Benoy’s Divisional Director Terence Seah discusses the firm’s philosophy and goals in shaping the future of design in Singapore and the ASEAN region. Olha Romaniuk writes.
“This may sound strange and perhaps uninspiring, but I always ask my team ‘So what?’,” says Terence Seah, when asked about how he challenges his team to design innovatively. “It was a question that I was constantly asked as a young architect and, later on, as a developer. Basically, it is asking what is so special, interesting or different about your proposal. It is a very relevant question, and since my return to consultancy, it has not failed me.”
Having worked for CapitaLand and Surbana International Consultants in Singapore prior to joining Benoy and in design for consulting firms and developers alike, Seah’s seemingly simple question is often the right one, giving his team the ability to see different perspectives of every design challenge at hand. This attitude and ability to ask what makes a design proposal stand out from the rest is just one of the driving factors that continues to motivate and inspire Benoy Singapore’s 30-strong team to push the boundaries when it comes to design.
With many projects under his belt and many more on the drawing board, Seah often draws inspiration from his international studies and work experiences, bringing lessons from some of the world’s best designed and planned cities to Singapore and the ASEAN region. “I think Singapore has now achieved a good balance with high-density living after 15 years of planning and implementation,” observes Seah. “In many ways, the seeds and strategies were formulated a long time ago with some adjustments made along the way. If I could change anything, it would be in the area of social infrastructure, urban realm and breeding difference and character in Singapore. This would be the cherry on top in terms of urban design in this city and would bring that elusive richness which we see in first class world cities such as London or New York.”
For Seah, a holistic approach to design and planning is key when it comes to retaining the unique urban fabric of Singapore as just that – uniquely Singaporean. A careful balance of the old and the new, colonial buildings and contemporary skyscrapers, demands a comprehensive look at strategic conservation at a precinct level, rather than from a singular, building-by-building approach. “The practical approach to accommodate the new and the old, the foreign and the local is broadly reflective of the general culture of Singapore,” says Seah. “How we ‘glue’ the gaps of the city together is also really important. Using green belts can help in softening the contrast that results sometimes.”
Looking toward the future on a regional level, Seah sees a wealth of project prospects for his team at Benoy Singapore. With opportunities within the sphere of transport – rail, aviation and transit – infrastructure across the ASEAN countries, Seah sees an exciting future for Benoy in projects that aim to improve the issues of traffic management through a development of better transit facilities in cities across Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Seah also cannot hide his optimism when discussing the future of transportation in regards to one of the most pivotal transportation heavyweights. “We are currently working with one of the world’s most renowned airport developers and operators, Changi Airport Group, and with that, we can see the potential for what can be built and delivered in Southeast Asia.”
Among the high profile projects with Changi Airport Group for Benoy is Terminal 4 at Changi Airport – a new terminal that will accommodate up to 16 million passengers a year – for which Benoy worked with SAA Architects on concept and interior design. Benoy’s second project for Changi Airport Group is Jewel Changi Airport – a mixed-used development with indoor gardens, a hotel and airport operations facilities. The project is poised to become the newest architectural icon in Singapore when it reaches completion.
Regionally, Benoy is working on a transit oriented development of Subang Jaya City Centre in Selangor, Malaysia. With goals of improving transport infrastructure, connectivity and services in the country, Seah sees this and Benoy’s other regional projects as integral to the transformative role the firm is playing in leading the development within the ASEAN countries. “There are untapped cultural and geographic resources across the region,” concludes Seah. “They will bring a whole new offer to the world – it’s only a matter of time.”