Drones on the Beach: A Coastal Droneport for Singapore

Home / Programme / Bachelor of Science (ASD) / Courses / 20.111 Sustainable Design Option Studio 2 / Drones on the Beach: A Coastal Droneport for Singapore


Peter Ortner

While excitement has been building for drone delivery since Jeff Bezos’ 2013 prediction that it would be a reality in the next five years (ahem, that was six years ago Jeff…) it seems like Singapore may be among the first countries to implement a viable drone delivery system. The Singaporean drones, however, will not be dropping into the voluminous backyards of American suburbia – instead they will be crossing nearby seas to deliver packages to freighter ships (an Airbus project) and to Pulau Ubin (a Singapore Post project).

In this studio we will be looking at the unlikely cohabitation of the architecture of the drone port and the coastal landscape dedicated to ecology and leisure. This cohabitation need not be conflictual; indeed, we expect to find unexpected and productive overlaps that protect ecological continuities and provide efficient infrastructure for new systems of drone delivery.

Pragmatically our semester will be split in two portions. In the first four weeks we will do our homework: research into how drone delivery works, site research (as ecology and metabolism), and analysis of a series of architectural precedents. In the remaining weeks of the semester our students will work in groups of two to realize a coastal drone port (~500 m2) that minimizes its impact on surrounding leisure activities, or actively contributes to the attractiveness of the spot for sun-seekers. We will make a visit to the beaches of St. John and Lazarus islands as part of our research – sunscreen required.


The droneport itself will be no larger than 200 m2 and will be combined with a beach construction of similar size. Students will work in the first half of the semester to define what a droneport might be, how it will function for humans and for robots. A successful project, though pragmatic and functional, will use the program as an instigator to explore novel architectural experiences and forms. Safety of surrounding human activities, and careful integration with existing coastal ecologies is imperative.


Our site will be the north beach of St. John’s Island, located 2 kilometers to the south-east of Sentosa, and almost 5km as the drone flies from Marina Bay Cruise Centre. The island is managed by SLA as a nature preserve and holiday site. Access to the island is currently provided by a ferry which departs every two hours from the Marina Bay Cruise Centre. Though there are no current plans to build a drone port on the island, regular deliveries from downtown Singapore could benefit holiday-goers as well as the Singapore Food Authority and the NUS Tropical Marine Science Institute facilities on the island. The site will allow us to test ideas about how coastal drone delivery infrastructure might intersect both with human activities and ecological continuities along the coast.

Site visit

We will visit St John’s and Lazarus islands in week 4 of the semester. Exact timing will be planned in discussion with students to best fit everyone’s schedules (including the ferry schedule.) Cost of the ferry ticket is 18 dollars, and students should bring their own food and water. (Please plan on packing out any trash you bring in, we want to leave the island clean!)

Hypothetical drone paths to St. John’s Island.


M0: Precedent Analysis (week 1)

This opening module of the semester asks you to produce analytic drawings of a precedent (axonometric section and plan.) Working in teams of two, you will do some basic research on your precedent, build a rhino model from which you will cut plan and section, and then develop the plan and section into lucid technical drawings.

Most important is our exposure to (and internalization of) architectural and visual culture relevant for the studio. This exercise will also allow you to understand the quality of drawing required for the studio and the practical techniques which will allow you to achieve it.

M1: Interfaces (weeks 2-3)

In this exercise we will design an interface that accepts a delivery from an autonomous drone and conveys it to one of three recipients: a human recipient, a human courier, or an autonomous rover. The studio will be split into six groups, each of which will focus on developing a unique interface concept.

This exercise should familiarize us with the technologies in question – drone flight, drone delivery, and automated logistics. We will produce detailed dimensioned drawings, and functional diagrams of each interface which will be the basis for our designs later in the semester.

M2: Metabolism (week 4)

This exercise opens the idea of drone delivery to larger ecological, urban and economic contexts. Students groups will reform and study: 1. Delivery frequency, quantity, and waste management strategies, 2. Airspace strategy 3. Island-wide Ecology 4. Solar PV power for drone charging, 5. Tidal activity, site section, and rain water reuse, 6. Patterns of human beach use, including equipment.

Gather basic site and program information. Consider questions that build on the analysis. How many square meters of photo-voltaic panels would we need to charge all drones visiting the island? How much waste can drones bring back to the mainland on their return trips? What intersections of human, animal, vegetal, and drone use of the coast may be mutually beneficial?

M3: Flow/Section (weeks 5-7)

To begin their design projects students in groups of two will consider how the droneport can combine with a typical beach construction (lifeguard tower, shower/changing room center, beach club, kelong, bungalow). How will flows of drones, package deliveries, beach goers, and the island’s plants and animals interact/ intersect? Where must automated and populated activities be separate? What conflicts or benefits may come from their overlap?

Develop an architectural concept around a productive or provocative overlap of automated spaces of the droneport, and the populated spaces of the beach/ coast. Investigate an architectural type and describe how it would be adapted to accommodate a drone port. The flow diagram and section will be the key deliverables.

M4: Hyperdiscrete (weeks 8-9)

Your project will be radically recyclable – it should be designed to be disassembled, and to express its own disassembly via an aesthetics of the hyperdiscrete. In this exercise each student group will consider how the design concept they propose can be made up of different pieces, and how those pieces can come together and be taken apart.

Develop an aesthetic linked to ideas of the recyclability of building materials. Key deliverable will be an axonometric drawing of the materials to be used, how they are assembled and disassembled.


20 Sep 2019 M0: Precedents studio intro
week 1 23 Sep 2019 M0: Precedents
week 2 30 Sep 2019 M1: Interfaces
week 3 7 Oct 2019 M1: Interfaces drone days (tbd)
week 4 14 Oct 2019 M2: Metabolism site visit
week 5 21 Oct 2019 M3: Flow/Section
week 6 28 Oct 2019 RECESS
week 7 4 Nov 2019 M3: Flow/Section midreview
week 8 11 Nov 2019 M4: Hyperdiscrete
week 9 18 Nov 2019 M4: Hyperdiscrete
week 10 25 Nov 2019 Production interim pinup
week 11 2 Dec 2019 Production
week 12 9 Dec 2019 Production
week 13 16 Dec 2019 final review


Multilevel Fulfillment Center for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles US Patent 0175413 – Amazon Tech. Inc. – 2017

In the Robot SkiesLiam Young – 2016 https://vimeo.com/184429206

The Droneport ProjectJonathan Ledgard – 2016 https://youtu.be/tVmGKTxilvA

Urban Metabolism in Practice: Case Studies from Developed CountriesJohn Fernandez – 2013

All Those Numbers: Logistics, Territory and Walmart in Places JournalJesse Lecavalier – 2010

Plan. Double Vision: Total Design, Total Choice in Learning From LogisticsClare Lyster – 2016

Post-Fordist Economies and Logistics LandscapeCharles Waldheim – 2016

Definitive Instability: The Downtown Athletic ClubRem Koolhaas – 1978

Architecture is a DeviceWiny Maas – 2003

The Second Digital TurnMario Carpo – 2017

Discrete: reappraising the digital in architectureGilles Retsin – 2019

Building for the FutureWerner Sobek – 2012 https://youtu.be/NQC90eIY-8E

Lazarus Island beach is linked to St. John’s island via a land-bridge