Design of the Year 2006
Church of St Mary of the Angels
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Architects
Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell (Team Leaders)
Esther Soh
Sim Choon Heok
Alina Yeo
Puiphai Khunawat
Punpong Wiwatkul
Phyllis Chua
Janita Han
Lee Li Leng
Gerry Richardson, WOHA Architects Pte Ltd
Owner
Franciscans, Order of Friars Minor, Custody of St Mary
Civil and Structural Engineer
Adrian Billinghurst, Worley Parsons Pte Ltd
Mechanical and Electrical Engineer
Andrew Tang, AE&T Consultants
Quantity Surveyor
Peter Tan A., Peter Tan Associates Pte Ltd
Building Contractor
Lim Chap Huat, Soil Build Pte Ltd
Interior Contractor
K H Tan, Shanghai Chong Kee Furniture & Construction Pte Ltd

Both Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell of WOHA Designs come from families with a strong science & technology background, so both grew up influenced by studies of nature and evolution – that patterns, order and beauty can arise through mechanical processes. This has shaped how they are prepared to see that a unique kind of aesthetics can emerge from project processes, rather than applying them from above.

It was the design process that the two men found most engaging when they undertook the creation of the Church of St Mary of the Angels, a recipient for the President’s Design Award.

"The church community were a bit concerned that non-Catholics were doing the design, as we weren't familiar with Catholic liturgy – we only knew what a confession booth was like from the movies! But the priest-in-charge, Father Philip Miscamble was very firm – "They are experts in design, and I am an expert in religion. Together, we should be able to get a wonderful result." Because we had no preconceptions as to what everything was meant to look like or how it was meant to work, we could develop all the elements from a clean sheet, based on symbolism, meaning and functions. This was a lot of hard work for both WOHA and the Franciscan Friars, as we had to read a lot, discuss what it all meant with Father Philip, make design proposals, and then modify or re-do them, but it resulted in the creation of a very fresh church, and that was exactly what the Friars were looking for – a church that was not overburdened with tradition for the sake of it, but challenging, full of meaning, very much alive and contemporary.

"Clarity of ideas creates strong, memorable places."

"By dropping pre-conceptions and going back to first principles, you can come up with innovative designs. By considering the quality of experience of the end-user you create long-lasting value. By dealing with the realities of climate, you create spaces that work. These ideas have been consistent throughout our work, and allow us to vary the expression and language to suit each project. What has been confirmed is that the architect really has to listen and understand all the influences bearing on the project, before acting."

Currently engaged in projects as diverse as the Singapore Art School, the Terminal 3 Airport Hotel, the Selegie Complex redevelopment, the Urban Entertainment Centre, environmentally sustainable hotels and villas in Indonesia & Thailand, a high-rise tower in Sydney, as well as two underground train stations and a theatre in Singapore, Mun Summ and Richard consciously seek a diverse portfolio of work to make sure they continue to innovate and don't stagnate.

"The beginning of every project is exciting, as we never know which design direction it will take us. There is a real satisfaction in creating environments where people enjoy their lives better because of the quality of the space. We sometimes receive emails from people thanking us for adding some beauty to their lives, and that is incredibly rewarding."

Advice for emerging architects:
"Listen to your clients and end-users first. Get or create a clear brief. Learn to distinguish a good creative idea from a creative idea you think is good just because you came up with it. Be your own harshest critic."

ABOUT THE DESIGNER

JURY CITATION

The Church of St Mary of the Angels demonstrates the depth and richness embedded in architecture and urban design, regardless of the physical size. Central to the project is the idea of building a community in relation to its surroundings, which infuses the experience of space, light and nature with spiritual and social significance. Although the material palette is muted, the design is never too austere, allowing flexibility for secular or social activities in the central plaza. At the detailed level, the design displays an in-depth understanding of the individual’s needs for inner sanctum. The Jury appreciates how the design draws deeply from early liturgy and traditions, yet proves to be one of the most forward-looking, nuanced expressions of our modern times, context and climate.

NOMINATOR CITATION

FR PHILIP MISCAMBLE OFM
CHURCH OF ST MARY OF THE ANGELS

It is my great pleasure to submit this citation for WOHA and their Church of St Mary of the Angels project. As parish priest and coordinator of the project, working with them at all stages of the project was an extremely rewarding experience. The following are just some reasons why I commend them as truly deserving of this recognition.

The WOHA design team were always open and ready to listen so as to accommodate our particular needs in this community based project. Their presentations to various groups during the planning and construction stages were done with great professionalism and successfully achieved widespread community support for the project.

Whilst our brief was simple, many aspects of church liturgical law had to be incorporated. Our stress was for an environment conducive to worship, to create an atmosphere for prayer. WOHA carefully studied church documents, observed our liturgical practices gaining invaluable insight into what was needed. The result was beyond our expectations.

An integrated approach to the whole project with its different sub-sections, including Church, Friary, Monastery, Columbarium, Piazza and Peace Garden, gives a unified wholeness. The architectural design, interiors and landscaping were all under WOHA’s creative direction. Apart from the sheer beauty of the end result and the way it blends in so well with its environment, they achieved a balance between public and private space for the Franciscan community, which resides within the complex. Hence, there is harmony and serenity not only in the structures but also for those who use it.

Funding came from parishioners and benefactors. Keeping within budget was of great importance. This was achieved which speaks volumes for the sensitivity WOHA showed to this often delicate subject.

The principal architects Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell and the entire WOHA team that worked on this project were always courteous and ready to assist with explanations to our many queries. Exceptional attention to detail – expressedin plans and drawings, model of the master plan and actual structure, the meticulous keeping of records during the whole process gave us great confidence that our interests were always WOHA’s foremost concern.


PROF. LEON VAN SCHAIK
INNOVATION PROFESSOR OF ARCHITECTURE,
RMIT, MELBOURNE (EXCERPT OF CITATION)

In the spiralling growth of Singapore the Franciscan Friars, with their humble mission, came to own a hill that was once on the far outskirts of the city. In a small way their community began here, with a chapel on the hill seating thirty people. A parish centre was built along one flank of the hill. The chapel was extended until it could hold five hundred people with a further hundred watching proceedings on monitors in the car park.

At this point the Friars decided to commission a master plan, and approached WOHA to provide them with independent, secular advice. The result, recently completed, is an acropolis constructed over the hill, with a partially cloistered arrival court, a church to the East, and a treecanopied, rising plane to the west. This three-fold divided-rectangle is surrounded by a pathway that rises and falls against the floor levels of the acropolis in a looping processional that links all of the functional components, largely arrayed on its outer edge. These include the existing parish centre, a funerary chapel, the friary, the bell tower over a chapel that is open twentyfour hours, the nunnery and the offices of the complex. This disarmingly simple diagram brings into play a series of shifts between public and private, mundane and profound. Tantalisingly, these foreshadow generally desirable urban conditions, resolved with a subtlety of spatial thinking that leads to the hope that WOHA can realise these in other situations.

The public spaces are within the central rectangle, and they exhibit varied characteristics. The church itself is more a great hall than is traditional. Its ritual uses are lightly sketched in through the cruciform skylight and wall panels that ghost a cross form. Conceptually it is a covered external space, an agora, a proposition enhanced by the lighting, which is planted on standards or within the skylights. Six servant buildings line the space, three to a side, separated from it by a roof light. These house shrines, a sound proof room for infants, reconciliation chapels, and a balcony for the use of the closed order of nuns. At a high level, they contain the air conditioning plant and ducts.

Rising away to the west is the gently inclined plane of the garden of peace, which will eventually be covered by a canopy of trees that will match in grown-form the magnificence of the man-made space of the hall. Here picnics can unfold. This space forms a crown to the hill, and is what will chiefly be seen from the high-rise housing that currently fringes the acropolis. Below this inclined plane is the columbarium, and open oculi give light and a view of the sky and the trees to the rooms below. On axis a bridge at the upper level leads from the inclined plane to an external shrine to Mary. Looking back from here, you can see all the way across the court and down into the centre of the hall, where a twenty-ton, black granite font glistens wetly beneath the crucified Christ suspended above the altar table. This extraordinarily deep spatial flow defies photography.


PROF. JOSEPH LIM EE MAN,
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE

The Church of St Mary of the Angels has won the Award for Religious Building Category and Award for Interior Design in the Commercial Category from the 7th SIA Architectural Design Awards 2004, Singapore. The Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) Architectural Design Awards' intention is "to recognise the efforts of SIA members in their pursuit of architectural excellence and innovative architectural solutions". Besides, most of the submitted entries were accompanied by user assessments which indicated the increasing awareness of how quality design could make real and significant differences to the built environment and the lives of the users.

"…an excellent design that stands out from the rest. A viewer of the building is immediately captivated by its architectural expression - the linkway as a rhythmic open sided concrete colonnade; the existing cellular building of regular white cubic forms with perforated aluminum sun-screening and overhangs; and the looser, linking forms of planar, rough-textured brown walls that fold and intersect, inspired by the brown fabric of the Franciscan robes. The idea of the building as a community is well thought through and is evident from the connectivity of the central community space to the other sub-communities. All these elements provide spiritual uplift, befitting the character of a church."

Excerpt from Judges’ Citation
(Award Winner for Religious Building Category, 7th SlA Architectural Design Awards 2004).

"Attention to detail is the hallmark of this building interior as evidenced in the furniture and liturgical objects of the church, which were developed based on their symbolic and functional requirements. Such attention to detail demonstrates the care, thinking process and effort of the architect to conceive a design that is nothing but the best. This has resulted in an interior that exudes the warm serenity, spirituality and solemnity of a place of worship."

Excerpt from Judges’ Citation
(Award Winner for Interior Design — Commercial Category, 7th SIA Architectural Design Awards 2004)

This building has also won the Gold Award in both the Architecture and Interior Categories from the 9th SIA-ICI Dulux Colours Award 2004, Singapore. As mentioned by ICI, "the winning entries are a cut above the others by substantiating their colour concepts with evidence of research, contextual response and perhaps, theoretical exploration."

Besides having won awards, this building has been presented at Singapore @ Venice Biennale 2004 and subsequently been documented in the exhibition publication "Singapore-Second Nature". This building is currently being featured in the "Exotic: More or Less" exhibition held in Berlin and has been documented in the exhibition catalogue "WOHA Singapore: More on Less".

The building has been cited and reviewed in various magazines including Architecture Asia (Issue 4, December 2003 - February 2004), Singapore Architect (Issue 221, June 2005) and has also been cited in a number of publications such as "10 x 10_2: 100 architects, 10 critics", by Miquel Adria (ed.), Phaidon Press, 2005, "Architecture, Art, Identity in Singapore: Is There Life After Tabula Rasa?", a paper written by William S W Lim in June 2004.

The Church of St Mary of the Angels is a complex with several functions, 1200-seater church hall, a columbarium and housing wing for retreat integrated into one. Whilst each of the buildings within the complex has its unique form and spaces, they sit harmoniously with a central courtyard.

The church architecture adopted a modern language which is a departure from the traditional church, and yet it provides a sacrosanct environment both in the interior of the church hall as well as the external space.