The most successful urban spaces are those which tie into the city fabric yet in ways simultaneously break from that framework to become a truly distinct place. Architecturally, a divide as such can be accomplished by means of materials, spaces, sounds and lighting strategies applied to urban forms with the effect of stimulating a visitor’s senses in new ways.
United Square, a 1970s office tower and retail podium, has been refurbished to diverge from the metropolitan framework in this way. The design amplifies a rare basement-level courtyard which is programmed with commercial facilities. With the extensive implementation of aquatic elements — a waterfall and pool — and local natural materials — granite extracted from a quarry on nearby Pulau Ubin island and Chengai hardwood boardwalks — a new environment is created that stands in stark contrast to the surrounding urban setting.
United Square’s basement level becomes a vibrant landscaped courtyard of al-fresco dining. Tensile fabrics permit shading on the public plaza, and a sail-shaped structure extends the entire height of the retail podium from the courtyard to enclose an addition of restaurant and kitchen spaces, transforming a network of overhead exhaust systems into an architectural feature. These elements augment the site’s new distinction as ‘urban lagoon’.
This renovation jointly strengthens United Square’s presence within the high-frequency pedestrian flows of the surrounding Novena Square region. By replacing a vehicular throughway that interrupted the site with a new public plaza and pedestrian bridge passing over the courtyard, the site’s diverse tenant population, which includes embassies and a number of children’s schools, becomes increasingly connected with a Mass Rapid Transit station and bus stop.