“You cannot legislate good design. Design is a creative process. It has to have spontaneity.”
Franklin says that any house must be relevant to its context. “It must relate to the outdoors,” he says. “To achieve this state, landscape architecture must be part of the architecture at the point of conception.”
For the work they do, designers do not always get the credit they deserve. Franklin Po Sui Seng insists this should not distract them from creating good design. “Passion must be the driving force behind one’s work,” he says. “Regardless of whether we get the recognition or not, there is a much bigger picture: that of ensuring that the design benefits a greater whole”.
As chairman of Tierra Design, a holistic and integrative landscape architecture practice, Franklin acknowledges that this concept is challenging to attain.
He started practising landscape architecture in Singapore at a time when the idea of landscaping meant little more than planting a few evergreens and laying the turf. Well aware of the higher status accorded to architects and engineers, he has, in the last 20 years, helped to raise the standard of the profession by incorporating aspects of architecture and urban planning into a hybrid better known as urban design.
Urban design – a discipline he picked up whilst studying architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles – is integral to Tierra’s practice of landscape architecture. The Loft in Nassim Hill is one of many projects that weaves landscape elements into the overall design concept of a development. Varying lengths of vertical green strips 600mm wide were used as design motifs on a 40m-long granite-clad wall. These landscape elements helped transform hard walls into garden walls, and changed the way external spaces are expressed. It was, Franklin recalls, the first time this result had been achieved.
Over the years, Tierra has become one of the champions of urban vertical greening, designing intricate structures that allow green walls to stretch 300m at Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 or to rise seven indoor storeys at 158 Cecil Street.
Even with smaller commissions for private landed residences, Franklin has always consciously endeavoured to push the boundaries of landscape design beyond mere accessory or decoration. For a house in Morley Road, the swimming pool departs from the standard configuration to define how the house is experienced. There, the demarcation between interior and exterior spaces is effortlessly blurred, and the external walls of the house are clad in granite thereby becoming part of the garden.
For Franklin, the landscape design for the Marina Barrage is a seminal example of Tierra’s portfolio of work. Initially conceived as a very large pumping station to manage the water levels within the new reservoir after construction of the Marina Barrage, URA rejected the initial utilitarian design and championed a complete review of the design concept with the consultant team. The outcome was a more innovative approach to the site with the functional components being “slipped” under a sloped green roof that formed an extension of the adjacent waterfront park.
The design was not only unique, it was an opportunity to create more parkland space. For example, covering the pump station building with green allowed for an increase in space proportionate to the footprint of the structure. The area displaced on the ground was literally lifted 15m, allowing it to be used as a viewing platform and recreational space that is accessible 24/7. Besides being the ideal venue to view Singapore’s skyline, it provides an unexpected form of recreation — kite flying, both by day and night — that, thanks to prevailing offshore winds, has become a favourite pastime.
Franklin freely admits he has never lost any of his idealism. In fact, studying and working in the United States between 1969 and 1993, he was exposed to many fields of academia including biology and botany as a pre-med student at the University of California, Irvine; then architecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he also received a strong foundation in urban planning and design. In between, he attended many electives in fine art.
This early multi-disciplinary training has left its mark on his work, and still does. Not allowing himself to be restrained by complacency, he continues to explore and research biophilic design and carbon sequestration through aeroponics with the objective of taking his practice to the next level of professionalism. He is conscious about staying relevant to the needs of the end-user, reminding himself to always ask: “Have I made a difference in somebody’s life through the things I design?”
Franklinʼs Advice to Emerging Designers:
“Stay curious. Keep looking at everything. Never limit yourself to a narrow point of view.”