URA's website and e-services will undergo maintenance on 23 Oct 2021 (Sat) from 12am to 3am and will be unavailable during this period. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.

The Singapore City Gallery will be closed until further notice. Coupon dropbox service is available at Level 1 of The URA Centre from Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5pm (except public holidays). Members of the public must adhere to safe management measures while at The URA Centre.

A Kinder Form of Architecture

  Published: 16 April 2018
  Theme: Architecture & Design

This article presents key highlights from an interview with British architect Sir Terry Farrell in Skyline Issue 8, who advocates for more sophisticated, human-centred designs for cities.

The 21st century is the century of global city making, which must be more sophisticated, joined up, sustainable and human-centred going forward. It’s about layering, learning from the past and regenerating with communities’ involvement from the bottom-up, says Sir Terry Farrell.

He believes that human habitats are not the work of a single designer – they are generally the product of many hands over time, and the sum of many layers and iterations. Cities naturally evolve, and architects and planners must work with deference to the natural, often invisible order underlying cities.

Designers too often seek to impose an arbitrary visual order to the world, and this has led to a great deal of dysfunctional architecture and urban design in the 20th and 21st centuries. Architecture is not merely sculpture – buildings do not exist in isolation. Good architecture engages with the city and builds upon the existing strengths of a place.


Guangzhou South Railway Station. (Image: Farrells)

On involving people in city making

Sir Terry says people are experts in their own neighbourhoods and can provide a great deal of insight – designers and planners must learn from those who experience places on a daily basis. Planners should provide meaningful opportunities for community participation and decision-making – their role must not be to merely inform the public of decisions already made.

Designing transit-oriented and people-friendly cities

He shares that architecture and site planning of the 20th century often prioritise motorised traffic while neglecting the needs of pedestrians and public transport users. However, cities have increasingly recognised that cars are the least space-efficient mode of urban transportand cannot stave off traffic congestion forever simply by building new roads.

Farrells has designed many metro stations in Hong Kong that exemplify a super-dense transit oriented urban model. There is a high degree of integration between stations and surrounding development, which means that public transport is usually much more convenient than driving.

Walkability is also crucial to urban sustainability. At either end of any public transport journey, riders become pedestrians. Farrells’ Kennedy Town Station in Hong Kong considers this holistically in designing spaces around the station entrances. The new staircases, escalators and lifts put in place help connect residents of uphill areas with the new railway station.


Kennedy Town Station, Hong Kong. (Image: Farrells)

One well-designed place for people in Singapore

In Singapore, Sir Terry feels that the improvements made in recent years to the Kallang River show what can happen when designers look beyond the functional aspects of urban infrastructure and explore ways to transform these necessary elements of any city into useful “people places”. In the case of the Kallang River, this former concrete channel has been transformed into a magnificent river landscape, integrated with parks and promenades.

Farrells’ Design of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail’s Singapore Terminus

Sir Terry shares that a place-making approach has been adopted. Even though the station is tucked underground, it needs to read as a highly legible node within the Jurong Lake District – as a meeting place, much like Grand Central Station in New York City, or St. Pancras in London. It’s not just an incidental piece of transport infrastructure – it will be the primary driver of development in the area, and will form the centrepiece of the new Lakeside Gateway precinct, along with the surrounding park.

The fact that the Singapore high-speed rail alignment runs entirely underground holds some exciting design implications. Farrells’ other major high-speed railway stations have often been above ground, and the result is a visually imposing mass of railway viaducts that can also pose a barrier to pedestrian movement.

In contrast, the new terminus in Jurong Lake District will be tucked beneath a park. Farrells has sought to bring the park into the interior of the station, for instance by allowing natural light to filter down, and by incorporating green, organic design elements.


About Sir Terry Farrell

From advocating for “urban rooms” where citizens can discuss the making of their town to designing transportation hubs that enable thousands of commuters to travel around the city, the “people” have been at the heart of the works of Sir Terry Farrell, founder of architectural firm Farrells. Over the last five decades, he has pushed back against high modernism for a kinder form of architecture, and expanded his practice from London to Hong Kong, and most recently, Shanghai. URA hosted Farrells’ ‘Urban Dialogue’ exhibition in Singapore in October 2017, a first comprehensive display of key projects in Hong Kong, China, Korea and Southeast Asia.


Writer: Justin Zhuang