Singapore in the shade
CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren () - January 31, 2009 - 12:00am

Bonifacio Global City, or Fort Boni to most, seems to be the location of choice for most of the prime real estate developments in the metropolis. Condominiums and mixed-use complexes are sprouting like the proverbial mushrooms despite the gloomy global funk we are in.

The emerging Serendra and High Street developments are reintroducing outdoor life to this district, which is already blessed with a good number of green and public open spaces, plazas and environmental sculptures. It’s a great and safe place to live, work and play, while being close to the airport and both EDSA and C-5.

These attributes also make it a prime location for embassies and chanceries. These institutional locators made their initial move from old central Manila to Makati in the 1960s. Only the US Embassy has stayed in its original pre-war site by the bay. Now the wide, open spaces of Fort Boni beckon for another wave of transfers, which has already begun. These also promise to be showcases of individual countries’ architectural creativity; the structures themselves being symbols of what their counties stand for.

The first to make a move and complete a transfer was the Singapore Chancery. The Singaporeans, always quick to identify an opportunity, actually bought their property (near the first cluster of high-rise condos and the Manila Golf Club) early, in 2004. The site is a complete block, close to a hectare in area, giving the compound a continuous and secure perimeter. It also makes it easy to locate.

The Singapore government chose a design by Forum Architects Singapore, who worked in tandem with local designers EBP Architects, to complete the multi-structure complex in 2008. The architects came up with a straightforward low-rise massing of structures that provided the spaces needed for processing visas and documents, receiving functionaries and the local expat Singaporeans for socials, and housing a number of their staff.

These functions are housed in one and two-story structures tied together in an almost retro-modernist style that emphasizes a clean horizontality, which is made even more so by the contrast to its more vertiginous neighbors.

The complex is entered from the eastern side via a simple but secure portal. Pedestrian visitors are allowed through a side access leading directly to the visa section via a small garden. It is the landscaping of the facility that also stands out. Despite the fact that the planting has yet to mature, the landscape architects have made sure to complement the buildings’ slightly severe geometry with the soft textures of tropical foliage and blooms.

The main facility with a two-story-high lobby, embassy offices, and conference rooms is reached via a shaded portico a short drive from the entrance. An immense cantilevered flat roof mitigates the effects of Philippine sun and rain, and allows this main public space a breezy and open ambience that is lacking in most embassy properties. Thin steel columns support the roof looking more like stilts and giving the illusion that the structure floats above the building’s mass.

This portico also leads to the doors of a large double-height function room for large gatherings. This space, warmly veneered in maple wood, also opens out to a courtyard garden. Yellow flame trees eventually will shade this tropical green and provide a mottled light to the patio floor.

This mottling and shade are replicated in the main interior space, which is filled with natural light from a skylight with patterns derived from traditional Philippine piña cloth designs. The skylight also illuminates a gallery that serves to link the main reception with the conference and meeting rooms. Seasonal displays are also set up to inform visitors about Singapore and the programs the local chancery is involved in.

The rear of the complex a accommodates services and staff housing. These are surrounded by a lush landscape and connected to the main spaces by way of shaded corridors. All these elements of architecture have numerous openings to allow cross-ventilation and natural light.

The whole complex is easy to navigate in. Spaces are furnished with functional pieces. The interior design is minimalist but visual access to the surrounding landscape from almost all rooms balances the feel and experience of the place.

Much thought was given to detailing and ease of maintenance. No excess spaces or corners are to be found, thanks to the mainly-rectilinear floor plans. All in all, a practical yet elegant facility was the outcome of the design.

The architecture, landscape and interiors mirror well the no-nonsense mien of Singapore and Singaporeans. Openness and transparency are obvious traits of this architecture; as with the nature of the Singaporean government itself. The finishes and fit out of the structure and interiors are simple but not cheap, giving the message that Singapore has taste and is willing to invest in good material and good design.

The Singapore Chancery sets the tone for other institutions at The Fort. The quality of its design was acknowledged by the Singapore Institute of Architects with an award last year. More embassies and chanceries are making the move to the district and helping to up the value of Bonifacio Global City as well as reassure us that the country is worth the investments of the sovereign states these structures represent.

Singapore sits in the shade of the robust political and physical structures it has built. The attention to detail, the transparency of frameworks, the sensitivity to environments and context define whatever Singapore does. This allows the region’s most progressive country and its citizens protection from the harsh climate of a changing world.

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