Thursday, July 31, 2008

Singapore 2: The Mosque and the Church

The second day in Singapore, we should start with the farthest trip to the northern part, where we continued our journey towards the southern part of MRT railways. The day started from Sembawang MRT, where the award winning Forum's Asy-Syafaah Mosque (a.k.a Malay mosque, since the locals had a hardtime of recognizing this place we were asking:) is located. The night earlier, a friend of us suggested to have approx.400m walk to the mosque from the MRT station, but in fact it felt like we walked 2km across public housings and open meadow in one hot sunny day!

At 10 am, we finally reached the mosque which was easy to find from the housing complex 400m away, since it is located on an open field (not yet to be developed to housing?). Over sweat and heavy breathing, we were surprised by the look of the mosque that was so complex and detailed, as if it was eager to speak out or state something so definitely on such calm and vast open area. Is it the heat, or are we just having difficulty on comprehend such humble facility that suddenly shout their mind?

Our schedule that day was to visit some award winning buildings in Singapore, including the Asy-Syafaah mosque earlier in the morning. After detouring to Republic Polytechnic for about 3 hours, we continued our visit to the church St.Mary of the Angels designed by WOHA, where we found a very interesting sense of space, particularly for a religious building.

Arriving on a bus shelter next to the church that we almost missed, we realized that this side entrance through the slope hill was somehow blocking the presence of the church from the streets, thus made it enclosed to the possibly heavy traffic or crowd from the streets. It was early afternoon when the sunlight passed through the trees and exposing the dimension of the textured walls, as well as creating enough shadow from the canopy where we entered. Unlike the mosque, silence and 'peace' suddenly grasped us, made us quiet (for some time at least) while enjoying its architecture. It has a courtyard with circular reflecting pond that actually reflected the sunlight onto the large overhang above, creating a dynamic circular watery shadow as the only moving object around this silent space.

After taking some pictures and experiencing the corridors, the naturally golden lit room, the main hall, the garden etc., we finally checked the main entrance of the building, which was actually across the side entrance we came from. It was also elevated from the main road, and one of the most intersting part here was the placements of the mass and details that created cross-shaped composition for every visitor to notice. This church is definitely well detailed, but somehow it maintained its unique presence enclosed yet humble to its surrounding, thus made it more interesting for people to communicate to the Almighty, as well as to others.


Singapore 1: National Library

Arriving on sunny wednesday afternoon, we enjoyed a nice quick trip straight to the hotel, which happens to be in the downtown near City Hall. After a small chat with the taxi driver, we found out that the hotel is a walking distant to one of the most discussed architectural object in Singapore, the National Library. So it wasn't long for us to put our bags and quickly grab the camera and hit the road, again:).
We walked through several blocks, passed some sheltered pedestrians, and even a sex shop, before reached the entrance of this library where we came into an open space under a big white building, just like when we crossed under Foster's Hongkong Bank. This giant structure emerges from quite dense surroundings that we almost forgot to notice its whole shape from the pedestrian. We couldn't help but to go right through this open terrace with such comfortable airflows and lively ambiance with people chatted and sat around the cafe below. Maybe that comforting feeling should be experienced for every public-interfaced buildings in Jakarta.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hongkong 4: Chek Lap Kok

One of the Hongkong's architecture attraction is located at the country's gateway, the Chek Lap Kok international airport, which was built away from downtown to the west part of Lantau island. The world's best airport in 2007 was designed by british architect, Sir Norman Foster, to hold larger capacity with faster and much better services as the old airport in Kaitak.
The airport uses the current preferred pattern where the departure halls located on the upper levels while the arrival halls below. These patterns allow the ongoing visitors to have the last grand farewell, as they are welcomed by the large curving halls with stick-like supporting collumns, an all-white ambiance with the easiest access both for visitors from cars or buses, and trains. Though the departure and arrival halls are separated in levels, this airport still provides air-bridges accross the voids to connect these storeys, that resembles contemporary concept of air travelling with many possible transits.

After entering the glass doors, the visitors head for 10 check-in rows, with 20 check-in gates each. These rows end at single immigration entry, separated by large glass panels, and guided by many informative signages and directories that Jakarta commonly lacks off.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hongkong 3: The streets within

To experience Hongkong means getting acquainted with the structures, both the buildings, and the space (streets and gangs) between them. Hongkong has one of the crowded yet comfortable pedestrians in the world, just like Singapore, whereas their width equals the streets. With such proportions, we wonder how the traffic would go without any significant jams where we can easily find here in Jakarta. Though the pedestrian was quite pleasing, Hongkong still shares the untouched urban structures above the pedestrian levels, where we constantly had to cover our heads from the dripping window air conditioners.

When we arrived at the plaza in front of HB, we noticed that similar urban crowd we have in Singapore or even in SCBD Kuningan has come to the surface, except with different settings or backgrounds. But after a short Tram ride, when we stepped our feet on North Hollywood Road in Hongkong along the way to the southern part (SOHO), we were amazed by how they managed to have both traditional yet modern society living on such tight and multi layered space (or perhaps storeys).
To get to the southern part (which is on a higher grounds), we must take like hundreds of climbing steps, where these stalls, kiosks, and even cafe are located on each side. Fortunately, we came to a connecting mid level elevators where we can reach the highest part of the town, near the Peak Tram. This mid level elevator has the width of the streets below, except it's intended only for people, thus many advertising boards/boxes were placed at the same level as the elevator as building facades. Considering the miles and terrain we have encountered that day, we decided to take a raincheck for the Peak:). Instead we walked downhill, across another kiosks and grilled-pork canteen again, towards the IFC Mall near the harbour.

Once, we saw this signage that says "open public park ahead" that we easily refered to our common parks in Jakarta, instead there were only smaller gardens with ramps and stairs downward, where we finally realized that the park was actually placed in levels below us with some stairs and a glass-paneled lift to access.


Hongkong 2: Foster's and the rest

First thing that came into our minds about Hongkong to visit were Norman Foster's Hongkong Bank and IM Pei's Bank of China. And the simple way to access Hongkong island where they located from our hotel in Kowloon was via MTR subway. The station, as well as the train cabin was designed to be simple, clean, and very functional, as people tends to go very fast and in a large numbers to the business district. With hidden indirect lightings reflected from the curved metal ceiling, the station was lit sufficiently along with many other advertising neon-boxes that ends at medium speed escalator to the surface.

As we came out from Central station, whereas those two icons are closely located, we've been struck by how those highrise buildings arises from the crowded streets and multi level contours. The shocking feeling was slightly reduced by the open plaza in front of the giant structures of Foster's Hongkong Bank (HB). But the urge for getting to the office in time would lead people to cross the streets, stay at the bus/tram stops, and even run to the nearest escalators or building entrances. Unless we pause, sit and look up, we wouldn't be able to sense the height and the whole structure of all the surrounding highrises....luckily we were tourists.

The HB's ground level is slightly sloped and open for public access, where they can easily cross the other streets through the building to another staircases and buildings. This open area is guarded by the 2 lions at the entrance, accented by the presence of 2 escalators toward the office above with real security guards. We really enjoyed the airflow there, before we continue to the other side of the street where the highrise shades most of these areas. After some shots, we finally realize how photogenic this HB was, as we didn't need to take difficult angles to get a perfect shot of this building.


Hongkong 1: The Arrival

After an early morning hustle, and having a quick transit at Changi, with a sip of Gordon Ramsay's lunch set at SQ, we finally arrived at Chek Lap Kok international Airport in Hongkong at 2pm. Surprisingly, we travelled together with our fellow engineers and officers from FTUI, departed for Changi where we splitted to each other destination. Again, surprisingly, another fellow UI architect and talented actor, Nicholas Saputra, joined the gang to depart for Hongkong.

It was a lucky coinsident for us, since he is a regular traveller to Hongkong for a VH1 conference, thus helped us through initial encounter with local transportation:). It was a 'heaven and earth' comparison for people (well, at least for us) to travel from Cengkareng to Chek Lap Kok, where simplicity, accessibility, and tourist comfort are the priority as well as the ambiance for the modern airport....we can easily access Hongkong downtown along with our belongings through an airport express train. This fast, clean, and comforting train goes straight to 3 checkpoints, where then people may checking in/out from/to the airport easily....this has been proven to actually help us at our last day in Hongkong when the Feng Shen storm strikes!