Established in 1967, two years after Singapore’s independence, DP Architects (DPA) was founded with the belief that this newly independent country should develop its own personality and identity as an island city-state with a diverse population.
Committed from the outset to be part of Singapore’s nation-building, DPA, originally known as Design Partnership (DP), evolved in much the same way the country did – adapting to changes, embracing innovation and pursuing excellence.
In the 51 years since its formation, DP has grown extensively, now operating as a group of companies that cover a spectrum of services, from lighting design and architecture to engineering, construction and landscape and arboricultural consultancy services.
“This growth has been possible because of three things: our continued pursuit of design excellence, our people-centric approach and a collaborative spirit,” said Angelene Chan, CEO of DP Architects and its group of companies. “From early on, we realised that people are and will be the key to greater success. After all, architecture is about the people – in other words, buildings for people, designed by people.”
Chan, who recently won the President*s Design Award 2018 for Designer of the Year – the highest design accolade in Singapore, believes that the practice of architecture as a deeply meaningful act has the power to foster a strong sense of community and improve lives. A believer in the transformative power of design, Chan’s greater aspiration as a designer is to nurture a culture of learning and design thinking, cultivating a spirit of exploration and invention within the practice.
As such, a culture of mentorship and collaboration was inculcated within the firm. “In the early years, collaboration took place between DP and external consultants, fellow experts and related specialists within the industry,” Chan continued.
“Now, 51 years on, this spirit of collaboration has led to the amassing of talents across a spectrum of related fields, leading to the DP Architects group of companies today, which have helped in growing the firm into the eighth largest architectural firm in the world.”
Alongside its eight specialist arms, DPA has been growing its knowledge and expertise in various typologies, with ten key typology research groups. Despite such a broad scope of expertise though, is there an area that DPA feels that it specialises in?
“If we really had to narrow it down, it would be our ‘Hub Ecology’, which is pioneered by DP,” said Chan. “It taps into the Mixed Development, Urban Planning and Sports, Community & Recreation typologies to capitalise on the creative mixing of programmes in the development of town centres that create greater social cohesion.”
A key example of this can be found in Our Tampines Hub (OTH), the world’s largest Public-Private Partnership (PPP) project, which was completed in 2017. An integrated community, sports and lifestyle development, OTH houses a wide range of facilities for arts, culture, civic, commercial, sports and community activities, and was designed through a participatory design process with the residents of the Tampines district in Singapore.
“We’ve also exported our design methodology overseas via our One Global Studio network into the international market, such as in China with projects like the Foshan Arena Centre and the recently completed Hongqiao Plot 8 Business Park,” Chan added.
The One Global Studio network, an international initiative established by DPA, connects its seventeen overseas offices, effectively expanding the firm’s global reach from Shanghai to London.
Effectively embedded within its unique context, each office allows DP to garner information in real time and to tailor to the immediate needs of each of its clients, while utilising a comprehensive support network and pool of shared resources that operate across geographical boundaries.
Such an interconnected approach across its global operations has allowed DP to implement a consistent design approach and philosophy in its work, as Chan explained: “DP’s designs are guided by a deep concern for the built environment and the need to create architecture of excellence that enriches the human spirit and experience.
“This is spearheaded by the ‘designFIRST’ ethos. Design is a sum of parts and DP makes it a point to carefully deliberate every design aspect at every stage and assess them with a key design tool we call the Attributes of Purposeful Design (APD) wheel.
“The APD wheel looks beyond architectural aesthetics to consider a project design’s economics, environmental responsiveness and people-centricity. By thus assessing our designs, DP is able to realise greater design consistency and quality among teams, raise awareness and increase collaboration among disciplines.”
A key facet of this design consistency among DP’s many disciplines is its people-oriented approach. The notion of ‘Human Centric Lighting’ has gained serious traction of late, and this human-centric notion is one that DP tries to implement across the board.
“People form the crux of architecture, and this in essence is what drives DP’s design and aesthetics,” Chan explained. “No matter the project’s origin, DP consistently integrates the spirit of the space and its people to create designs that are not only climate responsive but also culturally relevant.”
An example of this approach can be found in the façade design of the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, a performing arts centre near the mouth of the Singapore River. Responding to the tropical heat and monsoon, the cultural and performing arts building adopts a unique façade of lightweight, curved space-frames fitted with triangular glass and a system of champagne-coloured sunshades that optimise trade-off between solar shading and outward panoramic views.
The result provides a filtered natural light and a dramatic transformation of shadow and texture throughout the day. At night, it glows back onto the city, like a series of lanterns by the bay.
“This façade, which resembles the thorny outset of a locally beloved Southeast Asian fruit, has since resonated with the local community,” Chan continued. “Endearingly nicknamed ‘The Durian’, the design has evoked a sense of local identity while promoting international recognition.”
However, while The Esplanade is a remarkable project, showcasing DP’s ambition to create projects that are in keeping with their cultural background, perhaps the standout project for the firm, across its 51-year tenure, is The Dubai Mall. A site spanning more than 550,000sqm across four levels, the Dubai Mall is the largest indoor mall in the world, and alongside 1,200 shops, it also houses the world’s largest indoor aquarium, an all-weather shopping grove, an indoor adventure park and an Olympic-sized ice skating rink.
“The Dubai Mall has had a profound and lasting impact for DPA,” Chan said. “The sheer scale and complexity of the project alone was a challenge we were excited about, and it was the project that would truly push our design boundaries. The experience and knowledge that we gained from the project was absolutely invaluable.
“Upon completion, it was the project that truly put DPA on the global map, and paved the way for other project works in the Middle East. It was a testimony of our design and project management capabilities, and it endorsed us as a Singapore brand, which then opened doors of opportunity for us in the Middle East, China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Turkey & CIS region.”
Alongside the Dubai Mall, Chan also cited projects such as the Golden Mile Complex and People’s Park Complex in Singapore. “They were the prototypes of the mixed development typologies you see today; and they were the first post-colonial architectures born from the Metabolist movement that defined the newly independent Singapore back in the early 1970s.”
To complement and augment the firm’s expanding typologies and areas of specialism, DP established DP Lighting (DPL) in 2016. Formed by Kevin Sturrock, a lighting designer with more than 30 years experience in architectural lighting and illumination design, the initial aim of DPL was to “offer a truly multi-disciplinary set of design services” to DP clients.
Prior to forming DPL, Sturrock co-founded and was Principal Design Director at independent lighting design consultancy iLAB, setting up iLAB Sydney in 2001 and iLAB Singapore in 2007. Following a meeting with DPA’s then-CEO Francis Lee, Sturrock proposed integrating and absorbing iLAB into the DP family.
Now, in his role as Director of DPL, Sturrock is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the company, from establishing its lighting design philosophy and directing the design strategies for each project to managing the finances.
The collaborative nature of the DP group is particularly evident within DPL and its synergy with DPA, combining purposeful design in architecture with atmospheric design in lighting and visual planning.
“The collaborative intention is always to emote architectural schemes by creating mood with lighting and to express identity by elevating design eccentricities,” explained Sturrock.
In order to achieve this, DPL brings its inherent understanding of the wider architectural and construction processes, diverse project experience across various typologies, and vast knowledge in lighting design and systems.
Broadly known as ‘sensitive lighting design’, DPL’s approach applies to artistic and architectural form, as well as urban infrastructure – including civic spaces, roadways and bridges – which blends architectural concept with the pragmatics of structural, mechanical and electrical engineering design.
Despite its relatively short tenure, DPL has already firmly established itself within the DP family, building an impressive portfolio of projects in the process. “DPL has been enthusiastically and wholeheartedly embraced by both our DPA clients and also within the DP family culture from day one across our One Global Studio network,” enthused Sturrock.
“To the extent that DPL is essentially working on DPA projects from London to the Middle East, Turkey, Uzbekistan and back into the APAC region with projects in Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Australia and of course, Singapore.
“As well as working primarily on DPA projects, DPL continues to work with clients carried over from the iLAB days on transport projects, commercial office projects and high-end luxury apartments and residences,” Sturrock continued.
Amongst these projects is the Huafa Commercial Plaza in Zhuhai, China, in which DPL created a stunning LED media canopy and façade. Working alongside HOK architects as specialist lighting consultants for the entire 800,000sqm mixed-use development, including retail space, a hotel and spa, DPL also provided wayfinding and signage design strategies, as well as associated branding for the entire site and the largest water-media-screen and musical fountain installation in Mainland China.
Similarly, DPL collaborated with design architects at Broadway Malyan on the Century City Mall in Makati in the Philippines. As well as designing the lighting for the interior public spaces, Sturrock and his team created a dynamic lighting scheme for the exterior façade of the 30,000sqm site.
“Envisioned as a prominent retail destination, the mall is designed to meet the leisure and entertainment needs of its high-end clientele,” Sturrock explained. “In this context, the façade, with its bold linear accents and gloss envelop, is designed to be trendy and sleek yet sophisticated.
“With this in mind, we incorporated dynamic highlights to the exterior, effectively tying the retail development to the external lighting of the surrounding residential blocks. This allows Century City Mall to join the wider urbanscape of Makati while enabling it to stand out as a commercial establishment.”
Inside, the lighting design uses linear elements throughout, giving the light both aesthetic and practical functions. By echoing the tone of the exterior, this use of light creates a seamless identity for the mall, while creating a sense of depth and brightening every space.
While DPL predominantly works in the architectural sphere, it has had success in creating works of light art also, most notably at Amsterdam Light Festival 2016, where DPL worked with colleagues at DPA to create Rhizome House. Displayed at the Hermitage Dock as part of the Illuminade and Watercolour routes, Rhizome House was a perfect marriage of light and structure, speaking to and connecting with its audience because of, not merely due to, its lighting aesthetics.
Constructed out of high-density polyethylene, the structure was inspired by the interconnected systems found in natural organisms. “The ultimate goal was to allow for the rhizomes, or root networks, to be displayed in a fun and interactive way, where its perceived boundaries encourage curious users to enter the trap,” Sturrock continued.
“In creating these ‘perceived boundaries’, it was essential that materiality and light come together in a playful and interactive manner. Our end product was a light installation containing brilliantly changing RGB LED light diodes and weather-resistant, translucent high-density polyethylene material parametrically shaped as root structures that grow, branch and connect.”
With a number of successful high profile projects already completed and many more in the pipeline, DPL has, in its brief tenure, already become one of the major players in the lighting design community of Singapore and Southeast Asia. With the support of the DP family and its One Global Studio network, the rest of the world awaits.