Safdie’s ‘step pyramid’ of Bishan

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SINGAPORE: Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie resides in New York but visits Singapore at least once a month. The 77-year-old has redefined Singapore’s skyline more than any other internationally acclaimed architect. There is the $8 billion Marina Bay Sands integrated resort that was completed in 2010, the most expensive building in the world. It features the 2.5-acre Sands SkyPark, elevated 200m above ground with jogging paths, restaurants and the world’s longest infinity pool at 150m.

Safdie’s upcoming jaw-dropper is Jewel Changi Airport, the new round mixed-use complex that will link Terminals 1, 2 and 3. Jewel will house high-end shops, a 130-room hotel and a “paradise garden” as its main attraction.

On his recent trip to Singapore, Safdie led a tour around his latest completed project, the 509-unit Sky Habitat in Bishan. In a way, it is a reinterpretation of his Habitat project for Expo 67 in Montreal 48 years ago.

It was for his thesis project in McGill University in Montreal. And among his fellow undergraduates, his “Habitat 67” project was the only one that was actually built. Safdie had written in his thesis proposal: “People want to live in houses. We have to build denser cities. We’re building a lot of apartments. We need to reinvent the apartment to give every person the quality of life of a house in a high-rise building.”

The original idea behind Habitat was therefore to merge the single family home with apartment living. “While high-rise, it has to be permeable, open to light, sun and nature,” says Safdie. “There must be gardens and open spaces for the community, with private gardens for the individual units.”

Little did he realise how prescient he was all those decades ago. His idea for Habitat resonates in Asia today, where, because of rapid urbanisation, most people live in high-rise blocks in high density environments in the cities. And their aspiration is to one day own a house.

To Safdie, Sky Habitat is the first project that allowed him to revisit the lessons he learned and to adapt his original Habitat 67 concept to the current environment in Singapore. “The idea of Sky Habitat is a step pyramid soaring into the sky,” he says. This allows views and cross-ventilation to be maximised, and sunlight to flood into the units. “I still believe in having indoor-outdoor spaces and buildings that blend with nature.”

With its 38-storey towers linked by sky bridges and topped with an infinity pool, Sky Habitat was designed as a middle-income housing project in Bishan. Developed jointly by CapitaLand, Mitsubishi Estate Asia and Shimizu Corp, the 99-year leasehold condominium was completed in April.

When the project was first launched in 2012, units were sold at prices ranging from $1,424 psf to $1,892 psf, according to URA Realis data. Last year, the project was relaunched with a series of new show flats and prices ranging from $1,276 psf to $1,590 psf. As at end-June, 372 units had been sold.

Safdie was amused when he received emails and letters from people in Singapore, who complained that the units were too expensive. “They couldn’t afford the units and they were blaming me,” he says. “There is no miraculous solution. There’s a price to pay if you want to stay here.”

He observes: “People are not content with cookie-cutter solutions. As architects, we need to show them where quality of life can be impacted by humane and responsive design.” And Safdie hopes to demonstrate that with Sky Habitat.

This article appeared in the City & Country of Issue 689 (Aug 10) of The Edge Singapore.