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SARA NY Design Awards 2006
NUS students win prestigious awards for architectural design innovations.
he Society of American Registered Architects New York (SARA NY) Design Awards represents the highest level of architectural-design innovation and sophistication. In 2006, three National University of Singapore (NUS) architecture students scored an impressive record by clinching five of the top 13 awards in the student category.

Szue Hann Tan garnered first and second prizes for School of Horology (Award of Excellence) and Social Housing in Myanmar (Award of Merit). Honfay Lui won a joint first prize for Vertical University (Award of Excellence), and Wei Hui Kee received two Special Recognition Awards for School of Acupuncture and Housing the Resettled in Ho Chi Minh City. Although hypothetical, these projects reveal the budding architects’ visions of continually evolving Asian cities that excel in their fusion of cultural consciousness and efficient construction technologies.

Award of Excellence
School of Horology
Szue Hann Tan

Tan, who holds First Class Honours in Architecture at NUS and is currently pursuing a Masters of Architecture in a joint NUS and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) programme, wants to create better environments in which to live, work, and play. In doing so, he assesses these environments’ cultural backdrops and incorporates new architectural technologies that complement them.

The School of Horology, a breakthrough design for a specialised field that involves great precision and watch making, represents one such project. In conceptualising the project, Tan disassembled a watch and analysed its constituent parts. He then analogised each part's function with a functional school space. He equated the watch face and hands with the school's gallery space because both display information. He compared the core of the watch, the energy-storing mechanism, to the library -- the "storage" space. He incorporated these into an elegant structural form that integrates concept and reality.

In School of Horology, the designer explores a theme both traditional and contemporary -- the perception of time in a spatial context. In its engagement with site and culture, the project offers a chance to rethink the role of technology and the importance of inventiveness in an Asian intellectual context.

The judges deemed the project sophisticated and innovative in that the design incorporates technology both as a conceptual driver for the building and as a means of realising the intricacies of complex design. Since horology constitutes a field deep-rooted in both tradition and inventiveness, the school's architecture manifests that inventiveness.

In 2005 the project also garnered the Hunter Douglas Award for Innovative Use of Technology in Architecture and a nomination for the Royal Institute of British Architects’ (RIBA) President's Medal.

Award of Merit
Social Housing in Myanmar
Szue Hann Tan

This project arose from a trip to Myanmar. The squalid living conditions Tan saw in Yangon, the nation's capital city, led him to investigate areas of the city where unlawful residents lived. He then proposed a model village for the squatters that would maintain Burmese socio-cultural elements integral to native perception of communal living -- and life.

The proposed village constitutes a development allowing residents to rent housing cooperatively, thus keeping costs low. Families of various sizes choose among different plans with some customisation. While creating an interesting layered façade, the units maintain the modality that enables efficient construction.The resulting elegant design resolves problems of density, hygiene, and communal living. Modularity and pre-fabrication allow easy assembly. The use of the roofs to collect rainwater constitutes one of the many innovative features of the plan. Collected rainwater channels into a central reservoir where simple filtration in the rocks recycles it for domestic use.

The project was highly lauded not only for its sensitivity to the location's cultural context but also for appropriating concepts, materials, and technologies highly relevant to the people of Myanmar. The innovation here lies in the elegance of the architecture that attempts to resolve, through building homes, the very real problem of urban density and poverty.

Award of Excellence
Vertical University
Honfay Lui

Lui, a practising architect who recently earned a Masters of Architecture from NUS, has earned accolades in the fields of architecture and industrial design; however, his thesis project adroitly combines the complexities of architecture and landscaping on a university campus. His project won him an Award of Excellence at the SARA NY 2006 Awards.

Vertical University explores university campus typology with regard to urbanisation. He conceived the work as an alternative to the current Singapore Management University (SMU), a sprawling campus occupying considerable city-centre real estate. The result is Lui's reaction to the issue of land-scarcity in Singapore.

Having chosen SMU as a subject for reinterpretation, Lui created a design proposal for a vertical university and proffered the question whether vertical typology can enhance students’ learning experiences and improve their campus lives.

The faculty blocks stack up. The architectural innovation lies in the fact that function, rather than different faculties, organises the building-programme organisation. What results is a 27-storey university incorporating interior greenery, landscaping, and recreational space.

The project earned the Award of Excellence for its spatial clarity and reinterpretation of a university campus, and in the skilful -- and successful -- handling of the project's inherent complexities and challenges.

Special Recognition Award
School of Acupuncture
Wei Hui Kee

Kee recently graduated with Honours in Architecture at NUS. Her designs constantly challenge the perception of architecture in any given social context, yet still remain respectful of that context. These skills earned her two SARA NY Special Recognition Awards

The context for the School of Acupuncture com-prises Middle Road, adjacent to Singapore's colourful Bugis district, and the roads branching from it. Various simultaneous activities occur in this vicinity, which includes a commercial zone, an art and cultural zone, and a consumer zone. Site demographics combine old Singaporean Chinese residents and young shoppers.

The design strategy allowed the School of Acupuncture to link the frenzied consumer area around Bugis Junction with the quieter arts and cultural area along Waterloo Street. Kee negotiated the challenges of placing a peaceful, calming acupuncture centre within a bustling environment by shielding the School of Acupuncture's interiors from outside while retaining some visual connection.

As an urban school, the ground level offers commercial spaces that allow the public either to pass by or to enter by visiting the herbal café or attending a public talk. Traversing the school, the path bordered by greenery begins to meander, thereby slowing the walker's pace just as acupuncture slows the body. The resulting architecture allows for a continuous flow of activity. The design innovation reveals itself in an elegant use of materials and a sophisticated level of spatial planning, both within the building and in its context.

Special Recognition Award
Housing the Resettled in Ho Chi Minh City
Wei Hui Kee

Kee's project began with a trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Seeing the chaos in parts of the city led her to design a model for key district housing. A typical city precinct has an external ring of mostly commercial buildings surrounding an inner core of residential buildings. At the macro level, brightly coloured signs decorate each building slab's shop front where street vendors peddle their wares.

Street life moves inwards. Residents tend to circulate on paths running perpendicularly to the main thoroughfares. The design will tap this movement and address the press of shop fronts into the inner core.

Existing stair and air wells define the internal streets. In effect, housing density will double in that a former two-storied housing lot will become four-storied. The higher occupancy level will ease congestion in a crowded city.

The use of screens and other materials ensures sufficient light penetration, right down to the ground level -- a vast improvement over the dank conditions that previously plagued the district. Reconciling considerations such as keeping costs low while improving levels of hygiene in high-density living conditions are critical to the success of the project, which in effect aims to create a bustling, yet clean and organised microcosm within Ho Chi Minh City.

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