Supreme meddlers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2005, 12:00am

Of course, when you are the client and are paying for the final product, the design of your new property should reflect your needs and preferences. Yet if you are going to use the services of a giant of modern architecture, you should be willing to give him a lot of leeway. Otherwise, you will be paying for the name, but will not get many of his ideas.

Unfortunately, the new Supreme Court building, which opened its doors to the public recently, was apparently designed by a committee, with the client - the judges - having a strong say. The result: a highly disappointing flying saucer atop an unattractive brown box.

The UFO shape is supposed to reflect the high elevation of the position of the highest court - though many tourists will probably believe it is the latest trendy revolving restaurant in town. But it adds little to the architectural landscape of the adjacent historic quarter. Lord Foster, famed for the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters in Hong Kong among other buildings, may have wanted to disassociate himself from the project when he said in 2002 that 'the client' was the architect. Indeed, Lord Foster is said to have received instructions 'in great detail', from the colour scheme of the court to the design of the corridors. The judges required weekly reports and meetings.

As a result, the S$200 million ($917.9 million) building may be appropriately formal in concept, but its glass-laminated marble cladding on the facade already looks dated. Local architect Tay Kheng Soon called the design appalling; hardly what one would expect from an award-winning architect.

The fact that the building was designed by a foreign firm is another prickly issue in Singapore. Some point out that local buildings by big-name architects - like Raffles City by I.M. Pei and the Indoor Stadium by Kenzo Tange - failed to rock the architectural world. Mind you, if they were all designed with highly specific instructions, it might explain the nondescript result.

Public sentiments can change, of course. The foreign-designed Esplanade, which was much maligned for its durian-like shape, is now proudly embraced by the public. And the original coldness towards the locally designed Singapore Management University campus is slowly warming.

The mother of all architectural projects here will be the integrated resort in Marina Bay. The brief calls for 'an iconic building', and the government is hoping for something thrilling from the world-famous architects that are being lined up. But one bidder has already voiced concerns over the high degree of micromanagement.