FOUR ACRES SINGAPORE: A dialogue with site and context
Situated at the heart of the 200ha one-north development hub at Buona Vista, among clusters of world-class research facilities and business parks, is the newly completed Four Acres Singapore. Perched on top of Nepal Hill and occupying a sprawling site of 2.3ha, Four Acres Singapore is global consumer goods giant Unilever’s newest leadership development facility and also Singapore’s first corporate university of this scale.
Unilever – known for brands like Wall’s, Knorr, Dove and Ponds – set up its first leadership development centre in London over 60 years ago. The plan for Four Acres Singapore, the first outside of Britain, is to continue the tradition of Four Acres London. It is a campus that houses talents and trains them to become top leaders in their company. This time, though, the leaders-to-be will become more attuned to the rapidly growing and emerging Asian economies and high-growth developing markets as Unilever plans to double the size of its business, while halving its environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact. Hence, it follows that Unilever’s design brief for Four Acres Singapore was to ensure that the project achieves the BCA Green Mark Platinum certification.
In terms of academic courses, world-class institutions such as the Harvard Business School, INSEAD and Singapore Management University are some of the partners that helped develop the campus programmes.
A LOCATION STEEPED IN HISTORY
Nestled in a tree conservation area, the site is thick with history. Other than the newly proposed four-storey training block and a single-storey recreation block, there are ten conserved black-and-white colonial bungalows within the compound – this provided an interesting historical backdrop to the proposed buildings that were eventually erected.
A check on the Urban Redevelopment Authority website on local built heritage reveals that Nepal Hill and the adjacent Rochester Park were developed by the British in the late 1930s within the greater British Military Area (the Alexandra district) to house officers and their families.
Nepal Hill was named in recognition of the British Crown’s ties with the sovereign country of Nepal. The Gurkha regiment in Singapore, led by British officers, were stationed in Slim Barracks at the foot of the hill. The Gurkhas, recruited from Nepal, were famed for their fighting prowess and their loyalty to the British Crown. The bungalows at Nepal Hill served as family accommodation for the British officers of the regiment. The area was given conservation status in March 2010.
Today, top leaders from Unilever companies all over the world are being housed within these conserved buildings during their training programmes. Nine out of ten conserved bungalows have been refurbished for adaptive reuse as on-site accommodation; the remaining has been retrofitted to become a cafeteria, providing an alternative venue to the seminar rooms for discussions among the participants.