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Architect Yip Yuen Hong: Redefining luxury living with Midtown Modern

The award-winning architect shares the merits of simplicity, as shown in his latest project for GuocoLand, and says the best homes are made by understanding human nature.

Text by Janice Seow

“You don’t need a lot of excitement to make good architecture. Too much of a good thing and you sometimes lose the whole picture. That is why I always strive for simplicity and within that, try and inject something delightful. Then people will appreciate it a whole lot more,” shares Yip Yuen Hong, Principal of ip:li Architects.

We’re at the Midtown Modern show gallery. This latest project by Yuen Hong is a 558-unit condominium of two 30-storey towers that’s being built as part of the ambitious Guoco Midtown integrated mixed-use development in the Beach Road-Bugis neighbourhood.

Midtown Modern

Midtown Modern is the award-winning architect’s second project with real estate developer GuocoLand, and is also his second large-scale luxury residential development. The first was Martin Modern by the same developer.

Yip Yuen Hong

Yuen Hong is most well-known for his private residential projects. They are often soulful in nature, and exude timeless simplicity. They are ‘quiet’ and not intentionally designed to be ‘icons’, and yet, they often end up receiving a great deal of attention and accolades. Of fundamental importance to the architect is to focus on understanding human behaviour, and to design for people first.

“I always strive for simplicity and within that, try and inject something delightful. Then people will appreciate it a whole lot more.”

We find all these principles reflected on a larger scale in Midtown Modern. Here’s more from Yuen Hong himself.

Midtown Modern

Can you describe the way you approached the design and architecture for Midtown Modern?

We wanted to create an oasis in the city – a sanctuary resort. One of the ways we’ve done this is to introduce materials that are a lot more earthy and tactile. The units are designed to be very calm. There’s lot of wood, a lot of stone, and the floor is a limestone finish. It’s not shiny and bling at all.

With this project, 80 per cent of the surface area is also given to gardens (which is the same for the other GuocoLand project, Martin Modern). The gardens are all very thematic and it’s more like a forest than a garden. It’s something that I always advocate because I feel that landscaping shouldn’t be so manicured. We’re after a wilder type of beauty. And it’ll be so overgrown that actually after awhile you wouldn’t be able to tell that you’re living in a city. That’s what we are hoping for.

Midtown Modern

What are some of the other design details that make this development special?

The views

We always design for people first and foremost. To me, when it comes to residential apartments, it’s not about designing something very sculptural. That’s not so much what people are after. What people are concerned about is to have a view everywhere when they get into the apartment. So here, we’ve tilted the blocks so that they are away from the western sun. But this also orients them to get the best views – and from every room, not just the master bedroom and living room.

The sense of arrival

The sense of arrival is also important. And it’s not just me. GuocoLand understands this well. In the other project, Martin Modern, one has to drive deep in, so the sense of anticipation is there.

With Midtown Modern, we have created this spectacular light well with glass lifts inside. It is surrounded by a concierge area that is also a co-working space. The lifts lead up to the landscape deck. And because this light well is open to the sky, depending on what time you take the lift, the light will change. It’s also five to six storeys tall, so hopefully it’ll be very dramatic and create a bit of a ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ experience [laughs].

Midtown Modern

Were there any fresh innovations that you have explored with Midtown Modern?

Not so much innovation in this case, but the slight difference is that even though this is a high end project, we have tried to get away from the usual bling of one. People nowadays are a lot more well travelled. When you go to a luxury resort it’s very tactile, everything is all earthy. So I think people’s minds are a lot more open. They see these things happening, and they understand it straightaway. We had a lot of conversations with the client because they were the ones having to sell this property, and in the end, they took that leap of faith.

Midtown Modern

We see lots of biophilic design elements in this project. The term ‘biophilia’ is receiving lots of attention now, but the concept is not new. Is there anything different in the way it is being activated now?

I think historically, people loved gardens but it was mostly for pleasure and to enter a certain state of mind. Whereas now, people are more aware that biophilia does a lot more.

There are, for example, a lot of advocates now for permaculture. It’s about creating permanent agriculture and horticulture based on sustainable methods. You don’t just plant one type of plant, you plant all kinds for example. This enriches the soil, which is the most important thing. Soil is the biggest sink for carbon. On our landscape deck at Midtown Modern, the soil is at least two metres deep. The benefit is that the more soil you have, and if your plants are thriving, it (the soil) becomes a bigger sink.

Midtown Modern

Has the ‘new normal’ made you ponder more deeply about your journey and work as an architect? If so, in what way?

Architects pride themselves on understanding human nature. But it’s so vast. While a lot of it is a sort of common denominator, there are all these slight differences. So to understand this actually makes us a lot better as designers. 

To me, in the pandemic, I think people’s reactions to being confined together were quite different. So I think it needs a lot more study.

People will always require a bedroom, a living room, a dining room, a kitchen. It’s just that now because of the pandemic, we need to look at spaces that are more multi-use, especially because apartments are getting smaller and smaller. If you understand the dynamics of a family being together all the time, maybe there will be interesting ways for how to make spaces a lot more flexible.

It can be quite fascinating to study, and to see how we can create spaces for everybody.

ip:li Architects

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