Church of St Mary of the Angels

WOHA Architects 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."


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

Franciscans, Order of Friars Minor, Custody of St Mary

Adrian Billinghurst, Worley Parsons Pte Ltd

Andrew Tang, AE&T Consultants

Peter Tan A., Peter Tan Associates Pte Ltd

Lim Chap Huat, Soil Build Pte Ltd

K H Tan, Shanghai Chong Kee Furniture & Construction Pte Ltd

‘‘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.’’

Insights from the Recipient

What did you learn or take away from working on the design?

Alina Yeo: Listen first and listen well. In this case, we were not familiar with Catholic liturgy, so it helped to drop all preconceived notions and to go back to first principles. We asked: What does the church want to be, who does it serve, how can the spaces facilitate the activities and rituals that happen within it, what budget is available? Understanding all of these influences required us to carefully listen to the needs and aspirations of the end-users, and to create innovative solutions that addresses the realities of our climate and the uniqueness of our culture.


‘‘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.’’

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



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.


Hans Tan


Founder, Hans Tan Studio; and Assistant Professor, Division of Industrial Design,
National University of Singapore
Hans Tan Studio