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Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Three SOM Projects in Singapore

In my six years at the New York office of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), I worked on a variety of projects in many places including six in Singapore. Of the six, only three were built. While I was at SOM, I never visited Singapore; only the partners and the senior associates made the trips. It wasn’t until recently when we vacationed in Singapore did I finally see my projects in person: Changi MRT Station, One George Street, and the roof of Changi Terminal 3.

Changi MRT Station was the first project that I ever worked on at SOM. The design started in 1997 and the project was completed in 2001. The main task of the design was to connect the planned underground station with Terminal 1 and the yet-to-be-designed Terminal 3. Our solution was to create two large rectangular glass boxes at the two ends of the station to house vertical circulations that connect the airport terminals to the subway terminal. The platform for the subway is at basement level 2, and basement level 1 is for passengers to transfer between Terminals 1 and 3. For this connection we designed an illuminated glass bridge that spans the length of the concourse. 

The walking surface of the bridge is also in translucent glass with illumination from below. Above the two ends of the bridge and the top of the escalators coming from the platform level are large glass skylights, which look good and work well.

The atria are oriented perpendicular to the glass bridge. Inside are two sets of escalators, one to the departure level and the other to the arrival level.

The exterior walls of the atria consist of a double glazed wall with point fixing glass. In between the glass are sun shadings made with steel mesh that can also be walked on for maintenance.

I was happy to see some of the little things in the project that we designed were realized, such as the glass box for the fire hose reel. In many instances, we didn't have a say in the locations or amount of equipment required. We simply had to do our best to make them look good.

One George Street is a Class A office building located near Raffles Place. The client for the project is Capitaland. Prior to engaging SOM, Capitaland had already asked a local firm to plan the building and develop the core. Before we started design it was already determined that parking will be above grade; the location of the car ramp was also fixed. Capitaland, being an experienced developer, knew very well what they wanted in terms of total floor areas, typical floor efficiency, floor heights, tenant requirements, costs...etc. They even told us that the main part of the building have to be a rectangle with only 90 degree corners. In short, we had a lot of restrictions with the design. Our solution was to make the massing into a sculpted block. Since Sinagpore’s zoning code encouraged sky gardens in buildings, we cut out a few multi-storey volumes. The upper levels are set back to provide a few floors of smaller floor plates for executive offices along with a long sky garden. The facade consists of clear glass with a screen of custom shaped louvers for the offices.

The screen continues on the parking and mechanical levels to produce a unified appearance. The shape of the lobbies took the cue from the circular car ramp. The multiple lobbies on the ground floor allow some of the anchor tenants to have their own lobbies. One George Street was completed in 2005. It was nice to see the building in person and be able to walk around the lobbies. The building looks to be in good shape and well maintained.
With the success of the Changi MRT Station, SOM was engaged to design the exterior envelope of Terminal 3. We worked with Bartenbach LichtLabor to develop the skylights. We nicknamed the design "The Cloud". The idea was to create an atmospheric effect of light inside the departure hall. Instead of employing the curvilinear trusses that are so prevalent in recent airport designs, we used simple rectangular trusses with an industrial feel. This was contrasted by the planar and curved shape louvers that were placed in a seemingly random fashion, all done manually in the pre-Rhino and Grasshopper era.

Terminal 3 was completed in 2007. As I walked in the space, the results seem quite good. Natural light permeated the space and it was comfortable. The only downside is someone, not SOM, decided to paint the columns brown, which I don’t understand at all. The floor pattern, which we did not designed either, seemed too busy and unnecessarily tried to echo the “clouds” at the ceiling. 

Whenever I visit my projects I cannot help but notice the little mistakes and problems and the history associated with them; most of these things are never noticed by lay people unless pointed out to them. One always strive to make things perfect, but of course things are never perfect. Nevertheless, I have to say these three projects turned out quite well. While in my mind I know the buildings very well, it was still extremely satisfying to see them in person.

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Fei Mai Ke! I'm so proud of you! Can't wait to see these structures for myself.