Artist impression of Floating Ponds (Photo from Surbana Jurong)

Architecture transitions to an 'integrated' industry

Firms said professionals must be experts not only in design. 

If there is anything that changed in the past year in the field of architecture, it is that the industry has become integrated—from how architects are designing structures down to the way firms are transforming themselves.

Matthew Hon, director for Swan & Maclaren Singapore, said clients nowadays have different intentions with their properties, with some wanting to seek enhancement to their land for higher valuations. 

"The scope of architecture has changed from a full service of design to completion of the development, to provide a certain level of a design package or even up to a certain stage of obtaining approvals," Hon said.

In 2023, Hon sees that clients will like the firm to propose solutions on a full suite of integrated consultancy services. Because of this, Swan & Maclaren Singapore had to change the setup of its team in the architecture practice to become become tomorrow’s built environment service and product solution.

"An office may no longer be solely full of architects of design and project architects but consist of individuals that carry a diverse background and skill set to package the proposal needed," he added.

"Architects who only perform design may find themselves being challenged in its existence, with globalisation and the new interconnected world," he added.

Jean Cheong, senior associate at SAA Architects, echoed this, saying: “Architectural practices can no longer function in solo.”

“The ability to work with clients and equip oneself with strong collaborative skills to manage multi-disciplinary teams across the globe will ensure that projects are effectively delivered,” she added.

Intertwined structures

The integration will also be key to designing buildings in 2023, according to Doreen Koh, vice president of architecture, healthcare division, at CPG Consultants.

According to Koh, buildings will no longer be seen as "standalone structures but as part of the overall built environment intertwined with other infrastructure, transport, and community concerns."

Domestically, a concern that the industry is focusing on is sustainability. According to Ivy Koh, director of SJ architecture in Surbana Jurong, almost 40% of global carbon emissions today are from buildings and construction.

Apart from making designs more environmentally friendly, firms are also working on the green goal by moving toward more sustainable practices.

In SAA, this is done “through active online collaboration with digital sketching and remote access to computers” to generate a lot less paper than before, Charles Arnal, a senior associate director at the firm shared.

"The building and construction industry is expected to make an even more concerted push toward sustainable developments to meet the Singapore Green Plan 2030 and long-term net-zero aspirations, with further adoption of new technologies and approaches to building design for more energy-efficient buildings," said Yong Fen Bok, vice president for architecture, education division, at CPG Consultants.

Junlin Ong, senior associate at RSP Singapore, said that there is a "driving need for the industry standards and approach on sustainability to improve, and to bring about greener results for the well-being of its occupants and the environment."

The SIT University Punggol Campus, for example, was designed with the largest private Micro Grid (MEMG-Multi Energy Micro Grid) and a District Cooling System that powers and cools various spaces.

"When in operation, quality indoor experience and thermal comfort will be achieved whilst running on clean and sustainable sources," Ong said about the RSP project.

In 2023, SAA Architects’ Cheong said sustainability and regenerative architecture will remain on top of trends in the field.

“We now have better clarity of the benefits and projected returns of investment from the adoption of a vision of net-zero carbon and sustainable smart buildings. Selection of sustainable materials and energy-saving from Internet-of-Things (IoT) are also some of many ways to achieve this vision,” she added.

READ MORE: Singapore’s most outstanding architecture professionals under 40

Apart from focusing on sustainability, architects are also going beyond aesthetics and designing buildings that ultimately benefit the community like open spaces with small pocket parks, and urban farms which encourage social connections.

Surbana Jurong (SJ) has developed a high-density vertical farming concept, called Floating Ponds which allows farms to be commercially productive even on limited land areas.

 “It is important for architects to adopt an immersive design process in understanding the needs of the community, and involving the community in the design and creation process where possible to create a sense of ownership,” said Ivy Koh.

Currently, Ivy Koh said architects are already designing spaces which can accommodate multiple uses. Urban spaces, for example, are being designed to be more controllable, manageable, and modular where possible.

“Architects need to respond urgently to mitigate the impacts from the twin crises of the pandemic and climate change. Designing for social resilience and well-being will be the key motivation for all” Ivy Koh added.

Staying relevant

Another way for firms to stay relevant in the field is by embracing and adopting digital technology.

According to RSP Singapore Senior Associate, Khoo Teik Rong there have been several emerging applications in the industry such as AI image generating software, DALLE.E and Midjourney.

Digital transformation is also key as building and design continue to move towards integrating digital and physical planning.

"For example, integrated data housed on shareable networks under building management systems can be securely merged with other data to suit user requirements as they change," Koh said.

"Processes are connected and stakeholders are constantly communicating. Our built environment must grow to adapt and evolve as we do to provide better, more intelligent outcomes that improve user experience, facilities management, and operational processes," she added.

As the industry transitions, architects also face greater responsibility and accountability pressure, said CPG Consultants’ Yong.

According to Yong, architects are now pressured "to be even more innovative in developing solutions that add value with minimal or no cost increases."

"Building projects have come under further cost versus value scrutiny as we evaluate the economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we balance the scrutiny of critical value engineering with a people-centred design principle, it will allow us to provide better-built environment outcomes for all stakeholders," Yong added.

DP Architects' Johann Lim, for his part, said architects must further explore novel construction methods to stay in the game in addition to digital technology adoption.

“The architectural field today further explores the ingenuity of hidden detailing behind its assemblage," Lim said.

"When the weight of the roof meets the lightness of columns, or when the intricacy of complex angles formulates a cohesive façade, the meaning behind the architecture is drawn from the concealed yet harmonious interfacing behind the elements of its construct and is no longer just about iconic imagery," Lim added.

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