
Being an architect requires you to deal with people from all walks of life: From clients who may be a CEO or a housewife to engineers, builders, suppliers and carpenters; we need all of them to deliver a successful project. This opens up many opportunities for architects. An architect can move into real estate development, become a turnkey contractor, project manager, facility manager or even become a proprietary building material supplier or manufacturer. The opportunities are endless if you are brave enough to take up the challenge!
Do architects have to be good in Mathematics?
A solid grasp of mathematical applications is certainly needed; Mathematics (and Physics) is needed in acquiring technical skills for building sciences. Nevertheless, these do not require one to be exceedingly good at Mathematics. Communication skills, space visualisation, brief translation, design ability and a versatile mindset are arguably more important in practice.
“As long as you keep learning, don’t be afraid of taking risks; enjoying every twist and turn of the journey is what makes your work worthwhile and satisfying.”
What is your design or architecture philosophy in general?
To me, a building is more than a structure or a sculpture. I personally do not subscribe to the philosophy that form follows function or functions follow form.
When the architect sees the building as a sculpture, the emphasis is on the “form”; quite often this will lead to a nightmare for space planning and furniture arrangement. On the other hand, if the architect believes that form should follow functions this may lead to a highly utilitarian building. Quite often this type of design fails when functions change.
I believe a good architect can breathe life to the building; a good piece of work should be designed from the “inside out ” and “outside in,” with the understanding of the essence of what the building means to the client. A piecemeal approach is certainly unacceptable. The space created should enhance the living experience of the occupant with the passing of time and seasons.
Are there any low points in your work?
My main struggle is when I encounter indecisive clients who leave decision making to the last minute, then demand an unreasonable turnaround time. However, I have been fortunate that this is far from a frequent occurrence.
“It is always very gratifying to see how your conceptual work turns out in real life, and to see your client use your work to its fullest capacity and beauty.”
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?
It is always very gratifying to see how your conceptual work turns out in real life, and to see your client use your work to its fullest capacity and beauty. And of course, being able to finish these projects on time, within the allocated budget and satisfied clients at the end always gives me great satisfaction as well!
If you were able to turn back time, what would you tell your younger self?
I would tell myself to savour each and every moment as much as possible, and enjoy the process of developing creatively and professionally. As long as you keep learning, don’t be afraid of taking risks; enjoying every twist and turn of the journey is what makes your work worthwhile and satisfying.
“The space created should enhance the living experience of the occupant with the passing of time and seasons.”