Published September 26, 2009

Singapore architects among the world's best

SCDA, Look and WOHA put nation on par with the Netherlands, Italy and Canada at International Architecture Awards 2009. By Arthur Sim

IN ROBERT Powell's book, Singapore Houses, the author says: 'Architects in Singapore are producing work with a level of refinement and sophistication that is comparable with the best in the world, and one would be hard pressed to find a nation of similar size with such an abundance of accomplished young designers who have built independently.'

The 100-metre wall of vertical greenery is designed so that nature is brought closer to the residents

That Singapore architects are winning international awards seems to bear this out. Most recently, three young Singapore architectural firms won a total of four awards at the International Architecture Awards (IAA) 2009, putting the country on par with the Netherlands, Italy and Canada in the award tally.

The IAA is organised by the The Chicago Athenaeum (Museum of Architecture and Design and Metropolitan Arts Press Ltd) and co-presented by The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies.

This year, there were 97 winners. The Singapore winners are Look Architects, SCDA Architects and WOHA.

Look Architects won two awards this year. The first was for Bishan Public Library and the second was for Alexandra Arch and Forest Walk.

Winning an award for a public building is perhaps more gratifying because budget constraints can be restrictive. Look Architects nevertheless created a public building that is rich in the quality of space and expression of form. On the design, Look Boon Gee, managing director of the firm, says: 'Designing buildings is more than just creating spaces, it is about discovering and celebrating the values and spirit of our time.'

The Bishan Public Library also won Singapore's President Design Award in 2007. But the IAA will go much further in building the reputation of architects here. 'I think Singapore architecture is gaining recognition on the world stage,' says Mr Look. 'I suppose I can't generalise how special Singapore architects are but I think there are some really talented, sensitive and innovative designers in our midst. I sincerely hope there are more opportunities to nurture our local talents.'

SCDA Architects is no stranger to international acclaim and the IAA for the Masuzawa House at Sentosa Cove, is its fifth IAA since 2006. Bearing the hallmark of SCDA, the Masuzawa House is perhaps the best example to date of how architecture can become one with the environment. Indeed, this sensitivity for the environment has emerged as one of the distinguishing features of not only SCDA's work but that of many Singapore architects too. 'I think it has got to be that we often engage the landscape when doing the schematic designs. There are transitional spaces that mediate between the interior and exterior . . .,' says Chan Soo Khian, principal of SCDA.

WOHA, which won an IAA for Newton Suites, has perhaps taken this furthest by applying it to a vertical plane. The 36-storey condominium has a 100-metre wall of vertical greenery so that nature is brought closer to the residents, a luxury previously reserved only for landed living. Chan Ee Mun, WOHA project manager on the Newton Suites said: 'The win represents further acknowledgment of Newton Suites as a contextual high-rise apartment designed for the tropical climate.'

Apart from the IAA, WOHA also has three projects short-listed for the World Architecture Festival 2009 to be held in Barcelona. They are the 66-storey condominium, The Met, in Bangkok; Genexis Theatre in Singapore; and the Bras Basah MRT Station.

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