The first in an exclusive series of online-only building studies, LucasArt’s new Singapore headquarters is packed with Star Wars references from air-lock lifts to bronze Yoda sculptures - but these allusions trivialise an immensely elegant building
It’s called the Sandcrawler because LucasArts took a vote and unanimously chose the name. Sandcrawlers were those giant caterpillar-tracked steampunk fortresses of the Jawa people that roamed the celluloid dunes of Tatooine in the aforementioned movie. Upstairs in the real building, the architects had installed a 100-seat viewing cinema in the double-height space of an upper floor which some now feel looks like Darth Vader’s helmet. They had turned lift lobbies into white and metallic spaces which reference spaceship air locks and one of US sculptor Lawrence Noble’s metre-high bronze sculptures of Yoda had been installed half hidden in the lush landscape nestling in the folds of the building’s two wings.
But these cinematic references trivialise an immensely elegant and sophisticated building. Architect Andrew Bromberg of Aedas professes himself comfortable with the adopted appellation: ‘A wonderful acclamation that the building may touch on the spirit of Lucas,’ he said in an interview. But he stresses that it was coincidental. Still, according to some, it was undeniably one of those slightly scary coincidences between the architectural imagination and, half a world away, the client’s movie imagination.
The nine-storey-high silhouette and frontal form may have a neighbourly visual connection with the vast, rusty movie props of the franchise. But that is as far as it goes. The building is the result of extensive examination of the site, the regulatory restrictions about height, envelope and form. And the building is partly clad, not in rust, but in a sleek chromium-tinged glass wrapping.
Its tapering, 22,500 square-metre U-shaped plan enables light to penetrate from both sides of the relatively narrow floors – and shelters the lush, 6,500 square-metre landscape which is planted on the sloping roof of several floors of underground parking and studios. In the tropics, lushness of landscape is the norm and the planting has been selected from Muar and Perak in Indonesia. It has been planned as a series of open and secret footpaths and running water and pools, which serve both as a pleasurable contrast with the chrome-ness of the building’s exterior and shade for noonday staff and public.
The exterior skin comprises glass units made up of two 6mm thick HS low-iron glass panels with a 1.52mm polyvinyl butyral interlayer, a second metallic-frit dot layer underneath a chrome frit, 12mm air space and an 8mm thick toughened insulated glass unit facing inside. This great shimmering skin is bent around the nose and sides, cut away at the lower edges and left flying in the wind at each ragged end of the tapering U-shaped plan – which incidentally has an average net to gross area efficiency of over 80 per cent. Glazing for the courtyard and the pair of stepping wing-end elevations is in a clear low-iron glass.
A wonderful 30-metre rough-hewn bench made from Suar timber from nearby Indonesia stretches round the interior of the curved space of the entrance lobby with seemingly random wooden butterflies firming up the connections between adjacent pieces of timber where a join was needed during installation. It is a startling contrast with the metallic Sci-Fi quality of the reception desk and its backing lift lobby.
The upper floor is a loft space, new but more than a little reminiscent of post-industrial warehouse spaces. It has a very high sloping roof, random pipework, the underside of a mysterious stairway whose beginning and end are invisible – exactly the kind of space fledgling design and architecture groups gravitate towards because rentals are low. Amusingly, the development company saw its potential and instead of installing its natural inhabitants, the Lucas animators, allocated them floors nearer the ground and has held out for similar tenants prepared to pay a premium for a fantastic space.
At the rear, the building loses all semblance of a Lucas inspiration. The sleek, metallic glass is cut off diagonally, a loose shield to the reverse steppings of the two limbs of the building. They overshoot each other and their planting cascades over the edge of their planters to hang just beyond the floors below. Eventually this planting will segue into the thick planting of the courtyard below.
In a less exaggerated fashion the floor-by-floor stepping is a feature of the clear low-iron glass elevations overlooking the north-facing garden. Singapore is a part of the world where the sun is overhead for much of the time and the protection of elevations requires little depth of shading devices, here in the form of the succeeding upper floors whose raking columns add a hint of more daring structure inside. In addition, around half the area of the courtyard is covered by a roof canopy and long louvres shading the roof and its terrace. So that the solar strategy is to provide a number of shading devices, some integral with the building, some overhead louvres and on the external elevations chrome fritted glass.
The Sandcrawler fits into the general masterplan of this part of Singapore with its ground-level planting providing a link for the landscape strategy sprawling across the grid of local streets. Photographs which are taken to suggest that the building is freestanding will soon be misleading because new and unimaginative buildings already crowd the Sandcrawler. One effect this will have will be to block the silhouette from view and probably turn the dramatic nose into merely a corner and shift attention to the open arms of the building enclosing the rich landscape.
Architect: Andrew Bromberg of Aedas