Bras Basah Complex

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Tropical Design of National Library

Ken Yeang is one of today’s most prominent architects who is environmentally aware. A state-of-the-art sustainable design was needed for the National Library Building in Singapore to serve as a landmark for the city. The customer’s requirements demanded a facility that would also function as a cultural hub as well as a friendly civic space for the citizens of Singapore. In the Tropical area, Architect Ken Yeang once again taken the opportunity to transmit his message of sustainability.

The building’s architecture has two blocks divided by an atrium from each other. To push light into the different sections of the building while helping facilitate airflow, the atrium is completely day-lit and semi-enclosed. In the atrium, bridges serve as connections between the two buildings. The library is situated over a naturally-ventilated public plaza that is open to the sky in the larger block of the project. The shorter block is a circular entity housing all the noisy events, including an exhibition, an auditorium, and a multi-media room.

In terms of room design, the architects resorted to making a distinction, thus ending with the two halves reflecting a quiet library section sitting next to a noisy room for public events. The aim is to create an enjoyable library space that could attract individuals, not just for reading purposes, but also for other public and artistic activities.

To prevent exposure to the afternoon sun, the building is orientated away from the East-West axis. The southwest side has a concrete wall that prevents direct sunlight from entering the building indefinitely.

To stop unnecessary heat and glare, louvre screens were mounted on the building’s fa├žades. Sunshaded glass panels often have other facades that let in natural daylight. To help illuminate interior spaces, the use of artificial indoor lighting installation is reduced by light shelves that reflect illumination deeper into the building.

The main focus of the entire project serves as a connexion between two active roads on the ground floor. It is a Plaza for Public Events; a communal area that leads people into the main foyer as well. In the plaza, shopping areas, cafes, and a library shop introduce activity.

In the complex, 14 landscaped gardens are filled with 120 tropical plants plants that help to control the temperature within the building during the day. Two publically available gardens are situated on two separate levels of the house. A level 5 courtyard is fitted with outdoor audio-visual amenities. Located on level 10, a second garden provides a pebbled foot-reflexology route. Normally, the other gardens are closed, but perhaps open for special occasions.

To help minimise energy usage, smart technology systems have been introduced for the National Library building. For example, rain sensors decrease the volume of rain that goes into the indoor gardens’ irrigation systems during the rainy season. When the interior spaces show ample daylighting, light sensors often dim or switch off the interior lights. In the escalators and bathroom taps, motion sensors have been mounted to ensure that these facilities turn on only when they are in use.

The air conditioning services is periodically modified to control the levels of carbon dioxide in the building and to maintain a favourable temperature.

Architect Ken Yeang’s ability to minimise the effects of construction materials on the natural world is a holistic analysis of green materials. With the building achieving energy savings of up to 31 percent relative to the scale of non-green buildings, it is undoubtedly a carefully done design with structures that lead to a sustainable low-impact design.

Brief History of Bras Basah Complex

The Bras Basah Complex, built in 1980 under the urban renewal programme, has for the past three decades been a comfortable environment to many Singaporeans. Over the decades, the mixed development complex has become the well-known City of Books in Singapore, an unofficial but symbolic name just like the Army Market as well as the popular Sungei Thieves Market.

It was planned and approved to be a book centre when the Bras Basah Complex was constructed. The renters’ early batches were legally required to sell books. In the eighties, the early tenants formed the Bras Basah Complex Merchant’s Association (BBCMA) to cooperate, protect interest and solve common problems at the newly constructed complex.

During the final week of the December holidays, many Singaporeans would fondly remember taking their booklists to buy textbooks and evaluation books for the next school term.

The Bras Basah Complex is composed of two 25-storey towers, catering for commercial purposes from the first to the fifth floor and residential units from the sixth to the 25th level. The flats are part of an early downtown public housing plan developed in the seventies and eighties by the Housing and Development Board

Students thronged to the many bookshops that worked from the shophouses well before the building of the Bras Basah Complex. The demand for book merchants was also greatly assisted by the neighbourhood cluster of schools such as Raffles Institution, Raffles Girls’ School, Saint Joseph’s Institution and Saint Anthony’s Convent in the vicinity.

More art and craft shops at the Bras Basah Complex were also attracted by the advent of home tuition and art colleges, such as the LASALLE College of the Arts, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and Raffles Design Institute.

The commercial feature of the Bras Basah Complex is so conspicuous that often it is easy to forget that residences live above them. Bras Basah Complex is one of the city’s last affordable housing projects for the Housing and Development Board. Today, a unit at the project can fetch more than $700,000 for selling the HDB flat.

One feature of these residential properties is that, instead of the ground floor, the void deck is typically situated on the third floor and above. On the fifth floor, the empty deck of the Bras Basah Complex is located, perhaps to allow its residents more protection and exclusive use of their shared space.

The Bras Basah Road bookshops probably had their best days in the sixties, when neighboring countries such as Indonesia and Brunei were in high demand for textbooks. Literature, math and philosophy were the most used textbooks. While overseas demands had decreased dramatically by the seventies, the bookstores remained to be bolstered by the local market for their businesses.

Many local Chinese students patronized the popular bookshop, even as it moved before arriving at the Bras Basah Complex. But his fortune changed with a dwindling market and a dwindling popularity in Chinese books in the 1980s.

But in the late 2000s, when the Shanghai Book Company was involved in internal conflicts between its local and Chinese shareholders, its final chapter finally arrived. The bookshop, bogged down in deep debts, had to cease its service by mid-2009, signaling the demise of one of the oldest Chinese bookstores in Singapore.

Numerous exhibits, art galleries and musical festivals were held at the Bras Basah Complex atrium in the eighties and nineties. In 1989, the HDB renovated the atrium to protect it from disruptive weather with the construction of a new roof and waterproofing the roof. This was due to the sudden rains that often disrupted cultural activities, such as exhibits or instrumental performances of Chinese painting.

The Bras Basah Complex has seen dramatic change in its surroundings and neighbours for more than three decades, even though it has remained relatively unchanged.

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