Reinvigorating and re-densification of a vertical urban shophouse

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a. lacunæ awaiting a response

Studio Instructor

Daniel J. Whittaker


A well-established archetype, the shophouse, orients itself in Singapore in neatly ordered, clustered rows, asserting a perpendicular staccato existence upon the street. Traditionally graced with not one, but two light-wells, these apertures invite the elements inward: wind, rain, insects and birds re-populate habitations created by people. This studio proposes a re-examination of the traditional low-rise, two-story row house in order to prepare a new form for a much higher-density use in the twenty-first century. Moving forward toward a more populated, urban use-intensive future, this architectural inquiry asks: how can a traditionally horizontally-oriented form be reconsidered in a vertical architectural idiom? Guided by design exploration principles set forth by Fred Koetter and Colin Rowe, in their seminal text, “Collage City” (1979), this inquiry pushes against strict historic conservation traditions in an effort to advance architecture into the unexplored realm of a high-density vertical shophouse.

b. moving beyond the typical precedent

Part 1: Locale selection and inquiry
Suspending typically-applied building conservation norms, which restrict adventurous architecture in gazetted historic districts, this studio encourages the selection of a Singapore site whereupon an abrupt lacunæ exists: in non-gentrified Singapore neighborhoods, has vandalism, fire, or financial exasperation left a gap in an otherwise orderly row of shophouses? What possibilities can be explored for designing higher-density in-fill upon these unsuspecting vacant lots? What services or uses are under-served in the selected neighborhood? What are the community needs which will ultimately drive and define the architectural program? Students will find their own locale within existing urban identities in Singapore and the Malaysian peninsula, and thoroughly document adjacent rowhouse structures through hand-sketching, photography, and digital drawing and 3D modeling tools, using digital survey tools available today via on-line research methods.

c. urbane flora and fauna

Part 2: Program and Design development
Taking into consideration structural, programmatic and daylighting needs, students shall undertake the creation of a set of programmatic criteria in order to secondly go about creating multiple design solution iterations. Lastly, upon fulfillment of creating a collage of appropriate design possibilities, students shall go about assessment: the judging the validity of their potential design solutions for their site and their crafted program. A set of a valid queries shall be put forth: is multi-use always the best option (commercial plus residential)? Or can a vertical shophouse accommodate other uses: hospitality-restaurant, entertainment venues, vertical hydroponic farming, light manufacturing- the needs of the particular locale shall inform the development of this studio project’s program.

d. designing sectional possibilities

Part 3: Final Proposal presentation
Utilizing the latest digital and manual drawing expression tools, students shall have the culmination of their summer term investigation in the form of a set of design proposal boards illustrating their design agency upon the redevelopment of their site. Presentation plan, sectional and elevation drawing methods plus some construction drawing details shall be stressed in order to convey to a set of critical architectural eyes the validity of their proposal. This will be augmented by hand-assembled cardboard, paper and foamcore maquettes. A clear set of design criteria which governed the student’s design response shall first be set forth in order to best exemplify why and how the program was research, developed and ultimately fulfilled.

[Note: the following course elements below remain unchanged from the core studio curriculum]

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course, you will be able to:

  • Identify issues of sustainable design in relation to socioeconomic, demographic and cultural trends, through the analysis of literature and review of architectural precedents
  • Perform rigorous site analysis and map the site conditions
  • Critique a project brief and develop strong, generative sustainable design concepts
  • Translate design concepts into meaningful architectural and/or urban propositions at appropriate scales and levels of granularity
  • Create convincing arguments for the design propositions and persuasive visual and tangible evidence

Measurable Outcomes

  • Interpret the sustainable parameters and other issues of relevance to the project using drawings and diagrams
  • Respond to a specific project brief and specific context with a meaningful design concept
  • Produce coherent architectural representations and models at sufficient levels of detail
  • Communicate convincingly sustainable design propositions in the form of renderings, drawings, simulations, models

Image references:

  1. Malacca, Malaysia historic district, vacant building site, photo by D. Whittaker
  2. Hanoi, Vietnam traditional row house sectional drawing in situ, photo by D. Whittaker
  3. CaixaForum building, Herzog & de Meureon architects, Madrid, Spain, photo by Luis García 19 June 2011
  4. Watercolor sectional drawing, Steven Holl, Chapel of Saint Ignatius, Seattle University, Washington, 1997