Iwan Baan

DUO is Büro Ole Scheeren’s materialised attempt at a socially inclusive skyscraper in Singapore’s central business district.

Af Ariana Zilliacus

With a rapidly increasing global population inevitably follows a growing urban population. This densification, especially in geographically constrained cities such as Singapore, makes skyscrapers a potent figure for the future of architecture. Some architecture firms are running with this, while others actively fight it; Büro Ole Scheeren is trying to find a balance between the two. Their aim is to invent new tower typologies that have the power to bring people together, not keep them apart. This respect for public and green spaces resembles the dreams of Le Corbusier, but with a spatial integration that is far less rigid: “a multiplicity of a heterogeneous structure, in which different entities can interact without losing their own identity,” as Ole Scheeren puts it.

Being a tropical island, Singapore is the last place one should think to build tall glass buildings. Climate control often turns out to be air-conditioning vents attached to facades that cannot handle the tropical climate on their own. DUO is not exactly an exception to this rule, yet Büro Ole Scheeren has incorporated elements of passive energy efficiency and has designed naturally ventilated areas that can momentarily relieve visitors of the warm and humid air. DUO’s unusually curved and iconic shape contributes to this by capturing and channeling wind through the site. In addition, the characteristic honeycomb-patterned façade doubles as deep window frames that shade from the sun, reducing the temperature inside the towers.

Just as the honeycomb pattern provides both practical and aesthetic functions, the curvy cut-out shape of the DUO not only captures wind but also breaks the trend of enclosed and isolated building volumes. Instead, Büro Ole Scheeren’s aim is to create public spaces that can invite and perhaps even generate social connectivity.

If we look at Singapore like most of Asia and more and more of the world, of course, it is dominated by the tower, a typology that indeed creates more isolation than connectedness. And I wanted to ask, how could we think about living, not only in terms of the privacy and individuality of ourselves and our apartment, but in an idea of a collective? How could we think about creating a communal environment in which sharing things was as great as having your own?
— Ole Scheeren

DUO consists of two towers: one residential, at a height of 186m, and the other, at 170m, for the 5-star Andaz Hotel and office spaces. The vast majority of floor space will go to “premium offices”, followed by the hotel rooms and amenities, the residences, the lobbies, courtyards and retail, and finally the observation decks. It goes without saying that the programs DUO hosts are not direct urban or public generators, and will in all likelihood only host a very small percentage of people spending time in and around the area. However, this makes the need for an inclusive surrounding public space even more pressing.

The two towers “dematerialize” at ground level to allow for public paths that connect the commercial activity, green parks and transportation systems such as the adjacent MRT station. In addition to improved connectivity, the “porous” division of volumes relates more to the smaller neighboring buildings in Kampong Glam than the large vertical towers do.

We no longer live in a world in which everything is as clearly delineated or separated from each other. We live in a world in which boundaries start to blur between the different domains, and in which collaboration and interaction becomes far more important than keeping separations.
— Ole Scheeren

The notion of a socially responsible skyscraper is not unique to DUO; Büro Ole Scheeren’s founder, Ole Scheeren, is outspoken about the need for less socially isolating architecture. In many cases, Scheeren topples the tower altogether, opting instead for a ring, such as with the CCTV Headquarters in Beijing, or stacked blocks at the Interlace in Singapore. Whether or not these buildings, now including DUO, succeed in generating socially inclusive urban spaces may be up to debate – they have, however, succeeded in generating a lot of attention, which will hopefully lead to more firms exploring alternate forms for tower architecture. DUO and Büro Ole Scheeren are just the beginning.

Our buildings are prototypes, ideas for how the space of living or how the space of working could be different, and what a space of culture or a space of media could look like today.
— Ole Scheeren