A custom concrete curtain wall complements a Singapore university building's unique form.The new Learning Hub at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore looks nothing like a typical campus building. School administrators conceived of the facility as the embodiment of a pedagogical sea change, and commissioned London-based Heatherwick Studio to design an iconic structure emphasizing small-group learning and cross-disciplinary interaction. Eschewing perpendicular classrooms and isolated corridors, the architects developed a unique plan in which rounded meeting rooms are arrayed around a central atrium. The Learning Hub's textured concrete facade, punctuated by zig-zags of glazing and pockets of greenery, translates the interior program to the building's exterior, and announces the arrival at NTU of a new way of teaching and learning. The Learning Hub's plan, said project leader Ole Smith, "is basically the whole story of the design." The first challenge was to accommodate a radical departure in the university's mode of instruction. In lieu of traditional master classes, students meet in groups of six with a professor as facilitator. NTU asked Heatherwick Studio to eliminate corners where possible; once the architects observed that the classes would meet at round tables, the next step was to consider rounding the classrooms themselves. Knowing that the windows in the classrooms would need to be small in order to reduce thermal gain, they looked for another way for students to connect with one another and decided upon a central courtyard. "That was part of the brief as well, to enable the students to mix," said Smith. "It's the only building on the campus of 33,000 where they all come together. Art students might have class next to math or engineering students; the hope is that they'll meet up and inspire each other, or develop a business plan together." Singapore's stringent environmental standards necessitated the use of concrete on the building's facade as well as its structure. "That scared us a little," recalled Smith. "In northern Europe we see a lot of Brutalist buildings, and that's not the direction we wanted to go in. We started looking at how we could use the material in a different way." With local concrete contractor LWC, the architects played with pigment, using different colors to signal structure and ornament. In terms of form, they sought a balance between uniqueness and standardization. Heatherwick Studio's 3D modeling specialists came up with a set of 10 curvatures that, distributed across a total of 1,050 facade panels, could be recombined to deliver a unique shape to each classroom—thus streamlining fabrication without introducing obvious repetition. To further camouflage the facade's standardized elements, and to avoid swerving into Brutalist territory, the architects introduced a texture of horizontal bands, spaced, per local code requirements, to be pigeon-proof. In the end, explained Smith, "the panels are all unique because of the system we developed to treat the facade pattern." The system involved applying stripes of glue-like retardant onto the formwork, pouring the concrete, allowing it to set 24 hours, then hosing it down to remove the still-wet material. "We didn't add anything to the facade; we subtracted it," said Smith. To minimize solar gain, Heatherwick Studio introduced narrow bands of glazing around the perimeter of each classroom. Having rejected curved glass as too costly, but wishing to avoid a faceted appearance, the architects arranged the flat panes in a zig-zag pattern. A slight floor-by-floor cantilever further cuts the heat, turning each story into a natural sunshade for those below it. Meanwhile, induction units positioned under the windows passively ventilate the classrooms. Rounded bronze-mesh balconies situated between each classroom wing draw air into and through the courtyard, producing a cross breeze no matter the direction of the wind. The final pin in the Learning Hub's sustainability cap (the building achieved the highest sustainability rating awarded by the government of Singapore) is the hydroponic greenery distributed across the balconies and rooftop garden. For Smith, the ongoing collaboration with concrete fabricator LWC was a crucial element of the Learning Hub's success. The contractor's ingenuity and willingness to work with the architects provided the level of distinction required by the NTU brief. "We spent a lot of time with the consultants working on colors and texture," said Smith. "The concrete has a handmade feel; we're very happy with that. In Europe you pick your facade from a catalogue, but in this situation we were able to design it from scratch."
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The Harvard Graduate School of Design has announced the three potential awardees of the 2015 Wheelwright Prize, a travel-based architectural research grant valued at $100,000. Each year, one architect from approximately 200 applicants bags the prize. Established in 1935 at a time when foreign travel was limited to an elite few and then known as the Arthur C. Wheelwright Traveling Fellowship, the prize used to be awarded solely to GSD alumni. It has now become an international competition welcoming early-career architects (within 15 years of earning an architectural degree) from around the world to bring in new blood, fresh ideas, and cross-cultural exchange. The number of countries represented has grown from 46 the previous year to 51 this year, including Bosnia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Poland, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Zimbabwe and more. The seven-person jury of architects has selected three finalists to present their research proposals at the Harvard Graduate School of Design on April 16, with the winner to be announced at the end of the month. To inspire the next generation of Wheelwright prizewinners, the winner of the 2013 Wheelwright Prize, Gia Wolff, will present "Floating City: The Community-Based Architecture of Parade Floats," reporting on her research on over the past two years on carnival festivals. "The idea is not just about travel—the act of going and seeing the world—but it is about binding the idea of geography to themes and issues that hold great potential relevance to contemporary practice," said Harvard GSD Dean Mohsen Mostafavi in a statement. The three 2015 finalists are as follows: Erik L’Heureux, Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore, presenting: “Hot and Wet: The Equatorial City and the Architectures of Atmosphere.” Malkit Shoshan, founder of think tank, FAST (Foundation for Achieving Seamless Territory) Amsterdam, presenting: “Architecture and Conflict: Pre-Cycling the Compound” Quynh Vantu, Award-winning Architect, London, presenting : “On Movement: The Threshold and its Shaping of Culture and Spatial Experience.”
This Fall, I served as special media correspondent for the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat's September symposium in Shanghai. The topic was “Future Cities: Towards Sustainable Vertical Urbanism,” and among the many architects, engineers and other tall building types I interviewed was Mun Summ Wong of Singapore-based WOHA. WOHA's work celebrates human-scale spaces in high-rise buildings. Take the PARKROYAL on Pickering, a cluster of hotels in Singapore that spruces up the standard podium with lush greenery and sleek, curvilinear geometries. Its 15,000 square feet of green space climb up through the towers' balconies and terraces, in a sense extending nearby Hong Lim Park. The project was one of CTBUH's Best Tall Buildings of 2013. In our interview, Wong discussed net-zero skyscrapers, urban sprawl and "using tall buildings as columns." Watch the video above, courtesy CTBUH, in which Wong envisions his ideal future city. "The way forward isn't to continue with two-dimensional master planning where cities can only grow sideways," Wong said. "I think skyscrapers can do more than be themselves."
This Fall, I served as special media correspondent for The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat's September symposium in Shanghai. The topic was “Future Cities: Towards Sustainable Vertical Urbanism,” and among the many architects, engineers and other tall building types I interviewed was Ole Scheeren—founder Büro Ole Scheeren and former director at OMA. In light of Scheeren's recent work on The Interlace in Singapore and Bangkok's MahaNakhon, we talked about exploring the power of public space and shared experiences in tall buildings. “The city is about sharing,” said Scheeren. “The city is not about individuality per se but it's about how individuals come together and the spaces they share. And in a way the adventure of that space.”
Last week, England-based architecture firm Wilkinson Eyre Architects was announced as the recipients of the 2013 Royal Institute of British Architects’ Lubertkin Prize for their recent international project Cooling Conservatories, Gardens By the Bay in Singapore. This is the second consecutive year the firm has been awarded the prestigious RIBA prize for best new international building. Last year, they won the title for the Guangzhou International Finance Centre in China. Cooling Conservatories consists of two massive climate-controlled conservatories, among the largest in the world, whose design allow for a cool-dry growing environment, instead of the warm, humid climate of a typical greenhouse. Sustainably constructed with low-energy glass, the biome structures are carbon-positive—they off set more atmospheric carbon dioxide than they emit. RIBA commended the firm for the sustainability of design for these less-than-typical cool air conservatories. At the prize award ceremony on September 26, Institute President Stephen Hodder called the project “an impressive achievement,” in which Wilkinson Eyre Architects “pushed the boundaries not only environmentally but also structurally.” Located within the Gardens By the Bay tourist attraction, Cooling Conservatories allow visitors to experience world ecosystems most at risk from climate change. The greenhouses support a variety of flora and fauna environments and include a waterfall, mountain, and vertical gardens. Helical pathways lined with educational climate change exhibitions take tourists through the buildings in dynamic design.
Yale University is under fire from its own faculty for a new collaboration with the National University of Singapore (NUS). Pelli Clarke Pelli is designing the campus of what will be a four-year liberal arts college based in Singapore. A recent Reuters article reported that the project has “stirred sharp criticism from faculty and human-rights advocates who say it is impossible to build an elite college dedicated to free inquiry in an authoritarian nation with heavy restrictions on public speech and assembly.” Degrees issued by the Singapore-based college, called Yale-NUS, won’t be Yale degrees and technically it’s not considered a Yale branch campus. Yet is Yale guilty of selling out its values—the school’s motto is lux et veritas, “light and truth”—to extend its brand? As Reuters reported, “Christopher Miller, a professor of French and African American studies, has dubbed the venture 'Frankenyale.'" The faculty began to voice their objections last spring, but may have been too slow on the draw—the new campus is well under construction and set to open this summer.
Several large-scale, eco-friendly projects at the intersection of landscape, architecture, and urbanism were honored at this year’s World Architecture Festival (WAF) in Singapore. Building of the Year was awarded to London-based Wilkinson Eyre’s Gardens by the Bay (above), designed in collaboration with landscape architects Grant Associates in 2003 for a competition to develop a reclaimed 250-acre site adjacent to a marina in downtown Singapore. Among the other top honorees were AECOM's Heart of Doha Masterplan, winning Future Project of the Year, and Atelier Dreiseitl's Kallang River Bishan Park, which took Landscape Project of the Year. Gardens by the Bay wraps luscious public gardens, Mediterranean flowers, event spaces, and a 100-foot high man-made waterfall under two steel-and-glass dome-like structures, the largest climate controlled greenhouses in the world. The whimsical scheme also includes eighteen 164-foot high “Supertree” structures holding thousands of exotic plant species and connected by a series of high-tech eco-bridges that collect and re-channel rainwater to cool themselves and the adjacent greenhouses. Gardens by the Bay was completed in 2012 and has been open to the public since June. WAF awarded Future Project of the Year to AECOM’s 77-acre Heart of Doha Masterplan in Qatar, designed as the gateway to Inner Doha and connecting the city with its waterfront as well as existing and proposed airports. Referred to by the architects as “the grid and the lattice,” AECOM superimposed an orthogonal grid onto Doha’s traditional Qatari street pattern to create a new urban structure that respects the Arab/Islamic vernacular, captures north-westerly breezes, and accommodates vehicular traffic. The Landscape of the Year award went to landscape architects Atelier Dreiseitl for their Kallang River Bishan Park in Singapore, a project that transforms an existing, underused park and river into an ecological public space. View all of this year's winners at the World Architecture Festival website. Click on a thumbnail below to launch a slideshow.
In an ongoing endeavor to blend public art, architecture, and urbanism by artists Siyuan and Hwee Chong, The Doors Project subversively projects a series of doors onto public spaces in Singapore, reflecting the struggles of the urban poor and underprivileged. But while commenting on despair, the real message is one of faith, hope and empowerment. “We wanted to make a statement about life, and jolt people to think,” the artists said in an interview at Yolo. “Instead of following the light at the end of the tunnel, why not carry our own lights, and create our own doors! It’s really about rolling up our sleeves, and creating the opportunities we want for ourselves.” Inspired by true stories of people they’ve met—from a boy mastering kung fu to protect his mother from his abusive father to an Indian worker desperately raising money for his son’s surgery—the installation provokes the viewer to re-imagine boundaries as thresholds, opacity as reflection, and life’s roadblocks as opportunities. “These people, despite much hoping and praying, are faced with countless roadblocks that take them nowhere,” they said. According to Siyuan and Hwee Chong, people should take a giant leap of faith, work hard at what they believe in most, and open their own “doors” in life. “It’s just more meaningful that way.” Expect more public installations from Siyuan and Hwee Chong in the near future. “’Doors is meant to be an ongoing project. There’s no end date to it. For as long as we keep collecting stories of hope and despair, we’ll keep projecting people’s ‘doors’ onto roadblocks.” Read the full interview with the artists at Yolo or check out The Doors Project's website for more.
Singapore's largest private property developer, the Far East Organisation, is the latest client of the Amsterdam-based architect UNStudio. The project in question is The Scotts Tower, a high-end residential building with the ambition to achieve "vertical city planning"--a concept perhaps inevitable in evermore crowded Asian cities. According to Ben van Berkel, UNStudio principal, the project is to "create neighborhoods in the sky; a vertical city where each zone has its own distinct identity." The anatomy of the 31-story and 231-unit Tower, totaling 18,500 square meters, is divided into four main residential clusters (in ascending order): City Loft (128 units, 16 floors), City View (80 units, some floors overlap with City Loft), Park View (20 units, five floors), and Sky Park (three penthouses, one floor). The idea is to incorporate a "variety of residence types and scales" into the vertical structure, along with green areas expressed by sky terraces ("the Sky Garden" featuring public spaces and swimming pools), penthouse roof gardens, and individual terraces; in fact, customization may go beyond merely choosing one cluster out of the four choices--each unit within a cluster gains individual identity by means of plan and scale (up to four bedrooms), distribution of the apartment within the cluster, and articulation of outdoor space (which yields different views, either natural landscape, cityscape, or both, if you choose the corner terraces), all on top of the possibility of configuring interior layouts according to each resident's lifestyles. The Scotts Tower, currently still under the design development phase, is to be erected in one of Singapore's prime downtown locations, with a proximity to a luxury shopping district and a panoramic view of the city and nearby parkland.