British dynamo in Asian architecture

Stephen Pimbley strides ahead to redesign the region

Issue: May 2010

Stephen Pimbley
Stephen Pimbley believes in letting his designs reflect his personal philosophy and be the voice of his generation

Born, bred and educated in Britain, Stephen Pimbley has nearly a quarter of a century’s experience as an architect in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. A graduate of the Royal College of Art in London with a Master degree in Architecture, he worked for Richard Rogers Partnership and Troughton MacAslan in the city before joining Alsop Architects in 1990.

As director and, later, partner, he worked on many award-winning buildings such as the acclaimed Hotel du Department des Bouches du Rhone in Marseilles and Cardiff Bay Barrage. Pimbley was also responsible for setting up Alsop’s Rotterdam office and led the masterplanning team for the Rotterdam Central Station, the city’s central railway district.

World renowned, Pimbley is now based in Asia, having established Sparch’s four Asian studios. He is the founder and, currently, director of Sparch, a very successful and integral part of the architectural business, Archial Group, with offices in Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur.

Vision City in Kuala Lumpur
Pimbley designed Vision City in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, such that the central portion of the building is cut to create a naturally ventilated garden, sheltered from the elements, that forms an extension of the urban fabric

Pimbley is behind many designs that dot the cities of Asia – the redevelopment of Clarke Quay in Singapore; Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal; Raffles City, Beijing; Raffles City, Singapore; Macau Studio City; Space Station 1 & 2 in Hyderabad, India; and Vision City in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to name a few.

In addition, Pimbley is a man with heart. This premier architect also makes prints. Early this year, he donated the proceeds from the sale of his prints to CapitaLand Hope Foundation to help the children of the Hope Schools in China.

alfresco dining experience
The Angels offer reprieve from the tropical heat, allowing diners to enjoy an alfresco dining experience

INSIDE: You have worked on several award-winning projects. Which would you say you are most proud of and why?

PIMBLEY: All the projects I have worked on have their own particular memories, but I'm proud of all that has been achieved particularly of the projects in Asia over the last 8 years. Clarke Quay is the stand-out project because it was the first and it represents the bringing together of different ideas that I had been conjuring before Clarke Quay started. Clarke Quay still forms the foundations for sustainable place-making projects I am asked to do in other parts of the world. Clarke Quay is so well-known outside Singapore and has been copied a number of times, these are testaments to its influence.

Every time I see a Singapore tourism bus pass with the Clarke Quay Lily pads and Bluebells painted on it or a poster with a picture of people having a great time under the banner "Uniquely Singapore" I smile and reach for the camera.

Pimbley prefers the traditional medium of pencil, ink and paint on paper rather than relying on computer software
Pimbley prefers the traditional medium of pencil, ink and paint on paper rather than relying on computer software

INSIDE: William Alsop, with whom you work, has been dubbed by British media as architecture’s “Mr Blobby” because his buildings are said by some to resemble blobs. Do your designs have a distinctive signature look? Are there styles and designs you favour?

PIMBLEY: I think ideas of style are rather dangerous and perhaps somewhat shallow. It is important to have philosophy on life in general and let that inform your work rather than trying to design something in a particular idiom. It is not a philosophy of design or of architecture, it's about what you do when you put pen to paper and making it a reflection of how you think or perhaps a re-imagining of things that have touched and influenced you.

I want to design buildings that are of my time that reflect my concerns and sensibilities not those of another generation or some faux notion of what is polite and acceptable.

Raffles City Beijing
Raffles City Beijing - CapitaLand's first mixed development in the city stands as a testament of Pimbley's "commitment to innovation in design and construction"

INSIDE: You have worked on three Raffles City projects under the CapitaLand group (Raffles City Beijing, Raffles City Ningbo and Raffles City Singapore). How did you go about coming out with each Raffles City design to further enhance the uniqueness and international image of the brand?

PIMBLEY: Raffles City Singapore was designed by the American Chinese architect I M Pei. We adjusted the interior and added some more shops over the last few years. Raffles City Beijing is a "book end" building to a series of new prestigious developments along Dongzhimen and Beijing's second ring road. The building occupies the best corner plot and stands out in the city and makes its presence felt as a cornerstone and marker. Raffles City Beijing is a real inner city animal watching over and commanding its territory. Prominence is given to the office tower and its address to the city and the main flank of the retail podium to achieve as much visual exposure to the city as possible. The Ascott residence sits over the podium with its nose facing the Dongziimen interchange. The suites facing in this direction have the most amazing views!

Raffles City Ningbo
The yet-to-be completed Raffles City Ningbo is slated to be opened in 2012

Raffles City Ningbo is more of a moderator of the city and its interface with a residential quarter has a fast face to the city and a slow face, a calm and quiet disposition where it greets and embraces a new residential district.

Both buildings one complete the other under construction are part of the new generation of Raffles City developments and in this respect push the envelope of expectation. Beijing has its tessellated surfaces and Crystal Lotus and Ningbo, its sweeping atrium and public square. The buildings, their image and the brand are enhanced by the understanding and manipulation of location. When the plots were bought by Capitaland, these characteristics form part of the pre-purchase analysis. It’s my job to make sure they are exploited to their full potential.

Prints Pimbley created with Lim Wenhui,
Prints Pimbley created with Lim Wenhui, associate architect at SPARCH, a project he embarked on two years ago

INSIDE: What is your personal space like?

PIMBLEY: My house was built in 1968. It is a townhouse located a stone’s throw away from the All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, South West London, on a very green, leafy and quiet part of London. It’s a pretty modest sort of place but the principal rooms are large and flooded with daylight, the outside space really becomes part of the interior.

Pimbley rebuilt and extended the house over a span of 6 years
Pimbley rebuilt and extended the house over a span of 6 years

My favourite place is the garden terrace under the canopy of a 60m cedar tree where I can sit and listen to the birds and, unfortunately, aircraft on their flight path into Heathrow Airport.

INSIDE: Are there any architectural ideas/designs that you would like to work with in the future?

PIMBLEY: It would be nice to do something other than architecture, like designing a set for an opera or the production design for a movie.

User Valerie Morris (nee Pimbley)
121.216.60.X | 2013-06-28 03:24:04
My grandfather, Thomas Pimbley, came to Australia in 1910. He was born and raised in Liverpool, England. He was an engineer on the Lusitania until he came to Sydney.
Could we be related?
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