For Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, architecture is a powerful tool for changing the way people live, work and play writes Rachel Lee-Leong.
28 March, 2012
There are 2 questions that the founding directors of WOHA, Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, ask potential clients who approach them for a project: ’Does the project have the potential to be innovative?’ and ’Does the project have sustainability as [one of] its key objectives?’
“If they don’t have these in mind, we’re not the right architects. We don’t talk about money first; we talk about these 2 things,” says Wong
For most architecture firms, turning down projects that do not necessarily match the firm’s values is a luxury. For WOHA, it has become a necessity. It is how the firm keeps on the straight and narrow of architectural excellence.
1 Moulmein Rise, Singapore. Photo: Patrick Bingham-Hall
Ever since it’s first high-rise project, 1 Moulmein Rise (2003), WOHA has plunged itself into the exploration of high-density, tropical architecture.
“We’ve got massive urbanisation going on right now, so density and growth of cities are important,” says Hassell.
“I think that’s very relevant, particularly in Asia where all the architectural developments are happening. Less so in America and Europe,” adds Wong.
Oasia Downtown, Singapore. Image: WOHA
Ditching western notions of hermetically sealed buildings with an emphasis on form making, the practice champions buildings that work with the environment. Perforations, staggered volumes, green walls and sky gardens (even at 69 storeys above ground, as in the case of The Met) all make up a rich architectural vocabulary fitting for the tropics.
The award-winning The Met, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Kirsten Bucher
One of its upcoming buildings is ParkRoyal on Pickering, due to be completed in the middle of 2012. “ParkRoyal is really about pushing the amount of gardens and parks in buildings,” says Hassell.
“Hong Lim Park sits in front of it, and we have duplicated the size of this park in the building itself. This is actually a hotel in a garden,” Wong shares.
ParkRoyal on Pickering, Singapore. Image: WOHA
“It’s also interesting for neighbours,” Hassell says of the building’s contribution to the urbanscape through its verdant greenery. “This is one of the developments where we try to create value, not just for the developer, [but also for its surroundings]. It’s not a selfish development.”
Hansar, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Patrick Bingham-Hall
New Cuff Parade, Wadala, India. Image: WOHA
Another project that WOHA is working on is Skyville@Dawson, a public housing project for HDB consisting 960 homes. Here, WOHA explores the idea of sky villages.
“It’s about creating that common kampong space, a community where people recognise one another,” says Wong. “Now, there’s a tendency towards making public housing like condominiums – very private. But we feel that that shouldn’t be the role of HDB. HDB should be about creating community spirit, and this project is about that.”
Skyville@Dawson, Singapore. Image: WOHA
With Skyville@Dawson, WOHA also mooted the idea of having garages and workshop spaces under the block. Hassell explains, “People in Singapore don’t really have access to a workshop or a garage, so we had these creativity sheds that people could use….”
“…to start your own band, be the next Steve Jobs, or the next Steven Spielberg. They all started in the garage! To create that entrepreneurship, you can have all the grants thrown at you, but if you don’t have the space to work in, to rough things out, it’s useless,” says Wong.
Skyville@Dawson, Singapore. Image: WOHA
Unfortunately, the idea was not picked up, but Wong and Hassell remain unfazed. “At least we brought the idea up to a few people. Once an idea gets out there, something normally happens [later],” says Hassell. “It’s definitely a lot of extra work and we don’t necessarily get paid to do that extra stuff.”
Wong nods in agreement, adding, “But that’s the part that we enjoy – making a bit of a difference.”
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