Thursday 29 Feb 2024
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This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on October 10, 2022 - October 16, 2022

PLP Architecture president and founding partner Lee Polisano’s passion is palpable as he tells City & Country about the company’s latest master plans and sustainable designs in a Zoom call from his London office. 

He shares the company’s design philosophy. “We do consider ourselves more than just an architecture firm... Besides architecture and urban planning, we also do quite a bit of product design with a focus on the future of the planet and sustainability.

“We are based in London, with our new office [being] in Singapore. There are certainly opportunities in this region, and we are looking forward to introducing our designs in the Southeast Asian market. The company is very global, with 175 staff members in our London office, and there is a 50:50 male [to] female ratio.”

PLP Labs

Polisano highlights PLP Architecture’s efforts in championing sustainability. “Under our company, we have a separate research group called PLP Labs. PLP Labs was set up because collectively, we believe that the traditional role of an architect is becoming more limited.

“Thus, we would like to be engaged and involved with many types of disciplines across different sectors. Having a research arm allows us to collaborate with a variety of different kinds of people, from scientists to universities. We have ongoing research agreements with the University of Cambridge, for example, on the usage of low-carbon materials.” 

“We also have research projects that look at the impact of certain environments, through monitoring wearables used. It allows us to focus on the areas of technology, culture and space.”

The firm views placemaking as an opportunity to inculcate its sustainable values. “We view the city as a sort of transformational experience platform. And when we design, it encompasses a variety of things,” explains Polisano.

Polisano: What is becoming increasingly important is the notion of placemaking around culture, or other types of experiences

“What is becoming increasingly important is the notion of placemaking around culture, or other types of experiences, where people can come together, learn, and grow, and also the importance of sustainability.

“Climate change is affecting us, and has also become a big driver. For example, our current project in Tokyo, called Uchisaiwaicho 1-Chome District Development, where there is the creation of a series of platforms within the building, not just physical, but also experiential platforms. As a group, we do a lot of product ideation work. We bring experiences into office buildings and corporate headquarters and into the life sciences sector,” he remarks, adding that the firm is focusing on a few residential projects, as well as regeneration and urban planning projects in Singapore. 

Uchisaiwaicho 1-Chome District Development

The London-based firm has been appointed the master designer and placemaking strategist for Uchisaiwaicho 1-Chome District Development, one of the largest and greenest post-war urban redevelopment projects in Japan. 

PLP Architecture is also the architect of two of the four mixed-use towers on the 6.5ha site in the prestigious and culturally-significant Uchisaiwaicho 1-Chome district. The multi-year, multi-billion-dollar project — which will connect the city to the 16ha Hibiya Park — comprises four towers, a 31m podium and a 2ha public plaza.

When the project is completed by 2037, it will have 1.1 million sq m of offices, commercial facilities, hotels and residential units.

“The regeneration of midtown Tokyo will also see the rebuilding of the Imperial Hotel, a legendary landmark that has welcomed royalty, heads of state and international business leaders for over 130 years. Opened in 1890 by Japan’s aristocracy, it was rebuilt in 1922 by American architecture doyen Frank Lloyd Wright before being redeveloped for the third time,” says Polisano.

The developers of Uchisaiwaicho 1-Chome District Development are 10 of Japan’s largest corporations — Mitsui Fudosan, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Urban Solutions, Kokyo Tatemono, The Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company, ChuoNittochi, Imperial Hotel, Tokyo Century Corp, TEPCO Power Grid, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp, and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone East Corp.

“We are deeply honoured to be part of this exciting enterprise. Everything that architecture embodies was brought to bear on this project. Through it, we will deliver our commitment to using design and technological innovation to contribute to the flourishing of life and business, and, importantly, protect the built environment.”

He explains, “The Uchisaiwaicho 1-Chome District Development will become a flagship for sustainable development in Japan and showcase the possibility of reaching the government’s target of carbon neutrality by 2050.”

The project aims to achieve zero-CO2 emissions with a centralised master plan-wide energy strategy at the time of completion. “Adding to this, by introducing new environmental technologies such as carbon absorbing technology, the master plan aims to be carbon negative in the future. The development envisions the growth of the capital’s green spaces, outwards from the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park into the urban districts of the city,” he says.

The new development has extensive green spaces and water features, which will be connected to the park via two pedestrian “park bridges”.

“These links create a 32ha human-centric and walkable environment rich in wildlife, water features and public meeting spaces aimed at bringing a focus on wellbeing, quality of life, sociability and connection to nature.”

PLP Architecture has also designed the project to encourage the city’s top talent — people, institutions and companies — to engage in this new district. A programme of hyper-mixed functions, amenities and co-creation spaces provides the framework for the “best of Tokyo” to come together, and how the next generation will work, play and live.

The district will be supported by advanced digital infrastructure, including digital twins, which will enable it to become a cross-disciplinary third-generation smart city.

“This technology will be used to enhance the offerings of the district by constantly evolving to suit the needs of individual users, such as through progressively optimising the wellbeing experience. The project features first-rate Japanese hospitality. The wide variety of premium hospitality offerings is the result of a close collaboration among the stakeholders,” says Polisano.

He addresses key challenges of sustainability. “Some countries struggle more than others (in sustainability). I think there’s a shift to urbanisation and the need to build more densities... cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and others have done that reasonably well. We’re looking at new cities in African countries at the moment where there will be a huge amount of urbanisation and growth.

He opines: “I think for the first time in 60 years, there are more people living alone in cities, for example, in countries such as Sweden [and other European countries]. There is a need to design differently and it appears it’s going to be a permanent shift in living topology; multigenerational housing has become a focus of ours in certain places now.”

In Uchisaiwaicho 1-Chome District Development, the firm is also handling the rejuvenation of the new Imperial Hotel’s main building, a separate small super-luxury hotel owned by the NTT Group, and a wellness-focused hotel. Previously, the firm has completed projects namely office building The Edge in Amsterdam and integrated development One Bishopsgate Plaza in London.

As for future plans, Polisano says, “We are working on other projects in Singapore, which build upon our focuses and interest on sustainability. It influences how we translate that into not just residential but commercial and mixed-use projects as well.”

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