ipli Architects reflects on its design of Martin Modern in Robertson Quay
There is a small smile on Yip Yuen Hong’s face and occasional nods of approval as he walks the grounds of Martin Modern. Although it has been two years since the condominium developed by GuocoLand has been completed, it still looks fresh – in fact, given how the landscaping has had time to mature, the project is even better now than when the Principal of ipli Architects first conceived it.
This was all meticulously planned to be so, of course. Located in the heart of Robertson Quay, mere steps away from the Singapore River, Martin Modern sits on a sloping, 1.6ha site along Martin Place. Very early on, the decision was made to work within the constraints of the topography. Additionally, even though it could have built up to three towers, GuocoLand made the call to keep it to two, which means about 80 percent of the land is dedicated to gardens.
Timelessness with a twist
Yip is glad that there was no need to maximise the gross floor area, which many developers tend to do. In response, he designed a pair of 30-storey towers accommodating 450 units that are more fraternal than identical twins. Depending on the light, they are comprised of either slate-grey or earth-brown concrete, intersected by glass panels and movable trellises that shield the balconies.
“We were trying to create something different from the ubiquitous glass towers by using off-form concrete to give it a very raw feel. This is the binding force that holds the whole project together,” describes Yip.
The same materials are applied to the communal buildings, such as the clubhouse and various pavilions dotted throughout the compound. He explains, “We kept to a very monotonous palette because the world is busy and exciting enough. When you come home, you just want to keep it calm. You don’t need any more visual noise.”
Yip’s design solution is very much congruent with his pursuit of a sense of timelessness, albeit with “a little twist”, to evoke intrigue in his architecture. In this case, said twist is the use of rough concrete, where a special formwork was used to purposely give it an irregular feel.
“If you look at it on a sunny day, the colour is slightly different because of the concrete and texture of the paint. We should never try to achieve perfection in construction and that means we just have to work with it,” he adds.
Fortunately, the client was very much onboard with this direction. “We wanted something that could be timeless, that if you look at the building 20 years later, it still looks as if it had just been completed,” says Dora Chng, Director, Residential at GuocoLand. “We call them our two tall, dark and handsome towers that stand out amid the green landscaping.”
Greenery at every turn
The wonderful thing about a nature-centric project is that not only do the residents benefit, so do the neighbours who live in the surrounding high-rise homes. These reasons contributed to GuocoLand’s decision to green most of the grounds, over three levels, in a botanic gardens style, complete with a playground styled as an adventure zone.
“This whole area used to be plantations and we wanted to bring back that landscape, not just for the people staying here, but also for broader environment. I think this is the only development in the vicinity that is so heavily planted,” says Yip.
Making a bold statement about this is the Arrival Court, with its deep canopy, wide drop-off and lush, vertically planted walls. Yip was adamant about designing this as a grand transition space for residents to come home to, “I want them to know that they are returning to a green and tranquil environment. That sense of arrival is, essentially, quite important to us.”
Chng elaborates that it also offers a feeling of anticipation and discovery, especially for visitors. A flight of stairs leads up to a green lawn and above that, the 50m lap pool. “There is a surprise at every level. As they explore Martin Modern, even within the apartments, they know there is always something else to experience,” she says.
True to her description, she includes the rooftop Secret Garden in the tour of the project. Unless you live in the condominium, it is not obvious that it exists – and they are happy for it to stay this way. When looking from the ground up, the top of each tower merely appears irregularly shaped, with a mix of small and large cut-outs. Unsurprisingly, there is a rationale for this too.
“The Secret Garden actually is like a derelict warehouse that has been abandoned and the roof has blown off. Trees and plants have taken over and so, this is a continuation of whatever that we have downstairs,” explains Yip, who like a proud father, points out the little niches have been inserted that are perfect to sit in to read a book or have a chat.
The reference to the warehouse is a nod to Robertson Quay’s heritage of once being filled with godowns to support the country’s entrepôt activities. For those with a more vivid imagination, it evokes the feel of the ancient temple complexes overrun with tree roots that dot Siem Reap in Cambodia. The only giveaway that it is not are the framed views of Singapore’s city skyline beyond the walls.
The rooftop terrace further reinforces Yip’s vision for the project to create a sanctuary for residents to come home to – something that obviously many buy into, since all the units have long been sold. It could be argued that its good design contributed to its warm reception.
Chng is quick to acknowledge this fact, “When you have a distinctive design like this, you will attract people of the same community coming to buy and wanting to live in this place. In their appreciation of it, they actually take care of the development better. I think that’s very important, because on the longer-term basis, it helps with the value of the property.”