A contemporary expression of a traditional meditation space
Forum Architects Pte. Ltd.
A Contemporary Meditation Centre Welcome To All
The Meditation Centre is a five-storey building nestled within the Kong Meng San Monastery in Singapore, distinct from the plethora of traditional temple forms in the public monastery’s compounds. The design intent was to create a space of calm and tranquillity for meditation that was open and accessible to all.
The Monastery’s objectives were to increase its reach and grow wider appeal through the new building, where the Meditation Centre would not only attract religious practitioners, but also bring in the general public who seek to further their well-being through non-religious, secular meditation practices. The overall design was thus to be contemporary in character, so as to evoke a non-sectarian ambience.
Hence, the new Meditation Centre was to express the traditional in a contemporary manner, by reimagining Chinese temple architecture with only subtle allusions to traditional forms and religious icons. This allowed for a Centre that appeared more welcoming, broadening its appeal to the secular and the general public at-large who seek out meditation regardless of religious affiliations.
Design Concept & Approach
As a cleanly carved single volume mass, the Meditation Centre bears a formal aesthetic that is largely symmetrical in plan, akin to how traditional Chinese temples are organised. This singularity of form impresses upon modern zen principles, befit of the Centre’s purpose as a contemporary meditation space and sanctuary.
Being at one with nature is a tenet of many mindfulness and meditation practices. Thus, the Centre is conceived to be compatible with the local tropical climate as an energy efficient building, where all circulation spaces and lobbies are naturally ventilated.
Altogether, Forum Architects’ combined design approach is to create a public sanctuary of calm and tranquillity, devise an environmental solution that is feasible in the tropics and articulate the building in a contemporary manner to broaden the Centre’s appeal to the public. This heralds a new era of architecture in Singapore, one that is adaptive and responsive to its context, time and locale.
The Meditation Centre’s spatial planning bears an austere simplicity. A visitor moving through the Centre would experience a gentle transition from the secular to the sacred, as spaces are layered from the common corridor, to utility spaces and finally the innermost sanctum wherein the meditation hall is situated. This layering of spaces, with the service cores flanking the East and the West, creates greater comfort due to the minimisation of heat insolation.
As an indication of the rapid development of Singapore, there exists a progression of modernisation across the entire compound of the monastery, where building styles develop from traditional forms to the more contemporary Meditation Centre.
To transcend symbolism and iconography, the design for the Meditation Centre required a fresh interpretation of traditional Chinese architecture. Yet, it was crucial that this new interpretation still bore relation to the history of the site, as well as continue a visually coherent narrative in which the Centre blends in seamlessly with the surrounding buildings within the monastery compound.
The Meditation Centre interweaves the past with the present effortlessly with its progressive, contemporary approach of traditional Chinese architecture. The building façade is a dense but porous screen consisting of vertical rods of various hues and different diameters, mimicking a thick bamboo grove. An interplay between light and shadow occurs, facilitated by the thick bamboo-like screen that creates visual density and layering. As one proceeds from the perimeter of the building into the central meditation hall, the screen façade’s contrast in its lines of dark shadows against the white walls of the monastery marks the beginning in one's journey towards spirituality and well-being, a process akin to a modern ritual of entering from the secular into the sacred space.
Beyond this grove, one’s vision is drawn upwards by the verticality of the façade towards the contrasting, curved and sweeping lines of the upturned eaves in the roof, not unlike traditional Chinese roofs that adorn nearby buildings in the monastery.
The Centre also adheres to progressive and environmentally sustainable design principles. It is conceived as an energy efficient building where glass louvres and a multi-layered façade facilitate airflow. The building is also oriented with its North and South faces open in order to catch the prevailing north-westerly and north-easterly winds.
On every floor of the building, at the heart of it are key spaces such as the meditation hall or library. Only these spaces have air-conditioning, while service areas such as locker rooms, toilets and staircases flank both sides of the main space, partly as an acoustic shield but also as an insulating element from the strong tropical sun.
Continuity Between Past And Present
Despite being a modern take on traditional Chinese architecture, the Meditation Centre maintains its connection to its historical and cultural roots. Intricate finials and decorative statues from a former monastery building were meticulously conserved and relocated at various interior spaces of the Meditation Centre. In addition, the Centre's location was aligned to frame an existing statue of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, in a prominent yet receding location. The approach from the monastery's grounds towards the Centre is carefully orchestrated in a manner where this large statue is the first thing that one sees.
The Meditation Centre is a standout in the Public Space category as its design deftly navigates the fine line between detail and simplicity; vibrancy and the prosaic; the traditional and the contemporary; the secular and the sacred.
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery
Forum Architects Pte. Ltd.
Forum Architects Pte. Ltd.
Hong Kiat Construction Pte. Ltd.
Structural Engineer: Web Structures Pte. Ltd. / Electrical & Mechanical Engineer: J. Roger Preston Limited / Environmentally Sustainable Design Engineering: Web Earth Pte. Ltd.
Timber flooring: Prospec Surfaces Pte. Ltd. / Tiles: Rice Field Pte. Ltd. / Carpet: Contract Image Pte. Ltd. / Lighting: Bizlink Associates (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.
Albert Lim K.S.
Forum Architects is an architecture firm founded by Tan Kok Hiang and Ho Sweet Woon in 1994. The firm believes in a conscientious commitment to design, quality in detailing and an imaginative approach towards problem-solving. Together with an unrelenting drive and a lively thinking attitude, the synergy allows the firm to arrive at elegant design solutions that bring value to people, the community and the environment at-large.
Forum has received significant awards and accolades for architecture and design, both in the local and international arenas. The firm has won the Chicago Athenaeum’s International Architecture Award multiple times, for projects such as the Assyafaah Mosque, the joint Yale-NUS College and Maxwell Chambers. As one of the Founding Directors of Forum, Tan Kok Hiang has received Singapore’s highest honour for designs across all disciplines in 2014, where he was awarded the President’s Design Award for Designer of the Year to great acclaim.