In Transition

- A Simple Headquarte­rs, by Pencil Office with TEAM DESIGN Architects Words Luo Jingmei Photograph­y Khoo Guo Jie

How can design enhance staff equality, build client loyalty, and usher a shift in company direction? Pencil Office crafts a people-focused example tailored to tropical Singapore, using hospitalit­y elements to support the metamorpho­sis of Wearnes Automotive.

US-born, Singapore-based Erik L’Heureux (Principal of

Pencil Office) has a preoccupat­ion with seeking authentic tropical engagement­s. The latest iteration is a SGD$30-million, 200,000-square-foot extension for Wearnes Automotive in Queenstown. The gracefully screened, alabaster structure backdrops an existing showroom that contrasts with its chunky, glass-fronted massing. Given a textile-like quality, the facade arcs toward the multi-brand showroom’s logo, and puckers to shape shop windows and a link bridge. A varying filigree gives life to the eightstore­y building’s shell.

The screen embodies performanc­e and poetry, says L’Heureux. It pays homage to the mid-twentieth-century modernist influences of the neighbouri­ng Lea Hin Co. building (with its distinctiv­e starry facade) while working hard to resolve multifario­us issues. Angled fins conceived with concave-radius aluminium profiles mitigate glare and solar heat gain, as well as promote rainwater runoff to reduce staining. The material choice minimises stress on the structure that was already pre-determined by Team Design Architects before Pencil Office was hired to design the envelope and interiors.

“Significan­t effort was put into simplifyin­g the building so that it would sit as an elegant backdrop to the car showrooms,” says L’Heureux. The picturesqu­e, sustainabl­e architectu­re turns convention­s of car showrooms on their head, but this was necessary to reflect the 100-year-old company’s increasing shift from selling and servicing petroleum-based vehicles to dealing with electric ones. It also trumpets a refined image befitting Wearnes’ elite clientele.

Inside, this ambition manifests in an impressive variety of textural, narrative-led nuances that take a page from hospitalit­y design. It is most visceral at the seventh-storey formal reception, where a sculpted staircase rises three storeys. An aluminium-tube layer veils the atrium, bending into handrails and peeling open for cross views before culminatin­g in a wheel-like oculus. This and two other skylights flush the interior with daylight.

Up the meandering staircase is a suite of VIP-focused programs that staff can also use. There is a kitchen-accompanie­d gathering space, and a timber-and-leather-lined room for whiskey and intimate discussion­s. A balcony allows for the occasional outdoor escape. A bar and lounge abuts the crown jewel – a humidityco­ntrolled bonded car storage space for vintage, rare and left-hand drive cars disallowed on local roads. Glass walls, ambient lighting and a sea of decorative aluminium half pipes overhead ripple from the lounge, and accord the space a museum-like ambience. Twin perimeter glass boxes that cars can be driven into facilitate launch events and training sessions.

While the neutral tonality is a harmonisin­g foil for the manifold brands, subtle automotive-related details enrich the spaces. Highqualit­y veneers with abstract cut-outs recall automotive grilles; curved lines, leathers and finished metals abound. “A tremendous amount of attention was applied to details at touch points: door handles and railing stitching, interfaces between materials and the terrazzo floor bring the space a quality befitting the [premium] cars and company,” L’Heureux elaborates.

Suppliers are not forgotten. Speciality showrooms for brands with smaller product offerings such as sports car manufactur­ers Alpine and Lotus connect to five stacked window displays. This model mirrors the exclusivit­y governing high-end boutique retail.

At the heart of the architectu­re is a fundamenta­l considerat­ion for many layers of interactio­n. This extends to the strata-dissolving staff spaces. Mechanics and corporate personnel use the same lift, country club-style shower facilities and 24-hour-accessible staff commons furnished with mid-century modern-inspired seating. Pushing services inward also grants desks views and light. On the three workshop levels, performanc­e louvres and fans enhance working comfort.

Providing spaces conducive to everyone working in the company anticipate­s a more level-playing-field workspace. This is apt as greasy-floor garages give way to sophistica­ted laboratori­es for the repair and maintenanc­e of high-performanc­e and increasing­ly electric cars, suggests L’Heureux. While the centre now boasts the latest supporting technology, he stresses that spaces prioritisi­ng staff wellness and equality are as critical in driving the company’s success. This progressiv­e, human-centric approach is integral to effective and inspiratio­nal architectu­re, which is what makes this project an important precedent for the automotive industry.

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