Heatherwick Studio was commissioned by Swire Properties to design an apartment building in the historic Newton district of Singapore. Inspired by the vision of a ‘city in a garden’ imagined by Lee Kuan Yew fifty years ago, and by the lush tropical setting of the area, the studio’s design is a radical departure from the glass and steel tower typology. The studio set out to craft homes within a garden that also harnessed all the benefits of apartment living; a place where residents would feel connected to the city’s tree-lined streets whilst enjoying views, light and privacy. The design team’s approach was to be empathetic to how it feels to live with all the thrill and excitement of living in a dense and busy city combined with our human need to have private space to escape to.
By pulling apart the square block of a conventional residential tower and moving the services to the perimeter, each apartment has a large central living space, surrounded by smaller individual rooms and wide shell-like balconies. The apartments are lifted 23 meters above an intensely planted ground-level tropical garden.
The strategic thinking behind the layout was to remove the need for mechanical cooling by raising up the first apartment and allowing natural cross-ventilation through each apartment.
The windows in the concrete wall are minimized, thereby reducing solar gain, which can be a problem when big panes of glass are used to clad a building. To further optimize the passive cooling qualities, every large window is set-back in the external wall, further protecting the glass from thermal conductivity.
Each balcony is recessed back towards the center and embraced by the adjacent walls creating a protected exterior space. The south facing balconies alternate up the building providing a double height space yet also providing additional solar protection to the living space within.
The thermal massing qualities of the concrete contributes to the building’s wider environmental strategy, but rather than casting a flat facade, the external walls are molded with a topographical map of Singapore’s terrain, which has been abstracted to create a unique three-dimensional texture. This brought the material to life and give it tactility and a texture that is specific to this particular project.
The color of the building also plays a role in creating the identity of the project. To find the ideal tone that would appear natural and complement the concrete, more than a hundred deep red, purple and brown shades were tested under the Singaporean sun.
Interior surfaces have been crafted to give the living spaces warmth by celebrating the natural imperfections of organic materials; natural knot marks are left visible in the handmade parquet flooring which continues outdoors with a textured herringbone-patterned slate.
The large central space and glass-fronted balconies fill the interior with natural light. The lighting strategy is designed to complement the textures of the natural materials, while giving residents flexibility to create different settings.
The building represents a unique way of living in the city, with its combination of evocative natural materials, textures and crafted details and its celebration of the area’s natural landscape.
Over time, the building is designed to mature, as the lush planting grows, like a sapling that has taken root beneath the streets, pulling the landscape of Singapore up into the sky.
At ground-level, entrance is through a canyon-like corridor, 1.5 meters wide and more than ten times as high, lined with black granite. This opens into a dramatic 18-metre-high lobby at the heart of the building, hung with living plant chandeliers.
The exposed underside of the balconies are rendered in smooth, highly polished concrete. The studio developed a bespoke casting technique to bring the ideal mixture and concentration of stones to the surface at these points, giving a rugged, industrial material a precious, gem-like quality.
In the bathrooms, the sink, vanity unit and bath have been custom-designed for the project by Heatherwick Studio, and utilize a restrained yet rich palette of materials.
A beautifully crafted lift takes residents to their dedicated private floor. At the heart of every apartment, there is a large light central space, sheltered by the concrete structure and wrapped in the greenery of the lush tropical balcony, with views of the city beyond – this is conceived as a place for togetherness. More private rooms and discreet service areas extend from this main living space. The outdoor space flows organically from the interior and is shaded both by the curated planting and the strategic positioning of the balconies above.
At ground level the language of mineral textures and lush tropical planting is continued: the swimming pool is clad in deep green ceramic tiles to give the impression of a natural lake, the paths, social spaces and hard landscaping are paved in different shades of green granite, and the fitness center is in a garden pavilion. Specially commissioned Spun chairs made from polished green granite are set within the natural shade provided by the landscaped garden.
To create tranquil and unique outdoor living spaces on the ground level, a rich variety of unusual and exotic tropical plants with different forms, heights, textures, and colors have been used.
DATE: 2019 / LOCATION: Singapore / AREA: 33,425 sq ft (site), 70,193 sq ft (Gross Floor Area) / PROGRAM: housing / STATUS: built / DESIGN: Heatherwick Studio / DESIGN DIRECTOR: Thomas Heatherwick / GROUP LEADER: Mat Cash / PROJECT LEADER: Gabriel Sanchiz / PROJECT TEAM: Charlie Kentish, Craig Miller, John Minford / INTERIORS: Heatherwick Studio / LOCAL INTERIORS: Ensemble / LOCAL ARCHITECT: RSP Architects, Planners & Engineers /CONSTRUCTION: Unison / CONSULTANTS: COEN Design International (Landscape Designer), Squire Mec (Mechanical & Electrical Engineers), RSP Structures (Civil & Structural Engineers) / CLIENTE: Swire Properties Ltd/Celestial Fortune / PHOTOS: ©Hufton+Crow