Wenhui Lim, founding director of SPARK (Singapore), launched the 2017 UQ Architecture Lecture Series with a fast paced, inspiring presentation that reflects the optimistic and swift process of their work.
Entitled Places as they might be, Wenhui’s presentation engaged with SPARK’s loosely defined ‘research’ projects. These self-funded, in-house explorations suggest how the cities that SPARK lives and works in might be changed or reinvented. SPARK’s proactive engagement with architecture is one unafraid to table ideas or problems, seemingly unrelated to the built environment, and create solutions.
These ‘research’ projects are built upon an impressive foundation of completed works, which Wenhui showcased in her opening slides. SPARK are perhaps most well known for their Clark Quay project – a dramatic redevelopment of this historic river front in Singapore. Other award-winners, such as the Shanghai International Cruise Terminal and the Raffles City projects, reveal SPARK’s aptitude in realising sizeable projects. Wenhui pointed out, however, that the scale of their projects ranges from master-planning huge city centres to designing handbags.
When the cultural characteristics of working in China are added to the mix, one cannot help but admire the skillful resolution of SPARK’s projects. Wenhui highlighted that their long experience working on projects in China has enabled them to regard the fast pace of construction and condensed design process in a positive light. This is evident in their Sales Gallery for the Vanke New City Center, where the design process took only three months from conception to construction. The result is an elegant, sculptural form, which takes cues from the delicacy of the Taj Mahal, contrasting with the demands of such a fast-tracked process.
…they like to think about the cities that they live in and imagine ways in which these cities can be made better.
The broad range of scales that SPARK work across is complemented by an equally broad range of motivations. Fai Fah Prachautis is an example of this, where two shop houses were refurbished to incorporate a free, arts-driven education centre for underprivileged children. Wenhui described how local children were actively involved in the design process, which inspired the steel lattice facade and the varying colours of each floor. Displayed in neon lights on the facade, Fai Fah has been true to its name, becoming the ‘light’ of the community. This community project is easily one of the smallest projects that SPARK has worked on, but Wenhui considers that “in all [her] years at SPARK, this [was] one of the most enjoyable processes.”
Moving to the ‘research’ projects, Wenhui explained that they like to think about the cities that they live in and imagine ways in which these cities can be made better. SPARK’s Solar Orchid endeavours to reanimate the waterfront in Singapore and bring the dying hawker trade onto an international platform. The result is a self-sustainable, modular system that can float on any number of the beautiful bodies of water in Singapore, or, for that matter, across the world. It should come as no surprise that this project led SPARK to become the first architectural practice to win the Fast Company ‘Most Innovative Company’ award. Like some of their other well known research endeavours, this project is currently in development.
Moving to dry land, Wenhui described SPARK’s vision of returning Singapore’s famous Orchard Road to its roots. Re-imagining public space, SPARK proposes turning this massive traffic avenue into a pedestrian-friendly environment – an ‘Orchard for people.’ By removing cars, creating multiple levels of pedestrian occupation, and engineering the outdoor comfort, Orchard Road will become a lively landscape celebrating the both the heritage and future of Singapore.
A similarly optimistic proposal is SPARK’s Beach Hut, aimed at animating the coastline while recycling ocean waste. Partnering with Parley for the Oceans, Wenhui described how they are working to turn ocean plastic into something wonderful for Singapore. The resulting multi-coloured beach huts exude the same spirit of creativity, fun and optimism that is evident through their work. The Beach Hut won the World Architecture Festival prize in the Future and Experimental category, rewarding SPARK for operating at the forefront of the future of our cities. Wenhui highlighted that what is important to SPARK is that “these designs start conversations within the design community, within [their] studio, and among other professionals.”
For, as Wenhui aptly concluded:”From a tiny spark may burst a mighty flame” – Dante.