The studio focuses on wood as a material and on the design of micro-towers. It investigated in alternative construction methods, inspired by the idea of re-inventing wood construction and revitalising a dormant industry sector that has disappeared from urban construction. Wood, composite materials and hybrid construction systems were explored to envision new concepts of vertical construction. Our aim was to unlock the enormous potential of wood for future applications by recording a material and craft with a long history (wood is one of the oldest materials in use for building), re-conceptualising it and projecting our recordings into entirely new concepts. The concepts go beyond using wood as conventional straight and planar elements by exploring bending, peeling of layers, fractal formations, and form-active behaviour.
Many of the fastest growing cities including Singapore have expanded with massive consumption of concrete, steel and other non-renewable materials. However, society is increasingly challenged by a scarcity of material resources. Recently, wood has resurfaced as an attractive alternative with the invention of new manufacturing and construction methods. It offers manifold potentials if applied wisely – wood is a renewable material and can have a significantly lower impact on the environment than most of the materials currently in use.
Big ideas on tiny footprints: the studio developed a series of small towers on a site along River Valley Road in Singapore. This site offers a unique situation with narrow plots adjacent to the backsides of traditional shophouses and the possibility of building up to 10 storeys high. A few of these plots are still empty, others have already taken advantage of densifying the available land. We designed a series of inspiring micro-towers for this area. The programmes were developed into various types of functions: living, working, healing, relaxing, exercising, shopping, praying, and so forth. These occupations correlate with innovative spatial arrangements challenging the notion of a sliced space with a vertical array of horizontal plates – spaces have unconventional vertical relations and are as high as the entire 10 stories in the most extreme cases.
The ‘digital turn in architecture’ (Mario Carpo 2010) has brought along radical changes in the architectural design process. One of these changes is a shift from typologies to topologies (Schumacher 2008) – a shift of interest away from highly specific and mono-functional types (typology) that are reproduced in a mode of simple repetition. The attention turned towards topological components that can be parametrically varied and optimised to different conditions. The studio utilises parametric design and digital fabrication tools and provides a framework for intensive physical testing and prototyping. The whole semester project is accompanied field trips to manufacturing companies and the guidance of experts in the timber and construction industries.
The timber industries have a long history in Southeast Asia. Wood once was the predominant material used in construction and this was especially so when wood as a resource was available in abundance. With the advancement of modern construction materials such as concrete and steel and their efficient production processes and consistent properties, the timber industries went into decline and eventually vanished. However, newer technologies take advantage of the machinability of wood and the ease it offers to build almost any shapes.
In the first phase we freely experiment with different vertical arrangements. Experiments start with innovative arrangements of linear load bearing elements (such as beams and columns) and surface elements (such as walls and slabs), and correlating skins with ‘thinner’ versions of linear and surface elements. At the end of this phase we venture out to the site, to the timber manufacturing industries in Singapore, and eventually go into the workshop for one week to experiment with large(r) scale experiments. We build with plywood sheets and timber planks and will invite experts to co-develop our ideas.
In the second phase of the studio we evaluate and categorise the capacities of our physical components and build a catalogue of architectural elements. These elements are adapted to various scales and functions: they are parametrically varied and differentiated in order to meet different criteria of an architectural programme. Our catalogue includes circulation systems, usable spaces, roofs and walls including perforation systems, and so on. Our investigations in physical models are continued with increasing refinement.
The primary goal of the design studio was to develop components and structural systems that would result in unique and innovative solutions for the design of micro-towers.
Plot sizes: around 50 to 70 m2
Dimensions: 6.0m wide; between 8.0 and 12.0 deep
Height: 10 stories
Singapore Timber Association, LKY Center for Innovative Cities, Teambuild Engineering and Construction Pte Ltd
Guest Lecture Lai Chee Kien
External Critics Christian Lange (HKU), Camiel Weijenberg (Studio Weijenberg)