Clarke Quay, conceived to reposition a run down if historic site on the Singapore River has demonstrated ‘convivial urbanism’ since it was completed in 2006.
Designed while at Alsop’s and harking back directly to Cedric Price’s idea that architecture could enhance lives by being delightful and useful, the quay’s playful canopies shade the outdoor spaces during the day, give light at night, and assist air movement to help keep the ambient temperature far enough below the natural level to feel comfortable. On the riverside itself ‘lilypads’ shaded by ‘bluebells’ cantilever at several levels over the water to maximize the number of people who can eat with a view over the river.
What could have been a depressingly familiar story of sweeping away the grain of a historic district in favour of an anonymous enclosed space - especially as the client asked for an air conditioned street - where added decorative motifs taken from any culture have no purpose other than subliminal marketing, became instead a group of four outdoor streets around a central space, with a modified climate and a visual language which gives a distinctive identity to the process of climate modification as well as adding enjoyment to the experience of visiting.
With over 2,000,000 visitors a year, Clarke Quay shows how conviviality can bring commercial success. That stems to an extent at least from the evolution of an architecture that makes something of its location - Singapore’s climate and the riverside site. Shop houses, as much the traditional element in Singapore’s urban grain as their terraced cousins in London, still line the streets, but the streets have themselves become more habitable and so suitable for more varied and extended uses.
The waterfront, Singapore’s lifeblood when trade was still face-to-face but dirty and redundant after commerce moved on, is reinhabited though on terms more suited to today’s economic and social conditions. In turn this suggests new narratives which transform and carry traces of previous identities, and so adds a degree of emotional contact that is deeper than desire for material goods.