World Building of the Year: thoughts from AHA alum Will Martin

Sitting in the kitchen of my slightly dingy student house, I received an email asking me whether I’d like to blog about the World Architecture Festival. At the time my housemate was sitting next to me eating pasta with tomato sauce. An irrelevance you might think, but seeing a picture of the building that won, the Cooled Conservatories at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, I couldn’t help think that it bore a striking resemblance to the Conchiglie he was eating. Maybe this is indicative of what my parents have been saying for years, that I’ve always got food on the mind, or more likely that it’s designed to look like a shell, like the pasta. This would probably fit considering that it is built by the sea.

Another first impression to strike me was that buildings of this nature, with sweeping curves and copious amounts of glass, have been slightly overdone in the past decade or so. For instance, in my hometown of Newcastle (technically its in Gateshead), we have the Sage, a music centre, which opened nearly eight years ago, and for the life of me, I’m struggling to see any real progress in terms of aesthetics. Yes, it is aesthetically pleasing, but it just seems to be almost trying too hard. Call me old fashioned, but I like my buildings to have a few straight lines and a bit of stone in them. My other problem with this building is that it seems not to fit in with the landscape of its surroundings, but then again nothing seems to in the Singaporean landscape, everything just sort of looks like its been plonked down.

The Sage Gateshead, opened 2004

Whilst I may not particularly admire the aesthetic element of the Conservatories, I cannot help but be mightily impressed by the way in which they are constructed. Designed by London based firm Wilkinson Eyre, the shell of the building is extremely fragile and can apparently only support its own weight, whilst the external arches have been designed to increase the rigidity and wind resistance of the buildings, whilst also allowing as much light as possible to penetrate the building. The buildings are also called the Cooled Conservatories for a reason, they are cooled naturally, and without and air conditioning. How this is done is mighty impressive and I couldn’t even begin to explain it in such a short space of time, but suffice to say, it’s rather revolutionary. All very clever, but this project just seems to me to be a little forced.

An interior shot of the 'Flower Dome'

Within the Conservatory complex itself, a very interesting point is raised. Both Conservatories contain Flora from environments that are likely to be greatly affected by climate change and global warming. The larger of the two buildings, the Flower Dome focuses on how cultivated plants in the Mediterranean region will suffer as temperatures rise, whilst the smaller ‘Cloud Forest’ looks at the impact on biodiversity of the warming of tropical forests, as well as methods of sustainable development which can be used to slow the impact of global warming. Whilst this is all well and good, it seems slightly strange to build this complex in the very near vicinity of a race track used by Formula One, one of the least environmentally friendly sports on the planet.

Although I may not be a fan of the design of the buildings in terms of looks, I think it’s hard to argue that the construction and internal cooling systems of the Conservatories are not impressive. This along with the fact that the Cooled Conservatories focus on just how important and damaging climate change could be to our planet, make them a worthy winner of the WAF’s World Building of the Year.

For more information about the Cooled Conservatories, and the other winners at this year’s World Architecture Festival, go to http://www.worldarchitecturefestival.com/

We’d love to know your thoughts about the winner of the World Architecture Festival as well. Please send them to alex@arthistoryabroad.com, find us on Twitter @AHAcourses, or ‘Like’ us on facebook.

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