Above Below Beneath Above is inspired by the aerial roots of trees, seen here framing the views of the streetscape
Above Below Beneath Above is inspired by the aerial roots of trees, seen here framing the views of the streetscape

At the heart of Raffles Place in Singapore, a premium Grade A office building has just been completed. Designed by ‘Starchitect’ Toyo Ito, this building, with a large proportion of its elevations covered by green plants, stands tall and handsome, like a tree of the tropical rain forest that once upon a time thrived on this island. Right on top of the building and visible from far away are wind scopes bringing fresh cool air into the office interior. Bundled together, these scopes resemble a giant red flower, atop the crown of the tree.

Of One Accord

At ground level there is also a strong presence of the tree, thanks to renowned Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s installation Above Below Beneath Above . Inspired by the aerial root systems of trees, this installation has many steel tubes working together as one to give visitors the experience of walking through a mesh of prop roots – aerial roots hitting the ground and developing into strong props that aid the spread of branches. It works beautifully as one, too, with the building’s architecture to complete the tree metaphor which Ito had in mind.

One Artist In Mind

Commissioning of this work happened at the early stage of the project. “The architect recommended the artist, and we found Olafur’s proposal highly appropriate,” recalled CapitaLand’s Chief of Design Review Unit and Head, Design & Development (Commercial), CapitaLand Singapore, Mr Poon Hin Kong. Indeed, as the concept of this installation was very powerful and wonderfully-suited to the context, it became a unanimous decision by all to have it installed at CapitaGreen.

Born in Copenhagen in 1967, Olafur was educated in the Royal Danish College of Fine Arts. He set up a studio in Berlin in the mid 1990s and has been operating from Germany since. He is most well-known for his very bold installations. One of them is the weather project (2003) at London’s Tate Modern, where a giant ‘sun’, made up of hundreds of mono-frequency lamps, radiates yellow light in a fine mist that fill the Turbine Hall. Another of his work is the New York City Waterfalls project (2008) where four man-made waterfalls, over 30m high, roar in the New York Harbour. Such bold works take inspiration from natural elements and phenomena such as light, wind, fog, and water, evoke sensory experiences, captivate the viewers, and often carry a strong message.

"Above Below Beneath Above refers to aerating roots,” Olafur wrote, “ the part of a plant that grows above ground as an extension of the subterranean system of roots, yet is located below the trunk, branches and foliage. The work is suspended between the structural roots of our society – sewers, power lines, utilities – and the lives of the humans above.” He tries to make “the connection between the sky and the ground; between the all-encompassing atmosphere and the life-giving minerals and values of the earth” tangible.

Hence this poetic work not only has the aerial roots (56 steel tubes of elliptical sections arranged in clusters, twisting, turning and spanning the entire height of the ceiling and the ground outside the lobby) but also minerals or crystals (16 polyhedral spheres made of stainless steel frames and colour glass tiles) seemingly floating amid the roots. The overall scale is enormous: each root measures between 15 to 15.6 metres. That is almost 4 storeys high! And they go round three sides of the building’s perimeter. By contrast, the jewel-like crystals of 0.75 metre diameter appear tiny.

One Mammoth Task

The production of such a mammoth work, entirely in Germany, is no mean feat. For the roots, that involved pressing 2mm steel plates into a mould under high pressure. The segments were then welded together, polished and painted with a triple layer coating system. Everything was done with great precision and all the components were shipped to Singapore and assembled on site by a team of 9 workers from Germany, over a period of just over one month.

One Unique Experience

It is remarkable to be at CapitaGreen to experience this work. The naturalistic forms of the sturdy roots contrast with the disciplined architectural language of the building; the complex geometry of the delicate crystals in turn contrast with the roots. The roots overlaps in different way as you move around them, giving numerous visual combinations. The crystals look fabulous both from afar and at close scrutiny.

At night, a magical effect prevails as the crystals glow from within and cast a soft light on the roots, and the roots in light and shadow become highly modulated. All these are only possible because even the lighting scheme works as one with everything else.

This article is contributed by CapitaLand Chief of Art Management, Francis Wong Hooe Wai