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Thread: Alien Attraction

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    Default Alien Attraction

    April 8, 2007

    Alien Attraction

    More residential developers are hiring architects from overseas for their condo projects. Do local architects mind?

    By Tay Suan Chiang, DESIGN CORRESPONDENT


    KITCHENS. Who would have thought the humble cooking corner of your home could come to symbolise a yawning cultural divide in the lofty world of designing residential buildings.

    Yet the fact that Singaporeans like two kitchen areas - a dry one for food preparation and a wet one for cooking - has come as a surprise to at least one big-name foreign architect designing a building that will have an impact on Singapore's skyline, the One Shenton in Shenton Way.

    Canada-based architect Carlos Ott tells LifeStyle: 'The concept was totally new to me until a local architect told me about it. In Western homes, it is more common to have just one kitchen for preparation and cooking.'

    Mr Ott is one of a growing list of famous foreign architects being hired amid the current property boom to come up with wonderful blueprints for residential buildings such as Reflections at Keppel Bay and Orchard Residences.

    This new wave of names includes American architect Daniel Libeskind, German architect Ole Scheeren and Japan's Paul Tange - although getting foreign names to design Singapore residential projects is not new. One of the oldest such developments is the Colonnade in Grange Road, which was completed in 1987 by late New York architect Paul Rudolph.

    But amid the latest influx of famous foreigners keen to make their mark, those in the design and property scene here can't be blamed for thinking local talent is being overlooked.

    Architect John Ting at Aim & Associates notes that, generally, Singaporeans use foreign architects and laments: 'Local developers still think they (foreign architects) are better.'

    He says it is similar to what's hot in fashion - an outfit by Italian house Gucci is seen as more desirable than a local brand such as alldressedup.

    Property developers decline to say how much more it costs to hire a foreign architect over a local one, but they say it is worth it.


    Adding value

    ON FOREIGN architects being the flavour of the month, the research director at property consultants Knight Frank, Mr Nicholas Mak, explains: 'Foreign architects are used as a marketing tool. They add difference to a project so it can command a higher premium.'

    But he says pragmatically: 'While a renowned architect may help to sell a project, it is still location and layout of the apartments that matter to most buyers.'

    The local architecture industry, meanwhile, has a prominent supporter in the form of Mr Simon Cheong, the CEO of upmarket developer SC Global.

    He regularly engages local award-winning architects Chan Soo Khian of SCDA Architects and W Architect's Mok Wei Wei for his projects.

    'They have a better understanding of our environment and living conditions and are better able to express this in their designs,' he maintains.

    The company's luxurious residential projects such as the BLVD in Orchard Boulevard have fetched record prices without the use of any foreign name.

    Mr Cheong adds that local architects can also design iconic and sculptural-looking buildings. In any case, being able to design quality living space is more important, he says.

    However, Mr Chia Ngiang Hong, group general manager of listed developer City Development Ltd (CDL), which brought in Mr Ott, says there is good reason to bring in foreign architects.

    Big names like Mr Ott have a successful international career, a high-profile reputation for flamboyant designs and are trendsetters in the architectural field, he says. 'His designs have the X factor and will add international flavour,' adds Mr Chia.

    Mr Ott is undertaking not just one but three of CDL's residential projects - One Shenton, The Solitaire in Stevens Road and a yet-to-be-named project on the former Kim Lin Mansion site on Grange Road.

    He is the architect behind the French national opera house Opera de la Bastille in Paris and the pearl-shaped Hangzhou Grand Theatre.

    Adding to the roll-call of foreign names popping up here is German architect Ole Scheeren, a partner of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), a company founded by famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

    Mr Scheeren designed Far East Organization's Scotts Tower at the intersection of Scotts and Cairnhill roads. Overseas, he is known for designing the China Central Television Headquarters in Beijing.

    The 68-unit Scotts Tower features a gravity-defying design - its four apartment towers are suspended from a central core.

    Far East Organization's chief operating officer for property sales, MrChia Boon Kuah, sings OMA's praises. He says on OMA's website: 'OMA, with its extensive international experience, will certainly bring a new perspective to luxury urban living and add to the cosmopolitan flavour of our development.'

    There is also Mr Daniel Libeskind, who designed Berlin's Jewish Museum and who is the name behind Keppel Land's Reflections at Keppel Bay. His design features six undulating glass towers of 41 storeys and 24 storeys, as well as 11 blocks of six- to eight-storey villa apartments.

    Mr Augustine Tan, Keppel Land director (Singapore residential), says of the company's choice of using Mr Libeskind: 'Singaporeans are widely travelled and they recognise the innovation, quality and prestige which world-class architects bring.'

    He adds that Reflections at Keppel Bay is also targeted at global investors and an internationally acclaimed name would appeal strongly to this audience.

    The use of foreign architects for residential projects has gone beyond the Orchard Road and Marina Bay area.

    United Engineers Developments has hired Japanese architect Paul Tange - whose father was the late Kenzo Tange, a winner of the highly regarded Pritzker Architectural Prize - to design Vista Xchange at One North, a mixed development project set in the midst of the future Biopolis and Fusionopolis at Buona Vista.

    Mr David Liew, the firm's managing director, says it chose to use Mr Tange partly because of sentimental reasons. The elder Mr Tange had previously designed the firm's flagship building, UE Square, in River Valley Road.

    'But the key advantage of having a foreign architect is to provide a different perspective and fresh ideas, and for them to share their experiences with us, so that we get a best-of-breed outcome,' says Mr Liew.

    The influx of famous foreign architects can be a good thing for the local scene, according to those in the industry.

    Property developers point out that these foreign architects work with local architectural firms on the projects.

    For example, Ms Soon Su Lin, CEO of joint venture company Orchard Turn Developments, says local firm RSP Architects Planners and Engineers has been engaged to work on the project, which is being designed by British firm Benoy.

    'As they are familiar with the local building regulations, they will help to review the design and see that it fits our local conditions,' she says.

    Indeed, the CEO of local firm Architects 61, Mr Michael Ngu, says that although developers are promoting foreign names, local firms are not playing second fiddle. His firm is working with Mr Ott on One Shenton.

    'It is our priority to make the project workable,' he says.

    And when LifeStyle met Mr Ott last Tuesday at The Solitaire showsuite, he says that it is necessary for foreign architects like himself to work with a local counterpart, citing how the concept of a wet and dry kitchen was new to him. 'I only understood how important it is to a Singaporean home owner when I was told by a local architect,' he says.

    Mr Ngu, meanwhile, admits that it is 'unfortunate that developers are not supporting local talent enough, but business, or selling the projects, comes first for the developers, and architects have to come to terms with it.'

    But he echoes comments that local firms still stand to gain when working with foreign names.

    'Local architects can learn from the foreign names and upgrade themselves,' he says, adding that local architects' depth of experience is generally lacking compared to foreign ones.

    Mr Mink Tan of Mink Architects also acknowledges that it is hard for local architects to fight market forces.

    'The power of a big-name architect is pervasive, but we can always learn from him instead. There can be knowledge transfer,' he says.

    Hong Kong-based architect David Buffonge, a director of Benoy, who is leading the design team for Orchard Turn, points out: 'We can bring in new ideas and new technologies.'

    Speaking to LifeStyle at the Orchard Turn office last Wednesday, he backs up his point with this example: Instead of a plain facade for Orchard Turn, he has used LED (light-emitting diode) technology to display moving graphics and messages on the facade.

    'It will be a totally new concept in Singapore as the moving images will wrap around the whole building facade,' he says.

    Still, architectural theorist and critic Professor William Lim points out that projects by even renowned architects can go wrong. He cites the example of British architect Norman Foster's design of the Supreme Court, which he says 'is disappointing and not his best work'.

    He adds that developers and decision-makers tend to overrate foreign architects. 'We may not have the best architects but we have some good local ones - do give them a chance,' he says.

    Mr Tan Kok Hiang, founding director of Forum Architects, says of the foreign luminaries: 'They can up the architectural ante and help put Singapore on the architecture world map, but clients must know that they produce their best work only when really challenged.'

    Developers, he adds, should still give local architects a chance, too.

    'There has to be a level playing field between local and foreign architects - in terms of fees and respect. Only then can we see where the locals stand,' he says.

    Mr Tai Lee Siang, president of the Singapore Institute of Architects, says the continual engagement of foreign architects here will see greater competition and stimulate the creative environment.

    'The ultimate responsibility to transform our city still lies squarely and firmly on our shoulders and that of our industry players,' he says.

    [email protected]



    Reflections at Keppel Bay


    The BLVD


    One Shenton


    Orchard Residences


    Scotts Tower


    One Rochester


    Marina Bay Residences

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    Default Do foreign designers have the X factor?

    April 8, 2007

    Do foreign designers have the X factor?


    ARE projects by foreign architects really out of this world, or are they just hot because a foreign architect designed them?

    LifeStyle asked veteran architect Professor William Lim, Forum Architect's Tan Kok Hiang, Aim & Associates' John Ting, Mink Architect's Mink Tan and Erwin Viray, associate professor of architecture at the National University of Singapore, to give their opinions on six developments here.



    1 Reflections at Keppel Bay
    By American architect Daniel Libeskind

    Features six undulating glass towers of 41 storeys and 24 storeys, as well as 11 blocks of six- to eight-storey villa apartments in Keppel Bay. Developed by Keppel Land.

    Prof Viray: 'The towers appear as if they are moving and dancing. It is also apparent attention was given to climatic concerns in the green area provision and gardens.'

    Prof Lim: 'The design is cutting-edge, experimental, and you could even say it is gimmicky.

    Personally, it is not my cup of tea.'



    2 One Shenton
    By Uraguay-born, Canada-based Carlos Ott

    Comprises 360 units in two towers encased in silver- and gold-coloured glass. The towers will be connected by three bridges. This project in Shenton Way is developed by City Developments.

    Forum's Mr Tan: 'The design is safe and is in line with what local architects have been doing. The architect could have pushed more boundaries.'

    Prof Lim: 'A local architect could have done just as well, if not better.'



    3 Orchard Residences
    By Hong Kong-based David Buffonge of British firm Benoy

    Retail and residential development at Orchard Turn, at the junction of Orchard and Paterson roads. Being developed by CapitaLand and Hong Kong's Sun Hung Kai Properties.

    Prof Viray: 'The overall project is very sleek and appears like a crystal. The choice of materials complements that of its immediate neighbours, such as Wheelock Place and Wisma Atria.'

    Mr Mink Tan: 'While the project looks aesthetically pleasing, the residential tower resembles an office block.'



    4 Scotts Tower
    By German architect Ole Scheeren of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture

    Developed by Far East Organization, the 68-unit Scotts Tower is at the junction of Scotts and Cairnhill roads.

    Forum's Mr Tan: 'Like it or not, the design is visually captivating and will change the skyline.'

    Prof Lim: 'The design is a clear and strong statement. The units are high up, they offer better views and free up the ground.'



    5 One Rochester
    By Japan's Paul Tange of Tange Associates

    Tentatively named, this is a 368-unit residential block of a bigger mixed development project, Vista Xchange at One North in Buona Vista. It is developed by United Engineers Developments.

    Mink's Mr Tan: 'It is not a bad design, but there is no distinctiveness - not visually arresting.'

    Mr Ting: 'It appears that the architect has considered our local climate in his design through the implementation of balconies, which protect the apartment from the rain and sun, and cut down heat-gain indoors.'



    6 Marina Bay Residences
    By international firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

    The 428-unit project (left) is part of the Marina Bay Financial Centre being developed by a consortium of Hong Kong's Cheung Kong (Holdings), Hongkong Land and Keppel Land.

    Prof Viray: 'The architecture is sleek and takes into account its surrounding buildings.'

    Forum's Mr Tan: 'The developers will have their commercial considerations as to why they used foreign architects here but, in my opinion, it is not likely that this will put Singapore on the architectural map.'

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    Default Local architects for a global city

    April 14, 2007

    Local architects for a global city




    I REFER to Tay Suan Chiang's story (Alien Attraction, LifeStyle, April 8) about developers engaging foreign architects to design top-end condos.

    It's true that top-notch architects are in demand everywhere. But why do we have to depend on so many foreign architects when local ones are already making an impact?

    We hear it almost every day that Singapore wants to be a global hub of almost anything you can think of, and the place to live, work and play.

    But a city cannot become a global one if its inhabitants are not given the chance to show what they can do. Our national monuments and buildings are being designed by overseas talents time and time again.

    Mindsets have to be changed - not in a decade or in another 50 years but today.

    Daniel Quentin Ong

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    Default Clients, contractors play a part

    April 14, 2007

    Clients, contractors play a part


    A BUILDING cannot take shape just by the design of the architect alone. It also relies on the financing by the client, and the workmanship of the contractors.

    While we try to decide if one design is better than the other, such a comparison will be fair only if there is consistency in the dealings between client and contractor.

    Many local architects have to contend with a lack of consistency in client briefs and workmanship.

    The foreign architects who made their mark not only had supportive clients but also highly skilled contractors.

    But foreign architects who are hired should demonstrate their worth by producing works that will eventually appear in international architectural journals.

    If this does not happen, how can they be considered 'better' than local architects who get their works featured occasionally in international magazines?

    Lee Teng Kwee

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    Default Look familiar?

    April 14, 2007

    Look familiar?


    I READ Tay Suan Chiang's article on buildings designed by foreign architects.

    It may be of interest to know that about 30 years ago, we had submitted a design similar in architectural treatment to 4 Scotts Tower (left).

    It was for the 11th URA Sale of Sites (Parcel 9) and I attach some pictures. Unfortunately, our clients did not succeed in the URA Land Sales.

    There are many such schemes of unbuilt works by local architects which had never been seen by the public.

    Dr Goh Chong Chia

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