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Where form follows function: Behind the transformation of St James Power Station

By Anna Xu, Global Estates Director

Dyson St James Power Station

As an architect, I am no stranger to regeneration projects, but the transformation of St James Power Station into the Dyson headquarters, has certainly been the most significant for me. What distinguishes St James Power Station from other industrial buildings in Singapore is its uniquely elegant facade, and in addition to its functional importance, it was also an architectural landmark in the 1920s. A testament to the collaborative efforts of experienced engineers, architects, and builders, its timeless appeal is reminiscent of Dyson's design philosophy, where form seamlessly follows function. It looks great and works great – just like our Dyson machines which are designed to celebrate functionality, while elevating the technology within.

Acquiring the restored building during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic presented a myriad of challenges, and one could only imagine the complexities we had to navigate. The significance of establishing Dyson’s global headquarters meant we had to remain agile throughout the project, and remarkably, we successfully designed and completed the interior fit-out within a year, a feat that seemed implausible at the outset. Beyond addressing the workspace requirements, the project was accompanied with a paramount ask – to preserve the singular voluminous ambience of the space and, most importantly, safeguard the characteristic of the national monument.

Given the historical significance of the power station, the building was, and should be, our key inspiration. Every facet of our design, from meeting rooms to staircases, underwent deliberate consideration to ensure that the characteristic of the building was preserved and respected. We allowed the building’s framework to drive our use of the spaces, so that our design is seamlessly integrated without permanently altering its distinctive attributes.

One example of this was the decision to place our research, design and development (RDD) teams in Block C, formerly the switchgear house, which proved serendipitous. It was the only part of the building which was originally enclosed into individual floors and spaces, and it suited our needs to keep Dyson secrets, secret. Mirroring the building’s brain was a beautiful coincidence, but it also symbolises how our RDD teams drive Dyson’s inventions, aligning with James Dyson’s belief in workspaces that inspire collaboration. With that, we then determined the layout for the remaining workspaces, auditorium, reception and the cafeteria.

  • Dyson St James interior

  • At Dyson, we make physical things, so it is vital that we interact face-to-face with each other and with our products. In reimagining workspaces, we departed from traditional one-size-fits-all paradigm, recognising the need for flexibility and diversity for our engineers to collaborate and ideate. The psychology of the workspace is equally important to the ‘hardware’, and so we prioritised acoustics and lighting, essential elements often overlooked in day-to-day operations but critical for our engineers’ optimal performance.

    To overcome challenges around lighting in the large atriums and the deep floor plates, we integrated artificial lighting discreetly throughout the building, around stairs, trees, floors and within walls, complementing the natural light streaming through the glass windows and ceilings. Our emphasis on acoustics involved micro perforated timber, strategic deployment of soft furnishings, acoustic finishes and ceiling baffles throughout, mitigating sound transmission across different levels. Trees, serving a dual purpose by absorbing noise and fostering a sense of intimacy, were strategically placed to provide semi-open spaces, balancing out the industrial openness and enhancing the mental well-being of our employees.

  • Simplicity prevailed in our approach to the design of St James Power Station. We transformed the iconic chimney into a communal space for everyone to enjoy, with all lighting kept purposefully low to minimise disruptions to the chimney’s architectural integrity. Similarly, our iconic helical staircase was inspired from our cyclone technology, but more than that, it was designed and built to accentuate the space but also to minimise the impact on the building’s structure. This simplicity has also allowed the workspace to evolve flexibly with our people, creating that all important synergy between built space and its inhabitants.

  • Dyson St James interior

  • St James Power Station Interior

  • St James Power Station Interior

As the custodians of this national monument, we are dedicated to creating spaces that inspire and adapt to the evolving needs of our people, just like our commitment to building functional, user-centric machines. Within St James Power Station, I believe we will continue the next chapter for Dyson.