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.