AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA

AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA

Text description provided by the architects. How do we transform fine dining from an exclusive, passive consumption experience into an active and shared journey? Can fine dining go beyond pleasure and inspire broader thinking about food and the environment, on topics such as responsible ingredient sourcing and food waste? OMA was tasked to design the dining and cooking space for AIR in Singapore – where these questions are addressed.

AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Exterior Photography, Facade
AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Exterior Photography, Table, Chair

AIR is located on Dempsey Hill. Now a frequented art and lifestyle quarter, it was a nutmeg plantation in the mid-nineteenth century and a barrack complex between the 1860s and 1990s. The site of AIR is defined by its 4,000 sqm green space, and the modernist CSC Dempsey Clubhouse – built in the 1970s for the sports and leisure activities of the civil servants. Here, nature is prominent and precious: all the trees with girths over one meter must be conserved according to the local authority. The CSC Dempsey Clubhouse – considered to have no specific historical value – can be freely reconfigured. This contrast prompted us to ask: Should we only preserve what is deemed significant and change everything else? Can architectural interventions articulate the cherished nature and the insignificant building into equally valuable elements? In the course, minimal changes can be made to the building to minimize construction waste.

AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Image 25 of 26

In our design, the existing nature and the CSC Dempsey Clubhouse are the main components. A key architectural intervention is the 100-meter walkway – a new footpath between the clubhouse and one of Dempsey Hill’s main parking lots. This footpath replaces the originally narrow and hidden route that made the clubhouse inaccessible. Organic in form, it evokes the natural topography, while loosely defining the expansive green space into two zones: the garden on one side and the lawn on the other. From the walkway, the visitors can go directly into the clubhouse, which has now been transformed into the home of AIR. The visitors can also detour into the meandering paths of the garden – AIR’s farm where the visitors can learn about how food grows and taste the harvest. Alternatively, they can wander into the lawn, where picnics and a variety of events take place. Along the walkway are patios that become sitting-out areas complementing the lawn.

AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Interior Photography, Dining room, Table, Shelving, Chair
AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Interior Photography, Dining room, Table, Chair

The clubhouse is a modernist double-floor building defined by ribbon windows. On the first floor, the walkway extends into the interior to define the circulation space. The main dining space faces the lawn. Through an operable front façade, the originally enclosed first floor becomes a semi-outdoor dining space with extended terraces connected to the lawn for meals in a casual atmosphere. At the rear is the open kitchen, where the process of making dishes is transparent to everyone. On the second level, glass replaces the original façade to create an indoor area overlooking the lawn. The visitors find here a more intimate dining area, and the research space for experimentations on ingredients – sometimes unsuspected. The cooking school at the rear of this level allows all the visitors to share cooking skills and knowledge of the ingredients from the garden.

AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Interior Photography
AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Interior Photography, Dining room, Table, Chair, Beam

Another intervention to the building is the cylinder. It consolidates the front-of-house and back-of-house programs, including the staircases for the guests and the staff, a bar, a kitchen, and a machine room. Positioned at the rear – away from the front façade – the newly installed cylinder indicates the coexistence of the old and the new.

AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Exterior Photography
AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Image 12 of 26

AIR’s fixtures and furniture have been designed by Andreu Carulla using recycled timber and plastic bottles (HDPE) sourced from a former art installation, as well as Styrofoam – commonly used in disposable food containers. These elements allude to the ethos of AIR to discover the potential and beauty in what is often perceived as waste.

AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Exterior Photography, Garden, Forest
AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Interior Photography, Table

With farming, picnic, wandering, cooking, learning, and dining simultaneously taking place at different locations, AIR is a campus where the conventional dining experience is challenged: rather than passive diners being served, the guests are active explorers of opportunities to eat well and have fun. A new and informal fine-dining culture is in the making in the creative platform.

AIR – Circular Campus and Cooking Club / OMA - Exterior Photography, Facade, Garden

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