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21 NOV 2018

Woman of the future: Wendy Teo Boon Ting

A highly accomplished architect. The founder and curator of the Borneo Laboratory. A documentarian behind 15 short films. These are not three separate people, but one talented woman — Wendy Teo Boon Ting — who possesses international architectural experience and a love for the preservation of her homeland's culture and heritage.

Wendy is one of the shortlisted candidates in the RICS-sponsored Property, Infrastructure and Construction category at this year's Women of the Future Awards Southeast Asia.

For Wendy, a Cambridge-trained, ARB/RIBA Chartered Architect, Borneo island is a treasure trove of not only natural resources, such as bamboo, cane and timber, but also many generations of skills that have been handed down from migrant ancestors. Wendy's professional career boasts many architectural awards and experience working in one of the United Kingdom's most prestigious firms, Foster and Partners. However, she never quite felt satisfied with her career until she acknowledged the strong pull towards her homeland.

I felt there was something more to life than just making a living and I had this strong pull towards anything associated with the island of Borneo.

Wendy Boon Ting Teo, Founder & Creator, Borneo Laboratory @ Borneo Art Collective (Malaysia)

The missing link

She started a blog, 'Borneo Art Collection', which drew attention from many professional Sarawakians (people indigenous to Sarawak, a Malaysian state on Borneo) who, like her, lived abroad and felt a pull towards their homeland.

Wendy eventually made the decision to return home and made the intrepid decision to connect with other like-minded people and crowdfund an expedition from Kuching to Sandakan, Sabah, in a four-wheeler. Along the way, Wendy and her team documented interactions with locals through videos and notes, which were uploaded to her blog and were eventually dubbed 'The Pan Borneo Road Trip Interview Series'. This Series went on to win the 'Special Merit Award' at the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival, as well as accolade overseas in Germany, Taiwan, Singapore and the United States.

Since then she has designed and built Kuching’s first musical bamboo pavilion and established the ‘Borneo Laboratory’ in Kuching, acting as its curator. Despite several accolades and nominations — this year’s Women of the Future Awards Southeast Asia and a shortlist nomination for the Asia Design Award 2018 — Wendy continues to execute influential projects: a 20-day Design and Make project named ‘Redesigning Bornean Crafts’, and, in October 2018, an 18-minute TEDx talk titled ‘Redefining Bornean aesthetics' in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur.

The Collective

Wendy continues her re-discovery of Borneo and utilises her professional expertise to investigate the vast potential of Borneo’s flora through an “architectural lens”.

It is a matter of turning what we have in abundance locally into something useful. For example, the Bidayuh used bamboo for almost everything — from the shoots as food to the trunk as timber for house building.

Wendy Boon Ting Teo, Founder & Creator, Borneo Laboratory @ Borneo Art Collective (Malaysia)

Wendy Teo
Wendy Teo

Teo went onTeo has authored ‘The Borneo Art Collective’, a book on Borneo art and cuisine, which includes anecdotes from her road trip. She has also developed a series of furniture and objects inspired by the crafts, language and abundant material found in the Borneo landscape. Teo says that Sarawak has a wealth of age-old building techniques that were passed down through generations and must be preserved to ensure the survival of unique building methods that define local culture.

About the Women of the Future Awards Southeast Asia

The Women of the Future Awards aims to build a global, collaborative network of women in Southeast Asia. The UK branch of the awards has been established for some time and has gone from strength to strength each year. However, in Southeast Asia, talent shortages are more widespread. In fact, greater than 48% of Asia-Pacific employers say that talent shortages are posing difficulties in the hiring process. Tapping into under-utilised talent pools is crucial to combat this.

RICS sponsors the Property, Infrastructure and Construction category and, in March 2019, we once again aim to work with the Awards to build a platform to showcase regional emerging leaders — tomorrow's game changers.

Find out more & view the shortlist