Tectonics of Intersections

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Michael Budig & Chee Kien Lai

Lines and edges: intersecting elements … joint tectonics, from post and beams to threads
Planes: intersecting planes … fabric tectonics, from platforms and frames to textiles
Shadows: intersecting volumes … porous tectonics, from intersecting spaces to permeable matter

The studio will approach the design process from two angels: firstly, the angle of material exploration and formal innovation through the means of contemporary design and fabrication. And secondly, the understanding of vernacular building techniques and their transformation for contemporary situations.

Our project site will be a small and humble house: corner house 63C on Pulau Ubin. It is rather dilapidated and invites us to rethink and shape the relations between tradition and cutting edge technologies. Our focus will be on wood and other renewable materials, but we will explore how we can combine them in new ways and rethink the use and functions of fibres and other materials presented in vernacular situations, to enhance the performance in hybrid material compositions. We are planning to build at least a segment of the house in full scale.

The site at Kampong House 63C occupies an important corner at the fringe of the jetty village of Pulau Ubin, diagonally across to the NParks HQ, and opposite the covered basketball court. The corner is thus framed by two important structures. Adjacent to it are several residences, all built by Chinese as kampong houses, and with a mature banyan tree. Unfortunately, the structure at the site has fallen into a state of disrepair and a proper measured drawing exercise is impossible. However, as a site it offers good potential for future development.

As a Garden City since 1963 and recently the City in a Garden, Singapore has created a green city without the use of timber in different forms in the built environment. The study is relevant to Singapore by re-examining the use of urban timber and bringing back timber as construction material and the general built environment to enhance this garden city image.


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), and eventually perhaps to tectonic systems – 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. Building up on past experiences the studio utilises parametric design and digital fabrication tools and is providing a framework for intensive physical testing and prototyping, leading to highly articulated systems that emphasise the tectonic logic, and its relations to function (performance) and spatial expression (aesthetics). The whole semester project is accompanied by a series of field trips to the site, to manufacturing companies and the guidance of experts in symposiums, workshops and reviews.


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.

Phase 1 weeks 1 – 4: Physical and geometrical experimentation

In the first phase we will first venture out into the city and investigate how timber has been transformed and in what ways it occurs in contemporary urban environments. This short study will be co-organised a group from Chiang Mai University’s School of Architecture (Thailand). After we will freely experiment with formal and geometric concepts that may be based or just inspired by our collection of documents. Experiments start with innovative interpretations of joining methods (such as beams and columns) and surface elements (such as walls and roofs).
At the end of this phase we will visit experts and industries to co-develop our ideas and go into the workshop for one week to experiment with large(r) scale experiments with plywood sheets and timber planks. Eventually, we will venture out to the site.

Phase 2 weeks 5 – 6: Parametric variation and articulation of architectural components

In the second phase of the studio, we will evaluate and categorise the capacities of our physical components and build a catalogue of architectural elements. These elements will be adapted to various scales and functions: they will be parametrically varied and differentiated in order to meet different criteria of an architectural programme. Our catalogue will include all components of.a small house, and how components can form transition spaces for six sides of a cube when placed in another cube. Our investigations in physical models will be continued with increasing refinement.

Phase 3 weeks 7 – 14: Architectural project / project site and full scale prototyping

Our primary goal this term is to build a large scale segments of a small house. The programme will be jointly developed throughout the term

Plot sizes: around 100 m2 with dimensions of around 8.0m by 12.0m

Height: 1 main level, adapted to the context on Pulau Ubin; we will evaluate how much we extend in vertical direction