Fifty years ago, Singapore was imagined as a ‘city in a garden’.
When Heatherwick Studio was commissioned to design an apartment building in the historic Newton district, they were inspired by this vision, and by the lush tropical setting of the area’s nineteenth-century houses. They wanted to move away from the enclosed steel and glass towers of recent decades and instead, create a more natural ‘home in a garden’ – a place where residents could feel connected to the city’s tree-lined streets, yet enjoy the views, light and privacy that come with living high above them. From the ground, they wanted it to appear as if these green streets were rising up into the sky. EDEN contains twenty apartments, with just one per floor. When stacked on top of each other, the apartments are quickly lifted out of reach of a ground-level garden, so the design team examined how to raise this greenery and thread it upwards through the building. By pulling apart the square block of a conventional residential tower and moving services to the perimeter, they were able to create a large central living space on each floor, surrounded by smaller individual rooms and wide shell-like balconies.
These balconies are alternated to create a series of double-height spaces, which are filled with tropical planting, drawn from more than twenty species of flora. As well as surrounding each apartment with greenery, the plants will grow to cascade down the building, softening its appearance. Looking beyond the luxury glass towers found in cities across the world, the design team saw the potential of concrete to create something unique, which could enclose more private spaces and reflect a sense of place. Concrete also contributes to the building’s environmental strategy, as its mass blocks warm air to aid natural cooling. Instead of casting a flat concrete facade, Heatherwick Studio wanted to bring the material to life and give it tactility and texture that couldn’t be seen anywhere else in the world. The studio took the natural contours of Singapore’s terrain and abstracted it to create a new topographical texture, then worked with fabricators to produce one-off moulds for each concrete panel. Embossed with an outline of the building and its immediate surroundings, these panels reveal and make a virtue of their location, giving the material greater physical and conceptual interest.
The colour of the building also plays a role in differentiating EDEN. To find the ideal tone that would appear natural and complement the concrete, more than a hundred deep red, purple and brown shades were tested under the Singaporean sun. The exposed underside of the balconies and the handrails are also rendered in smooth, highly polished concrete. Here, Heatherwick Studio developed a bespoke casting technique to bring the ideal mixture and concentration of stones to the surface at these points, giving a rugged, industrial material a precious, gem-like quality. At ground-level, entrance is through a canyon-like corridor, 1.5 metres wide and more than ten times as high, lined with black granite. This opens into a dramatic 18-metre-high lobby at the heart of the building, hung with living plant chandeliers. This space is made possible by raising the first apartment 27 metres above street level, ensuring that every residence benefits from elevated views. Throughout the building, every interior detail has been crafted to express a sense of warmth. The natural imperfections of the organic materials have been celebrated; for example, the imprints in the 180 million-year-old Jura limestone are revealed, saw marks are left visible in the handmade parquet, and the balcony floor is laid with a textured herringbone-patterned slate.
This idea flows through to the solid exposed timber of the oak kitchen cabinets, and the walnut entranceway, which mimics the topographical texture of the exterior concrete panels. In the bathrooms, the sink, vanity unit, and bath were also custom-designed for the project by the studio, and utilize a similarly restrained yet rich palette of materials. EDEN represents a unique way of living in the city, with its combination of evocative material textures and crafted details, and Heatherwick Studio’s celebration of the area’s natural landscape. Over time, the building is designed to mature, becoming overrun by its lush planting – like a sapling that has taken root beneath the streets, pulling the landscape of Singapore up into the sky. The building incorporates a number of features, both active and passive, to conserve energy and promote naturally cool, comfortable spaces. These include deep cantilevered balconies that provide solar shading whilst also maximizing the benefits of natural light coming into the apartments through full height bi-folding doors. Windows in the living space open on three sides to allow natural cross-ventilation. The glazing is set back to reduce solar gain. As a vertical series of gardens, the building is also symbolic of how Singapore has led the way in embracing the conservation of the natural world in the city.
The residents’ facilities at ground level share the same language of mineral textures and lush planting: the swimming pool is clad in deep green ceramic tiles to give the impression of a natural lake, the paths, social spaces, and hard landscaping are paved in different shades of green granite, and the fitness center is in a garden pavilion. Where the building emerges from the ground, the walls do not touch the street, but continue down through the basement levels – the edges of the ground plane are detailed in bronze, and the gap provides a light well for the parking below. At the heart of every apartment, there is a large light central space, sheltered by the concrete structure and wrapped in the greenery of the lush tropical balcony, with views of the city beyond – this is conceived as a place for togetherness. More private rooms and discreet service areas extend from this main living space in an intuitive, flexible arrangement. To ensure that the apartments addressed the best possible view, we used footage from a drone to assess the different options – this allowed us to better understand the views as they would actually be experienced at the height of the living spaces. We adjusted the building’s rotation accordingly while taking into account sunlight and shade. Most of the private spaces are contained by the large concrete walls – this ensures privacy, but it also gives the apartments a natural feeling of protection and intimacy.
The slim windows limit exposure from the outside world, but open the interior to views. The balconies also push the larger floor-to-ceiling windows away from the perimeter, so they are naturally screened, and lush planting helps to further diffuse any views into the apartments. The large central space and glass-fronted balconies fill the interior with natural light. The lighting strategy is designed to complement the textures of the natural materials while giving residents flexibility to create different settings. The interior finishes relate to the design concept for the overall building. For example, the wooden herringbone-pattern apartment floors flow out to the balconies, where they are recreated in a similarly toned slate. The textured concrete panels of the exterior walls are also echoed internally in the entranceway, which mimics this topographical pattern in a walnut finish. In this sense, the building is conceived as a single organic object – everything is designed as part of the same natural form, which has taken root beneath the city’s streets and is drawing greenery upwards towards the skyline. It was important that the apartments were not cut-off from the life of the city, the weather, and cooling breezes, so the windows on all three sides of the building can be opened, allowing air to flow throughout the space. The central living area, with its garden balcony, provides a natural space in which to bring people together, whether as a family or when entertaining on a larger scale. The layout allows an intuitive hierarchy of privacy as you move through the apartment: service areas are within easy reach of this central space and there is direct lift access, yet the individual rooms of the apartment remain private. It took six years of meticulous studies to come up with the design for EDEN.
Project Name EDEN
Completion date December 2019
Site Area 33,425 sq ft
Gross Floor Area 70,193 sq ft
Apartments 20 Car Park Spaces 41
Designed by Heatherwick Studio
Design Director Thomas Heatherwick
Group Leader Mat Cash
Project Leader Gabriel Sanchiz
Charlie Kentish, Craig Miller, John Minford
Client Swire Properties Ltd/Celestial Fortune
Interiors Heatherwick Studio
Local Interiors Ensemble
Local Architect RSP Architects, Planners & Engineers
Landscape Designer COEN Design
International Main Contractor Unison
Mechanical & Electrical Engineers Squire Mec
Civil & Structural Engineers RSP Structures
Awards Green Mark Award for Building – Platinum Rating
Photography with courtesy of Heatherwick Studio