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Building across East and West

Swiss architecture outfit makes its mark on Singapore landscape.

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The expansion of Geneva-based architectural firm group8 to Singapore got off to a great start when its Asian offshoot won the international competition for Punggol Waterway Terraces in 2009.

NOT known to many people in Singapore, a boutique agency founded by two Swiss architects has been successfully working on public housing projects here, combining the best of Western and Eastern knowledge in the field.

The expansion of Geneva-based architectural firm group8 to Singapore got off to a great start when its Asian offshoot won the international competition for Punggol Waterway Terraces in 2009.

Over the next six years it was responsible for planning and designing Punggol Waterway Terraces I & II, which is a HDB large-scale social housing complex.

The firm's work in Singapore includes GreenRidges, another large- scale HDB complex from 2013-19, and The Alps Residences, a private apartment block which is under construction.

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Mr Manuel Der Hagopian, Singapore-based managing director and co-founder of G8A Architecture & Urban Planning, says: "Punggol Waterway Terraces is a 2,000-unit project completed in 2015, which proposes a new interpretation of what can be the identity of public housing evolving from a built form to a landscape identity.

"We have extended this reflection to the private residence sector with The Alps Residences proposing an open courtyard to create an Alpine oasis for Singapore."

Group8 was born in the year 2000 when Mr Der Hagopian and Grégoire Du Pasquier, both Swiss architectural graduates, joined six friends in Geneva to form it.

"It was more of an architectural collective than a formal corporate practice. We shared ideas, engaged in debate, contributed to each other's projects. The main focus of this working group was to channel the intensity of the creative processes and enhance the quality of built projects in the Geneva region."

In 2007, he and Mr Du Pasquier branched off from Geneva and opened a studio in Hanoi under the name group8asia, retaining their collaborative role in the Geneva partnership. In 2009, they won the international competition for Punggol Waterway Terraces.

Now known as G8A, the thriving offshoot from the original practice, became an independent partnership in 2014. Headed by Mr Der Hagopian, Mr Du Pasquier and four international directors, G8A has offices in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, and Geneva.

The boutique agency now has a team of more than 50 people of nine nationalities, contributing to the overall East-West transfer of knowledge within the four locations.

"We see Singapore as a cultural halfway house between Switzerland and Vietnam. It is often referred to as a 'Tropical Switzerland'. But Singapore's heat is merciless, and the conditions demand an architecture with a diametrically dissimilar structural approach than that required for a cold climate," says Mr Der Hagopian.

"Both culturally and architecturally, in our research of cohesion between East and West, we see Singapore as a very important location for G8A. There is also something quite fascinating about this utopian construct that Singapore's creation and built environment embellishes, a vision that is incredibly different from Switzerland or Vietnam.

"We have positioned ourself as an 'in-between', as a link with satellite posts in each different city. The creative and production team is based in Hanoi, where the environment is less regulated and full of energy, which is better for creativity.

"Nevertheless we believe that, even if we have been living and working in these three environments for more than 10 years, we still have faith in our local partners who help the implementation phase of each project.

"We have four to five privileged partners in each of the three countries that we regularly collaborate with. They complement our work with their local knowledge. And nothing can replace homegrown understanding."

Looking ahead, he thinks that the future of architecture and the world can no longer be asymmetric. "The understanding of East and West is a must in order to propose the built environment of tomorrow. G8A has embraced this as statement and throughout all projects, explorations, exhibitions - to reveal and enhance the awareness of the new world that we are living in."