To Wong Mun Summ, co-founder of Singapore-based architectural practice WOHA, architects should both present solutions to issues and touch human hearts. “Besides designing buildings that are good for our communities and the environment, we also try to make sure that our projects bring delight and joy to the neighbourhood, and that the city is better off with this building than without it.”
This philosophy drives the architecture firm he founded in 1994 with Richard Hassell (their surnames are the basis for the company’s name), a practice that marries environmentalism and social incorporation with local culture and customs.
A Firm Built to Singapore’s Needs
WOHA began with small residential projects in its home city, and the firm sought to address Singapore’s challenges from the outset. At what is now Watten Estate, for example, was once a plot of land that held a single bungalow. For a rapidly growing city-state with a finite supply of land, this style of living didn’t serve the public well. WOHA redeveloped that one home into 12 semi-detached houses, exponentially expanding the use of Singapore’s scare land.
The project also addressed Singapore’s year-round, sticky climate with homes that had easily accessible, natural ventilation to reduce energy use and make the homes more comfortable. At the same time, these cleverly designed structures could be sealed up for air conditioning.
Naturally, land that once held one home and now contained 12 had greatly reduced outdoor living space such as lawns and patios — but WOHA addressed this as well. Each house’s garden was designed to feel bigger, utilizing screens to blend the outdoor and indoor spaces together and adjustable louvres to create more space.
Later, the firm would design two MRT (metro) stations, including Stadium, near the national sports arena and featuring a grand public plaza. These successes helped WOHA to secure bigger projects, and now its diverse oeuvre includes mixed-used residential towers with landscaped roof terraces, naturally ventilated performance spaces, and hotels with sky gardens.
Throughout, its work has been carefully choreographed to fit within the constraints of an island that is smaller than New York City, and home to 5.6 million people. Given that, WOHA plans vertically, developments that house sizable numbers but don’t encroach on green space and nature reserves.
“Despite the high density, we need to provide the amenities that allow people and nature to thrive,” says Wong, “which means we need to constantly innovate.”
WOHA’s socially driven, climate-conscious, upward-looking designs consistently offer visual pleasure and energy efficiency. The condominium tower 1 Moulmein Rise, for example, won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007, and features ‘monsoon windows’ — bay windows with perforated panels at bed and seating level that cool the apartment.
A Green Retirement Village
Singapore is home to a rapidly ageing population. According to the government, by 2030 the number of people aged 65 and above will almost double to more than 900,000 — and they’re going to need senior-friendly housing. To meet this need, WOHA designed the integrated, one-hectare Kampung Admiralty. Kampung is the Malay word for village, and the building is truly a self-contained community in northern Singapore. It’s a model of high-density, high-amenity living with elderly housing, medical facilities, restaurants and community plazas, all within a naturally ventilated structure with a rainforest on the roof.
The multi-level complex aims to help seniors feel a sense of community, rather than the isolation that often comes with advanced age. The development is directly connected to public transport, enabling inter-generational interaction and bonding. The development’s urban farm and its various verdant public plazas also encourage residents to leave their apartments, meet their neighbours and interact with nature and each other. The project’s clever, targeted design won top prize at the World Architecture Festival in the Netherlands in November 2018 — World Building of the Year.
Image courtesy of InterContinental Hotel Sanya Resorts
Singapore Design Solutions Throughout Asia
While Singapore is home to the bulk of WOHA’s work, the firm’s innovative work has sparked interest throughout Asia-Pacific.
“Singapore is a good place to test out ideas because a lot of challenges that we face here are challenges that need to be addressed all over the world,” Wong says.
The award-winning plan for BRAC University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, due for completion at the end of 2020, includes buildings set on an urban lake in the fourth most densely populated city in the world.
In Australia, the luxury riverfront residential tower 443 Queen Street in Brisbane will be ‘lifted’ on stilts as a homage to local Queenslander homes. Sky Green in Taichung, along the Taiwanese city’s lively commercial district of Gongyi Road, features retail levels on the lower floors and two residential towers with landscaping like green creepers on a facade mesh. In Shenzhen, one of China’s hi-tech powerhouses, Vanke Yun City draws from the city’s undulating landscape, with 12 seven-storey ‘sky hills’ arrayed around three office towers, with child-care facilities for workers, and outdoor spaces shielded from the elements that create their own micro-climate.
“Our approach is always to see what is regionally appropriate, from a climatic, environmental and cultural point of view,” says Wong.
Even with its growing regional portfolio, designing in Singapore continues to provide WOHA with a platform to experiment and excite and continue its forward thinking. And while the firm is not the only in Singapore to espouses principles of sustainability, environmental sensitivity, natural elements, and civic quality, WOHA is regarded as simply the best.
The InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay offers rooms with an idyllic view of Singapore’s most stunning architecture — as well award-winning restaurants that will make your stay taste as beautiful as it looks.