Since the founding of SLA designers, Cyril Lamy is engaged to develop the studio in Asia. As all new type of design practices, the time to settle down and demonstrate is already a journey, but it seems that it is now time for proof and recognition. We want to know more about this process through this discussion with the creative director.


Hi Cyril, how can we introduce you?

I am the creative director of SLA designer company, a studio based in HCMC, Vietnam that focus on combination between architecture, lighting and scenography.

Can you share how you got started at SLA?

SLA designer is the result of an encounter in Paris, from a group of professional working on the same field with different approach and background. Some of us were developing lighting for performance and architecture, I was myself practicing as an architect in the world of performance space and scenography. So during that period we experiment the collaboration to develop designs mixing already lighting with architecture. So SLA designers is the natural result of this combination of skills and cultures, and I naturally handle the position of creative director as I’m actually at the crossing point of our different practices. Our company name itself reflects clearly the fact that we want to focus on the combination of this three basic practices.

Cyril Lamy – Creative Director

You mentioned scenography, for those not familiar with it, can you tell us more about?

Sure, as it is a questioning that even the professional are still debating! Back to the basic, scenography is actually an ancestral practice from the antic Greek theatre period, more than 2 000 years ago, etymologically means the ‘’art of drawing in perspective’’. The contemporary practice of scenography is now open to a number of different approach and field of applications, named differently such as set design, exhibition design, stage design, retail, even hospitality…and the practice of scenography is also relative to several professional, such as show director, lighting designer, event designer, theme park designer, interior designer and more. But the common link between all this practices is to imagine spaces that tell a story and create a special relationship with the visitors or the audience.

What originally made you want to study architecture and become an architect, what particular memory of yours that shaped your design principles and philosophies?

Since my childhood I always expressed the fact that I wanted to become an architect, I cannot say for which reason exactly because there was no architect in my entourage that time, but I think because I like to be in a ‘’project’’ situation. It means I like imagining things, build them and see people experiment it. Since my childhood I’m also extremely curious about the elsewhere, to know about the most of various place and culture as possible. It is why I took the chance to turn my studying period as a journey through six architecture universities, in France, Nederland, Chile and India. I have been finally graduated architect From Paris university and then I passed my scenographer master degree few years later in Nantes, which is a unique model of performance city in the world, where I learnt about theatre design with the best professional in France. From my studies I firstly learnt the importance of immersion on the site, the importance of the cultural aspects in any design, and the interest to combine all this with my own experience and knowledge. Apart of my academic path, I also participated to plenty of different workshops and trainings, with great artists and performers, it is also a chance to confront the user point of view and a way to break the rules of theories teach in universities.

Did you happen to experience difficult time while working in Asia? How you managed to overcome it?

Actually I have a long experience working with Asia, since I was still a student working as a part time architect in Paris. My first project in 2002 was in China, a very exotic situation for me at this time. Unfortunately turned once we sent our final sketch since the client abruptly cut off the contact … A good training for me already  After that I did several other projects in China for international companies, for which I learnt to work out of scale, about the size of the buildings and in a so quick time to design. I also settle a year on a heritage project site located in India, where I drastically experienced the cultural differences and the necessary communication adaptation to explain my point of view. After few years break with Asia I finally handle a position in Bangkok, to coordinate a museum project, I was here directly confronted to the subtleties of negotiations and the art of exchange in Asia.

So yes the way of working is different compare to France, but this is also what is interesting to challenge, I believe in the power of mixing and exchanging to create great projects. And we also choose to settle in Asia because it is a chance at this precise time to be involved closely in this important growing period in terms of cities development.

Speaking of combination of architecture, lighting and scenography, can you tell us more about this and how it is reflected in your projects?

This combination is really what founds our values and our point of view on any of our projects. Each of this three practices work together and respond to each other. Even if the final design we deliver is not a visual combination, they interact together in the design process in terms of approach and knowledge. As its best, architecture boosted by scenography generates spaces metamorphosed by the narrative, a fictional experience for the public and the user through the simulation of their imagination. Scenography turns the space surprising, immersive and interactive. There are thus a bunch of media that we use to achieve this perception, and the light is one of the major element.

So in the projects we design we like blurring the public perception by oscillating between the tangible and the illusion. We designed for example a theatre in Ha Long Bay, and our architecture is in fact an association of different inspirations and images, from day to night, because we don’t want to orientate to a single perception but let the visitor imagine is own story. By day you can imagine a shell attached on the rock, or a piece of the dragon diving in the bay, or an evocation of the traditional boats ‘sail that navigate in Ha Long. By night, the theatre have a contrasting presence with dynamic lighting effects and colour changing in order to express its entertainment aspiration. It is why we explain that we turn the city as a stage where our architecture becomes actress.

What is your design process from start to finish? Is there a certain route you take or is it always different depending on the project?

Every project start from a story, so I can say that the inspiration comes from the project topic itself. The topic include the exact site location of course, but also the culture of the area or country, the client background and history, the program. Then I fuse these ‘’objective data’’ with my own perception, and by extracting a piece of it I start writing the story. The drawing of the shape comes later, sometimes naturally as a single answer, and sometimes after a lot of versions and changing.

I talked about mostly imaginary things from the beginning, but in the design process we are also guided by the contract we signed of with our client and other consultants. Our final goal is to carry the project as it was designed till the completion. For this, the design stage are essential, not only in terms of nice images, but technically and economically. So in the creative process I also have to consider this data as a base, I integrate them, not as constraints but as a part of the story too. Anyway, I don’t think that unlimited budget can generate the best design.

Speaking of design and your creative vision, what inspires you to continue to push the creative boundaries and stay motivated when working on a project?

As I said, the inspiration comes from the projects themselves, it is also why we choose carefully the type of project we are able to develop. It means the project in which we can put our passion and dedicate all our best skills to design it. So I’m convenience that a good project is the result of this other combination made by a qualified designer, an attractive program and a confident client. It is not so easy to find but this is the key to success a good project.

Of course we face the same fact as any designer, we designed many things that will never come true, but still, the unrealized projects are a way to keep going and thinking, and they bring value to our practice. It is also why we have a research department in our studio, we produce some projects from our own program that we can present to potential clients, it is a way to provoke ideas in the mind of people that would otherwise never had.

So the motivation is finally always guided by the desire to create great design that people could experiment and enjoy.

It’s been quite a time that you’ve been working on so many projects throughout Vietnam from North to South. So what do you think about the state of Scenography in Vietnam and Architecture in general?

Be an architect in Vietnam is not an easy thing, for political, economic and cultural reasons, as the practice is still in its beginning period and not regulated properly yet. But in another hand it is exciting to be part of this new development since few years already, and in our field of design we have the feeling that there are still plenty of projects to develop in Vietnam, for culture, entertainment and leisure.  

About scenography, we are in fact the first professional company to practice officially in Vietnam, so it is a very interesting and challenging position for us as we have to explain and educate about this new approach. I can say that after few years of practice in this part of the world, our clients who give us the chance to start designing there projects are now convince by our proposals and they can feel what the scenography point of view brought to their project.

So I believe that all aspects of design quality will improve quickly, and more and more people will switch from reproducing occidental models to new creations relative to Vietnam. Because the world shaped today have to vibrate for the next generations.