On view until Sept. 4 at the Skyscraper Museum, GARDEN CITY | MEGA CITY showcases the built and unbuilt works of Singapore-based WOHA, an architecture firm that specializes in designing for the world's tropical urban areas. The exhibition begins by contextualizing WOHA's projects with what might be architects' and urbanists' greatest 21st century challenge: the rapidly (and sometimes haphazardly) growing cities of the developing world. 7 of the world's 20 megacities are in tropical areas. So what valuable lessons do WOHA's skyscrapers—designed for density, verticality, heat, and humidity—bring to the table? The exhibition—which consists of ~10 large-scale models shown alongside renderings—argues that it's time to leave the hermetically-sealed modernist tower behind in favor of a more nuanced approach to the building envelope. One built project in particular, a Singaporean public housing project called SkyVille@Dawson (2007-2015), stands out as an exemplar. Its 500-foot-tall towers are diamond-shaped in plan but only one apartment thick at their edges. This leaves a large hollow interior the runs the entire height of each tower; these capacious vertical voids channel cooling breezes and shelter communal green spaces located every 12 floors. Shared spaces, greenery, and passive ventilation are work harmoniously. The Met, a 755-foot-tall tower in Bangkok, makes similarly smart use of natural cooling with a hollow interior open to breezes. Other WOHA projects are verdant, though in a far more luxurious sense. The PARKROYAL on Pickering, for instance, is a hotel and office building in Singapore's Central Business district. Its sculptural concrete forms are brimming with lush vegetation. The other projects fill a similar pattern: large, open, green spaces punctuate the skyscrapers' height. Sometimes massive volumes are removed from the tower to create multiple courtyards in the sky; it's almost as if several medium-height towers with a street-level plaza were stacked atop each other (see the Oasia Downtown, at far bottom). While it's doubtful these latter-day Babylonian gardens are open to the public in most instances, and the proliferation of greenery recalls a broader fad of trees-on-towers, there's no pretension that this architecture is shovel-ready to replace the informal settlements or slums of the world's growing cities. In the words of the exhibition text, "WOHA thinks of their prototypes as components for a fully sustainable future city....Cities must now be made of, by and for people..." and not just "vast agglomerations of inanimate stand-along financial equation." The firm even rated each of its projects in terms of a "Civic Generosity Index," with some projects earning lower marks than others. With luck, projects like Skyville@Dawson will stand as inspiration for when we start designing and planning tropical megalopolises in earnest. It makes perfect sense that Singapore would be the locus for this urban innovation—the tiny island already supplies its own water even as the rest of the world prepares for a coming freshwater crises. With over 80% of Singaporeans living in public housing, the Singaporean government has long been committed to smartly designing for density: necessity is the mother of invention when 5.5 million people need to comfortably live on 277 square miles of land. If anything, after seeing these projects, the Buckminster Fuller in me wanted more (as Bucky would say) "synergy": skyscrapers that not only channel cooling breezes, but also capture rainwater for their residents or even use vegetation and gravity to filter gray water. With greater luck, firms like WOHA will continue to capitalize on the unique circumstances of Singapore to experiment, then transport that knowledge to other cities in the tropics (and perhaps beyond). While this exhibition doesn't show how these towers work in relation to their cities—this is a show for architects, less for urbanists, though design at this scale is practically urban—perhaps WOHA will elaborate on that issue during their next exhibition: Fragments of an Urban Future, which will be at the Palazza Bembo of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. The exhibit will, according to a press release, respond to "the most pressing issues facing megacities today— unprecedented urbanization, accelerating climate change, and the need for preservation of tropical biodiversity." For those interested, you can explore the GARDEN CITY | MEGA CITY exhibition here on the Skyscraper Museum's website.
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Last week, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) announced that two U.S. projects have been shortlisted for the RIBA Lubetikin Prize. The distinction honors building projects outside the European Union that set a standard for international excellence. The American projects chosen as finalists are The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston by Foster + Partners and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia by Rick Mather Architects. "This year’s shortlist is unusual in that they are all big budget projects—each with a contract value over $100 million," RIBA president Ruth Reed said in a statement. "The list mixes some of world architecture’s most famous names, with a younger practice so it will be interesting to see who the judges choose as a winner." The prize will be announced on October 1 followed by a feature on the winners on BBC 2's The Culture Show. Other finalist projects from around the world: Zaha Hadid's Guangzhou Opera House (Guangzhou, China), Foster's Masdar Institute (Masdar City, Abu Dhabi) and the Met by WOHA (Bangkok, Thailand).
The World Architecture Festival is in its third year of existence, and, despite the worldwide recession, seems to have more attendees, trade show participants, and strong projects in its awards program. In what is surely a sign of the times, however, there seem to be many more strong projects in the “future” category than completed buildings. As it has been for the past three years, AN was the event’s American media sponsor, and this year I juried projects in the category of “Future Health and Education Buildings.” The “future” presented several problems for the jury, as the various projects were all in different states of completion. In fact, one of the buildings the jury selected, the Kuwait Children’s Hospital by Madrid-based AGi Architects, had no window openings on its facade—at least not yet—or a credible entry into the complex. Nonetheless, we decided to give it an award for its adventurous design, in hopes that the client would actually see the project through to completion. What it will look like at the end is anyone’s guess, but at this point it stood out in the Health category. We gave our Future Education award to another Kuwait project, Sabah Al-Salem University in Kuwait, designed by Perkins+Will’s office in New York City. For this project, the future seems much nearer, as it was more developed and seems to have financing in place. It was recommended for its balancing of large-scale planning issues with small-scale detailing—the building’s facade was particularly well thought out, as it creatively dealt with the harsh climate of Kuwait. When this project moved through to the final round, however, where it was considered for the award as the outstanding future project of the year, it was attacked by jurists Will Alsop and Charles Jencks for its monolithic facade, which uses a repetitive flange system to shade 80 percent of the surface much of the day and thus reduce energy consumption in this hot climate. I also think Alsop actually wanted a brighter color on the facade (it’s white) and asked the Perkins+Will presenter Anthony Fieldman: “Do you really like the building?” To his credit, Fieldman stood his ground with a firm Yankee “Yes!” In a final comment that would only come from a Brit, Alsop asked Fieldman, “What’s it like to work in a country that does not allow the consumption of alcohol?” Thank god for the British! The festival’s Best Building winner was no surprise: Zaha’s Maxxi Museum in Rome. Zaha may stand triumphant in Barcelona, but Americans should be proud of the Los Angeles (and Palestine) based firm Suisman Urban Design, which won Best Future Project for the ARC Plan for occupied Palestine. Winning the student category was the Campus Catalyst Project in Port Au Prince, Haiti, designed by Harvard University students Robin Bankert, Michael Murphy, Caroline Shannon, and Joseph Wilfong. According to the jury’s notes, this project offered a powerful statement, built around the premise of education as a driver for reinventing the landscape after the 2010 earthquake. The project focused on practical applications like agronomy and carpentry, while developing education centers on unoccupied or damaged land adjacent to the current tent villages, where they are most needed. The team won a $16,000 prize courtesy of AECOM, which sponsored the student competition. Among the other category winners recognized by the juries: Check the WAF winners site for a full list of winning category projects, and check back here for more on the overall winners.