August 19, 2008 Tuesday

Towering icons lend a new identity

Daring designs such as The Sail add glamour to Singapore's skyline

By Kimberly Spykerman

SKYSCRAPERS here don't have it easy.

They have been panned for spoiling the city skyline or for towering over older buildings which have more 'character'.

They have also been seen as potential death traps when people recall how New York's World Trade Center became a target of terrorists.

But here, where land is scarce, the only way to build is up.

Mounting a defence of skyscrapers, Mr Ashvinkumar Kantilal, the first vice-president of the Singapore Institute of Architects, said towering concrete structures will enable Singapore to accommodate its growing population.

'Because of future plans to house a population averaging six million, special considerations must be given to land use to achieve our national objectives. In Singapore, land is so expensive, so the game plan is to maximise its economic potential,' he said.

The URA's draft Masterplan 2008, a document stating the guidelines for buildings based on the intensity of Singapore's projected physical development, is shooting for exactly that.

But critics charge that talk about 'development' covers up the dent in conservation efforts.

They say that with nondescript modern skyscrapers jostling for space in the air, Singapore becomes just another modern-looking metropolis lacking in character; quaint but smaller buildings are being bulldozed into history in the name of creating space for their taller, shinier cousins.

But architects who spoke to The Straits Times said skyscrapers can be glamorous icons.

Mr Tai Lee Siang, 45, president of the Singapore Institute of Architects, believes that if these buildings are planned and designed with a gung-ho attitude, they can have an edge over their regional counterparts.

He said: 'They could lend new identities to cities. With the completion of the new skyscrapers that are more daring and dramatic in design, such as The Sail and Sands integrated resort, Singapore can definitely stand out.'

The professionals, when asked to name some of their personal favourite buildings, obliged.

Mr Ashvinkumar singled out The Concourse in Beach Road, known for its iconic haphazard structure, saying that he was involved in its design 'in my formative years as an architect some 19 years ago'.

Mr Tai was torn between naming the Asia Insurance Building and the OCBC building, both of which he termed 'classic beauties'.

He said the 87m-tall Asia Insurance Building's marble-clad facade and tropical fins make it a one-of-a-kind structure in this region.

Singapore's tallest skyscrapers are Republic Plaza, OUB Centre and UOB Plaza One, which stand at 280m.

They are midgets compared to regional giants like Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers, and Taiwan's Taipei 101.

Should Singapore try to measure up?

Mr Ashvinkumar said he did not think so: 'Such massive structures lack a 'human connectivity' factor. Buildings and people have to interact together and not have one dominate over the other.'

Mr Tai shares this sentiment.

Citing the HDB's plans for 50-storey flats at Duxton Plain, he said that while going that high fulfilled a function, the challenge for architects lay in ensuring that these homes did not function the way offices did.

He said: 'Unlike offices, public housing has the additional responsibility of providing a socially harmonious environment. People just cannot be boxed in. They must have the necessary infrastructure in place to interact.'

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Reading list

To find out more, check out these books in the National Library's reference section:

A History Of Singapore Architecture: The Making Of A City, by Jane Beamish (Singapore: G. Brash, 1985. Call no: RSING 722.4095957 BEA)

Singapore: A Guide To Buildings, Streets, Places, by Norman Edwards. (Singapore: Times Books International, 1988. Call no: RSING 915.957 EDW)