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In many ways, Singaporean architecture still suffers a little from the metallic and glass box mentality. If it was good enough for Mies van der Rohe, the thinking goes, it’s good enough for the tropics; which explains the inordinate number of climate inappropriate buildings that dot the island. Thankfully, the past decade or so has seen more adventurous designs take hold as savvier clients push architects to create outside the box a little more and to develop a more tropical Asian vernacular.
Much good work is being done by a young generation of local and expatriate architects, among them Chan Soo Khian, Ko Shiou Hee, Richard Hassell, Wong Mun Summ and Joshua Camaroff.
Arguably, the most ambitious project this past year has been the Lien Collective, a daring initiative in which six young Turks were each commissioned to build a concept house next to one other. And in the coming months, all eyes will be on Moshe Safdie’s massive Sands casino and resort – with its stupendous rooftop garden and swimming pool – that’s rising over Marina Bay.
Equally, attention is being paid to Singapore’s dwindling number of historically significant buildings. There may have been a time when architects and the government in particular placed much less value on architectural heritage while equating modernity with new tall buildings; however, if examples such as the flawlessly renovated Baba House and the People’s Association headquarters are any indication, it’s clear that both the authorities (led capably by the Urban Redevelopment Authority) and individuals (like Peter Lee and Gretchen Liu) are now fighting very hard to raise awareness of the nation’s architectural heritage.
To be sure, it’s a tricky balancing act between innovation and conservation, but for a country that has always been in a hurry to meet its future, Singapore is rising admirably to the challenge.