• Designing in Tandem: An Exploration of Duality and Co-creation

Most people know that at Sandrin Leung Architecture, Howard and I are co-creators. We always work on our designs together. Most people that have met us also know that we are quite different from each other, opposites one could say, and yet we cultivate a harmonious relationship.

Many people have asked, how is this possible?  And how is it that we can work together in this way?

 Today I feel like exploring the topic of creativity and co-creation because it is indeed an interesting one! As I have told people before, our process of creating in tandem is not without tension and sometimes we do find ourselves standing at polar opposites from each other. And what do we do then? 

We work through it! And we do it because we believe that coming together we can create something that is more than the sum of our parts. We believe we can, so to speak, transcend duality, and in that transcendence we can find a place of harmony and balance.

 Here is one rather illustrative example that emerged recently during our design process. Having agreed on the plans and general layout for a house we were designing, we split off and each one proceeded to explore a 3-dimensional expression for the exact same plans. When we reconvened, this is what we each had done:

(It's probably not too hard to guess who did what!) 

Ana staring at what we'll call the "Pinnacle Design": "What is that, a giant penis??" Howie staring at the "Holy Design", as we shall call it: "And what is with that giant hole?" Ana: "Well, do you want to guess??"

Haha! So here we stood in complete polarity, staring at each other's respective designs in disbelief. There's not even a remote resemblance to each other, although they come from identical floorplans! So what do we do at this point? We laugh. Because this is where life gets interesting!

Yogis will tell you that in order to transcend duality you have to be comfortable in the tension of opposites, because it is in that moment of tension that the seed of unity is born.

Elizabeth Gilbert notes in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

"I think a lot of people quit pursuing creative lives because they are scared of the word interesting. My favorite meditation teacher Pema Chodron, once said that the biggest problem she sees with people's meditation practice is that they quit just when things start getting interesting. Which is to say, they quit as soon as things aren't easy anymore, as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something in their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part - the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself."

I'm always reminded in times like this that we must not take ourselves or our work so seriously and we must never become too attached to our own ideas. Life is play and we are here to explore possibilities and maybe learn a thing or two in the process. Most importantly, we have to let go of our attachment to the outcome if we want to create freely.  


"You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don't understand the outcome." (...) Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work anyhow, because fierce trust knows that the outcome does not matter."1

 So where will this take us from here? Well, I don't know. If I knew, there would be nothing to talk about. In design we know that if we can solve a problem in our heads, it's not an interesting problem. Design is a journey, and if you allow it, it will take you places you haven't been before. To go there, we must release any attachment to the outcome. This is where the freedom in the creative process is.


"Creative living is a path for the brave. We all know this. And we all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it."2

 So as a next step we decided to look at each other's design and pick 3 things for the other person to revise and work on. Only 3 things, so we must choose wisely! Stay posted, the journey continues! ;)

Would love to hear your comments and impressions on our design process below! 


1,2   From Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, 2015.