by Sian Jay, Apr 2013[View PDF]
A German-born architect challenges social space in Asia.
When he was young, Ole Scheeren swore he would never become an architect. “There was always this idea that you should never do what your father’s doing,” he says. But in the end, having gained a firm knowledge base about architecture, as well as a fascination with social space, Scheeren pursued the profession.
It has since brought him to many places, and is the reason he “wasn’t afraid to break down my entire European existence and move to China”. Formerly director and partner to Rem Koolhaas at Rotterdam-based Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Scheeren is known for daring designs that radically change cities’ skylines — for instance, the CCTV building in Beijing (in partnership with Koolhaas), MahaNakhon in Bangkok and The Interlace in Singapore.
In 2010 he left OMA and moved to Beijing, where he set up his own studio, Buro-OS, in collaboration with Eric Chang, whom he had worked with for some time. It is under that name that Scheeren recently designed DUO, an integrated office, residence, hotel and retail space in Singapore. The project is a collaboration between Khazanah Nasional and Temasek Holdings, and it was this joint venture between a Malaysian and a Singaporean company that helped Scheeren define the parameters of the commission.
Scheeren came to perceive the project as symbolically expressing the nature of the two cooperating countries which “are very close, but not exactly the same”. He saw DUO not as a singular entity, but as “the symbolic fusion of two things”, and became interested in how DUO’s twin buildings would interact with each other and with their immediate environment.
DUO, when built by 2017, will rise between the low-rise buildings of historic Kampong Glam and the busier Business commercial area. Its design of two towers, comprising a series of stacked concave and convex volumes and cubes that slide away from each other at different heights, was partially defined by zoning laws. It offered Scheeren the opportunity to create“something as delicate as possible that minimises its impact to things, yet at the same time starts to engage things around it”. He noticed that while many of the buildings in the area have great individual merit, “there is very little relationship between each building, [which] cares only about itself and not about what is around”. This, too, helped define the form and structure of DUO.
Scheeren’s design emphasises public use of the space around the buildings. To engage the community, DUO will lift traffic off the ground, which will be freed up for gardens, retail and food outlets in small units, reflecting the scale of the shop houses in neighbouring Kampong Glam. “I like to think of this project as a civic nucleus — a space not only of civic scale, but also of civic importance,” says Scheeren.
To achieve his vision, Scheeren prefers to work with models rather than a computer, which may otherwise lead to the homogeneity of “horizontal striping”. To avoid this, he designed a hexagonal pattern of sunshades that improve DUO’s energy efficiency while lending texture to the façade. “As you move around the buildings you can see how different the façades are. It’s almost like dancing towers; there’s this very kinetic, very dynamic relationship between them,” he explains.
If DUO’s context-based design seems like a rebellion against self-referential buildings, it is no accident. The same can be said of Scheeren’s other projects — creating interaction through horizontal stacking to counter the isolation caused by vertical towers; disrupting a skyline of smooth steel and glass with a cut-away, pixelated condominium façade.
“I think the new is always, to a certain extent, provocative. So it would be disconcerting if nobody would be at all disturbed by [the work I’ve been doing] because that would be proof of the fact that what I have done is not new at all,” says Scheeren. He believes that architecture can help stimulate discussions and “make people think about what things are or should be”. He adds: “While each project is a momentary statement or commitment you make to a certain position, I think the work itself is something that, hopefully, will keep on evolving. And I think that all work that stops evolving stops being interesting.”