Ken Yeang's National Library of Singapore
by Sara Hart
The Singapore National Library commission represents Ken Yeang's first large-scale built project outside Malaysia. Won in competition against firms including those led by Moshe Safdie and Michael Graves, as well as the likes of Nikken Sekkei, the library also marks the beginning of a performance-based approach to architecture.
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It was with this project that Yeang really got to grips with certification procedures, in this case Singapore's "Green Mark" system (the equivalent of the UK's BREEAM and the U.S.'s LEED models) under which the building was awarded the highest rating — Platinum. At the time of completion, Christopher Chia, chief executive of the National Library Board, predicted the building would be "one of Singapore's most endearing buildings for the coming decades."
The client brief from the National Library Board was demanding. As well as providing library services of the highest order, the building had to function as a national and cultural icon, and be modeled as a civic institution of international standing.
The building, specified the brief, should have "a distinct character, reflecting Singapore's multicultural heritage and its aspirations to be a learning nation."
The building is located on what was once a grassed-over space containing a number of buried construction piles; these piles needed to be extracted, requiring the total clearance of the land.
At the outset Yeang mapped the vegetation within a 500-meter (1,600-foot) radius of the site; in his taxonomy of land types, Yeang categorized the development zone as "mixed artificial land."
The library is composed of two distinct blocks that are separated by a daylit, semi-enclosed and naturally ventilated internal "street"; the blocks are connected by bridges at the higher levels.
The larger of the two elements, which contains the book collections and library services, sits over a large, open, naturally ventilated plaza; the thick concrete slab which forms the soffit of the plaza is of sufficient size to evaporatively cool the space below through its thermal mass.
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This article is excerpted from EcoArchitecture: The Work of Ken Yeang by Sara Hart, edited by David Littlefield, copyright © 2011, with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons.