The Tembusu

ARC Studio Architecture + Urbanism Pte Ltd


Advancing Singapore Brand, Culture and Community
Making Ground-breaking Achievements in Design
Raising Quality of Life



Like how the skin protects a body, a building’s façade shelters its inhabitants from the environment. But what if this passive surface is reimagined as a host for life? One example is The Tembusu, five residential towers wrapped up by sky links and columns of greenery.

Such a “living façade” brings to life ARC Studio’s high-rise, high-density housing of 337 homes. Lush greenery surrounds the ground floor and grows all the way up slender columns, bringing nature to every unit of the 18-storey towers. Landscaped sky links on various levels blur the strict boundaries of public and private spaces by connecting neighbours living across different blocks and offering a variety of communal spaces to gather. On the top floor, there is even a herb garden for residents to interact as a community and enjoy distant views of the surroundings.

Inspired by the developer’s original garment factory that sat on this site, The Tembusu innovatively transforms a steel and concrete development into soft and layered residences that feel intimate and comfortable like fabric. It is this tapestry of forms, colours and textures that weaves people, nature and place together as one.



ARC Studio seeks to inspire the human spirit through architecture. It looks for the elegant solution that addresses all possible requirements and the studio cares deeply about the world and the sustainability of its projects.

Founded in 1998 by Khoo Peng Beng and Belinda Huang, ARC Studio’s process-driven works have earned them a reputation for being dynamic and innovative. Their high-density public housing, Pinnacle@Duxton has won prestigious awards from around the world. For the 2010 Venice Biennale, they co-curated 1000 Singapores, an exhibition that boldly proposed how a thousand cities like Singapore can house the entire world’s population using only 0.5 per cent of the earth’s land area.

In 2013, Laurence Liew joined ARC Studio as a director, bringing an immense body of experience having headed challenging projects, including the waterfront development Reflections at Keppel Bay. ARC Studio is currently involved in the delivery of projects of varying scales and complexity in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Kolkata and Mumbai.


ARC Studio Architecture + Urbanism Pte Ltd

Wing Tai Holdings Limited

Shimizu Corporation

Rider Levett Bucknall LLP

P&T Consultants Pte Ltd

Tierra Design (S) Pte Ltd

United Project Consultants Pte Ltd

Enviro Pro Green Innovations (S) Pte Ltd

A living skin

The Tembusu breathes life to the typically static façade of a building. Greenery flows down the 18-storey residential towers and a series of sky links connect one block to another. The greenery reduces the harshness of the vertical steel columns and acts as a giant environmental filter. It also brings nature closer to residents and promotes greater social interaction.

Residing within a forest

Nature is tightly interwoven within the development. The ground floor is landscaped with lush greenery, pavilions and an efficient rainwater drainage system that is integrated with the landscape to create streams and ponds. The sky links also have planting surfaces that offer nature to the residents at multiple levels.

Homes with a story to tell

To create a distinct development for residents, the architects referenced the developer’s former garment factory that sat on this very site. Like a fabric, the architecture embodies qualities of softness and layering with a tapestry of forms, colours and textures. Even the pavilion’s concrete roof is created as a curve hanging freely from two points such that it feels like a piece of cloth.

The “kampung spirit” in the sky

Sky links on the development’s 6th and 12th storeys blur the boundary between public and private. The links contain sky pods where residents can meet and allow residents of different blocks to get to one another’s home without having to go to the ground floor. A sky terrace on the 18th storey also hosts a community herb garden for residents.

Overcoming a sky-high challenge

Constructing sky terraces that span across five building blocks at different levels was a challenge that required precision in construction. The sky terraces were constructed using precast concrete slabs to ensure accuracy and reduce workplace danger.

An intimate high-rise

A series of design interventions gives the development a sensation of “low-rise apartment living”, particularly since The Tembusu is surrounded by landed properties. The 337 homes are divided into six-storey blocks each wrapped with a sky link at the base, bringing the ground closer to residents.

‘‘As a city grows, people and communities look for identity. Architecture has the power to give that presence and unique identity.’’

Insights from the Recipient

ARC Studio is known for its high density urbanism work such as the pioneering Pinnacle@Duxton that redefined high-rise public housing in Singapore. How does The Tembusu build upon these ideas?

Khoo Peng Beng (PB): When we were doing Duxton, there were three things that really inspired us. One was for high-density buildings to look very porous, light and not feel like a wall. The second thing is to host a lot of greenery to bring nature closer to the residents. The third is creating architecture that facilitates the formation of community.

We were doing this quite intuitively in Duxton, but in recent years, neuroscience and social science has added to our knowledge of public spaces and community building, such as what makes a city happy and liveable. The Tembusu expresses these ideas of human-scale with its “thick skin”. The original variation of the tropical high-rise came from the International Style, which is basically enclosed by a glass wall that can be very alienating. But in the tropics, the lighting, the rain condition and the exposure are different. A lot of people want to be able to go outdoors. A building with a thick skin can host greenery and also public spaces. It’s also an environmental filter that creates a new tropical identity for the building. The Tembusu is one expression of this living façade.

Did this aim of achieving human-scale lead to the creation of a high-rise that gives “the sensation of a low-rise apartment living”? How was this achieved?

Belinda Huang (BH): Rather than a reaction to thescale, the main selling point was the community space. By bringing sky terraces up, the space feels a little more intimate because it’s only six floors. This means that three floors will have the view of a tree on the sky terrace and the upper three floors can look down on it. This also gives owners that sense of a smaller scale.

Usually, sky terraces are full floors and you have to go to the ground level to meet people. But what we’ve created are more “landed units” by designing sky terraces that come right in front of the unit. They are public areas and residents can walk in front of the units. It’s intimate yet, there is a certain distance because there is enough green between the pathway and the balcony. This is what some of the studies about creating a “happy city” talk about—a balance between private and public.

Laurence Liew (LL): With a bit of creativity, you can create a lot of variability in high-density living and humanise the design. In Duxton, we explored the sky terraces built within the floor plane. When you are in an apartment which is not on this floor, you 3 still see yourself as being in a fairly typical high-rise. But in The Tembusu, the sky terrace is basically a plane that wraps around the building. This second layer helps residents feel the green environment when they look out through the windows, even for those whose apartments are not sitting directly on the plane. In a typical condominium, you have to look down to appreciate your condo’s grounds, so you don’t feel it because it’s too far.

PB: Bringing the “ground” upwards and creating a sense of scale are very important for humans to feel safe and comfortable. As our buildings get bigger and taller, public spaces tend to feel less intimate.

Bringing greenery and public spaces into the façade of the building allows users to experience that intimacy again. The neighbourhood around The Tembusu is also primarily low-rise. By creating three stacks of low-rise buildings—one on top of the other—it helps connect the condominium to the landed properties around it.

Communal spaces feature prominently in this development. There are community herb gardens at the 18th storey, sky pods at the 6th storey and pavilions on the ground floor. A series of sky links at various levels also connects neighbours to the other blocks. Why are these important to people living in a high-rise development

BH: We just love giving opportunities for people to meet. What happens in high-rise living is that a lot of people take the lift, go up to their unit and they vanish. The sky links will encourage people to keep walking past everybody’s unit. Some of the links are also larger to serve as community spaces. This means residents don’t have to go down and up to get to another block; they just land on the sky terrace floor and can connect to the entire estate. This creates opportunities for everybody in every block to meet.

PB: This idea of connecting is like networking the buildings. Since we can create gardens that go around the buildings, would it not be nice to link them together to form one large contiguous space like a piece of fabric? We also took away some units on these floors to create double volume spaces for people to gather, play and throw parties. As the apartments are fairly compact, residents and their guests can spill out into these public spaces as an extension of their homes. Having a combination of greenery, large and small communal spaces, and linking them up, fosters movement, activity and connection. This is what we try to do to form communities.

Skyrise greenery has become part of Singapore’s built environment and this is very tightly woven within The Tembusu. How does your design push this idea of nature in a living environment further?

PB: As towers get taller and taller, people feel they are further and further away from the ground and nature. Greenery and communal life become more distant. Traditionally, houses and the low-rise apartments could be integrated with nature, but the high-rise stood on its own. With our “tower of trees” concept, we can imagine the natural environment literally flowing up to the vertical spaces. When we introduce terraces and walking paths on the upper levels, you literally can have the entire tree behaving like a little mountain. This way, we are evolving architecture back towards nature.

BH: We want to bring everybody closer to nature itself. Most of the time, this happens on the ground floor. But at The Tembusu, greenery comes up where you can view in a closer proximity from your unit. The other thing we did was to have a rain collection pond which is redistributed into a man-made river. It is proven that your health improves if you’re surrounded by nature.

PB: When you introduce greenery and plants on the building, it’s going to benefit everyone around—not just the people living there. The more skyscrapers or high-rise buildings become a contributor to the environmental health and wellness, then the greater the influence of the building. Eventually, the entire precinct will benefit from the architecture.

The construction of The Tembusu is quite a feat. The sky terraces span across five building blocks at different levels and they are supported by these streamlined steel columns. Why did you design them in this manner and how was it achieved?

PB: We always try to make things look very light and very skinny. When you want a bridge spanning across the space to look like a tiny little line but can support a lot of weight, it needs a lot of engineering and designing. One of the challenges was that our sky terraces were actually pre-fabricated and the columns were all pre-cast. This means you actually have to construct them in a very accurate manner. Otherwise, they might not fit.

LL: We were able to create this very sleek edge by controlling how the engineers designed the precast panel. We’ve got good collaborators and stakeholders, and I especially have a lot of respect for engineers. If they really want to do it, they can build anything. Our job as the leader of the team is to basically get everybody on the same page.

PB: The site is actually a very special site for the developer, Wing Tai, and we wanted to capture its origins as a garment factory. We interpreted that as lightness and fragility, but we are using concrete and metal. So how do we design such hard materials in a fashion that looks very light? That was one of our key challenges. There are also cables going up the façade like threads to carry the plants. Even the pavilion has a concrete slab that is suspended like a catenary structure, a curve form hanging freely from two points, so it feels like a piece of cloth. These are some of the more poetic or artistic aspects that we love, to draw references to some of the site’s histories—not like a literal translation, but in this case, it’s a figurative one.


Jury Citation

The Tembusu is a condominium skilfully wrapped with the delicate threads of nature, resulting in a breathing and living façade. There is a refreshing sense of rhythm and a dichotomy of scale that provides for a comfortable environment.

The intimate spaces are achieved by the adoption of slender structural elements holding the elevated pathways and the creation of transitional zones, which provide shade and shelter at different levels of the project. The public circulation is extended to the elevated landscaped pathways and wrapped around the units to create a community experience that the Jury recognises. Link bridges provide for the continuity of communal spaces, and yet the articulation of the spaces does not compromise the privacy of the dwelling units. Passive features that are integrated into the landscape provide comfort for the occupants and contribute to sustainable living.

The Jury commends The Tembusu’s refreshing elevated communal spaces and how they exemplify the possibilities of high-rise, high-density living in the tropics.



Nominator Citation

Pu Suan Hau
General Manager Projects
Wing Tai Property Management Pte Ltd

The Tembusu is a residential condominium in Singapore that comes with unique architectural and landscape features. One of its features is the delicate threads of nature around the columns that interweave with the architecture to create an organic, living façade, bringing the landscape closer to the residential units. It also creates an impression that the landscape drapes over two sky links, creating an even more intimate experience with nature. The vertical green elements throughout the levels help to soften the overall façade of the building, while also acting as buffer zones to blur out the public and private boundaries.

The development is also complete with an interesting water feature that captures and retains rainwater, which gives rise to meandering streams within the lush landscape. The Tembusu promises a bouquet of luxurious facilities throughout the development, including various sizes of pools, thematic pavilions and a private clubhouse.

The sky links at various levels increase the connectivity to the other blocks, and promote social interaction among residents. Other intimate spaces that provide residents with opportunities to meet include the sky pods at the sky gardens and the herb garden on the 18th storey. On the ground, the amenities are surrounded by
lush landscape to bring nature even closer to the residents.



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