Tag: Moshe Safdie

The World’s Most Livable Cities: Singapore (Housing)

As nations struggle to house their rapidly growing urban populations, Singapore offers a promising solution with its profusion of innovative high-rise, high-density housing “estates,” as is the local parlance. Today, over 80 percent of the city-state’s resident population lives in public housing.

Key to this success is the Housing & Development Board (HDB), the nation’s public housing agency, which was set up in 1960 to tackle the shortage of housing and clearly overcrowded slums. HDB has since evolved from resettling Singaporeans who once lived in overcrowded villages to catering to the lifestyles of its now 5.5 million inhabitants.

In the last decade, public housing has gone from utilitarian rectangular blocks formulated by faceless public servants to stylish complexes designed by top local architecture firms, such as WOHA Architects, which completed their SkyVille@Dawson in July. Containing 960 units of a variety of apartment types and sporting tropical landscaping and extensive communal spaces, the three-tower scheme humanizes the HDB housing blocks of yesteryear.

SkyVille@Dawson is just one example of HDB enlisting the private sector to create more distinctive public housing. “The concepts that we have tested out in Dawson are also being implemented in other new housing projects in different ways,” says Dr. Cheong Koon Hean, HDB’s chief executive officer. “Our new estates will be greener and more garden-like, to provide a more conducive living environment for residents.”

Against this backdrop of progressive public housing for low- and middle-income residents, Singapore’s developers have turned to starchitects to differentiate their profit-driven projects. Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, and Toyo Ito have all recently designed signature high-rise luxury residences. OMA and Ole Scheeren’s Interlace and Moshe Safdie’s soon-to-be-completed Sky Habitat offer further examples. Yet, Safdie is discerning: “Very few countries at this point are building housing by the government for the people as Singapore does. I don’t think there is any country like that.”

Read the complete report at Metropolis

Hype + Property = “Starchitecture”

Reflections at Keppel Bay (2013) by Daniel Libeskind, The Interlace (2014) by OMA, artist’s impressions of Jean Nouvel's Nouvel 18 (2014) and Le Nouvel Ardmore (2014), rendering of Toyo Ito’s The Crest (2018) condominiums, and rendering of Zaha Hadid’s D’Leedon (2015).
Reflections at Keppel Bay (2013) by Daniel Libeskind, The Interlace (2014) by OMA, artist’s impressions of Jean Nouvel’s Nouvel 18 (2014) and Le Nouvel Ardmore (2014), rendering of Toyo Ito’s The Crest (2018) condominiums, and rendering of Zaha Hadid’s D’Leedon (2015). | STAKN, IWAN BAAN, NOUVEL-18.ORG, AND THE CREST

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.

Sky Habitat (2015) | SAFDIE ARCHITECTS
Sky Habitat (2015) | SAFDIE ARCHITECTS

Consider Moshie Safdie’s Sky Habitat, which became famous as the most expensive suburban condominium in Singapore when it was first launched in 2012.

This is how the project is introduced on a dreary grey backdrop with no photos on Safdie Architects website:

“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.”

The developer’s website for potential buyers, however, begins like this:

Sky Habitat Property

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.