Designing ideas, the podcast way
Review by Clarissa Lim Kye Lee

A podcast about architecture and design may seem like a strange thing but the XYZpodcast may change all that. In this google-doc conversation with Gary Yeow, one of the main podcast hosts of XYZpodcast, an offshoot of his architectural collective XYZ, we learn about his shift from conventional architectural practice to growing a network and sowing fresh ideas via podcasting.

XYZpodcast is make-shift, sometimes like an exceedingly long mamak conversation between seemingly old friends. The miloais series of the podcast is a campur of voices fighting over each other is usually framed as an open discussion space, which can sometimes end up becoming a rant about the architectural field in Malaysia.

Yeow is completing his Master of Architecture thesis at University of Strathclyde on “scrutinising the role of architects and the future of the profession” and to “rethink and challenge the existing norm of architectural practice”.

Hitching onto the classic features of frustrated, overworked and tired architects and designers in Malaysia, XYZpodcast is his first foray into having a dialogue with seasoned professionals and providing a platform for explorative practices by young designers of today.

[Interview has been lightly edited to be more concise.]

What does XYZpodcast mean? At first glance I can imagine that X, Y, Z infers the three axis of three dimensional thought, a form of measuring space that all architects use on a daily basis. 

You’re right on the three-dimensional representation from the logo. Amos Tan (sometimes co-host of the podcast) and I started off with Project XYZ four years ago after we had completed the MES Pavillion. We evolved into XYZ with three principles: bold, experimental and contextual.

XYZpodcast was something spontaneous, almost an epiphany I would say, born out of COVID-19. But I think things happen for a reason. I have always shared my favourite excerpts on my personal Instagram and I love to talk. So I bought a microphone off Amazon and began listening to some of Taiwanese podcasts … and just did it!

How has this offshoot expanded the discipline of architecture? Or do you see it as an interdisciplinary praxis in between storytelling and journalism?

XYZ began with our limited understanding of architecture. But we realised doing some experimental work – such as An Expressive Montage (2018) a graduate show in KongsiKL, and Brick Organ Pavilion (2018) for the PavilionNOW at Shalini Gallery – expanded our horizons, and gave us other ways to do architecture.

I love that the podcast connects me with a broader network than those who are in architectural design. I have to be brave and invite guests who I have never spoken to before. I started off with Amos. It went viral in my circle of friends because it was very new, perhaps the first podcast in the local architectural student scene.

How do you frame your podcast? It expands beyond simply unpacking architecture, connecting with design, innovation, sustainability. It doesn't seem to embed into visual art just yet. Is it simply ideas you are comfortable speaking about?

This is an interesting question because Amos has shifted into another direction, he still loves architecture. This is a good balance, both general and specialised knowledge sharing. We are planning for a learning platform, but let's see how it goes!

At first I didn’t want to talk about unfamiliar fields, but nowadays I want to know industries I’m unfamiliar with. In this case I would like to credit my podcast to two figures: one is Hans Obrist Ulrich, a curator whom I really admire since I read his interview with Ai Wei Wei four years ago. Second is Huat Lim, my previous employer leading ZLGdesign. My colleagues there encouraged me to speak up and share my thoughts, and not just follow their instructions.

Your posts on XYZ Podcast’s Instagram XYZPodcast’s Instagram include timestamps identifying points of discussion for each podcast. I find the labour of timestamping each conversation exceedingly time consuming – almost cutting through the medium of the podcast. Why is this important for you?

I think it is almost compulsory to include the timestamps. My podcasts are like a movie compared to those of my peers like Qhawarizmi Norhisham (of QWA Podcast) and R+Sessions (research arm of GDP Architects) whose podcasts are more accessible. I just completed an episode with Nazmi Anuar (Senior Lecturer at Taylors University, School of Architecture, Building and Design), and it lasted two and half hours, almost like a friend-to-friend conversation.

What are your hopes and plans for XYZ (now with the podcast in tow)?

I am uncertain as I’m running programmes I’m not trained for, like curating events. Such ideas are not taught in architectural school. But there is a first time for everything, so I think it is worth the challenge. Amos and I also want to do book and movie reviews for the podcast.

As a whole, XYZ should be seen as a collective and we will still do architectural proposals and competitions. I hope it can be established as a small yet dynamic team that sees architecture as a holistic embodiment of events, not just limited to conventional architectural practice.

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Clarissa Lim Kye Lee is a writer under the CENDANA - ASWARA Arts Writing Mentorship Programme 2020-2021

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