Case Study of an Architect: Steven Ngu

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Ar. Steven Ngu Ngie Woon is an architect working in Garis Architects firm. He is one of the senior architects working there and he leads the designing team. Starting from his childhood, Steven has already been exposed to this field because of his father’s occupation as a contractor. Being the eldest son in the family, he was brought up in a very strict manner. His mottos “do more, learn more” was also an influence from his father. And because he was brought up to learn to be responsible for the things that he do, he never does his work half-heartedly. Therefore, he was always one of the top achievers in his education. He is currently 34 years old. He graduated from University Malaya in year 2006, he got his Ar. title two years after graduation. Ar. Steven’s favourite work is the Symphony Hills in Cyberjaya which he handled from the start till the completion of the project, and it is also a project that has won numerous PAM awards. The purpose of this essay is to understand the language of architecture based on the architects childhood, education and working experience, the messages and meanings the building carry, and the context of which it is applied within. Therefore I chose the management office of Symphony Hills.

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Pic 1 – Front elevation of the office

Being in a country with tropical climate, the architect has to think of different methods as solutions to the harsh climate in Malaysia. Cyberjaya is a place that is barren and has no trees to provide shade from the scorching heat from the sun. There is not much precipitation and the wind is not very strong. Therefore, some design solutions are used against the climatic conditions in Cyberjaya. In order to avoid direct heating of the spaces of the building, green walls are placed on the facade of the building. In addition, in accordance to the direction of the sun path, the green walls also work as a vertical shading device to prevent glare from the sun rise and sun set. Not just that, large overhangs on the north and south facing of the building to provide shade. As for the building material, concrete is used because of it high capacity as a thermal mass and functions as a heat sink. Not only does it absorb heat slowly and delay the peak temperature of the indoor spaces until the occupants have left, it only releases heat when the outside temperature is lower and that is only during the night time when there is nobody in the office. Furthermore, in order to increase the heat absorbance capacity, a green roof is used where the soil will also work as a heat sink. Also, because of occasional heavy rain in Cyberjaya, a polycarbonate roof that extends out to about five meters is used to prevent the rain from reaching the gallery space where people walk from the office to the surau.

Pic 2 – showing the overhand and the structure of the building

Compared to other disciplines, architectural theory is limitless. It encompasses theories of architectural technology, architectural history, and architectural design. According to Professor Korydon Smith, architectural theory is defined as “ the understanding of objective principles and subjective values that guides the individuals in decision about their own and others architectural works.” Through this, what i identified was sustainable architecture and late modernism, also known as structural expressionism. The main purpose of sustainable design is to “eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skilful sensitive design.” In order to achieve the optimal comfort in the office without consuming much energy, the building uses water features surrounding the building as an indirect evaporative cooling method. A green roof garden is also used to lower the temperature of the building through the evaporation of water stored by the plants and the soil. To further reduce the heat of important spaces like the office, not only is the green wall is used as a vertical shading as well as a cooling device. By applying various passive cooling methods into the building design, the building is able to use less air conditioning system. Additionally, the building also uses egg crates in the building design to avoid direct sunlight and heating into the spaces. However, it also uses curtain wall on the facade of the building to maximise the entry on sunlight into the spaces. Another theory used in this building is late modernism, also known as structural expressionism. It usually exposes the structural elements of the building, together with the use of curtain walls. Its design is also mostly based on the function of the building, large interior spaces and easy access to each floor.

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Pic 3 – Diagrams on theory

Another factor analysed is the user, the simple plan layout makes it easy for the user to make use of the space effectively. When in an office, teamwork is important, thus an open plan was used to avoid individualising space for each staff. With an open plan, the staffs are able to communicate with each other with minimal walking distance. The building also has balconies to allow people to have private conversations while looking out to the beautiful landscape. Furthermore, since this is an office for Symphony Hills itself, the multipurpose hall was made to allow Symphony Hill to make a temporary apartment showroom. The showroom takes into consideration that during the launching day of the project, there will be many viewers to come view the showroom, thus public furniture are placed in front of the showroom to allow the guest to have discussions with the sales people after viewing the show unit. Additionally, the building scaled according to human proportion, not causing the user to feel alien in a working environment. Curtain walls are also used to lighten the spaces, making it more environmentally friendly for the staffs when working, as a brighter space improves their working efficiency.

Pic 4 – Diagrams on user

Based on the factor analysed, the personal values that Steven used to design in this building is apparent. Since young, Steven has been very discipline about his lifestyle. He is a hardworking person and he gets along with other people, even though he is busy, whenever someone needs any help or questions, he willing teaches them. Being him, he makes sure that the building is functional and it responds to the site. He takes serious consideration on the site context of the building.

Based on the climatic factor, he has placed much importance in environmental response of the building. Though Garis Architects is a place that designs projects with a middle range budget, Sympony Hills is a project that is considered to be on the higher range, most likely because of the client. The client this time is UEM Land and they manage to get 98 acres of freehold land in Cyberjaya central business districts. So due to the location, the clients intention was to design the place for the high end community with integrated facility and services. Using a green roof requires the use of proper engineering on the building roof and it is not cheap. To reduce the temperature of the surroundings, Steven proposed the use of water fountains and pools to surround the place, not only does it lower the temperature, it also fits the clients requirement to make Symphony Hills into a high-end luxury residential area.

Pic 4 – Birdseye view of Symphony Hills

Furthermore, while Steven has a hobby of travelling and visiting famous architectural building, he tries to learn from the experience gained from the buildings and apply it into his own design. Previously, during his visit to Chandigarh in India, he took the opportunity to visit Le Corbusier’s building as well. Throughout architecture courses, we have learnt that Le Corbusier is a master of architects and he is a modernist. However, modernism is a paradigm of architecture for the machines, it was a time where the architects pushed their own ideology of creating a perfect building that is suitable for anyone. Modern architecture focuses on the honesty of materials, use of modern materials and systems, generous use of glass and natural light, emphasis on open spaces, use shading devices to achieve optimal human comfort, and the emphasis on rectangular forms and straight lines. Steven learns from it, however he took it a step further into late modern architecture, also known as structural expressionism.

Though there is not much of a difference between late modern architecture and modern architecture itself, there is one, however obvious distinction between the two. That is late modern style buildings are not as simple and straightforward as modern style buildings, albeit rectangular form, it is considered as a highly articulated structural form. Common features include exposed structural frames, truss work, and it tends to be metallic.

Pic 5 – showing the metal structures of the green wall and the staircase

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Additionally, whenever Steven designs, he takes into consideration the poetics of space, and the experience of the user and the occupants of the space during the design process. Before this, he mentioned that his favourite architect is Peter Zumthor. In a book Thinking Architecture written by Peter Zumthor, he mentioned that every building is built for it’s targeted use, in its own place for its very own society. He designs his building to try to answer those questions as critically as he can. Though Steven learnt to design following Peter Zumthor’s train of thoughts, he used his own method of applying it into his building design rather than the use of phenomenology architecture.

What the client wanted for this office space was for it to promote efficiency in the working environment while creating a friendly space to improve the sociability of the staffs. By using a mixture of both type of spaces, an open plan together with a private space, Steven aimed to have a large space where the staffs would be able to communicate with each other without moving from their spaces. Through this, there will be less miscommunication between the staffs because they are able the discuss everything in the open. As for the private space, it is the balcony, where the staffs will be able to have a more relax conversation during lunch time or break time. Not only does it help in releasing stress and tension between the staffs, it helps in bringing them closer and understanding each other in a better way.

Furthermore, because there is no mosque near the site, the surau is located just opposite the office to allow the Malays to be able to pray with privacy and without disturbance. It also makes it easier for them as they don’t need to travel out of the compound to look for the mosque and in the end have a shorter time spent for lunch. And he places importance in the lighting of the space. What Steven did to lighten up the space was through the use of curtain walls and sliding doors. When human works, they will need a minimum amount of lighting to work efficiently, if not they will have to strain their eye in order to see, and considering the long amount of time they spend in the office, if there is not enough lighting, their efficiency lower and their health will deteorirate as well.

In conclusion, with his motto of “do more, learn more”, Steven always tries to learn the values, and answers from whatever he does and tries to apply it in his design. He aims to never stop learning throughout his lifetime, and by doing so, he will never stop trying to look for ways to improve himself and his designs. Through this design, one can see the amount of work and time spent in the design and development of the project. Even though he is considered as a young architect with little experience because of his age, he worked hard to come up with a design that he is confident enough about his design and be able to convince the client with it.

References

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Smith, K. (2012). Introducing architectural theory. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.

Topdevelopers2012.iproperty.com.my, (2014). Symphony Hills | Top Developer. [online] Available at: http://topdevelopers2012.iproperty.com.my/project/symphony-hills [Accessed 23 Jun. 2014].