Nicolas Medrano, Design Principal of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Hong Kong Studio

After 14 years in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s (SOM) New York studio, Nicolas transitioned to Hong Kong in 2021 to help lead the practice’s growth in the Asia-Pacific region. Serving as the Design Principal for SOM’s Hong Kong studio, he is responsible for a myriad of transformative projects across Asia—including Japan; Thailand; Singapore; Indonesia; the Philippines; and Hong Kong. He is also a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Associate, and a member of the American Institute of Architects and Urban Land Institute Asia Pacific Chapter.

Nicolas is inspired by the density of these Asian cities as well as the challenges of designing large-scale, mixed-use developments that enhance both the built and natural environments and the human experience. He shares with Construction+ an overview of the housing needs in Asia before zooming in on the design of 8 Shenton Way—set to be Singapore’s tallest skyscraper and the next sustainability standout in the region upon completion in 2028.

You have worked in cities across Asia, which have some of the world’s densest neighbourhoods. When incorporating the residential component into mixed-use developments, what are your key considerations in meeting the housing needs of the local population?
Especially in Asia, because of the density of the cities that we live in, it is always a very complex equation—there are many different ingredients to balance. First and foremost, we have to understand local cultures and how communities live and thrive. We do a lot of work in the Asia Pacific region, from Japan all the way to Indonesia, where families operate differently, and individual needs vary. The types of communal spaces and private spaces that are important to certain groups of people depend on their daily habits, traditions, and values. 

In mixed-use developments, specifically in Asia’s mega cities, the residential component is shaped by a need for convenience and access to all community amenities. It is vital to make sure that the living places are conveniently located—adjacent to education; healthy food options; recreation areas; medical facilities; mass transit; and more. At SOM, we call this the ‘15-minute city’ where everything you need in daily life is within a 15-minute walk or a 15-minute ride. Sometimes, in a single mixed-use building, convenience is within three minutes. We can call this the ‘3-minute building.’ As long as density is built around that idea, it can be very successful. 

8 Shenton Way in Singapore; image by SOM; Bezier

Elaborating on that, do you have any observations on the housing demand and supply in Asia?
It is very different depending on the country. In Japan, the population is shrinking and aging, so the demand for city-centre housing is actually decreasing. There is a trend of outward migration where people are moving out to the fringes of Tokyo and the outer suburbs. In Hong Kong, there is a major shortage of affordable housing. Thus, entire new communities are being built just to provide thousands of new units for people. Singapore is interesting because there is a lot of government-subsidised housing. However, there is also an upper echelon of residential units in the city centre under high demand.

This is an excerpt. The original article is published in
Construction+ Q1 2023 Issue: Housing Construction: Demand & Supply.
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