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Nikken Sekkei Opens Office and Exhibition in Singapore

Nikken Sekkei Ltd opened an exhibition showcasing its landmark projects at URA Singapore City Gallery, The URA Centre. The exhibition—which ran from 19 to 27 February 2014—followed the opening of Nikken Sekkei’s Singapore office at One Raffles Quay in January.

The exhibition was opened by Keiichi Okamoto, president and chief executive officer of Nikken Sekkei, and attended by Haruhisa Takeuchi, ambassador of Japan, and Peter Ho Hak Ean, chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore. Okamoto said that Singapore is a strategic base for its Southeast Asia operations, where urban development and investment in real estate are projected to grow significantly in the ASEAN region over the next decade.

“The Asian share of total global construction investment was 31 percent in 2005, and this is expected to soar to 46 percent by 2020,” said Okamoto in his speech at the opening ceremony. “Global companies are aggressively accelerating investment in real estate in ASEAN. By using Singapore as a strategic base, we will be able to better engage with our clients here and enhance our services across the region, while contributing to the growth of the local and regional economy.”

Since the establishment in 1900 and incorporation in Japan, Nikken Sekkei has achieved global recognition as one of the largest integrated urban planning, architecture, structural and M&E engineering and landscape design providers in the world. It is also well recognised as a pioneer in sustainable design. To date, the company has completed over 20,000 projects in more than 200 cities in 50 countries around the globe, including building significant presence in China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. The company is focused on master planning; large scale mixed-use developments; development of low-carbon and smart cities; transit-oriented development (TOD) which includes integrated rail and city development; life-cycle design; and public projects such as underground space planning, hospitals, sports facilities, and aged welfare facilities.

In an exclusive interview with FuturArc, Okamoto shares his insights on Southeast Asia’s infrastructure development. Below are excerpts from the interview:

FuturArc: How can Nikken Sekkei bring something new to Southeast Asia region in terms of architectural designs and concepts?

Okamoto: Nikken Sekkei’s strength is the integration of the function of both architect and engineer, which ensures design continuity in all aspects of our projects. This is critical to the large-scale, master planning and TOD projects, which require a deep understanding of both engineering and architectural designs.

In addition to this approach, Nikken Sekkei has a strong track record in sustainable design. In our early days, the company was involved in developing innovative and environmentally sustainable design solutions to meet high density challenges in Japan. We expect to bring our 110 years of expertise to the region through both public and private projects; either through joint partnerships or subcontracted projects with Singaporean consultants.

FuturArc: How will your future designs and plans reference the climate and urban context of this region? Will they be environmentally and socially sustainable?

Okamoto: All Nikken Sekkei projects are underpinned by the same sustainability and Green ethos that we embrace as designer, architect and engineer. In Southeast Asia, these principles become even more important. Rapid urbanisation and challenging climatic conditions in Southeast Asia mean we must take extra care to ensure our projects are sustainable amidst changing environments. In this respect, the region is similar to Japan, where the climate is often even more humid and the cities face similar high-density urban challenges. Our extensive experience in Japan and other countries in the region, such as the Middle East, Vietnam and Indonesia, provide us with a strong understanding of the regional environment and its challenges. We look forward to demonstrating our cutting edge expertise in sustainable design for the ASEAN region.

FuturArc: Do you think Southeast Asia is at par or trailing when it comes to Green building development? What do you think are some of the challenges facing Green building and sustainable development in this region?

Okamoto: Southeast Asian countries are generally on course and working towards implementing more Green building developments. We are seeing an increased number of eco-friendly developments in the region. Singapore, in particular, has a strong reputation as a leader in master planning, architecture and city design, with a solid focus on tackling its land and density challenges using sustainable solutions.

Climate conditions, space limitations, and high population density form the key issues facing sustainable development in most Southeast Asian countries. With the hot and humid climate throughout the year in this region, Green building becomes a practical and necessary solution to keep energy consumption costs low.

FuturArc: Seeing as this region has some of the densest cities in the world with limited land space, one of the more feasible and practical ways to create sustainable living is to go Green upwards (i.e., vertical greenery, skyward greenery, etc.). Will any of your designs and plans incorporate them?

Okamoto: Unused land in dense cities like Singapore and Ho Chi Minh is an extremely rare commodity. However there is unlimited potential for urban planners and architectural and landscape designers to make use of the rooftops, walls and façades to create lush greenery in a concrete jungle.

For example, a green roof on an office block or apartment building can be used as a relaxing leafy space for building tenants. As plants function well as a solar filter and prevent the absorption of heat radiation, green spaces can also drastically reduce the amount of heat emitted from the building and help regulate internal building temperatures.

Vertical greenery is definitely a solution we seek to incorporate into our designs to counterbalance the effects of urban-spread. One of our projects is the Eximbank Tower in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Its green façade stands in harmony with the verdant Saigon, creating an exterior that embodies the image of energy and wealth. Our design made use of the elements of wind, sunlight and rain to create a building that is in touch with nature—aesthetically beautiful and environmentally sustainable.

FuturArc: Your future TOD projects for this region seem interesting. How will these developments and designs reduce reliance on automobiles and shift communities towards public transportation?

Okamoto: There are many benefits to TOD. Building communities around public transportation by utilising TOD design techniques reduces energy consumption by encouraging more efficient public transport systems and less reliance on personal motor vehicles. Problems of traffic congestion and the costs of congestion delays can be reduced, as the public are able to get around the city and make use of various amenities without the use of a car. It promotes walking, biking and a more active lifestyle and a stronger sense of community.

TOD is a solution that responds well to the concerns of the 21st century because it is more environmentally and economically sustainable. In planning for TOD, Nikken Sekkei takes into consideration the seamless integration of public and private development, the functionality of the design solution, and the creation of a quality urban environment.

FuturArc: Your company has done many award-winning projects. Which projects are you most proud of and which one is most challenging?

Okamoto: Developing as a group of professional specialists, we have continued to accumulate extensive experience and develop technical skills by working on over 20,000 projects, in more than 200 cities and 50 countries. Our expertise in sustainable design is evident in the extensive number of Green awards our projects have received, including the Sustainable Building Award for the Tokyo Midtown development, and the Environment and Building Service System Design Award for Mokuzai Kaikan. A full list of our awards can be found here: http://www.nikken.co.jp/en/awards/index.html.

The Yokohama Minato Mirai, Tokyo Mid-Town and Izumi garden projects are some of the more challenging projects we have developed. For Yokohama Minato Mirai 21 Chuo Station, we constructed a 426-metre floating slab. It was a challenge to integrate public transportation and private development seamlessly.

FuturArc: In general, what will cities be like in the future, and what is the role of architecture in growing cities?

Okamoto: We believe that sustainable designs are increasingly becoming the mainstream. Cities in the future have to be habitable, aesthetically pleasing, use resources efficiently, and embody a solution to a larger global problem. Cities also have to be people-friendly and community-friendly. Buildings have to provide both for high-density living and afford people with ample green and open spaces. In this respect, architecture has a huge part to play. Architects understand the city from a macro point of view and are well-positioned to help achieve this seamless juxtaposition. We can be the agents of change in creating more sustainable cities across the globe.

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