1/ Hi Sofia, you recently moved to Singapore. What prompted the relocation?
I grew up in Morocco during the 90’s and through the early 2000s and moved to New York City the day after my 18th birthday. A few years later, I was ready to try something new and walk away from my comfort zone. Although I find the entire region exciting in every aspect, Singapore stood out because it has become the reference in so many regards, from the food scene to architectural elements. This wasn’t a spontaneous decision though, as the idea of moving to Asia had been building in my mind for a few years but needed to wait for the right moment to make it happen. I had never been to Singapore, but as I honed into the idea of moving here my curiosity increased exponentially and I could not wait to dip my toes in an environment that I was unfamiliar with. This was the catalyst for a leap of faith — I saw a window of opportunity which enabled me to be a part of the Heist team in Singapore and the rest is history.
2/ You’ve recently switched from Architecture to Experience Design - what learnings were you able to apply from your degree and past internship to your current role?
Design is about one thing and one thing only: enhancing people’s lives. I don’t see it as a switch but as a continuation: I’m passionate about way too many things to limit myself just yet. Whatever you do, particularly in this field, you need people to be the focus. Designing is not for the self, and I was slowly beginning to forget that and it's a problem. The skills i’m developing at Heist require diving deep into ethnography and not using it as an accessory or inspiration but rather as the fundamental core of the design process. That is a great tool to build on to what I have had the privilege to uncover previously in a more academic setting, and I’m very grateful for that.
3/ How do you feed your creative energy?
Places. Books. Music. Film. Anything and everything, really. I tend to enjoy movies that require subtitles and I’m a sucker for documentaries (the most recent ones being six-part docuseries Time: The Kalief Browder Story as well as 13th). When I am pulled into the vacuum of what’s “in” right now, I like to cleanse my musical palette with some Pink Floyd, Daft Punk, Radiohead, Nirvana... whatever my inner angsty-teen is craving in the moment. I prefer historical non-fiction because reality often surpasses the imaginary, I am currently reading God Sleeps in Rwanda by Joseph Sebarenzi. Travel is a big one too, I have been to various metropolitan cities throughout my life and I am proud to say I have discovered about 0.001% of the world so far (yes, you read that right). I’m eager to keep going and hopefully learn a thing or two along the way.
4/ Is there a particular design challenge or problem you’re passionate about helping solve?
Studying the urban fabric of cities and its inhabitants and designing for under-represented communities to thrive is one of the great design challenges of the 21st century, and it would be an honour to play a part — no matter how small — in resolving it. I love people and places: I studied space through architecture, I now study people through ethnography. The agglomeration of both is in cities, which is why I intend to further my studies in urban design. As a New Yorker I was curious about the functioning and conception of NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) public housing projects as well as the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) — two elements that have shaped the city tremendously. I was introduced to captivating and visionary case studies, for example Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena’s housing project as well as non-profit organisations such as 100 Resilient Cities and ea-hr, the latter which focuses on architecture and human rights. It’s great to be a daily commuter in Singapore because as a user it really gives a first hand insight on the tremendous efforts being made in ensuring such a successful and exemplary model for cities worldwide.
5/ What do you want to get out of your time in Asia?
I’m curious to experience and learn as much as possible here because I truly believe Asia is where it’s at right now, especially when it comes to design. My interests started shifting dramatically when introduced a couple of years ago to films like Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love depicting 1960s Hong Kong, or the cinematic neon lights in Shanghai Blues, as well as directors like Park Chan-wook and Yasujiro Ozu whose movies screened at my local theatre. I recently revisited a childhood classic, Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus Spirited Away and was swept off my feet. Chinese and Japanese architecture kept coming up in classes and lectures: MAD Architects, I.M. Pei, Kengo Kuma, Tadao Ando, Shigeru Ban and SANAA to name a few… Asia is really on the international forefront right now and I’m excited to experience it’s art and design scene in person instead of just admiring it from afar, that would be a key takeaway for sure. Since I moved here, Singapore has pleasantly surprised me in so many ways. There is so much to experience beyond the standard tourist attractions and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into exploring every alley as much as humanly possible. As I do so, I hope to continue to make amazing and talented friends and overdose on Hawker food together. During my time in Asia, my goal is to have a deeper understanding of the different peoples, cultures and nuances encompassed within this great continent… keeping in mind that for everybody and even after a lifetime of labor to uncover its many facets, it will forever hold a part of mystery.