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Ar. Anne Foo Mei Mei is a local architect, she has been working in the architectural industry for years, exposes herself to various kinds of job scopes including conservation, preservation, commercial, residential, mix-used, et cetera, although she herself expresses that she prefers conservations and preservations works because of her birthplace.
Ar. Anne was living at Taiping, Perak during her childhood, she described that Taiping was a place full of heritage values because of the historical events happened and the existence of colonial architecture. However a lot of those cultural and historical traits of Taiping was diminishing because of the rapid development which sometimes involves taking down historical buildings and replacing them with new buildings that normally do not contain cultural and historical characteristics of Taiping and seem very foreign to the place, making Taiping a less familiar place to Ar. Anne. She then emphasises on the importance of contextualising architecture which urges the need of incorporating cultural and historical values in our local architecture to protect the heritage and the identity of local architecture. For her interest in conservation and preservation works, she went to Arkitek LLA, an architecture firm that is expert in conservation and preservation works for her internship. One of her project is Suffolk House, which is one of the best preservation works in Penang and has been widely acknowledged with a lot of international awards.
Figure 1 Suffolk House.
Although Ar. Anne prefers conservations and preservations, she also does design contemporary architecture especially when she worked with Group Design Partnership (GDP) Architects. GDP Architects has a lot of high rises, commercial or mixed-use projects which are normally located in city centre. Their design approach is normally contemporary and striking, one of their most famous project is the Pavilion Kuala Lumpur in Kuala Lumpur, and another one is Express Rail Link Stations which can be found in KL Sentral, Bandar Tasik Selatan, Putrajaya, Salak Tinggi and KLIA. Working with GDP Architects, Ar. Anne got involved more in high-rises projects and exposed her to more contemporary architecture instead of conservation and preservation, resulting in a more diverse design vocabulary and experience for Ar. Anne.
Figure 2 Pavilion Kuala Lumpur.
Figure 3 Express Rail Link Stations.
One of the project she involved in last time was Mikasa Apartments in Vietnam. Mikasa Apartments is a 15-storeys residential condominium comprises of 156 units with commercial lots at ground floor, located in a prime location where it is very convenient to go to a lot of popular places in a short amount of time. Mikasa Apartments is one of the most outstanding project in Vietnam, because this is a collaboration project between companies from 3 different countries, including Nguyen Hong Joint Stock Company (Vietnam), GDP Architects (Malaysia) and Davis Landfon & Seah (England). Ar. Anne was able to participate in this project as one of the representative from GDP Architects.
Figure 4 Mikasa Apartments.
The purpose of writing this essay is to understand an architect’s architectural theory by studying the architect’s background, which in this case is Ar. Anne Foo Mei Mei, and one of her work by analysing the external contributing factors such as climates, materials, technology, et cetera, found in the building.
Climatic factor is one of the most important factor to consider about especially for architecture in 21st century because buildings can take advantages of climatic factors to promote sustainable design. Mikasa Apartments is no exception as well as the building has taken in consideration of the weather and climate and is designed in response of climatic factors.
Greenery buffer zone
From the diagram above, the green areas and spots are the locations of greenery on ground floor. As shown in the diagram the greenery is surrounding the apartment, creating a barrier and protection to the building against the incoming heat, making the building cooler.
The diagram above is the 16th floor plan, which is also the most top floor of the building. As shown in the diagram, the top floor is actually full of greenery, which functions just like the greenery on ground floor, to filter out the incoming heat. However greenery on top floor does more than just filter out the heat for the 16th floor, it also act like a green roof, preventing heat to penetrate through the building from the top.
The previous diagrams show that the protection against incoming heat from ground floor and from the top floor, as the floors in between, the floors are designed with opened corridors. From the diagram, the grey blocks are the buildings, as you can see the blocks are separated from each other, creating open space in between the buildings, which ultimately resulting in a better flow of air through the building. When air blows, the air goes through the open spaces, creating air flow across the corridor, which allows almost all of the residential units to experience the natural ventilation.
From the 3 diagrams, we can see that when designing Mikasa Apartments, the architect(s) think thoroughly to make use of the climatic factors and incorporate sustainable design ideas which reduce the incoming heat into the building by inserting greenery into the building, promote natural ventilation with simple but effective passive design, and of course ultimately provide better comfort to the residents without relying too much on electricity.
When architects design, they tend to have some architectural theories in their minds and insert them into their design, giving characters and own signature to the buildings. Some famous architects like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry, or famous local architects such as Ken Yeang and Kevin Mark Low, they all incorporate their unique thinking and theories into their design so that we can recognise the characters of the architecture straight away, it is almost like a signature of the architects. However not all architects are like that, some architects study and absorb the already existing architectural styles and theories and then incorporating them into their design, although it is not as significant as the famous architects do. Ar. Anne is more a “subtle” architect, as she does mention when we interview her, she does not like “loud” architecture, and she prefers architecture that blends into the context and at the same time showing cultural and historical traits of the local. However looking at the Mikasa Apartments, it is quite obvious that Ar. Anne has referred to the Modernist Architecture style and a bit of International Style.
Form follows functions, a very famous quote from a modernist architect Louis Sullivan, can be clearly seen here as a lot of the design decisions are with purposes and functional.
Location of the entrance
As the diagram shows there are two entrances, one is for the public, which leads to commercial blocks, and another one is for residents, which leads to the residential blocks. The road in front of the commercial blocks is one of the main roads where pedestrian and vehicular traffic are high, placing an entrance between commercial blocks and the busy road would allow easier access to the commercial blocks, resulting in better business opportunity to the commercial blocks. While the resident entrance is located at a smaller road branched from the main road, which indicates that this entrance is more private and only meant for the resident to access, at the same time controlling the traffic that can access to the road in front of the resident entrance to the minimum level.
Public and private space
The location of the entrances already defines the public-private relationship quite clearly, but the placement of the building blocks enhance this relationship even stronger and clearer. At the back of the commercial blocks there is an opaque wall, which cut off any kind of visual contact between public and private spaces, at the same time there is only small doors at the back of the commercial spaces, indicating that the doors are not meant for public, not even for residents but only for staffs. This wall clearly separates the public and private spaces.
Asymmetrical space arrangement
The building has taken in an asymmetrical design as the central square-ish space between two horizontal spaces acts as the middle point of the building where people are able to orientate and navigate themselves to different spaces in the central space. All the vertical transportations are found in the central space as well, providing convenience to the people in travelling around the building.
Exposure of structure
Most of the main columns are exposed to the outside where they are easily spotted. The columns span all the way from ground floor to top floor, not only providing structural strength to the building but at the same time act as the facade of the building. The idea of exposed structure is one of the design principles found in most Modernist Architecture, which Mikasa Apartment has adopted this principle and elaborate the structure further by not only making the structure functional but also making the building façade more interesting.
The columns and walls make up the vertical feature while the residential units create the horizontal feature. The building facade focuses on horizontality and verticality, a simple but powerful design language which International Style emphasizes on.
Almost everything that can be seen from the building façade is functional and honest, there is no room for non-functional decorative elements on the façade. The building is designed without excessive decoration and kept minimalistic.
21st century influence
Although Mikasa Apartments is designed based mostly on Modernist Architectural Style and International Style, but in the 21st century the architecture is influenced by a lot of factors such as environmental friendly design, multi-functional, respond to urban fabric, et cetera.
Efficiency is very important so that the building can serve the people well and last for a long time. The building is designed to have multiple functions where people could live, work and play at the same time. The functions of the building go vertically which could allow more functions in a smaller piece of land.
The building is designed with the consideration of landscape design which enable the architecture to have a closer relationship with nature, providing a more natural way of living and a more sustainable and green architecture.
Design decisions on Mikasa Apartments are heavily influenced by Modernist Architectural style and International Style but at the same time under the influence 21st century. Nonetheless for whatever styles and design principles that are applied, the design is able to respond to the site context and to the convenience of people.
Based on the interview with Ar. Anne, Mikasa Apartments is actually quite an opposite of her preference in architectural style, which she likes to do conservation and preservation works. Although she works in the architecture industry for quite a period of time, it is only recent she is promoted to be a practicing architect, there is no very clear architectural theories that really stand out. However in my opinions Ar. Anne is still exploring her own architectural theories by trying out different kind of architecture, which eventually increase her design knowledge and vocabulary. Now that she is practicing a lot in contemporary design, combining the passion of retaining cultural and historical traits of architecture, she might be able to come up with a whole new architectural style where old and new elements could go well together, still fits into a contemporary context but consists of local identity. In fact there is already a similar architectural style that adapts contemporary design into old building, breathing in new life into the building while retaining the cultural and historical traits, in Singapore there are already a lot example on the renewal and adaptation on the old shop houses. Below are some pictures of the renewed shop house in Singapore.
Figure 5 Lucky shop house in Singapore, converted into a residential unit from an almost abandoned book store.
Figure 6 Pool shop house.
I am not looking at the current architectural style she is using right now, but rather analysing the possibility of another architectural style that Ar. Anne might develop to in the future.
Davies, C. (2011). Thinking About Architecture. London: Laurence King Publishing Limited.
Frearson, A. (2012, September 19). The Pool Shophouse by FARM and KD Architects. Retrieved from Dezeen - architecture and design magazine: http://www.dezeen.com/2012/09/19/pool-shophouse/
Lucky Shophouse / CHANG Architects | ArchDaily. (2013, January 18). Retrieved from ArchDaily | Broadcasting Architecture Worldwide: http://www.archdaily.com/320233/lucky-shophouse-chang-architects/
Nesbitt, K. (1996). Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture, an Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965-1995. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
Floor plans and rendering given by Ar. Anne Foo Mei Mei