BIG and CRI create an oasis of vertical urbanism in the heart of Singapore

CapitaSprings contributes to the objectives of the Singapore Green Plan 2030 by integrating lush greenery, a roof garden with an urban farm and 165 cycling lots.

by Dhwani ShanghviPublished on : Oct 04, 2022

The Industrial Revolution brought with it a host of new technologies and materials that changed the built environment of cities and urban spaces. The intrinsic structural constitution of building materials like iron, steel, concrete and glass not only allowed larger spans, cantilevers, and open plans, but also unprecedented heights - quite literally. In 1884, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago by William Le Baron Jenney was the first skyscraper, achieving a height of 180 feet (54.9m). At the time, skyscrapers were restricted to the Central Business District with a primarily commercial functionality. Additionally, they were designed as single-use containers of stacked floor plates around a central service core.

The Home Insurance Building, Chicago | CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
The Home Insurance Building, Chicago Image: Courtesy of Wikicommons

By the end of the Second World War, live-work relationships were separated by zones, and the proliferation of motorcars led to urban sprawls. Urbanists and architects thus realised the need for a reorganisation of urban spaces from the horizontal to the vertical axis. By 1947 the idea for a Vertical Garden City was conceptualised by Le Corbusier - realised in the Unité d’Habitation building in Marseilles (France), amongst others. This 'City Within a City' comprised a number of private and public spaces that included apartments, shops, medical facilities, a hotel and a roof garden with a running track, club, kindergarten and shallow pool, accommodating 1600 residents. CapitaSprings in Singapore has evolved from this modernist concept of a Vertical Garden City.

Elevation of Unité d’Habitation| CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
Elevation of Unité d’Habitation Image: Courtesy of Wikicommons

Designed by Dutch and Italian architects Bjarke Ingels (BIG) and Carlo Ratti (CRI) respectively, in collaboration with ARUP Singapore, CapitaSprings (built for CapitaLand Development) is a 280m high oasis of vertical urbanism that imitates a diverse neighbourhood of restaurants, offices, service apartments, and sky gardens.

The mixed-use high-rise accommodates a tropical urban farm on its roof | CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
The mixed-use high-rise accommodates a tropical urban farm on its roof Image: Courtesy of Finbarr Fallon

The mixed-use building, which is certified with the 'Green Mark Platinum & Universal Design GoldPLUS' by the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore, accommodates amenities in compliance with the sustainable transport vision outlined in the Singapore Green Plan, 2030. The points laid out in the plan formulate developments around concepts like City in Nature, Green Economy, Energy Reset, Resilient Future and Sustainable Living.

CapitaSpring, A City in Nature | CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
CapitaSpring, A City in Nature Image: Courtesy of Finbarr Fallon

Within these larger themes, the plan ensures that every household in Singapore will be within a 10-minute walk from a park and that 80 per cent of buildings will be green buildings, with increased energy efficiency. It further stresses the importance of locally grown produce such that 30 per cent of the nutritional needs be locally sourced. With an aim of increasing the usage of public transport to 75 per cent - walking, cycling and other forms of active mobility are encouraged with a plan for the upgradation of the cycling network from 460km to 1320km by 2030.

The urban farm provides local produce for restaurants and cafes of the building| CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
The urban farm provides local produce for restaurants and cafes of the building Image: Courtesy of Finbarr Fallon

CapitaSprings contributes to these objectives through the integration of lush greenery, a roof garden with an urban farm and 165 cycling lots with 600m of cycling tracks that run along the perimeter of the building. The latter merges into the Central Area Cycling Network and connects commuters to Mass Rapid Transport stations, bus interchanges, shopping malls, schools etc - thus forming networks with the city at large.

The Hawker Centre fronted by the historically significant Market Street | CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
The Hawker Centre fronted by the historically significant Market Street Image: Courtesy of BIG

Replacing a former parking lot and Hawker Centre in the heart of Singapore’s financial district, this mixed-use high-rise building, through its work-live-play elements aims to activate not just the immediate precinct but also the city centre. To the east lies the historic Market Street, restored by the addition of a pedestrianised stretch of a public street, accompanied by an expanded green area that rejuvenates the high-density CBD for the tenants as well as the passers-by.

A pedestrianised path returns the Market Street to the public realm | CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
A pedestrianised path returns the Market Street to the public realm Image: Courtesy of Finbarr Fallon

On the ground floor an 18m high 'City Room' is an open public space that invites people away from the tropical heat and showers, while simultaneously accommodating separate lobby spaces for the residential and commercial zones. This permeable ground floor, open to the exteriors is a transitory space between the natural heat outdoors and the air-conditioned indoors and acts as a vertical extension to the city. It is also the entrance lobby to the food centre - the re-created Market Street Hawker Centre along the narrow tail-end of the site, that spreads across two floors of the podium and accommodates 56 food stalls, thus retaining the culinary experience of the former Hawker Centre.

The 18m high City Room as a transitional space between indoors and outdoors| CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
The 18m high City Room as a transitional space between indoors and outdoors Image: Courtesy of Finbarr Fallon

Above the parking podium, a hard-scape composed of eight floors of service apartments (complete with facilities such as a swimming pool, Jacuzzi, jogging track, gymnasium, social kitchen, residents' lounge and barbecue pits), and 29 floors of office spaces sandwich four levels of an organic soft-scape - a 'Green Oasis' that serves as a 35m open garden for work, casual strolls, relaxation, exercise and events.

A vertical tropical forest is sandwiched between residential and commercial floors| CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
A vertical tropical forest is sandwiched between residential and commercial floors Image: Courtesy of BIG

Connected through a spiralling promenade that ascends along tropical trees and canopies, the green oasis culminates at the urban farm that provides local produce for all the restaurants and cafes in the building. Like the structure of a tropical rain-forest, the green oasis is a hierarchical exploration - of tropical urbanism, where a “canopy” of small-leafed tall trees provide shade, and by extension, diffuses the amount of sunlight reaching the "forest floor" - the lower floors that are landscaped with large-leafed shrubs, herbs and small trees that require the least amount of sunlight.

A spiralling promenade ascends amongst canopies of tropical trees | CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
A spiralling promenade ascends amongst canopies of tropical trees Image: Courtesy of Finbarr Fallon

With a central circulation and service core, the floor plate of the residential and commercial spaces is an irregular pentagon. The layout of the residential floors comprises a single-loaded linear corridor that envelops the core from five sides, with entrances to the apartments accessed through the seemingly endless corridor. The commercial floors, on the other hand, have an open plan and are accessed from the core itself.

  • Floor Plate of the residential block | CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
    Floor Plate of the residential block Image: Courtesy of BIG
  • Floor Plate of the commerical block | CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
    Floor Plate of the commercial block Image: Courtesy of BIG

On the exterior, the building is a robust tower of glass and steel, with vertical extrusions of mullions that are mounted on the façade, and run continuously from top to bottom with asymmetrical openings on specific levels with a curtain-like pattern of the mullions that appear to have been pulled apart specifically to reveal the green spaces and floor slabs of the interior.

Curtain like patterns of the mullions pulled apart to reveal the green interiors| CapitaSprings | Bjarke Ingels, Carlo Ratti | STIRworld
Curtain like patterns of the mullions pulled apart to reveal the green interiors Image: Courtesy of Finbarr Fallon

Spread across 51 floors, this 93000 sqm site is an overwhelming mass, of a scale that is not easy to negotiate for humans. Furthermore, a material palette that completely dismisses context, coupled with floor plates that are stacked across multiple floors, results in a building that is accommodating but not inviting. However, what it lacks in materiality and tactility, is balanced through the integration of ample green spaces of vertical tropical forests and a green roof with a mixed-use programme. A landscape spread across 8300 sqm of over 80,000 trees and a Green Plot ratio of 1:1.4 lends it the softness that the mass and scale cannot, while its multi-functional quality allows a cross-section of users to remain connected to the networks of the city outside.  

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