To revitalize a three-acre park in a busy part of Singapore, Soo Chan and his firm, SCDA Architects, explored ways of knitting together architecture and landscape — an issue of growing interest to designers as they investigate sustainable strategies and break down traditional boundaries between disciplines. So Chan wrapped a small amphitheater with a canted, curving screen that provides a sense of definition and enclosure while letting breezes and light filter in. “We wanted it to be porous to connect with its surroundings and read less as an object,” explains the architect.
Singapore’s well-respected Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) hired Chan for the job after he won the city-state’s first Designer of the Year award, in 2006. As part of an effort to improve public open spaces, the URA asked Chan to rethink a park called Dhoby Ghaut Green, which faces busy Orchard Road and leads to the Bras Basah/Bugis arts and entertainment district. Although thousands of people came to the site each day, the great majority of them immediately went underground to an existing subway station. In a hot, humid climate such as Singapore’s, creating outdoor spaces where people want to linger is a real challenge. The URA and the National Parks Board, which operates the Dhoby Ghaut Green, figured that a new performance space and a café would give residents and visitors reasons to stay in the park.
Chan realized that the amphitheater’s location on the site would affect the way the park works. So he placed it near the transit station on a spot that divides the park into two zones. On the west side, where large trees provide shade, he added gravel and plantings to create a place where people could relax during the week and market stalls could pop up on weekends. To the east, he created a grassy lawn for sports and other active uses. For the café pavilion, he incorporated a few small structures (elevator, mechanical, storage) servicing the transit station and added indoor and outdoor dining areas, and then tied it all together with a long, standing-seam roof.
In early schemes for the performance space, Chan envisioned a band shell or stage facing one way or another. But he eventually realized that a nondirectional structure would work better with the rest of the park. In the end, he developed a spiraling design with arms that reach out to the landscaped spaces on both the east and west.
To reduce the apparent mass of the amphitheater and create seating for 250 people, he pushed the concrete base of the structure into the earth. Above this, he designed a lacy metal screen that shades access ramps and the seating area and focuses attention on the performance space. “At first, I thought about weaving aluminum ribs around steel supports to create a basket effect,” recalls Chan. But because the steel supports slant down and spiral around the central space, weaving the ribs in and out would have been expensive and made any errors stand out. So he attached the powder-coated gray ribs to the outside of the columns and twisted them to create an irregular pattern that is more forgiving of imperfections. The twisted surfaces catch sunlight in different ways during the day and scatter light at night.
To provide protection from the rain, Chan placed aluminum panels on top of the arms embracing the performance space. Underneath these panels he installed planks of balau, a tropical hardwood that adds a warm note to the material palette.
For the dining pavilion the architect kept things simple; orthogonal metal-and-glass curtain walls enclose a small café and a sushi bar where a conveyor belt delivers the food. A long metal canopy reaches out to the vehicular drop-off circle, providing shaded access to the MRT station and the café.
Using sinuous geometry and an intriguing metal veil, Chan created an amphitheater that is both animated and calm, enclosed yet open. With the dining pavilion and redesigned landscaping in the park, he has given Dhoby Ghaut Green new meaning as a place for multiple groups and activities. At midday this past December, though, even the screened spaces of the amphitheater couldn’t entice many people to sit down. In a city just a degree north of the equator, most people need air-conditioning at that hour. In the evening, the park and its stage become more alluring attractions.
Owner: Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (URA)
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Team Members – Jin Oon, Winnie Ho
Architect of record: SCDA Architects Pte Ltd
Lighting: Lighting Planners Associates (S) Pte Ltd
General contractor: Westtech Builders Pte Ltd
CAD system, project management, or other software used
Gross square footage:
3.1 acres (SITE)