individual mindset

A Passion For Design And Meditation – Angelene Chan, CEO, DP Architects

HappyHappy  •  Aug 2019

She is the CEO of the largest architectural firm in Singapore, DP Architects, which is also listed as the world’s tenth largest architectural practice in in 2019 WA100 (World Architecture 100), an annual global survey.

She is a two-time recipient of the prestigious President’s Design Award (PDA), which she received in 2015 and 2017. She is the only woman CEO among the CEOs of the top five architectural firms in Singapore and the only female architect to have won the award for PDA’s Designer of the Year, Singapore’s highest award for the profession.

She has spearheaded numerous award-winning projects over the course of her illustrious 30-year career, including placing Singapore architectural talent on the world map with The Dubai Mall, the world’s largest shopping mall covering a massive 34ha of land.

She was named Her World Woman of the Year 2017, an award that Her World describes as a “tribute to achiever women who, having made breakthroughs in their industries, have left a positive and long-lasting impact both locally and overseas with their stellar achievements.

Her work days are filled with client meetings, creative team sessions on myriad projects, and with strategising and executing corporate policies for her 1,200 employees in 16 offices worldwide.

Alongside her relentless drive to steer the organisation to greater heights lies an equally strong desire to share with her colleagues the joy, calm and clarity she gets from a meditative practice that anchors her professional and personal life.

HappyHappy sits down with Angelene Chan, CEO of DP Architects to find out more about her foray into meditation, her decision to introduce this life skill to her colleagues at DP corporate headquarters in Singapore and how her passion for design and meditation came together – serendipitously – in the form of restoring a beautiful monastery in France and giving it new, vibrant life as a meditation retreat centre.

This is what she had to say:

The First Meditation Workshop

“And We Absolutely
Enjoyed It.”

I had heard of Father Laurence as the Benedictine monk who introduced meditation to the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew. And of course I knew about Kok Song from the newspapers. My husband is also from GIC, so there was already that link. And I hear all these stories about meditation from my husband, about Kok Song’s meditation, and Father Laurence’s too.

In March 2016, Father Laurence and Kok Song were conducting meditation courses for masters students at NTU and SMU. Kok Song also invited his colleagues from GIC to attend. My husband was overseas then, so he asked me to go instead. I was quite happy to go because I was already extremely curious about meditation.

It was a two-day course in NTU. Just two of us from DP attended: me and my Chairman. And we absolutely enjoyed it.

Meditation for Architects

“So I find that
meditation helps to
keep our ego in check.”

I feel very strongly that meditation is the answer to the very stressful lives that we lead.

Architecture, in particular, is a demanding and highly competitive profession. As architects, we lead rather stressful lives. Work is ongoing all the time. Sometimes we can work throughout the weekend. In our day-to day routine and stress, we might be rushing from meeting to meeting, project to project.

I also believe that the practice of architecture is largely ego-based. Obviously we have to be egoistic because we are the creators of our own designs.

So I find that meditation helps to keep our ego in check. Meditation helps you understand that it’s not all about you, that through meditation we transcend beyond our ego to love others.

So the idea that we remember to pay attention to the present moment, to what you’re dealing with now, and then to transcend that to pay attention to ‘other-centredness’ is very appealing.

Personally it helps me develop greater clarity of purpose and peace of mind. After meditation I feel that problems are within my resolve and control.

So in a practice like ours, I think that is an extremely valuable insight to have. Meditation is a way to restore and maintain equilibrium in our lives.

Meditation at DP Architects

“Personally I find
when we come together
to meditate in a group,
it is very powerful.”

When I became CEO in Jan 2016, I was looking for ways that could help enhance the lives of DPians.

In January 2017 we invited Father Laurence to conduct a series of meditation courses at DP. It was held over four Saturdays. Between 120 to 150 people attended. The conference room was full.

I was glad that so many people attended the first meditation session, and they continued to attend for the remaining three sessions. This showed that they were extremely interested in it.

I’m also glad that Kok Song recorded the entire four weekly sessions by Father Laurence. His talks were later transcribed by a DPian which was then turned into this book (“Good Work”).

After Father Laurence’s meditation courses concluded, a subgroup was formed to continue the meditation session every morning in this room from 8:35am to 8:55am, before we start work at 9am. Anyone who wants to meditate can drop by.

Personally I find when we come together to meditate in a group, it is very powerful. There is also the support that we give one another to continue the practice, which I think is important.

I’m happy that it is still running after more than two years. This means that the practice has taken root in the group.

Meditation in Personal Life

“…there are a lot of benefits
for your personal
and professional life.”

I’m also a mother and wife. And I demand more of myself: how I interact with my children as well as with my husband.

So if you’re able to focus your attention on what you’re doing, or on how you interact with others, there are a lot of benefits for your personal and professional life.

Meditation also helps to deepen my faith which in turn inspires me to persist in the practice.

Bonnevaux – A Monastery Converted Into A Meditation Retreat Centre

“It is my small way
of contributing to
this beneficial practice
and to the community.”

After the NTU workshop, I got to know Father Laurence and Kok Song better. When I learned from Kok Song that WCCM (The World Community for Christian Meditation) was looking for a permanent home, I offered to help.

Bonnevaux is surrounded by beautiful rolling fields and is a perfect place for meditation.

DP Architects restored and gave new lease of life to existing buildings. At the same time, we also designed new buildings to cater to new needs as a meditation retreat centre.

We expect all works to be completed sometime in 2019. It is my small way of contributing to this beneficial practice and to the community.

Once Bonnevaux is ready, we intend to use it for our conference and meditation retreat. A full week retreat away from the office and home is important sometimes, to help strengthen our meditative practice.

We can also learn a lot from listening to what others have to say about their own practice. Every time I listen to Kok Song speak about his experiences and answer questions from other meditators, I find it extremely enlightening and beneficial and it helps deepen my practice.

When Angelene accepted the Woman of the Year award in 2017, she said that “the most meaningful thing I can do with my time on Earth is to nurture, to give and to reciprocate love”.

For this successful corporate leader, wife, mother and daughter all rolled into one, there can be no better description of what she does every single day at work and at home.

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