Adrian L Norman Ltd — Landscape architecture for Sandcrawler Building, Singapore

Design Nature

[Featured in Hong Kong Means Business, 2 July 2015]

Stepping into the tropical garden of Singapore’s Sandcrawler building is to be transported to another world. Dense and jungle-like, laced with running water, it replicates the lush forest planets of the Star Wars universe. It’s a look and feel that is right at home at the Lucasfilm Singapore studios.

The work on the Sandcrawler building by landscape architects Adrian L Norman Ltd (ALN) is one of several award-winning projects by the Hong Kong firm that acknowledge the quality of the practice’s innovative projects and the city’s strength in design.

Two merit awards from the Hong Kong Institute of Landscape Architects Design Awards, and three awards from the Institute of Landscape Architects Malaysia, are a unique achievement for the Clearwater Bay firm with a distinctive perspective on the craft.

The firm has a reputation for a sophisticated, yet understated approach to landscape design, with a focus on the marriage between interiors and the exterior. Managing Director Adrian Norman says contemporary design should never be confused with simplistic design, arguing that it’s possible to retain rich detail and texture in a modern context.

“You can take contemporary design but not look at it in a minimalist way, which is often the case when people talk about contemporary design,” says Mr Norman. “But you can actually try and combine it and relate it back to some rich textures of planting types and bring curved forms back into a design, instead of always looking at the straight lines and strong geometries of a site.”

Firm Foundation

After living and working in Hong Kong for 12 years, Mr Norman saw an opportunity to bring a more nuanced approach to landscape architecture. In 2005, the Englishman set up the firm in the New Territories, an area he chose for its lush surroundings and proximity to clients in Kowloon and Hong Kong.

Since starting the business with a staff of four, the company has grown to a team of 26 in Hong Kong, with another 10 staff based in its second office in Kuala Lumpur, which was established in 2010.

The firm is capitalising on demand throughout Southeast Asia and cultivating high-profile jobs in the Chinese mainland, including for global technology company Huawei Technologies. ALN has handled several projects on its Shenzhen campus, including creating a European-style garden and functional sitting-out meeting areas. ALN’s design for the site takes its reference from a natural, picturesque landscape of rolling hills, green valleys, meandering streams and changing colours.

“We developed the landscape as inward-looking. All the buildings were looking inwards and we then dropped the landscape down by almost one whole floor so it became a sunken landscape,” he says. “There are a number of intimate spaces in some locations for small meetings, but we also kept a large lawn area at the front where they could actually hold events and corporate functions.”

Driving Force

ALN was recognised for its Huawei project with two awards. But its most widely acclaimed work has been the Sandcrawler building in Singapore – the award-wining, headline-grabbing home of Lucasfilm’s studios, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN Asia Pacific. “The client was very keen for the landscape to become an environment scene or set from Star Wars,” he says of the design which won Singapore’s Presidents Design Award.

In addition to the building’s architecture, the garden space is also remarkable for the 180 local species planted, which were all specified, procured on field trips and set out on site by ALN.

“It is intended to be an overgrown forest that has germinated on its own, a landscape that is not normally associated with corporate landscapes,” he says.
“That’s the intention; that over the next few years, it really becomes an incredibly densely vegetated central civic space where you meander through a rainforest.”

Mr Norman says landscape design – particularly for spaces destined for hospitality and leisure use – should always be underpinned by a strong connection to the architecture and reflect an understanding of the discipline of design to inform the scheme.

This philosophy was evident in the work designing a private residence in Clearwater Bay, which garnered the firm one of its HKILA awards in the Design – Private category. The project saw the property’s dated swimming pool given a sleek makeover, including an infinity edge with a view over the Port Shelter and South China Sea.

The hidden complexity in the seemingly straightforward design has become a hallmark of ALN’s work, and a sign of the maturity of landscape design in Hong Kong.

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