Monday, October 29, 2007

Nov re:act Design Sharing Session

Clear your calendars this Friday as re:act will be having its November Design Sharing Session at a really cool location called TUCK SHOP! If you are in Singapore, are interested in what some of our young and very talented designers/architects are doing, come and join us for a time of great food, great music, and great sharing.

We start at 7pm and will end before 10pm. Details are in the poster above and you can click on the image for a larger version which you can also download and spam to all your friends! Yes, we would like you to invite any of your friends who might be interested! The more the merrier!

Oh yeah, and I guess it doesn't hurt to give a short plug in of this place, TUCKSHOP since they have so generously welcomed us to their premises! Dean Zhou, one of the owners of TUCKSHOP, and also an architect himself will be helming the decks together with this partner Kaye on sax after 10pm in their weekly Friday session called SOULFOOD. We have 1 photo of the place below and also a map of how to get there. SEE YOU THERE!

Picture and map from TUCKSHOP website.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Competition by Architecture for Humanity

Challenge: To design a sustainable multi-purpose technology facility for under-served communities

Submission Deadline: 01/15/2008

Open To: All. Design professionals and non-professionals alike are invited to compete to develop the winning technology center design. Student entries welcomed.

Entry Fee: $25 per site before 12/15/2007; $30 after 12/16/2007; $0 for entries from developing nations. Group rates available for faculty and students.

Site Awards: The top entry for each site will be awarded one third of the proceeds from all competition entry fees.

Challenge Award: The winning design team will have the opportunity to work on site with the community partner and Architecture for Humanity to build their design.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

A classic moment with Cesar

Today was one of those few days in a year when Cesar (Pelli) graced our New York office with his charming presence and infectious laugh. In the midst of our design review with him, a classic moment took place.

We were meditating on a question of how to articulate the top of an office tower we were designing (as requested by Department of City Planning). Amidst all the sketches and models of different iterations, Cesar thought aloud, “Maybe, it just needs something to sit on top of the building.”

He then proceeded to squeeze and crush a paper cup, and then he placed it on top of the study model I made. I just thought it such a classic moment that I had to share it with others.

Cesar proceeds to crush the cup, as Ronald and colleague Kristen watch on amusedly........

Cesar examines the "object" sitting on the tower... and chuckles...

As he squeezed the cup, my mind ran through his account of how Eero Saarinen flattened a grapefruit to describe to his employees his ideal form of the TWA Terminal Buiding. And then my mind rushed on the Simpsons episode with Frank Gehry and his crushed paper.

Gehry's epiphany on The Simpsons

May more of such fun and classic moments greet me in my long career ahead. Hooray to classic moments!

UOB Plaza article - my response (Part 2)

And here is my email response to the article in the previous post on Tange's UOB Plaza.

Dear Calvin,

I wanted you to know that your column on the UOB Plaza was an engaging read that yielded some surprising discoveries that I would not have realized had you not brought it up. I can discern the massing of the old octagon tower in the lower UOB Tower now, hidden beneath the tiles!

A few critical questions persist, nevertheless, with regard to the UOB Plaza and I was disappointed to find that your column did not address them sufficiently. While I give the architects benefit of the doubt that their design was tailored to the specificity of the site, the context, the client and the brief, one cannot ignore the formal geometric similarities between the UOB Tower and the Tokyo Metropolitan City Hall completed a few years earlier.

Tokyo City Hall

This leads rise to the perception, rightly or wrongly, that the UOB Plaza is not an original signature, but a replicate cousin of the original. This, despite the beauty of the final product. A similar example would be Cesar Pelli’s acclaimed World Financial Centre in New York and his subsequent Canary Wharf Tower in London, with all their formal similarities…. even though the outcomes were still tailored differently to their respective contexts.

This observation alone perhaps explains why I find myself preferring the OUB Centre to the UOB Plaza. It just feels more fresh and dynamic.

The other connection that I was surprised your article did not pick up, (though I may not be 100% right about this point) is that Kenzo Tange was the masterplanning consultant for Singapore’s skyline – chief of which was the “layering” effect of placing the shorter buildings in front, and taller buildings behind (as viewed from the waterfront). What coincidence that he designs two of the three “prized” trophies within his own skyline tapestry!

Deyan Sudjic, in his recent book Edifice Complex wrote about “collect(ing) images of the rich and powerful, leaning over architectural models….” as evidence of the relationship between architecture and power. On the website of Kenzo Tange Associates (and also printed in a past issue of Singapore Architect magazine, in an article by Tsuto Sakamoto), there is a black-and-white image of Kenzo Tange alongside Lee Kuan Yew in front of a model.

The issue of Kenzo Tange building in Singapore is clearly much more than Tange’s own architectural vision in isolation. I believe that he happened to fit squarely with LKY’s [the REAL architect of Singapore] autocratic vision for a technocratic, cosmopolitan, modern city-state.

When you raise the example of Bawadi’s advertisement (which I have yet to see) where the UOB Plaza rubs shoulders against Petronas Towers, I fear that it is not because it “stands for the best of Singapore and its architecture” or is even iconic enough of Singapore’s urbanscape. It was probably chosen more because it fell within the iconography of the following formula:
grand-skyscraper = developed+cosmopolitan = $$$+ prestige.

Oddly enough, people describe Singapore’s “signature” skyline with reference to “Manhattan” with a strange kind of pride. (Our city planners, foreign journalists, travel journalists, etc). Few realize the irony that when they do so, the merit goes to Manhattan, not to Singapore.

I rest my case for now, and look forward to your next article.

Best Regards
Ronald Lim

UOB Plaza - Straits Times article (Part 1)

Most of you know by now my staunch support for informed commentary on architecture in the Singapore’s mainstream press. I just realised that this article on Kenzo Tange’s UOB plaza was published in the Straits Times a few days back. It was definitely a pleasant surprise.

As a next step, I look forward to seeing more in-your-face criticisms and critical questions being raised, instead of just an explanation of why-this-building-is-so-great. This article is nevertheless a wonderful step in the right direction. I will post my personal response the next post. Enjoy.

Twists and turns of UOB Plaza -
by Calvin Low

The process of constructing the building's iconic rotated motif led to an unexpected discovery about its original design

WHEN the Dubai developer of Bawadi, billed as the 'largest hospitality and leisure development in the world', put out full-page advertisements worldwide to draw investors last year, it borrowed one of Singapore's architectural icons for its pitch.

In the artist's impression of the mega-proposal, Singapore's UOB Plaza rose majestically in the night sky, as resplendently lit as you would see it when you walk down the side of the Singapore River.

Only, in this ad, it rubs shoulders with other montaged international landmarks such as Malaysia's Petronas Towers.

Clearly, Bawadi's developers wanted to attract the best in the world and, in its eyes, the UOB Plaza stands for the best of Singapore and its architecture.

A trait of classic architecture is its ability to remain timeless in its appeal - a result of balancing between seizing an inspired idea and honing it until it reveals its most essential expression.

The UOB Plaza, designed by the late Pritzker Prize laureate Kenzo Tange in collaboration with Architects 61, exemplifies this balance.

It demonstrates Tange's genius in reconciling a pre-existing design with his own architectural vision.

The octagonal form of the towers is derived from the original 38-storey UOB Building by pioneer architect Lim Chong Keat of Architects Team 3, completed in 1974.

Instead of demolishing the original eight-sided tower, Tange followed up on its sculptural promise with a literal twist by adding more floors that are turned 45 degrees to the original geometry, thus giving the building's iconic rotated tower motif.

An additional unexpected situation, however, awaited the architects when re-cladding the original tower as Kenzo Tange's son, Paul, revealed in an interview last year.

It was discovered that the old building had been constructed with a slight, irregular twist along its height. This required fine-tuning the size of the supports of the new cladding panels to take up the geometric imperfection.

Today, most people would not associate UOB Plaza, completed in 1992, with a 33-year-old development. But look closely at the lower of the twin towers and the shape of Lim's original octagonal scheme is still clearly discernable, albeit dressed in grey granite instead of its original copper-tinted reflective glass.

Once the rotating architectural motif had been established with the original tower, it was applied to the design of its taller twin, which rises to the maximum aviation-regulated height of 280m. At 66 storeys, UOB Plaza joins Republic Plaza, by Kisho Kurokawa, and OUB Centre, also by Tange, as the three tallest buildings in Singapore.

A testament to the perseverance required in the creation of this prismatic paragon, the twin-tower scheme for UOB Plaza took 10 years to hone and involved, according to Paul Tange, 'about 100 different schemes'.

UOB Plaza's urban design is also exemplary. Sited between two historic nodes - Raffles Place and Boat Quay - a typical 'max out the ground floor' approach would have eliminated any connection between the two.

Instead, UOB opened about a quarter of the prime ground-floor area to the public in the form of a 'city room'. Flanked by its banking hall, the four-storey, sky-lit 'city room' is both a physical and visual bridge between Raffles Place and the Singapore River. That a constant flow of pedestrians passes through here at all times of the day and night is evidence of its civic importance.

Other public amenities in UOB Plaza include a mosque in the basement and an observation deck on the 42nd storey which offered mesmerising views of Singapore before access to the space was restricted.

From the ground, however, in sunshine or by moonlight when its chiselled charm is enhanced with architectural lighting, the UOB Plaza's twin towers will continue to be of allure long after flashy new icon-wannabes have become victims of architectural fashion.

Calvin Low is a writer who is trained in both architecture and journalism.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Purpose of Details 2

Click image to enlarge.

Event details:

The Purpose of Details 2: The Malaysian Architectural Scene Through the Works of Three Practitioners
6 October, Saturday, 930 am at the Singapore Polytechnic Auditorium
Speakers: Lillian Tay, John Ding, Wooi Lok Kuang

Complimentary entry for all.

Should be pretty good; last year's was!


...and their latest, the Penang Global City Centre. Pretty awesome, even if it seems rather no-holds-barred in its curving and torquing and faceting - such nice proportions and, well, (quite literally) asymptotic towers. I could perhaps be a little more critical and go, ah, purely stylistic, an abstraction of Madam White Snake's two dearest pets perhaps, doesn't seem to take Penangite 'character' into account, or a four-way Calatrava / Libeskind / Hadid / Diller-Scofidio hybrid, but this has really won me over head over heels.

Images above (click to enlarge) are courtesy of World Architecture News, and a further writeup on the project can be found here. A quick scan:

"The design achieves its elegance and stature through the simultaneous embrace of
natural landscapes and contemporary urbanism. The PGCC will become a vital new
precinct that complements and enhances the unique characteristics that typify
Penang as a remarkable island metropolis. The design of the iconic towers in
particular draws inspiration from not only the lushness and drama of the
surrounding mountains and seascapes, but also from the rich and diverse cultural
heritage that makes up the Malaysian nation and Penang in particular."

I'm not sure how exactly it draws from the "Malaysian heritage", but perhaps it could be a critique on collective Malaysian psyche and politics - that one tower's an abstraction of the 'bumis', and the other (better-feng-shui'ed one, maybe?) symbolises the Chinese, and that, given that they're asymptotic, never the twain shalt meet!

(That was just a joke and a light-hearted observation on the state of things slightly up North, not by any means a comparison or loaded remark!)