Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, WOHA: (Re)Imagining the city

Ecogradia
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Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, WOHA: (Re)Imagining the city
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Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, WOHA: (Re)Imagining the city

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Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, WOHA: (Re)Imagining the city
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How can we fix the problem of cities today? Is density at the expense of liveability? Are human-made and natural systems — key to our survival — at odds with each other? Can design offer a solution?

The inaugural episode of Ecogradia features Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, co-founding directors of WOHA, a firm that offers architectural and urban solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.

WOHA’s trailblazing strategies for liveable and sustainable solutions are outlined in their book “Garden City Megacity: Rethinking Cities for the Age of Global Warming”, and its 2022 sequel, “WOHA: New Forms of Sustainable Architecture”.

Episode outline

00:07:35 Challenging the precepts of urbanism today
00:10:11 “It’s necessary for us now to start thinking about the future of mobility. The future of mobility is not going to be what we have today — it will change drastically.”
00:11:21 What is the shape of future cities?
00:12:58 “We need to conceive of a vertical 15-minute city. It’s definitely more compact, it’s not spread out, and that we need to think about vertical zoning and stacking of uses, multiple ground levels, multiple uses, multiple owners and stakeholders.”
00:17:56 “Micro-urbanism concept refers to the way you experience the building — you don’t feel like you’re entering a building… You’re still in the public realm when you’re within this three-dimensional environment… They’re not just big buildings, they’re actually three-dimensional chunks of a city.”
00:27:38 Managing trade-offs: density vs. livability
00:36:10 “If you look at the megacities in the world, you have Chinese ones which are based on 20th-century model, basically Western import models. And the rest grew larger because of acceleration of population without much planning and thinking about it. Both models didn’t quite work.”
00:36:59 Nature within cities
00:43:14 “If cities have to be a high-density, high-rise, think about nature. Think about what nature can do for us and for the planet, providing ecosystem services.”
00:49:28 Becoming WOHA
00:58:36 “We get knocked down but we stand up again and we continue to go in the same direction. We don’t turn back, and I think that may be the difference.”

We are currently finishing this episode transcript. It will be made available here very soon.

Summary

In this episode, Mun Summ and Richard make the case that bridging architecture and urbanism is paramount if we are to unlock the potential of the future city.

They first offer a pointed critique of 20th-century urbanism, arguing that it was overly centred on private cars and mono-functional zoning. The city, visualised as a 2D plan, failed to meet the challenges posed by urbanisation and climate change.

By contrast, a 3D model embraces density head-on by stacking layers and programmes, pioneering typologies and urban forms that redistribute public space and mobility systems.

Sky gardens at SkyVille @ Dawson (Singapore) illustrate vertical stacking of public space in high-density housing.
© Patrick Bingham-Hall

They also address the importance of natural systems in their built projects. Vegetated surfaces such as green walls are not only good for human well-being, they can make room for biodiversity in dense urban centres.

Vegetated facades of Oasia Hotel Downtown (Singapore), whilst appreciated by occupants and neighbours, are also habitats for birds and small animals.
© Patrick Bingham-Hall

For them, the pursuit of new forms is crucial. Through novel concepts such as ‘macro-architecture, micro-urbanism’, buildings are reimagined as agglomerations of public space and programmes, pulled together and vertically distributed.

Kampung Admiralty (Singapore) combines public amenities and social spaces. It is itself a mini-neighbourhood arranged on the vertical axis. Seen here, on the ground, is a sheltered tropical plaza.
© Patrick Bingham-Hall
The roof of the Kampung Admiralty (Singapore) is both a park and a biodiversity hotspot.
© Patrick Bingham-Hall

Mun Summ and Richard further discuss how experiments with building form can lead to innovative urban morphologies. They contend that mixed-use buildings, connected above and below ground to form networks, are not only efficient in land use, but they also result in neighbourhoods that can be more generous to social and ecological systems.

The 3D planning of Punggol Digital District (Singapore) illustrates vertical stacking and multi-layered connectivity.
© Digital Mirage
The roof of Punggol Digital District (Singapore) may hold new generative systems, such as food farms and solar canopies.
© WOHA

From a first chance meeting to the formation of their professional partnership, to a career of critical successes and awards, Mun Summ and Richard trace WOHA’s journey and revisit key moments and projects.

Gallery

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Videos

Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:05:54 “…the critical regional approach felt a little bit limiting…”
Critical Regionalism for our time” | The Architecture Review (AR)
00:09:02 “…how do we create regenerative cities…”
Regenerative Cities”  |  World Future Council (WFC)
00:10:11 “…it’s necessary for us now to start thinking about the future of mobility…”
The future of mobility is at our doorstep”  |  McKinsey & Company
00:12:58 “…We need to conceive of a vertical 15-minute city…”
Introducing the “15-Minute City”: Sustainability, Resilience and Place Identity in Future Post-Pandemic Cities”  |  MDPI
00:13:37 “…we are very much into being biocentric…”
biocentrism: ethics”  |  Britannica
00:14:34 “…You call this ‘macro-architecture, micro-urbanism’.”
Finding sustainability in a rapidly growing metropolis”  |  Architectural Digest India
00:19:36 “…There was an audit on biodiversity…”
Kampung Admiralty Singapore”  |  bioSEA
00:28:22 “…Other cities, which have very high livable rating…”
The world’s most livable cities for 2022”  |  CNN Travel
00:33:24 “…the design community recoils from the idea of […] megastructures and megacities…”
Megastructure”  |  Designing Buildings
00:35:37 “…We only had New York…”
Growth of the metropolis”  |  Britannica
00:35:38 “…and we had Tokyo, both are excellent…”
Tokyo megacity” |  Designing Buildings
00:37:22 “…The last title of your book, ‘Garden City Mega City’…”
Garden City Mega City”  |  WOHA
00:38:36 “…Oasia Hotel Downtown has a green plot ratio of 1,100%…”
Green plot ratio”  |  Designing Buildings
00:40:06 “…one of our terms […] was the ‘domesticated megastructure’…”
Garden City, Megacity: Rethinking Cities For the Age of Global Warming”  |  Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH)
00:42:24 “…we’ve got experts to measure the ecosystem services…”
Ecosystem Services & Biodiversity (ESB)”  |  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
00:48:56 “…they spotted a pair of Himalaya vultures…”
Himalayan Vulture”  |  Animalia
00:51:45 “…the traditional architectural values of commodity, firmness and delight…”
Commodity, firmness, and delight”: the ultimate synthesis”  |  Britannica
00:52:19 “…We had the energy efficiency issues in the eighties…”
Reflecting on the History of Energy Efficiency, While Looking to the Future”  |  Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP)
00:52:23 “…we had tropical thinking in the nineties…”
“”Deviating Discourse: Tay Kheng Soon and the Architecture of Postcolonial Development in Tropical Asia” in in Abidin Kusno et. al. eds., Special Issue on “Changing Asia” in Journal of Architectural Education 63(2) (2010), pp. 153-158.”  |  Academia
00:52:25 “…and then came Green…”
Moving the Goalposts: The History of Green Building and Performance”  |  GRESB
00:52:52 “…it was called environmental science…”
Environmental Science” | Britannica
00:54:13 “…we were aware of global warming…”
Global Warming 101” | Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
00:55:18 “…I think it was Al Gore’s movie, (An) Inconvenient Truth…”
An Inconvenient Truth” | IMDb
01:02:28 “…followed fairly closely behind by legislation or changes in (Singapore) regulation…”
“…Updates to the Landscaping for Urban Spaces and High-Rises (LUSH) Programme: LUSH 3.0” |
Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
00:02:17 “…I studied at National University of Singapore…”
National University of Singapore
00:02:26 “…I was an intern at Kerry Hill Architects…”
KHA
00:02:26 “…I was an intern at […] William Lim Associates…”
William Lim Siew Wai”  |  Singapore Infopedia
00:02:50 “…that was founded by the late Kerry Hill…”
Kerry Hill “architect of exceptional sensibility and expertise” dies aged 75”  |  Dezeen
00:06:36 “…WOHA today, how big is it?…”
WOHA
00:28:54 “…a very nice design by ARC Studio in Singapore …”
ARC Studio
00:54:34 “…the late seventies with the Solar Energy Research Institute of Western Australia…”
Solar Energy Research Institute of Western Australia” | The Encyclopaedia of Australian Science and Innovation
00:55:18 “…I think it was Al Gore‘s movie…”
Al Gore
00:57:53 “…400 entries around the world, including Norman Foster…”
Foster + Partners
00:57:53 “…400 entries around the world, including […] Zaha Hadid…”
Zaha Hadid Architects
00:02:04 “…WOHA was formed in 1994 in Singapore, almost three decades ago…”
Singapore” | Britannica
00:02:57 “…you were trained in Perth, Australia…”
Perth” (Western Australia, Australia) | Britannica
00:06:16 “…the first project I did, the Datai, Langkawi…”
Datai Hotel” (Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia) | Archnet
00:14:59 “…I would like to use Kampung Admiralty as an example…”
Kampung Admiralty” (Singapore) | WOHA
00:16:11 “…in the midst of the public housing estate in Singapore…”
Public Housing – A Singapore Icon” | Housing and Development Board (HDB)
00:19:22 “…what we call in Singapore Hawker centre…”
The Past and Future of Hawker Centres” (Singapore) | Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
00:22:04 “…take your Punggol Digital District as a case study…”
Punggol Digital District” (Singapore) | WOHA
00:28:03 “…Hong Kong, for example, has densities…”
Hong Kong” (Special Administrative Region, Peopleʼs Republic of China) | Britannica
00:28:33 “…we should talk about Duxton Plain competition…”
Duxton Plain Competition” (Sinagpore) | WOHA
00:28:52 “…which ended up as the project, the Pinnacles…”
Pinnacle @ Duxton” (Singapore) | ARC Studio
00:29:45 “…had the humane qualities of the streets of Chinatown…”
Chinatown” (Singapore) | Passion Made Possible
00:32:27 “…which we had done through SkyVille…”
SkyVille @ Dawson” (Singapore) | WOHA
00:37:49 “…comes to mind right off the bat is Oasia Hotel Downtown…”
Oasia Hotel Downtown” (Singapore) | WOHA
00:38:03 “…in the heart of the Singapore Business District…”
Central Business District” (Singapore) | My Guide Singapore
00:41:51 “…as compared to Tanjong Pagar Centre which is glass…”
Guoco Tower” (Singapore) | SOM
00:57:36 “…which is the two MRT stations…”
Bras Basah MRT Station” (Singapore) | WOHA
Stadium MRT Station” (Singapore) | WOHA
00:38:24 “It’s one of the largest green wall installations in Singapore…”
What are Green Walls – the Definition, Benefits, Design, and
Greenery” | NAAVA

There are no products and technologies mentioned in this episode.

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editorial assistants
Amulya Dhulipala
Ann Mathew

Sound technician and editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

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