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Building Dreams: Filippo Pesce

Behind the scenes of the Singtel Waterfront Theatre at Esplanade


Published: 13 Sep 2022

By: Jane Ng

Time taken : <5mins

When local firm architects61 won the pitch in 2017 to build Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay’s new theatre along its scenic waterfront, senior associate Filippo Pesce’s biggest headache was that the theatre had to have a flexible layout.

The aim was for the mid-sized theatre to be adaptable so that it could be transformed into various configurations to fit different staging and seating requirements.

While the original plan was for the layout to be fully flexible, it turned out to be complex and not entirely feasible due to several site-specific reasons, including strict fire safety regulations. 

As the project developed, architects61 and theatre consultant Charcoalblue changed the design from flexible to semi-flexible, before arriving at today’s multi-format layout. 

“It was a milestone reached when we managed to resolve it with six configurations,” said Filippo, who leads the multidisciplinary team overseeing the development and construction of what is now known as the Singtel Waterfront Theatre.

The 42-year-old Italian architect came to Singapore 11 years ago after working in Italy and Spain. 

With a multi-format design, the theatre can accommodate up to 611 people in a traditional theatre setting and more than 700 people standing in a flat floor setting.

Filippo celebrated a second milestone reached when the year-long design process was completed and approved by both the client and authorities in late 2018. 

What he did not expect was for the world to have a pandemic about a year later, in early 2020, when construction was still in its early stages.

When the Singapore Government decided to implement a Circuit Breaker from 7 Apr to 1 Jun 2020 to reduce the transmission of Covid-19, construction work on the theatre came to a standstill. 

The team faced an unprecedented situation made worse by the fact that no one knew how the pandemic would progress. 

Said Filippo, “First was the extension of contract duration. Then there were consequences on manpower and resourcing. The pandemic also took a toll on the mental wellbeing of the people, with the spread of the virus and restrictions.” 

But sheer determination to get the job done spurred Filippo to press on together with his entire consultant team, whom he says he has good synergy with.  

Now that the project is completed, Filippo is happy to check off this once in a lifetime opportunity for an architect. 

“It is a very rare opportunity to design for the arts and especially one at such a prime location. It gives you a chance to push the design to the boundaries,” he said. 

The four-storey theatre is designed to be accessible and welcoming, integrating flexible open spaces and plazas. These open spaces also connect to the main Esplanade building and other neighbouring amenities. 

His favourite element is the building’s facade—one side was initially meant to be populated by planter boxes but seeing that it would be a challenge to maintain, the idea was adapted to become light boxes that would glow at night, illuminating the side facing the bay.

Filippo said his aim was to design a theatre to inspire the young and nurture the next generation of artists. 

“We are delivering a venue for the entire population, a place that we hope people from all backgrounds will like and enjoy. This is not a theatre for the elite, it is for everyone,” he said.

Check out the productions at the Singtel Waterfront Theatre at Esplanade as part of In New Light, happening from 12 Oct – 31 Dec 2022.

Building Dreams

Building Dreams is a special photography exhibition at the new Singtel Waterfront Theatre at Esplanade, where we go behind-the-scenes to find out who was involved and what went into the building of the theatre.

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