Wisma Atria, a five-story retail podium at the base of a 22-storey office tower, was first designed by DP Architects in 1986. The firm designed the mall’s alterations in 2004, in addition to a third incarnation planned for completion in 2012. The architectural progression, like many retail developments on Orchard Road, continues to take place within the contours of the building’s original structure.
The 2004 transformation of Wisma Atria can be considered the transition project for DP Architects towards a new extroverted mall type on Orchard Road. A façade expansion creates visual and functional links between the interior retail space and the exterior promenade: opaque cladding is replaced by glass to achieve full retail transparency; a structural framing system projects the mall outward, closer to the pedestrian streetscape; and upper retail floors have been directly connected to the promenade by means of external escalators to maximise accessibility to every floor and improve the commercial value of upper levels. This series of design moves comprehensively re-situates a 1980s mall as a street-integrated shopping centre.
The four-metre-deep structural frame exploits a 2002 Orchard Road ordinance allowing façade extensions to engage with pedestrians and facilitate alfresco dining spaces. The frame dismantles the building’s shell, operating as a moment of transition to rework sidewalk circulation and the surrounding urban context. By using the otherwise empty grid to support an outdoor landing at the second floor and glass-enclosed spaces at the third floor, the façade is endowed with a sectional layering that effectually blurs the line between the interior commercial space and the public space of the promenade. By integrating external escalators, multiple retail levels are connected with the sidewalk to functionally transform upper storeys into street-accessible spaces.
The designers have integrated a blue grid paneling to clad the building’s upper levels and perform as a unifying backdrop to the façade. This material supplements the coloured structural grid as a reference to the original building’s signature blue-tile cladding, establishing the new frontage as an architectural continuum.
New Wisma Atria Makeover, 2012
The continuing transformation of Orchard Road is in many ways driven by the competitive nature of its retail spaces. The prospective design for Wisma Atria is designed to further augment street visibility and respond to patterns of human movement through the site.
A prospective high-visibility glass wrapping will perform as a common dynamic envelope, a three storey glazed shopfront articulated to extend even further into the space of the pedestrian promenade. In an effort to impart maximum transparency and fulfill the client’s desire for an all-glass building, the design will remove the façade’s current grid, retaining only those parts structurally supporting an extended food court above. The new structure underlying the triangulated glazed skin is being designed using thinnest-possible members, and structural retainers are designed to enhance a sheen glazed finish. The façade materiality will become a dialogue between glass and an aluminium matte cladding affixed to structural and mechanical elements. An articulated backdrop façade on the upper levels will be clad in blue horizontal strips of hollow channel, once again maintaining aspects of the mall’s earliest character.