Landscape Architecture – Is It a Walk in the Park?

 An Interview with:
Oliver Ng Boon Lee
Director, Landscape Architecture
Surbana Jurong Group

Apart from the brick and mortar of delivering urbanisation, infrastructure and engineering solutions for our clients, Surbana Jurong’s (SJ) Landscape Architectural team provides the competitive edge with a suite of solutioning services, and explores multi-dimensional areas of ecology, biology, botany, tourism, horticulture, fine arts, architecture, soil sciences, geography, urban & natural resources, and water engineering.

Oliver Ng Boon Lee, Director of Landscape Architecture, gives us the low-down on how Landscape Architecture helps project owners fulfil their journey of building a sustainable living and work environment, and its pivotal role in end-to-end design and build.

Q: What does the Landscape Architect perform in the design and build sector?

First and foremost, we need to debunk the myth that the role of the landscape architect is purely designing the landscape for commercial and residential properties. The truth is actually quite different. Landscape architects do work on large scale projects, most of which are public urban and natural environmental spaces.

These range from the creation of different hierarchy public and nature parks, to master planning for new cities and township developments, and major green infrastructure projects such as streetscapes, public parks, rivers, waterfronts, green building solutions and ecological habitats.

More often than not, the landscape architect is faced with the challenge of  working on or around structures with limited external spaces, while integrating ecological sustainability. At the design stage of the project, there is an exchange of valuable inputs based on the complexity of technical challenges. Ideas are then generated, and design created based on the organisation and use of space.

The landscape architect adopts and conceives the overall concept and prepares the master plan, of which promotes innovation by developing regionally scalable but locally contextual solutions that increase resilience (refer to Illustration A for an example of a Landscape Concept Masterplan).

Illustration A – Landscape Concept Masterplan for one of SJ’s project “Ecological Wetland, Resilient Riverfront Park and Coastal Belt at Yazhou Bay, Sanya China”

Q: Please give examples of some project successes that involve the works of Landscape Architecture.

Singapore’s very own “Garden City Vision” was first mooted by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1967 – to transform Singapore into a city with abundant lush greenery and a clean environment to make life more pleasant for the people. The Parks and Trees Act1 in the 1970s mandated Singapore government agencies like the Housing Development Board (HDB) and the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), as well as private developers, to set aside spaces for trees and greenery in projects such as the development of housing estates, and construction of roads and car parks.

Currently, Singapore’s greening policy is guided by the “city in a garden” vision. Unveiled in 1998 as the next phase of the “garden city” vision, the new concept aimed to integrate greenery into not just the built environment, but also into the daily lives of Singaporeans.

A subset of the “City in a Garden” concept, My Waterway @ Punggol is a 12.25 hectares waterfront park located in the north-eastern part of Singapore. Designed with these thematic zones in mind – nature cove, recreation zone, heritage zone and green gallery, SJ Landscape Team undertook the challenge of transforming a piece of bare land into a 4.2km waterway that meanders through a new town, a Light Rail Transit (LRT) viaduct, two reservoirs and a beautiful waterfront living experience for the residents.

My Waterway @ Punggol (refer to Illustration B) was developed with an aim to bring people closer to water, amongst shared communal spaces, coupled with water-based recreational activities. The residential blocks were even built with an ABC water systems – where rainwater is collected and distributed to the parklands around the waterways.

Illustration B – My Waterway @ Punggol

On global playing field and a project undertaken by the team, Yixing Water Ecology in Jiangsu province of China aims to restore the ecology of the area, particularly in the water system, integrated with landscape design (refer to Illustration C). For years, water pollution in the area is a major deterrent for social and economic activities to be carried out. This ‘W-ECO3’ project aims to create a resilient space integrating the surrounding landscapes and water management based on Green & Blue infrastructure design, which emphasizes on sustainable and low-impact development. The team adopted the concept of “001” as guiding principles for the project:

  • Zero (0) contribution to water pollution – potential water pollutant discharge to any public water system will be stringently controlled and removed;
  • Zero (0) impact on flood control – ensure the flood-discharge capacity of all the key flood-discharge channels are not impacted upon in terms of protection and improvement;
  • One (1) clean water source – One Central Wetland with 2.5kmsq area in the masterplan was proposed to produce clean water after treatment. A world-class monitoring technology and Smart IT analysis system has been adopted to manage the cleaned outflow.

Illustration C – Yixing Water Ecology in Jiangsu province of China (Central Wetland with 2.5kmsq area to produce clean water after treatment)

Q: What do project owners look out for when they engage SJ to do landscape design?

We now know that at master planning and design stage, the landscape architect already plays a pivotal role, which often requires him/her to design key open space components such as community urban plaza, social activities spaces, play spaces and park connectors.

For project works which involve the sensitivity of natural habitats & resources, landscape architects are required to conduct deep research into local people, their culture and lifestyle. The outcome includes well-constructed wetlands, coastal environment, riverfront and green infrastructural projects. The design of such spaces contributes to local identity which brings upon economic, social, and environmental benefits to the local people.

With economic and social viability on the forefront, Ya Zhou Bay in Sanya, China – another recent global project win by SJ’s Landscape Architectural Team – aims to achieve solutioning to urbanism whilst protecting existing ecology (refer to Illustration D). A key criteria of the design concept is to mitigate the risk of ecological extinction caused by natural disasters, pollution and soil erosion.

The Waterfront Eco-Park, which consists of a Coastal Belt Park, Wetland and a Riverfront Park, will be home to a long stretch of windbreak forest with endless coastal entertainment, a wetland reserve preserving ecologically sensitive areas, and an attractive waterfront with large urban and leisure space.

Illustration D – Ya Zhou Bay in Sanya, China

In most, if not all, of our projects, developers are constantly seeking new, sustainable design ideas, and our belief is that no single design solution can be applied across all projects.

Q: What are your views on the future of Landscape Architecture?

It will be dynamic, yet ever-changing – due to the ever-evolving living environment. Climate change also has its effects on how we plan and design our landscape and environment. When the ozone layer is depleting each day, how should we grow our trees and vegetation to ensure we have a holistic cycle to human habitat.

The role of the landscape architect will become even greater, when we move away from the traditional way of planning and designing, and emphasize the importance of green movement and building a resilient environment.

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to achieve landscape analytics, and AI metrics to evaluate spatial impacts of design is the new norm in Landscape Architecture. Amidst combining AI to create sustainable and resilient designs, Green Infrastructure can only be achieved when we start with understanding our natural ecosystem.

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Oliver Ng Boon Lee


Temasek Shophouse: Balancing Heritage Conservation and Urban Renewal

An Interview with:

Ivy Koh

Senior Principal Architect

Surbana Jurong Pte Ltd

Breathing new life into one of Orchard Road’s most striking heritage building, Temasek Shophouse is home to the philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings – Temasek Trust.

Redesigned and repurposed for modern use, Temasek Shophouse was launched in 2019 as a 25,000-sq-ft co-working hub for social enterprises and “Cradle for Social Impact”.  Awarded the prestigious Green Mark GoldPLUS Award, Surbana Jurong provided multidisciplinary consultancy services for this project, including architecture, mechanical and electrical engineering, civil and structural engineering, quantity surveying, site survey as well as sustainability and resiliency solutions.

Ivy Koh, the project’s lead architect, shares the team’s challenges in the design and construction stages, and how work had to be aligned to an additional set of conservation guideline.

Q: Describe the original condition of the building when you first started the project.

A: The building was unoccupied for seven years when we took over the site, and the condition was not at its best. However, the structural condition was not too bad except for some spalling concrete observed on the beam and walls. Most of the decorative features were still intact with some degree of deterioration, and fenestrations were falling apart.

We also noticed that the original design has been altered prior to the shophouse being granted conservation status in Year 2000. The previous occupant added a new mezzanine level and covered the rear yard which created a dark interior, with areas of low headroom. There used to be a central void in the shophouse (not original) and it was cluttered with escalators and lift shaft. The main entrance was boarded up with metal shutters (refer to illustration A).

Illustration A. (Before taking over the site): Interiors with low headroom / central void with a cluster of escalators / uninviting frontage.

Q: What were three major changes that had to be made to the building to adapt it to its new function?

A: Envisioned to be a “Cradle for Social Impact”, it is a space to create the presence of a philanthropic entity in downtown Orchard that serves as catalyst for social and community activism.

With that in mind, the ground level was intended to be an open multi-purpose public space, the mezzanine floor will serve as a ground for collaboration between co-working partners, and the upper levels will house Temasek philanthropic companies

The first change was to create a more inviting entrance for the public and a sense of arrival.  This was done by restoring the first storey to its original height. The five-foot way was restored to its original ceiling height (refer to Illustration B) and existing mezzanine floor slab is modified accordingly. As a result, the space became brighter and more spacious.

The second major change was reinstating the rear façade, which faces Stamford Canal. Because of its visibility from Handy Road, with relatively high footfall traffic, it is therefore an important face of the shophouse. The existing blank wall was demolished to create an open garden, with a new inviting entrance. Instead of having a fully enclosed garden, we added a gate as the new entrance (refer to Illustration C).

The third change was the reconfiguration of floor slab. The new configuration created a grand void for visual connectivity.

Lastly, we converted the unused and inaccessible mechanical roof to a new garden terrace and meeting space.

Illustration B. Five-foot way restored to original ceiling height.
Illustration C. The reinstated rear façade, with aesthetic appeal and a welcoming entrance.

Q: What were the three biggest challenges when it came to its restoration, and how did the team overcame them?

A: The biggest challenge would have to be “site constraint”. Being on Orchard Road, there is no direct vehicular ingress to site. Orchard road is a no-stop zone and there is a permanent bus lane at the door step of the shophouse. Goods movement in and out from site was also a logistical challenge.

The Land Transport Authority then (LTA) granted approval for partial road closure during certain hours at night.  Hence, all waste disposal was done only during those hours. The rest of activities such as proper logistics planning must then be managed and implemented carefully.

The adjacent buildings were at least 60 years old, and they required thorough and continuous monitoring during construction. Additionally, the lift sits within 2 metre of the MRT 1st reserve line.

There is not much information about the original building design to fully understand how the building works. Most of the records focus on the external spaces and was back-dated to the 1950s. In order to understand the shophouse’s original design, we engaged Julian Davison, a leading historian specialized in Singapore building history. He wrote an extensive report on the owners (And yes! The building was owned by more than one person), original architect, the building plans and the prevalent architectural style during the original building construction. This indeed helped us to understand the building better.

Q: Which parts of the original building were conserved and why?

A: The external architecture elements is the identity of the building. Apart from being a recognizable feature in Orchard Road, the ornamentation shows the building’s original intent. The front façade shows a blend of Neo-Classical and Art Deco style, indicating that the building might have been built in the 1920s (this is confirmed on records found by Julian Davison).

On top of the two façade, we conserved the original concrete spiral staircase. The steps and balusters were carefully restored, painted (to highlight the dynamic shape), and illuminated to create a grand elevation.

For the interiors, we restored the spatial quality by opening the false ceiling. The once covered set of fanlights now brings in more daylight and brighten up the interior space (refer to Illustration D).

Illustration D. Conserving the original concrete spiral staircase and restoring the original interior spatial quality.

Q: Describe your interior design concept for the project.

A: Given this unique site, the interior design of the Temasek Shophouse is largely influenced by the distinct Art Deco architectural style of the building. The team took this element which is reflective of its heritage and roots, and reimagined it through modern lens. The team aimed to bring across a design that is true to the building’s origin while still projecting a spirit of optimism for the space.

Upon entering the Shophouse, one is greeted with an open Atrium that links levels one, one mezzanine, through two. Being the heart of the Shophouse, this open Atrium (with a cafe on the ground floor) allows staff and users to feel linked with the community spirit and activities that happen in this voluminous event space. Anchoring the Atrium are key features of an art-deco inspired screen spanning 3 storeys, integrated with a lush green wall, which aims to bring nature closer to staff and users. A distinctively designed and large art-deco inspired light feature suspends above the Atrium.

Offices, meeting rooms and lounge spaces are designed for flexible usage.

Pockets of green are introduced throughout the Shophouse to provide encounters with nature on every level. A bright palette is selected to complement the space that lets in natural light. The design team also continues to maintain art deco design details, recognisable by streamlined aesthetics to smaller details such as signage design. Meaningful art pieces and a collection of furniture made from recycled waste materials are introduced in selected spaces to also reflect the Foundation’s values and beliefs.

Q: The building has been awarded the Green Mark GoldPLUS Award. What are some of the features that enabled this to happen?

A: Stringent selection of energy-saving M&E equipment enables the building to operate more sustainably. On top of that, we changed all the glazing to have suitable u-value and shading coefficient.

We have also deliberately designed the spaces for natural light to flow through, reducing the reliance on artificial lighting (refer to Illustration E).

The use of hybrid cooling system including conventional fans, coupled with air-conditioning system helps to reduce the total energy consumption for cooling.

Programmatically, we have designed spaces for a sustainable lifestyle as well. There are green inspired arts, recycling centre, as well as sensor-activated lighting for restrooms and staircases.

Illustration E. Work spaces with natural daylight reduce the need for artificial lighting. And the use of hybrid cooling systems, including conventional fans, help in the reduction of energy consumption.

Q: Finally, what are some of your advice that you would give to designers embarking on conservation projects? 

A: A thorough study and examination of the existing building design and history is important. It serves to guide the design intervention. One should be respectful of the original design intent and spirit of the architecture. However, conservation is not about restoring the building to its original design. The design should focus on enhancing the heritage value of the architecture and make the building spaces relevant to current times. With that, the longevity of the building could be extended.

Temasek Shophouse has been conferred the 2019 Award for Restoration at the URA Architectural Heritage Awards, that recognises exemplary restoration of gazetted heritage buildings.

 Special thanks to the following divisions which have provided multidisciplinary consultancy services for this project:

  • Architecture
  • Mechanical and Electrical Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Quantity Surveying
  • Site Surveying
  • Sustainability and Resiliency Solutions


All photo credit: Temasek Shophouse. Hero image by Stillusion

This article was first published in Design and Architecture and is edited by SJ Academy for Perspectives, Surbana Jurong website.

Ivy Koh

Surbana Jurong wins big at Singapore Landscape Architecture Awards 2019

Receiving the awards are Oliver Ng, Deputy Director, Landscape Planning and Design Architecture (third from left) and his team

At the Singapore Landscape Architecture Awards 2019, Surbana Jurong’s Landscape Planning and Design team received eight landscape architecture awards for its projects in Singapore and the region. This is the highest number of awards won by a single consultancy in the 2019 edition of the awards organised by Singapore Institute of Landscape Architecture.

The biennial awards recognise landscape architecture that promote the integration of urban environments and complex natural systems through responsible, innovative and resilient designs. Winning the awards affirm Surbana Jurong’s strong capabilities in landscape architecture and design in Singapore and overseas.

Oliver Ng, Deputy Director of Landscape Planning and Design Architecture, Surbana Jurong said, “We are very honoured to be recognised for our landscape planning and architecture works this year. The highlight is winning five awards in the analysis and planning category.”

“We are passionate about creating sustainable landscape ecosystems,” he added. “In landscape master planning, we aim to enhance liveability and adopt resource efficiency of water and waste management. This includes the restoration and rejuvenation of waterfronts, riverfronts, mangroves, wetlands and seashores, reforestation, flood mitigation, and the creation of public green spaces like urban parks and green plazas. Sustainability and maintainability are core to our landscape planning designs.”

Here are our winning projects at the Singapore Landscape Architecture Awards 2019:

Analysis & Planning

Civic & Institutional Landscape

Parks & Recreational Landscape

B+H ranks #45 in global hospitality design and wins Conde Nast Reader’s Choice awards 2018

Westin Whistler voted Best Resort in Canada B+H SJ
In Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Hotels in Canada: Readers’ Choice Awards 2018, Westin Whistler (top) was voted Best Resort in Canada.

B+H’s interior design core brand, CHIL which focuses on hospitality projects, has moved up Interior Design Magazine’s latest Hospitality Giants list from #52 to #45 spot. The list is the magazine’s annual global ranking of top Hospitality Interior Design practices. B+H is a member of the Surbana Jurong Group.

CHIL projects have also made it into Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Hotels in Canada: Readers’ Choice Awards 2018. These awards consist of Canada’s top-rated hotels as voted by readers of the luxury travel magazine.

Fairmont Waterfront hotel Top Hotels in Canada: Readers' Choice Awards 2018 B+H
In Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Hotels in Canada: Readers’ Choice Awards 2018, Fairmont Waterfront (top) and Fairmont Pacific Rim were voted Reader’s Choice – Top Hotels in Canada.

Fairmont Pacific Rim was voted Top Hotels in Canada: Readers' Choice Awards 2018

Reader’s Choice – Top Hotels in Canada

– Fairmont Pacific Rim

– Fairmont Waterfront

– L’Hermitage

– Fairmont Vancouver Airport.

Reader’s Choice – Best Resorts in Canada

– The Westin Resort & Spa Whistler

– Four Seasons Resort and Residences Whistler.

Surbana Jurong to design Royal Star Tower condo-hotel in Vietnam’s Ha Long City

Royal Star Tower Vietnam architecture

Royal Star Tower as envisioned for the Ha Long coastline in Quang Ninh province.

Surbana Jurong was appointed by Royale Star Ha Long Joint Stock Company (RSHL) to provide the architectural concept and basic design for a mixed-use condominium-hotel complex in Ha Long City in Quang Ninh province, Vietnam. The 30-storey condo-hotel, known as Royal Star Tower, is envisioned to be an iconic development in the precinct.

Spanning a gross floor area of 120,000sqm, the complex will be designed with a good mix of residential, commercial and recreational spaces. The top two floors are reserved for 10 luxurious penthouses with spectacular sea views, a rooftop sky garden and infinity pool. The win may be credited to Surbana Jurong’s design capabilities and experience in urban developments.

Surbana Jurong wins 28 accolades at BCA Awards 2018

SkyResidence @ Dawson BCA Awards Surbana Jurong
SkyResidence @ Dawson

Surbana Jurong increased its haul of accolades at the recent Building and Construction Authority (BCA) Awards, scoring three more than the 25 won last year. This is the largest haul for the Group at the awards since participating as a newly merged entity in 2015. Among the awards won were the BCA Construction Excellence and BCA Green Mark for Buildings awards.

The projects also span diverse sectors – from public and private residential buildings, to food processing centres, government buildings and healthcare – which reflects the comprehensive suite of solutions offered by Surbana Jurong

“As one of the largest Asia-based urban, industrial and infrastructure consultancies, winning the BCA awards is a testament to the quality of our work and underscores our continued design and engineering excellence,“ said Surbana Jurong GCEO Wong Heang Fine about the scoop of awards.

Bedok Food City BCA Awards Surbana Jurong
Bedok Food City

At Surbana Jurong, we believe that development is more than just steel and concrete. Surbana Jurong approaches all our projects with the same philosophy – that what we design and build must be socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. We create spaces and design infrastructure where people live, work and play, shaping cities into homes with sustainable jobs where communities and businesses can flourish. We also embrace the use of technology such as BIM and artificial intelligence, to enhance our business performance and offer our clients better solutions. BCA is Singapore’s regulatory body for the building and construction industry under the Ministry of National Development.

Buangkok Square Neighbourhood Centre BCA Awards Surbana Jurong
Buangkok Square Neighbourhood Centre

Surbana Jurong’s winning projects at the BCA Awards 2018

BCA Construction Excellence 2018
1. Hillsta

BCA Construction Productivity Award (Projects) 2018
2. Residential Halls at Nanyang Crescent, NTU – Platinum
3. Clementi Ridges – Gold
4. Woodlands Care Home – Gold

BCA Universal Design Mark 2018
5. The Visionaire – Gold

BCA Green Mark Award 2018
6. Bedok Food City – Platinum
7. Buangkok Square Neighbourhood Centre – Platinum
8. Customs Operations Command at Jalan Bahar – Platinum
9. JTC Poultry Processing Hub – Platinum
10. NUS School of Design & Environment, SDE 4 – Platinum
11. Outram Community Hospital – Platinum
12. Selarang Park Complex – Platinum
13. Seletar Airport Passenger Terminal – Platinum
14. SkyResidence @ Dawson – Platinum
15. State Courts Towers – Platinum
16. Buangkok Edgeview – Gold PLUS   
17. NIM Collection – Gold PLUS   
18. iNz Residence – Gold PLUS   
19. The Visionaire – Gold PLUS  
20. Adult Disability Home+Day Activity Centre – Gold
21. Anchorvale Parkview – Gold
22. Blossom Spring @ Yishun – Gold
23. Geylang C43B + Park – Gold
24. Kallang Fire Station – Gold
25. Keat Hong Garden – Gold
26. Selarang Park Complex, Phase 1 – Gold
27. Yung Kuang Court (Jurong West N1 C31) – Gold
28. Overseas – Hangzhou Riverfront Mansion – Certified

Surbana Jurong wins BCI Asia Top 10 Architects Award

Surbana Jurong BCI Asia Awards architecture firms in Singapore
Michael Vong, Deputy Managing Director, Building Consultancy Services(centre) flanked by Xavier Courboin, Managing Director & Marketing Director Asia for building materials firm Technal (left) and BCI Asia’s Chairman, Dr Matthias Krups.

Surbana Jurong has been named one of Singapore’s top 10 firms for architecture for 14 years running.

The BCI Asia Awards gave out its annual Top Ten Awards recently at a ceremony that recognises the country’s leading developers and architecture firms that have made the greatest contributions to the region’s built environment.

The awards, which were started in 2003, is one of the most anticipated and coveted awards for the construction sector in Southeast Asia, namely Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong SAR. Surbana Jurong has won the accolade every year since its inception.

The awards are given out by BCI Media Group, which covers Asia-Pacific building and construction news. Michael Vong, Deputy Managing Director, Building Consultancy Services, received the award for Surbana Jurong.

This award is a testament to Surbana Jurong’s longstanding position as one of the top architecture firms in Singapore. It lends due recognition to all our architects and technical staff, validating their hard work and commitment to delivering sound design and overall architectural excellence.

Gongqing win for Surbana Jurong in China

Myanmar infrastructure forum
Surbana Jurong and Sino-Sun, member of the Surbana Jurong Group, are collaborating on the master planning and architectural design of the township in Jiangxi, China.

Gongqing town was a country town brimming with potential. Situated close to Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi province, it was re-zoned for urban development, and recently, Surbana Jurong and Sino-Sun, member of the Surbana Jurong Group, jointly embarked on architectural design for the township, fulfilling the local government’s wish to create an integrated, mixed-use development there.

Last year, the team won the project to conduct the master planning for the 48ha greenfield project there, with a total GFA estimated at 1.2 million sqm. The plan revolves around a 3km-long looped garden that winds through high- and low-rise residential blocks, commercial buildings, an international school, and healthcare and recreational facilities.

By linking the sub-plots and functions together with this green pathway, a “walkable” and vibrant town is born. Jiangxi province, in southeast China, is also home to the Jiujiang port city and Jingdezhen, China’s famous home of porcelain-making.

The project is expected to be completed in Q3 2019.

Legacy Planning in Building & Construction – Case Study: The Olympic Games

Olympic host cities in the past have struggled, and some have failed, to establish a meaningful function for the infrastructure after the Games. The concept of legacy planning for global mega-events & venues, and even other build environments, is of paramount importance – to ensure sustainability and economic growth for the host cities, and beyond. All eyes on the upcoming 2020 Olympics where Tokyo stands host to, we discuss the pitfalls of previous host cities’ post-games infrastructural planning, and the shining example of London’s 2012. 

Notable Olympic host cities’ failures were Moscow, Beijing to an extent, and probably the most prominent, Athens. Large investments were injected to create showpieces for the duration of the Games, but ended up as eyesores thereafter. The infrastructure fell into total disrepair and became derelict. This stemmed from a lack of vision for the long-term functioning of space and its components. The vision was short-sighted and ad hoc at best, and meant only for the successful hosting of the Games.

The Athens Games has come to represent this failure. Twenty-one of the 22 venues were abandoned after the Games concluded, lying as derelicts overrun with rubbish and weeds. The tales of empty, forlorn and rundown infrastructure are well documented. These abandoned venues represent the desire to showcase grandeur with no consideration for a post-Games use. The result is these massive structures lying idle and bleeding the economy.

Planning for longevity of these Olympic structures and their use should be paramount for such infrastructure (owing to its size and scale of investments), this should also be imbued into the design and planning of other built-infrastructure. Multiplicity of use or flexibility for conversion from one type of use to the other helps to extend the life-time of buildings, re-invigorate their neighbourhood locale and in return, massive savings to both the economy and the environment. Such examples of re-purposing existing infrastructure are being increasingly pursued in land-constrained and immensely-dense Hong Kong. A remarkable example is:

Chai Wan Factory Estate

The Chai Wan Factory (built in 1959), was converted into a public rental housing called Wah Ha Estate in 2015. This redevelopment project now houses about 200 families. Such retro-fitting not only involves revision to the spatial layout, but also installing required infrastructure to meet the latest health and safety regulations (especially those pertaining to fire safety and sanitation). The building is also graded by the AAB (Antiquities Advisory Board) as Grade 2 Historic Building.

Chai Wan Factory Estate re-furbished as a public housing estate.

2012, London – Planning a Successful ‘Legacy’ Phase

With the fear of post-Games deterioration looming, London began with caution from the onset in 2005. Their solution lay in identifying, delineating and planning for the Games Mode, as well as Legacy Mode. The legacy planning intended infrastructure to provide use and function for a separate set of users after the Games. The challenge was to allow a smooth transition from the former to the latter, and to plan and build to cater to the needs of each mode without surplus in either. The dichotomy of planning every infrastructure in two modes was established. This translated to a concept of segregating the way the infrastructure is built for what would be needed for the present, vis-à-vis that for the future. Features that would remain and be used beyond the Games were to be built as permanent structures, while other surplus structures catering only to the Games would be of temporary nature and be removed, thus avoiding waste and redundancy.

The Olympic Games are often a catalyst to inspire the city to transform. London used the Olympics to regenerate a wasteland (the heavily industrialised area of Stratford, East London) into what is now called the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The 2.5-square kilometre site housed most of the venues, residences and plazas. After the Games, the spaces now comprise two zones:

  • the north zone has parklands, a Velopark, a business district, training centres for hockey and tennis, and a low-rise development;
  • the south zone has the Aquatic Centre (reorganised for schools, the community, and elite athletes, with a reduced capacity), the Olympic Stadium with a reduced capacity (to bring the lucrative Premier League football to the park), high rise housing, and a 55-acre landscaping project by James Corner.

To realise the Legacy Mode, the built structures were purpose-built for transformation. This enabled the structures to either be scaled down or disassembled completely, allowing them to be stored for reuse later. The London Games ventured to build facilities with energy-efficient, sustainable, and recyclable designs, to reduce the energy and water demands, and keep the Games clean and green.

2012, London – Implementing the ‘Legacy’ Phase

The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) began working right after the Games to bring life and fervour back to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The intended transformations of the venues, scaling down or disassembling, took time. “The sight of cranes and construction works across the site was necessary to reach the Legacy Mode”, said Dennis Hone, Chief Executive of the LLDC. It is important to phase different transformational activities so that the site does not lose the interest and vibrancy of the Games. Keeping the site void of activities other than construction for too long would make it an economic black hole.

In April 2014, LLDC reopened the parklands in the north zone and James Corner’s urban park in the south to entice people to return. The Aquatic Centre has been scaled down after the removal of its wings. It now functions as a swimming centre for the community at large. However, not everything went to plan. The greatest challenges have been economic ones relating to ownership and conflicts of interests. These have resulted in unintended design changes, construction cost overruns, and delays.

The prominent example of this has been the Olympic Stadium. The Legacy master plan intended its capacity to be reduced from 80,000 to 25,000, keeping it as an athletics stadium, which was needed in the city. However, for economic sustenance, ownership had to be leased. After six years of tussle, a Premier League football club—West Ham United—has been given a 99-year lease. But this comes with several changes to the Legacy plan for the stadium—it is no longer an athletic facility, but a prime Premier League stadium. The capacity was increased to 54,000. The stadium will have a new roof; the entire pitch was rebuilt with the requirements of a football ground; and a 1,000-capacity car park added. Despite these challenges, the Legacy Plan is scheduled to be completed by 2030. The people of the neighbouring boroughs acknowledge that the investments in the park have enhanced one of the most neglected and derelict parts of London. The space and the venues continue to garner the enthusiasm of visitors. More than the physical infrastructure, longevity has been about the community.

The illustrations below show some of the stages that helped to transform the London Stadium to a purpose-built Football stadium:

Illustration A: Necessary retrofitting to the structure
Illustration B: Extending the Roof over the seating stands
Illustration C: Adding stands and pavillions
Illustration C: Adding stands and pavillions

Images Source: (These images illustrate only graphical representation of the transformations, and may not be accurate in terms of technical details.)

The London Olympic stadium during the 2012 Games versus The Olympic stadium now refurbished as a Football Stadium.

2016, Rio – So, What Went Wrong?

The London Games have successfully demonstrated a different paradigm with structures that could be transformed, scaled down, disassembled, and stored, looking past the two-to-three-week extravaganza to what is needed for the community and the city for years to come.

The Rio Olympics in Brazil in 2016 had incorporated several of these ideas to develop their infrastructure in their particular context. One example was the Handball Arena – named the Future Arena (Portuguese: Arena do Futuro), which was designed to be disassembled after the Games and reassembled as four schools serving the community. As of August 2017, these plans have however been abandoned by Rio’s mayor Marcelo Crivella. They had also planned for the Games Mode distinctly from the Legacy Mode, and phased out the entire development with an intermediate phase of seven years to transition from the Games to the Legacy Mode. Mis-management of the projects’ planning and implementation led to major budget over-runs. The consequent economic strains led to ad hoc fixes which defeated the ideas for the Legacy phase. The iconic Maracana stadium could no longer be operated due to budget deficits, and it was looted and vandalized; while the ambitious waste-treatment facilities never materialised and Rio continues to languish as it did before the Games.

Rio Olympic Venues a year later. (Photo credits: Reuters/David Gray)

2020, Tokyo – Planning for Another Legacy after 1964

The planning for the Tokyo Games also began in the right earnest from the very onset, while the Games was at bidding stage. Unlike the usual approach, Tokyo decided that they will retrofit existing structures throughout the city, including the same stadium built for the 1964 Games – an idea which has been supported and advocated by the International Olympic Council. The 1964 Games had succeeded in achieving for Tokyo what most cities like Athens and Rio aspired to achieve by hosting these prestigious Games. It marked Japan’s complete re-entry into the post-war world and bolstered the country’s incredible reconstruction effort. To repeat the success, Tokyo will re-use three venues from those Games, thus reinforcing the concept of Olympic Legacy:–

  • Yoyogi National Gymnasium, known for its eye-catching suspension roof design, was the venue for swimming and basketball in 1964, and will host handball in 2020;
  • Table tennis will be held at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, which was home to water polo and gymnastics in 1964;
  • Judo will return to Nippon Budokan.

Tokyo also plans to revitalize its waterfront by siting the Olympic village there. However, Tokyo is still grappling with time and cost as work surges ahead to open the Games in 2020. In the context of hosting events of this scale, and with a magnitude of cost and high-density urban projects, it makes sense that scalability and temporality are addressed in the early part of planning. At the same time, sound political will and temperament is required to realize the plans, without which they risk falling apart as seen in Athens and Rio.

Here, it is not about the permanency of static physical elements that ensures a structure’s longevity. Urban planners will also need to consider the flexibility of structural conversion in our design and built environment – and success lies in anticipating the versatility of change.

It is also about putting into place ideas that create lasting value for the community.

This article is co-created by Surbana Jurong Academy.

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