[UPDATE] Brewin Design aims to enhance CBD office buildings one at a time

/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Having designed show units for some of the most exclusive condos in Singapore — such as Swire Properties’ Eden at 2 Draycott Park and Shun Tak Holdings’ Park Nova at Tomlinson Road — Robert Cheng, design principal of Brewin Design Office, is now immersed in the CBD, giving ageing office buildings a new lease of life.
One of them is 61 Robinson. Built by the former First Capital Corp (now GuocoLand) as its headquarters, the 20-storey building at 61 Robinson Road was called Robinson Centre, and completed in 2000.
In September 2019, the building was purchased by ARA Real Estate Partners Asia II, a value-add fund under ARA Asset Management, for $340 million. ARA then embarked on a $25 million asset enhancement programme that included a partial facelift and an upgrade of the lobby and common areas. Before asset enhancement works were completed, however, ARA sold the property to Singapore-based private equity group Rivulets Investments for $422 million last September.
Brewin Design was appointed to handle the design concept and makeover of the interior layout of 61 Robinson. Renovations had started in December 2019, and were due for completion sometime in 2H2021. However, Covid delayed the completion by about eight months to February this year.
Walls of the main lobby are now clad entirely with beige Iranian limestone up to 4m, while rising to the 10m level is a faceted copper wall with a vaulted copper metal ceiling (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

‘Hospitality-inspired environment’

The architecture of the original Robinson Centre is reminiscent of the Art Deco period, notes Cheng. For the new interiors, “we took reference from contemporised aspects of a period from 1920s New York”, he says. “Through the use of details and materials, a beige palette of marble, limestone and bronze, we have created a warm, hospitality-inspired environment.”
The original post-modern architecture of the building was also influenced by GuocoLand’s development style in building large-scale projects, Cheng observes. While the building’s exterior is fully clad in granite, the interiors are a mix of onyx and limestone with dark marble accents.
The original ceiling of the main lobby soared to a height of 15m (equivalent to five storeys) at the centre, and cascaded down to 10m (three storeys) on either side. “Standing at the centre of the lobby in the past felt a bit like being in a cathedral,” relates Cheng.
The original design of the main lobby was also guided by feng shui principles, with a 15m water fountain of yellow onyx marble on either end. The retail units on both ends of the lobby had looked “disparate and isolated”, Cheng adds.
The podium façade enhancement 61 Robinson by Forum Architects, the submission architect, which took reference from some of the existing geometries seen on the exterior of the building (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

Façade and interior changes

ARA had appointed Forum Architects as the architect, and to make over the podium portion of the building facade. Forum Architects therefore demolished a set of tinted glass panes on the façade and replaced them with metal louvres in the form of angled facets. These took reference from some of the existing geometries seen on the exterior of the building.
Forum Architects also undertook the conversion of the fifth floor car park into new office space of about 8,000 to 10,000 sq ft, including engaging URA and the relevant authorities as well as diversion of the mechanical and electrical (M&E) services and relocation of plant rooms.
The lobby underwent a major revamp, with the partially opaque entryway changed to fully transparent high sheet glass of 4m, running the length of the entire 60m frontage, including the two retail units on either end.
To expand the otherwise narrow entry lobby, the interior floor was merged with the public passageway, or five-foot way, outside through the use of floor materials and finishes in a receding pattern. “Blending public circulation space with the private office lobby encourages a sense of openness where it had once been enclosed,” says Cheng.
The warm, hospitality-inspired environment of the main lobby of 61 Robinson, referenced from contemporised aspects of 1920s New York (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

‘New and improved proportions’

Brewin Design redesigned the walls and ceiling of the main lobby to create “new and improved proportions”, continues Cheng. The ceiling height was brought down to 10m across the entire 6,000 sq ft lobby space. “The space not only became more proportionate, but more relatable, and yet it succeeded in retaining its grandeur and scale,” he adds.
The cladding on the interior walls of the lobby was changed too. The lower portion of the walls (4m) is now entirely clad in beige Iranian limestone, arranged as six horizontal bands of 80mm thickness. Rising to the 10m level is a faceted copper wall, with a ceiling of vaulted copper.
With the front elevation of the lobby fully glassed, the sculpted perimeter wall now wraps the interior of the lobby and the external wall of the five-foot way. “The stone wall acts as an anchor for the lobby,” says Cheng. To further connect the lobby and the five-foot way, the ceiling of rippled metal at the front of the lobby was replicated for the ceiling of the five-foot way outside.
Partitioned walls that formerly separated the retail units from the lobby have been demolished. “Instead of sectioning off these two ends, we designed the lobby in a way that allows more of a visual and physical connection between the eventual retail or F&B operators and the lobby,” says Cheng. “Having the two F&B or retail units opening up to the lobby will bring in more activity.”
The common areas on the upper levels have been enhanced, in keeping with the warm tones of the main lobby (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

‘Good bones’

ARA purchased 61 Robinson as they thought it had “good bones”, relates Cheng. However, ARA wanted to transform 61 Robinson into a higher-grade office building with a better sense of arrival, and to differentiate it from other buildings on Robinson Road in the CBD. Unlike the typical Grade-A office tower, the building has just 20 storeys and floor plates of 8,000 to 10,000 sq ft. Tenants attracted to the building include family offices, funds, and boutique firms with about 10 people.
Brewin Design refreshed the common areas on every floor, including the shared washrooms. Other upgrades in the building included the mechanical and electrical systems as well as the air-conditioning and mechanical ventilation systems to achieve better energy efficiency, which are in line with environmental sustainability and BCA Green Mark ratings.
Having worked on 61 Robinson, Brewin Design has been approached by “quite a few building owners” along Robinson Road to renovate their buildings. Discussions are underway, according to Cheng.
Brewin Design has also been appointed by ARA to enhance the main lobby of Capital Square office building and the quadrangle in front of it. The 16-storey office building was developed by Keppel Land and completed in 1998. ARA had purchased a 50% stake in the building from Alpha Investment Partners in September 2016.
Rendering of the new lobby entrance and the public square outside Capital Square after enhancements (Credit: Brewin Design Office)

Enhancement of public square

In February, SMFL MIRAI Partners, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Mitsui Finance and Leasing, along with Kenedix, a subsidiary of SMFL, and a private fund managed by ARA, announced that they had invested $297 million in Capital Square.
At the square directly outside Capital Square is a 6m-tall rectangular water feature. Brewin Design will be enhancing it and turning it into a 12m water feature that is slightly curved.
“The square has always been hot and barren,” relates Cheng. “We are putting in trees and more greenery to reduce the amount of hard surfaces.” The existing waterfall has a small reflecting pool, which Cheng intends to enlarge. “Hopefully, the amount of water surface will help cool the square,” he adds.
The gazebo at the square, which previously has just covered the pedestrian walkway, will now be expanded. Cheng intends to add more benches there. He is hoping that with more greenery, shade and seats provided, more people will be willing to use the square. He is aiming to complete the enhancements to the square and the main lobby by December.
Cheng: Blending public circulation space with the private office lobby encourages a sense of openness where it had once been enclosed (Photo: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)
With the CBD Incentive Scheme introduced in 2019 as part of the URA Master Plan, Cheng foresees the CBD undergoing a massive transformation in the next five to eight years. The redevelopment of 8 Shenton Way (former AXA Tower), Fuji Xerox Towers and Maxwell House into new mixed-use developments, as well as IOI Properties Group’s upcoming residential and hospitality development at Marina View, “will bring more life to the CBD”, he adds.

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