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Lessons from Singapore as architecture proves its worth

Paul Finch
  • 1 Comment

Last week’s World Architecture Festival demonstrated what can come out of a culture of creative thinking

Singapore is an ongoing urban experiment where the relationship between population, administration, environment, planning and architecture provides endless stimulation. At the World Architecture Festival we were fortunate enough to hear from one of the founding fathers of the country, Liu Thai Ker, who not only analysed the way in which housing and infrastructure had been improved since independence 50 years ago, but pointed to the issues that would need to be addressed over the next 50.

Chief of these is population growth. The current population of 5.5 million was at one time expected to be reached by the end of this century - it has arrived 85 years early. So now the predictions are that this city state will grow to 10 million people by 2100, and therefore the question of housing supply will not go away.

By coincidence, WAF’s World Building of the Year is a housing development in Singapore, conceived at OMA when Ole Scheeren was a director, and taken on and delivered by him via his own practice. I saw this extraordinary development last year and hoped that it would be submitted for the awards, since it represents one of the reasons why architecture can and should make a difference to our cities.

The idea of taking vertical towers, chopping them up, and stacking them horizontally at angles to allow for light and landscape, is audacious and brilliant. It illustrates why clients go to smart architects: to get smart thinking which at its best will have lessons for the architectural world as a whole. I have no idea how many developments will pick up on this idea, but for anyone interested in housing design this is a project that has to be understood.

This has nothing to do with ‘starchitecture’ by the way, but emerges from a culture of creative thinking about big housing projects in Singapore, which has also produced the extraordinary Pinnacle at Duxton, and other Housing Development Board projects. In the Dawson area, two local practices are showing how design intelligence and flair can further transform the image of public housing. SCDA’s project was a finalist in the WAF category awards, and the exemplary new linked blocks by WOHA are certain to command huge attention, demonstrating the Berthold Lubetkin dictum that ‘nothing is too good for ordinary people’.

Most of the UK’s housing looks tired and feeble

In comparison, much of the housing we produce in the UK looks tired and feeble, particularly when it comes to high blocks. We still do not have the courage to accept that densities and heights will rise if we are to provide greater amenity at the ground plane. The disgraceful failure to block demolition of Robin Hood Gardens is a good example of how ideas are underrated.

It wasn’t just bold ideas about housing that gripped the WAF audience at Marina Bay Sands last week. A building of great cultural significance, designed by Mangera Yvars Architects, will result in men and women being able to pray in a mosque in the same space, apparently for the first time. The boldness of client and programme has found a response in the striking architecture of Qatar’s Islamic learning centre and mosque, part of the ambitious Education City programme to a masterplan by Arata Isozaki.

As ever, it was refreshing to see great architecture presented, discussed and celebrated, and to hear a wide range of voices adding to the big conversation that takes place each year as the world’s architects gather. We are moving to Berlin for next year’s main festival after four happy years in Singapore. Appropriately enough, our big theme will be housing - of every type and shape.

The Interlace by OMA and Ole Scheeren

The Interlace by OMA and Ole Scheeren

The Interlace by OMA and Ole Scheeren

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • H.R.Hiegel

    Thanks so much, Paul Finch, for the article and the hints to exploring, chopping, rearranging threedimensional urban space. But why not refer much more to (historical) sources. Mote it be the Chips in Manchester by Will Alsop, finished in 2009. http://projects-archive.grohe.com/en/references/residential/chips-manchester-england/p/25_85403.html
    A really innovative and fine piece of architectural mastership. ;-)

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