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Interview with Richard Hassell

“I am interested in the possibilities of ceramics from a very high tech point of view, in terms of what kinds of high performance facades could be made from them, as well as very low tech - the beauty of ceramics.”

Interview with Richard Hassell

In Singapore last November, on the occasion of our Roadshow dedicated to architecture and design, we had the pleasure to have Richard Hassell as a speaker, co-founder with Wong Mun Summ of WOHA , one of the most famous architectural practice in the southeast. The architect  has kindly agreed to give us a brief interview.

1. What does creating architecture today mean to you?

We think it is a hugely exciting time, where architects once again can make a difference, rather than being stylists to the property development industry. Like the modernists in the early 20th century, there is emerging a fresh set of problems that need to be addressed. Some of these can be addressed at a building level, many of them only at a city and infrastructure level. 

For the last 50 years, architects have been investigating form as the primary focus, while building typologies and urban design have been stagnant. This has reduced the role of the architect to that of a stylist - in many projects the brand-name architect does not even design the interior, but just sculpts a shell, which is then fitted out by a processing architect. This seems very sad to us, the reduction of architecture to a quick visual sound-bite, architecture reduced to a marketing gimmick, devoid of content.

We think there are lots of great areas to explore in the fields of density, in climatic design, in design of social and urban spaces, in 3-dimensional urban planning, in organizational strategies, in procurement, in infrastructure. These are the important issues where architectural training can make a difference, as the visionary, as the leader, as a person skilled in bringing together all kinds of experts and weaving a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, as the champion of the end-user and citizen rather than the corporation.
 

2. What do you see as the architectural advantages of ceramics today, and on the other hand what do you think needs to be done to make this material more popular with the world of architecture and design?

Ceramics are a wonderful material, one of the most ancient, and certainly one of the most diverse in terms of qualities. I am interested in the possibilities of ceramics from a very high tech point of view, in terms of what kinds of high performance facades could be made from them, as well as very low tech - the beauty of fired earth. Then there is the technology that has been used to imitate wood and stone - what are the possibilities of that if we use it as a design tool rather than just using it for imitation? It would be very interesting to work with the factory to see if there beautiful applications that expressed the technology rather than suppressed it.

The high energy content of ceramics is something that needs to be addressed, perhaps a solar kiln would be interesting - using focused light directly as a heat source, and maybe would give a unique set of conditions that would give its own aesthetic, as does a wood-fired kiln. As manufacturing gets more perfectly controlled, and products more uniform, the more we search for methods and techniques that possess a kind of authenticity and truth in them, and the more we delight in natural variation. Imagine a set of facade panels, fired by the sun, that possessed a variation in glaze and finish that was in fact a record of the variable sunshine that occured at the time of firing - that were as beautiful as Japanese earthenware pottery.
 

3. What are you working on now?

I’m working on two main projects.

Oasia Downtown. Opening in 2015, the Oasia Downtown re-creates the ground in the sky gardens, which will be spacious and voluminous, covering the entire floor plate and lushly landscaped for recreational use and as part of the building experience. The building's green plot ratio is an unprecedented 750% and will stand out amongst the glassy high-rise towers in Singapore's Central Business District.

New Cuffe Parade, Wadala, Mumbai India. Slated for completion in 2018, we developed a series of lower technology but exciting strategies to make a more sustainable highrise residential development. We opened up the towers to allow all apartments to have cross-ventilation and natural light throughout by separating them with light slots. We slung terraces and decks within these slots, so people all the way up can have gardens and swimming pools - the green device becomes a lifestyle feature. One exciting feature is the windscoops to make the basement energy more efficient. These are based on ancient devices used in Hyderabad, where you catch the prevailing wind and funnel it down into a house, but here we are using it to naturally funnel fresh air into the basement.

 

In the gallery some pics of the projects:

New Cuffe Parade, Wadala, Mumbai(credits: Patrick Bingham-Hall)

Oasia Downtown, Singapore (credits: Patrick Bingham-Hall)

SkyVile@Dawson, Singapore (credits: WOHA)