Architect Soo K. Chan, recipient of Singapore’s inaugural President’s Design Award, and his firm, SCDA Architects, have recently completed renovations on Singapore’s National Design Centre, a showcase of innovation and encouragement in the possibilities of design. Centrally located in the arts, cultural, learning, and entertainment district in the Bras Basah-Bugis area, the National Design Centre will be a nexus for all things design, serving as a lecture hall, space for public exhibitions, and think tank for Singapore’s growing design culture. As Singapore’s primary hub for design, the National Design Centre serves to foster a strong design culture in Singapore and deepen the appreciation of good design through community engagement activities and design showcases.
Located at 111 Middle Road (the former Saint Anthony’s Convent premises), Chan, one of Singapore’s most acclaimed architects, designed the Centre through the creative restoration and adaptive re-use of existing buildings which have been gazetted for conservation by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The buildings were originally constructed as convent schools and a chapel, which now functions as the Centre’s lecture theatre.
Mr. Chan has inserted into the existing buildings four cantilevering and overlapping translucent “boxes,” which form interconnected spaces for both public and private uses. The composition opens internally, drawing the public inward to activate the central courtyard. This scheme respects the original building and enhances the existing spaces within. The overall design sets the stage for the Centre’s activities, encouraging innovation and inspiring collaboration.
When asked about key design concepts for the building, Mr. Chan said, “our concept was to create big public spaces – the internal courtyard and an external courtyard. The indoor court we enclosed with a sculptural skylight. That was the beginning of it – two communal spaces that all the other spaces would focus upon. Once this principle was established, we needed to be very clear about what we added. This is a conservation building. Whatever we added were just key functional elements, such as the required fire stair. We turned that into a design element. Finally, we wanted to create a secondary layer of complexity. That is why we introduced pivoting walls that really change the nature of the space, creating additional surface area for exhibitions and revealing some of the programs behind.”
Designers and businesses will congregate at the Centre to exchange ideas, conduct business, and obtain assistance from the DesignSingapore Council, the national agency that promotes design. With the National Design Centre, the DesignSingapore Council hopes to lower the barriers to the adoption of good design and encourage innovation. The Centre will provide training for designers and businesses to acquire new skills for innovation and solutions to business challenges. Designers will also have access to basic prototyping facilities.
The National Design Centre served as a hub for Singapore Design Week (SDW) from March 10–16, 2014. Open to the design community, businesses, design students, and the general public, SDW brings together a collection of local and international design activities in Singapore. SDW aims to raise awareness of good design, deepen the appreciation and understanding of design innovation and encourage the use of design for innovation and productivity. This platform will enhance the synergy among design partners and boost Singapore as a global city for design.