Counterpoint & Complement
Counterpoint & Complement
by Teresa Chow, Feb, 2012[View PDF]
When the Petronas Twin Towers were unveiled in the Malaysian capital city of Kuala Lumpur in 1998, they were the tallest office buildings in the world. Since then, they have become iconically associated with KL’s skyline – so when Ole Scheeren was invited to build a new skyscraper directly alongside the towers, he knew he needed to design something that was completely different – yet very respectful to them.
“To do a twin tower facing the Petronas Twin Towers, one could only lose,” he says. “But if you do a single tower, in a way you lose too, because how could you differentiate its identity from all the other surrounding towers?”
The brief for the Angkasa Raya project required the architect to utilise a relatively small plot of land to accommodate a high density mix-used project with offices, a hotel, residences and retail space. According to Scheeren, the complexity of the brief was that the hotel had to be housed in a separate building. “In a way it was a real dilemma: The site was too small for two separate buildings, so it was almost an impossible request to begin with,” he says.
The spectacular location of Angkasa Raya – directly facing the Petronas towers – also posed a distinct challenge for the design. The twin towers, explains Scheeren, are such a prominent structure that “you cannot design a building without considering their neighbouring presence”. Harmonious contrast, therefore, was the only solution.
Rather than a single mass, Angkasa Raya is made up of three cubic volumes which appear to float above open, horizontal layers. The ground levels form an interconnected spiral of both pedestrian and vehicular circulation and draw the diversity of the streetscape into the building. Urban life will be introduced to these levels with shops, a food court, car parks, terraces and prayer rooms. A second stack of horizontal slabs, the sky levels, is lifted up in the air, appearing to ‘hover’ above the city. Three ‘floating’ blocks accommodate serviced residences, a hotel and offices. The façades are clad with modular aluminium sun-shading, geometrically optimised and oriented to reduce solar heat gain.
With demolition of the existing building on the site completed in 2011, construction is set to begin in the first quarter of 2012, and the project is expected to complete in 2016.
Q&A: OLE SCHEEREN
How did you become involved in the Angkasa Raya project?
The client had initially commissioned a series of designs for the project from other architects but was not entirely happy with the results. In summer 2010, he invited us to make an alternative proposal, and we have been working on the project since.
Was the brief challenging?
On the one hand, there was a very high plot ratio with 4 different program components that needed to be accommodated on the very small site, and on the other hand there is this very specific context of the Petronas Twin Towers as your neighbour.
To what extent did the location inform your design?
The Twin Towers are icons of power, and being the tallest was their most important message. I think times have changed and we have entered an era where other architectural qualities are becoming more important.
What was your solution?
The towers are too strong; you can never compete with them. But if you like them or not, architecturally, they have given so much to the city and you also have to be respectful of that, so for Angkasa Raya we needed to find an design that could act as an architectural counterpoint in some way.
What was the thinking behind the design concept?
What makes Malaysia most fascinating is its multi-cultural quality. The whole sense of multiplicity in Malaysia is interesting; and the question was whether we could design a building that expresses some of that – the vibrancy of the city.
What kind of opportunities has the project created?
The very different way in which we approached how the building meets the ground, by opening up and drawing the streetscape inside, has somewhat changed the city’s guidelines for the treatment of tower plinths.
Maybe more importantly, the idea of multiplicity, of how the design resonates with the cultural diversity of the country, has brought a lot of political interest and support to the project.
Have you ever experienced anything like this before?
The CCTV tower in Beijing had a political meaning and agenda from the beginning, in the context of the Olympic Games and China entering a new era on the world stage. What is interesting with Angkasa Raya is that we managed to turn a commercial development to some degree into a civic structure. The idea of inclusiveness of multiple cultures and opening the building to the public has simply gone beyond the project’s initial brief.
Tell us some of the green aspects.
Regulations ask for 9.5 per cent of green but we are providing almost 90 per cent, as gardens for the inhabitants. Shading is another important aspect as it has the greatest impact on energy consumption. You get the sun not only from one side but all around in this tropical city. The shading of the building works like when you raise your hand at an angle to shield your eyes from the sun. Each window has its own shield. As a result, the building will not have a flat curtain wall, but a very expressive texture.
What do you think about the mixed-use building phenomenon in general, now that they have become so familiar?
It’s a big challenge for architects, as these type of projects dominate the emerging cities with the ever same formula. In some ways, I am rather hesitant to engage in too many of these mix-use typologies, but my interest remains to investigate how we can take any kind of typology and explore all its potential, not stick to the status-quo and only repeat what has been done before.