Creating Liveable Habitats

Creating Liveable Habitats
Sep 2017 , by , in Design

To offer tribute to the legendary architect Charles Correa, Ambuja Neotia Group organized the 2nd edition of “Charles Correa Annual Memorial Lecture” in Kolkata on June 24th. Architect Richard Hassell, one of the founders of WOHA, addressed the audience. In an interview with Realty Plus, he spoke about his work and Charles Correa design philosophy.

The Singapore-based architecture practice WOHA was started in 1994 by Wong MunSumm (Architect from the National University of Singapore) and Richard Hassell (Architect from the University of Western Australia). Its name was derived from the initial letters of the founders’ names, Wong and Hassell. The practice currently has projects in Singapore, India, Australia and Indonesia ranging from apartment towers to luxury resorts, mass-transit stations, condominiums, hotels, educational institutions and public buildings.

“MunSumm and I met when we were working at another firm in Singapore. We discovered that we have similar views when it came to our design philosophy and aesthetic and in 1994 we founded WOHA. Like any new firm, we had smaller projects in the beginning, but the turning point was when we won an anonymous competition for two MRT Stations in Singapore. Since then we have been able to work on many inspiring projects, in the public and private sector and we are very happy to have expanded to also working beyond Singapore’s borders in India, Bangladesh, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia.” Richard elaborated.

Like Correa, some of WOHA’s projects also incorporate painted surfaces to create illusions and points of visual interest. Finally, you can see parallels between the roofscapes at Correa’s Bharat Bhavan and the roofscapes that we integrated into the landscape concept at our Intercontinental Sanya Resort in China.

Sanya Resort in China


Charles Correa inspirational design strategies

Charles Correa’s visionary work and deep understanding of the importance of climatic, demographic and infrastructural implications as well as that of community life and poetry in architecture is timeless. It is as relevant and inspiring today as ever and, as Charles Correa did, we put a strong emphasis on the climate and environment, creating smart infrastructure and relieving congestion, as I just mentioned, and our projects aim to facilitate community-building by offering spaces in which people can meet and spend their time with each other, by being open to the outside and welcoming.

Charles Correa designed in a way that was appropriate for each project’s locality, something that we find important as well. We identify with his strong geometry (see in Correa’s Previ Experimental Housing and Tara Housing and WOHA’s Gilstead Brooks) and admire the way his design draws on vernacular and cultural precedents. We have a mutual concern with the public sphere and public spaces and we share the tendency to have a seamless transition from indoor to outdoor living.

To us, it makes no sense to design hermetically sealed, glassy skyscrapers for a tropical climate which would need a lot of energy to make life inside comfortable. We aim to integrate region’s culture, history and art into our project design, in a way that is perhaps not always obvious at first glance, but that let people connect to the structure on an emotional level because it evokes familiarity.”


Integrating high rise buildings with city’s urban & social fabric and green spaces

Our high-rise projects put a strong emphasis on biophilic design. People feel happy when they have access to greenery, be that physically or visually. We integrate sky gardens and sky terraces for people to spend their leisure time in, catch up with a neighbour or colleague, if it’s an office building, go for a quick jog around the sky park, share a meal. We also implement vertical greening strategies like in our Oasia Hotel Downtown in Singapore. The entire high-rise is covered in 21 different species of creepers, in addition to biophilic benefits, it actually helps to cool the building and reduce its energy consumption. By creating communal green spaces, like in our public housing project, SkyVille @ Dawson, we connect the structure to its neighbourhood because the parks and terraces as well as the services that are integrated into the project like F&B, retail, childcare and medical services, draw in people from neighbouring buildings.


As architects, the challenge is to create a balance between what drives the developer, the market reception and what our own long-term values are. WOHA’s long-term values are to build green, resilient, simple projects that incorporate good passive principles. The challenge is synthesizing solutions which align all of these aspects with the image-based market expectation and the more short-term goals of the developer. One of the solutions we have come up with is to create environments that are based on “resort living” which appeal to the market and the developer but can also be very sustainable.


WOHA global and Indian projects

WOHA is known for its emphasis on environmentally sustainable design and building community. Talking about the firm’s design beliefs Richard said, “We think that buildings should have similar “personality” traits as people and ask ourselves: Is the building generous? Is it friendly? Is it open? Does it help foster community? Does it engage with people? Does it pollute the environment or help contribute by lower energy consumption, by being green, by recycling water etc.?

We love projects in which we can integrate all sorts of functions into one development: living, working, recreation, retail, medical and social services. We feel that mix-use buildings can solve several problems at the same time. Populations are growing and we are running out of space, traffic is increasing and long commuting adds to our carbon footprint with all the emissions that vehicles produce. By building skywards, incorporating the public realm and adding multiple functions to one structure, we reduce the need for people to commute and we can create beautiful living spaces in the sky.”

WOHA is currently involved in two projects with Lodha Group in Mumbai. The New Cuffe Parade and The Park. Both projects are housing developments that have a strong emphasis on greenery, environmental features and community. Briefing on the distinct features of these projects Richard stated, “The New Cuffe Parade project features “pleasure gardens”, integrates passive features like wind scoops to ventilate parts of the underground carpark and provides a total of 730 sky gardens. Whereas, The Park project’s main feature is the huge podium sculpted into a terrain of landscaped green thereby, giving 4 hectare of park to the residents of the development. We encouraged the developer to create an active retail street edge rather than a gated development which just presents a wall to the city.

Both projects have strategies in place that lower energy consumption, such as natural cross ventilation of the apartments and sun shading of the windows and facades, and we had more the idea of a neighbourhood in mind rather than a single, isolated development. The community aspect is very important to us,that is why we created many areas in which people can meet and spend their leisure time together.”

WOHA hotel projects – such as the Park Royal on Pickering with its “hanging gardens”, the Oasia Hotel Downtown (both in Singapore) that is wrapped in a green façade and our Alila Villas Uluwatu project in Bali which has very recognizable pavilions made from reclaimed wood – all have very distinct green features. They show that luxury hospitality and ecological responsibility can go hand in hand, and can even be a feature that sells rooms. “Our public housing project SkyVille @ Dawson in Singapore and our newest private residential project Sky Garden in Taipei share the idea that gardens in the sky contribute to everybody’s well-being and that creating access to greenery is something that does not have to be limited to certain market segments.

Concluding the conversation Richard briefed on his latest project, “Later this year, our Kampung Admiralty project, which is a mixed-use, integrated public housing development will open. We are very excited to have the first occupants move in and experience this new prototype of public housing. It combines living with retail, food and beverage, medical services and social services. The project is tied into the public transport system, has a state-of-the-art bicycle parking/storage system and seamlessly connects to the neighbourhood, inviting everyone in to take advantage of the services on offer. The public spaces were designed to connect people of all ages and abilities, to facilitate the building of community.”

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