Interior of Takatori Catholic Church | By Bujdosó Attila
Is a concrete building necessarily more permanent than one made out of paper tubes? Japanese architect Shigeru Ban questioned the assumption that a longevity of a building depended solely on its material when he spoke at the Japan Society in New York city today. He observed us how developers often spent so much money and resources to tear down perfectly fine buildings to build new ones. In comparison, his “temporary” Takatori Catholic Church still stands today, some two decades on. Originally built in Kobe, Japan, after the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995, it was deconstructed a decade later when the church needed a bigger building. They then donated Ban’s building to Taiwan’s Nantou County, where it has become a community centre and tourist attraction known as the Paper Dome.
It’s a reminder that a building’s permanence often lies outside its construction materials or even design. How a building is regarded in the eyes of those living in it is often what determines how long it stands.
Architecture or property are different names for what most of us call a building.
But the emergence of starchitects has blurred the line between the two. Nowadays, there are buildings, and there are buildings designed by famous architects.
The city of Singapore has recently become the home of several condominium towers designed by starchitects such as Rem Koolhaas (The Interlace), Zaha Hadid (D’Leedon) and Jean Nouvel (Le Nouvel Ardmore). Local developers seem to believe that such architects renowned for their avant-garde designs can raise the values of their properties with a touch of designer class.
But what happens when such avant-garde architects meet the property market? Imagine Koolhaas or Hadid selling their architecture to the man on the street. You can’t — that’s the job of real estate agents. And the translation of these architects’ often abstract concepts into market language reveal the gaps between architecture and property.
“Over the last four decades, Safdie Architects has created from the experimental project Habitat ’67 in Montreal a series of projects incorporating fractal-geometry surface patterns, a dramatic stepping of the structure that results in a network of gardens open to the sky, and streets that interconnect and bridge community gardens in the air.”
This is just one of several blurbs including “Garden Living from Above” or “Dive into Our Sky Pool” that markets the “sky life” created by Safdie’s design. Selling such a view seems a strategic move considering the apartments are marketed to middle-class Singaporeans who are clueless about Safdie (“also known as ‘Who?’ to 99% of Singaporeans,” said one commentator). They would be familiar with his Marina Bay Sands design, however, a building which introduced the concept of a pool in the sky in a big way to Singaporeans.
Absent from the “sky life” hype, however, are how Safdie’s design attempts to foster a sense of the public amongst its residents with “generous community gardens and outdoor spaces on the ground”, according to the architect’s website. The developer’s descriptions of the design never expand beyond “you” and “your family”, highlighting how architecture is massaged into private property.
This struggle between architecture and property also surfaced in a recent Icon interview with Safide when he revealed that a woman wrote to him for help in getting a loan to buy a Sky Habitat apartment.
“When you take land and construction prices and the costs developers add on, it’s a struggle between affordability and the ideal. Moreover, the development was so desirable when it was built that it immediately became gentrified,” he said.
———– Written for Elizabeth Spiers and Chappell Elison’s Online Publishing class at D-Crit.