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A Green Beacon for the Community

The design of the new TOUCH Community Theatre by ONG&ONG takes the concept of reaching out to the people in the heartlands a step further. Luo Jingmei reports.

A Green Beacon for the Community


February 23rd, 2015

TOUCH Community Services is a not-for-profit charitable organisation started in 1992 for latch-key children that has since grown into a multi-service, integrated network comprising 17 services, one centre and 19 children’s clubs located across the island.

The design of the new TOUCH Community Theatre at Bukit Merah takes the concept of reaching out to the people in the heartlands a step further by incorporating performing art functions. Designed by ONG&ONG, it’s the first of its kind. While part of the Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) that founded TOUCH Community Services, the performing arts centre takes centrestage, It includes a main auditorium that has 20 per cent more seating than the current auditorium, as well as full backstage facilities, a black box theatre, dance studios, green rooms and multi-purpose rooms, all of which are available for public use.


Andrew Lee, lead architect for this project from ONG&ONG highlights that fitting all these programs into a 1,500-square-metre plot with a height constraint of nine storeys to match its neighbouring block, as well as the need to fit 2,500 people into the building at any one time meant the site would be quite built up. This would leave “little or no room for exploration of the exterior,” he highlights.

In response, aside from retaining sections of the existing building to make it consistent with the newer major reconstruction works, “‘secondary relief spaces’ were inserted into an otherwise uniform façade to create an artistic wall of sorts.”

Anchoring a corner plot, the resulting design is a crisp, white block with parcels of the façade punctured by overlapping green terraces or ‘relief spaces’ that cascade to the ground level, representing the Garden of Eden in the Bible while also mitigating the scale of the large block. “The key element was the creation of spatially and visually enlarged spaces in an otherwise constrained plot,” Lee expounds.


This openness serves as a welcoming gesture to passers-by and the larger community, who are encouraged to come in and enjoy the landscaped grounds. As Lena Quek who heads ONG&ONG’s landscaping division describes, the landscaping in the design acts as a bridge between the centre and the community by bringing the latter – particularly children, the elderly and people with special and healthcare needs – into the building, like an artery connecting and integrating the urbanscape. Functionally, they act as ‘breakout’ spaces for social interaction for both the churchgoers and the temporary performers.

While it is not the first time a building attempts to incorporate greenery in its frontage, it is refreshing that this design goes beyond the clichéd green walls that are usually merely decorative to a more thorough, three-dimensional blurring of inside-outside zones.


These garden spaces also play a part in exploring new avenues of defining spaces, which in such typologies, would usually consist of very clear division of spaces and specific exit and entry points. “As designers, we wanted to challenge conventional movement patterns with our layout. For a start, knowing that the theatre would be designed to the edge, we explored the idea of divisions that create territories of both habitable and non-habitable spaces. We see the contents as being housed in a much larger container within which territories are carved out and secondary circulation spaces allow users to explore,” says architect Poon Yew Wai of ONG&ONG. With boundaries between spaces blurred, it is hoped that how people use the space will follow suit – in a way that is more fluid and casual, allowing for chanced encounters.

Aside from greenery, the leitmotif of light is key to the design. Conceived by ONG&ONG Lighting Director, Ong Swee Hong, the façade that dissects the corner has a pattern of light strips that has the effect of making the block look as though it is dissolving at the edges. Practically, they illuminate the entire structure; symbolically, it alludes to the spiritual journey of both the congregation and the performing artist.

Religious buildings such as ‘mega churches’ that embrace commercial programs are becoming more popular. Another recent example is The Star Vista at Buona Vista designed by Aedas, which also has an auditorium for rental, shops and restaurants. This hybrid typology is also a sustainable model; when large auditoriums are not in use for church services, they are freed up for commercially driven performances and events. When done well, these buildings are a nucleus of activity in the neighbourhood that serves the need of both the churchgoers and the public. The design for the new TOUCH Community Theatre is certainly promising.


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