d+a – Honda Showroom

d+a Issue 039.2007

Full Frontal
The new Honda showroom and service centre by HYLA Architects makes an instant impression, even if viewed just from a drive-by. Could it be a potential reference for the design of other car showrooms in Singapore? For a start, it can shout tow ‘first’ – being the largest car showroom and the only one with two frontage.

Opened end to end with double-height glazing, one fronting Alexandra Road (showroom) and the other Leng Kee Road (service centre), the hangar-like space is big enough to display 20 of Honda’s range of cars, including two placed just outside on the wide portico sheltered by a deep “flying” canopy. The new single-storey showroom, annexed with a two-storey extension for the workshop, is re-modelled over the formerly existing one that was essentially an industrial ‘shed’ with half its present built-up areas.

The starkly pared down exteriors of the building belie, or perhaps heightens anticipation of , some nifty design features that make it a bigger and certainly better space. For one, it is unlike most car showrooms where you enter a nicely fitted front display and reception area, and then it all ends at a wall behind which would be the workshop. The architect has intuitively exploited this sizable plot for an extended building that is opened front to back for the entire showroom floor. Parked neatly next to it is the new workshop, a two storey extension with rooftop parking that serves and directly engages with the refurbished showroom.

The new showroom quite literally grew from and over the 60-year-old building, originally a cement factory until the late 1980s when Kah Motor bought over the site, which had an industrial steel low-pitched roof. And it is still here! – hidden behind the two vertically scaled false facades clad in lightweight aluminium panels.

These two grey planes impact grandly with Honda’s corporate colour, with the Honda badge recognisably decorating their top left corners along the trim. However, to signpost emphatically its location, the client added a tall signage with the Honda insignia in red; at night it glows like a beacon so pronounced that even the dim sighted could hardly miss it.

Beneath the old steel roof is the curved ceiling that, as part of the new inner skin of the building, was developed as a result of its adaption. The curve is also to create a fairly deep ceiling void. Sectional outlines of this ceiling are articulated as entrance portals at the building’s two fronts.

Pushing out like huge baseball-cap-visors – or more fittingly, like the bulging wheel arches of a car, the upturned portal frames internally pull in expanded views of the tree-lined roads from both ends, adding a pleasing sense of openness to the bright all-white interior. Clearly, against all this whiteness, the cars are themselves distinctively branding the space. This is more sensible strategy than to have, say, ‘an orgy of banners and graphics shouting all over the place’ to advertise the different models of cars. Subtlety dazzles with far more elegance. To point out another example, addressing the services entrance of the space is a free-standing panel displaying in ikat pattern the colours of Honda.

At 1,313m2, it could possibly be the biggest plate to date for a car showroom floor in Southeast Asia. The evenly lit space is due in no small measure to the series of skylights that line the ceiling length, in rectilinear cutouts and gill-like slits, which collectively bring in a lovely wash of daylight. These skylights also add sculptural interest to ceiling. To highlight the sheen of the Honda metallic models on display are spots from the lively pattern of suspended light troughs. With the ceiling sculpted mainly for light, the air conditioning vents are directed to the walls instead as a neat solution.

Amazingly, construction was carried out without the former workshop or even the showroom being shut down. This was achieved by having one half of the site being worked on as the other half carried on with business as usual. “It was major gymnastics”, said the architect Vincent Lee of the renovation that took almost two years to complete.

All the offices and conference room are compartmentalised in the middle section between the workshop and show floor, soft-finished in shades of Honda’s updated corporate white-and-grey. Customers can use any one in the row of circular ‘pods’, each differently coloured inside in a muted tone, for more private meetings with Honda’s personnel. Towards the front end where the area extends for the washrooms, the wall has been pushed out slightly beyond the roof edge to let in streaks of sunlight. In another detail, a rythmic pattern of vertical lines are lightly etched onto the plaster-cast outside walls of the circular pods and carried through the length of this plane like a bar-code pattern.

With the show floor clearly as one seamless open space, displayed cars and discussion tables, as well as waiting seats, are interspersed freely, allowing shoppers to browse with ease. There is also a free-standing open-box with TV and fun seating for children and their maids, as parents shop for their cars. In full view, along the building’s side, is the parking strip for test cars, from where these can drive easily into main traffic.

Photography: Alex Heng & Vincent Lee