Staying Ahead Of the Curve

Project Description

The STRAITS TIMES
Staying Ahead Of the Curve

By Natasha, Nov 17, 2012[View PDF]

Beijing-based German architect Ole Scheeren is not in the business of doing regular.

From linking two towers with a 90- degree twist at the top for Beijing’s China Central Television (CCTV) Headquarters to doing away with regular static tower blocks for The Interlace condominium project in Singapore, he is far from being an architect who plays by the rules.

And the 41-year-old bachelor, who grew up in the south-western German city of Karlsruhe, is doing it again with his latest project here, Duo.

Given the shape of the plot, which is between Ophir, Rochor and Beach roads, it would have been easy to plonk a regular U-shaped building there. But that is not quite Mr Scheeren’s style.

The site is sandwiched between two hulking buildings of different styles and he wanted to have a building that fits in with the surroundings.

Mr Scheeren, who was in town earlier this week to launch his design for Duo, which will house offices, a hotel and apartments, said: “Singapore, like many other parts of the world, is increasingly dominated by private development and property.

“As a result, the city consists of mostly individual and isolated towers. The tropical nature stitches and glues things together but if it wasn’t there, the isolation would be more apparent.”

Explaining his design process, he says: “Should we not think of architecture as being more responsible towards the city and its immediate surroundings as well? Buildings should not be a self-referential collection of objects in the city.”

So, instead of chunky tower blocks, he has carved out circular spaces in the two towers, creating open plazas, unblocked views of neighbouring buildings and naturally ventilated spaces. Leisure zones and gardens act as connectors between multiple transport hubs, and the facade’s net-like hexagonal pattern highlights the curves of the buildings.

He says of the joint venture between Malaysia’s Khazanah Nasional and Singapore’s Temasek Holdings: “The building volumes would have been too bulky and would have overpowered their context. I felt we needed to approach this very differently, and actually reduce the buildings’ physical impact by carving and cutting it back to open up public spaces.”

The 26,700 sq m Duo is slated to be completed in 2017.

Mr Scheeren, who dated Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung, has been on a roll in Asia, first as a partner and director of Rotterdam-based star architect Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in Beijing. Two years ago, he set up his own firm, Buro Ole Scheeren, with 50 people working with him.

While he made heads turn with the CCTV project, his Singapore projects also made the industry, and developers here, sit up and take note.

His Singapore connection started with The Scotts Tower, when he was at OMA. But construction never began as the developer, Far East Organization, turned to another architect to design smaller apartments for the site.

He also came up with the stunning The Interlace project in Depot Road, which changed the way condominiums look in Singapore. It has 31 blocks of apartments stacked in a hexagonal arrangement – moving away from isolated, vertical towers.

Elsewhere in Asia, the MahaNakhon, a 77-storey tower with a distinctive pixelated spiral design, will be the tallest building in Bangkok when finished in 2014; while the Angkasa Raya is a landmark 64- storey development tower made up of three slab-like parts that appear to float above open and horizontal layers, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Both will house, among other things, a hotel, apartments, shops and eateries.

He wants his buildings to speak for themselves rather than scream his style.

“The projects I’m doing don’t follow a pre- conceived style or cookie-cutter pattern. I try to make them different and relate to the specific context of where the building is in.”

He cringes when you suggest that he is revolutionary in the industry. “This is all too much,” he says. “I take my work seriously but to call myself revolutionary would be a total overstatement or incredibly arrogant. We work hard at exploring new territories and investigating new prototypes but how far that goes, we’re only at the beginning.”

Neither does he crave validation from his peers but counts on a group of friends from inside and outside the industry to keep him grounded.

The 2000 Royal Institute of British Architects silver medal winner says: “You cannot base your work or beliefs on the commentary of others but there are people whom I care about, in terms of their opinion, and the criticism they bring makes me rethink certain things.”

He looks beyond the architectural world to keep his perspectives open, taking on non-building projects, such as the floating Archipelago Cinema in the middle of Nai Pi Lae Lagoon near Kudu Island in Thailand, for a film festival earlier this year.

“It’s important to not become too framed by a certain context. Then suddenly you’re the guy who does only big buildings and you can’t think of anything beyond that. That’s fatal for trying to think differently. I want to think not only as an architect.”

He is happy to relinquish the limelight to his projects once they have been completed. “As an architect, you have to live with that and let go. You’re incredibly involved in it from the start but at some point, it will start to live its life and I think there’s a real beauty in that. It’s about creating something that’s eventually used by the people whom it was built for. Then you can observe how your fantasies materialise, how the building assumes the reality that you conceived it for.”