Shaping CBD Futures II: Timber Assemblies, Circular Design, the future of work, Public Space and Microclimate

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The Theatrical Tower and the City Stage by Caleb See De Kai and Tan Gee Yang

Studio Instructors

Kenneth Tracy


Wood = High-tech

1.5-million-year-old Acacia wood residue found on ancient axes evidences the long history of wood’s usefulness to humankind. Predating homo sapiens by over 1 million years the flexibility and ubiquity of wood is seen as an essential aspect of our evolution. Given this ancient history its current status as the hottest material to use in contemporary architecture and emerging building technologies might seem unlikely. Nevertheless, wood materials in many forms have been critical in areas of research including passive actuation, self-assembly, self-formation, active-bending structures, mono-material building components, post-tensioned structures, and automated assembly. These innovations parallel a trend in high-performance use of timber to produce bigger, taller, and more expressive wood architecture. Commercial use and research interest are both driven by newly leveraged material properties and small carbon footprint.

Timber Assemblies + Circular Design

Prefabricated timber offers a path to significantly reduce embodied carbon and is already seeing expanded use in Asia. NTU’s Academic Building South in Singapore designed by Toyo Ito and RSP slated to be the largest wood building in Asia. Looking to the future MET systems can go further by embracing design for the circular economy. This approach can augment the carbon reduction from material choice by extending the useful life of buildings and their components. Circular design principles for buildings include design-for-disassembly, adaptability and reconfigurability. Through these principles the components and overall building system are devised strategically to be useful over a longer life and to be more readily reused and taken apart.

Imbuing individual components and devising systems with these properties involves detailing, assembly aware design, iterative modelling, and simulation. All these working modes fall within the integrative and performance-based design taught in SUTD’s digital and building technology courses.

This lends students particular agency in working on these important problems. Projects will explore Mass Engineered Timber (MET) at scales ranging from the design of joinery to spatial programming, microenvironments for public space.

Heuristic, kit-of-parts models will form the initial studies to test design flexibility, reconfigurability and assembly. This series of physical and digital models will be developed into “Maison Dom-Ino” type examples to exhibit and learn the range the system performance. These initial tests will be informed by a mix of paradigms from hybrid timber systems in Europe, the many current projects from Foster and Partners and the discrete architectural assemblies of Gilles Retsin.

Program = “the future of work”

Continuing from the summer 2020 studio Shaping CBD Futures, we will again use work, particularly within large mixed-use office buildings as our primary program. This time however students will construe their own programs based on speculation about the future of work. AI and automation will significantly interrupt the way people work. But instead of human workers simply being replaced by robots and computers these changes, according to recent reports, in fact seem to create more demand for human labor. Governmental response, climate change and social movements will surely color and complicate the situation. All predictions, however varied, hint at significant changes which will require a rethinking of current office building paradigms. Students will define a scenario for the future of work extrapolated from suggested texts. These narratives will form the basis for their primary and secondary programs in terms of both spatial qualities and allocation.

Site Design = Public Space + Microclimate

Students will develop mixed use buildings in Singapore’s central business district. Using the UN Urban sustainability challenge #11 as a guide projects will seek to create viable paradigms for more inclusive and resilent southeast Asian cities. Projects will be challenged to simultaneously create places of work and comfortable environments as a public platform for vibrant urban life. Placemaking, urban design, and social inclusion will be critical elements used to tailor building formations. Evidence gathered through environmental, spatial and fabrication simulations will inform these moves. Representation of projects and their experiential qualities will be an essential output for this area of study and a focus of the output for the final reviews.

Simulation and Representation Workshops

To integrate new design tools into the studio a series of workshops by collaborating researchers will augment the typical studio process. Outside researchers will present demos, show their own research work and aid students in follow-up sessions. This group will also act as visiting critics to enrich our review discussions.

Topical Lectures/Discussions on Precedent Buildings and Theory

Jayendra Shah, representing Foster + Partners will act as a critic and help frame the projects through his experience in mixed-use and large-scale international projects. Jayendra, Prof. Tracy, industry professionals and former students will give a series of talks and discussion sessions presenting the theoretical and practical context for the studio project.

Deliverables and Pairing

Students are encouraged to work in pairs to do site analysis, mapping, develop design tools and work on representing their projects. Given the circumstances efforts will be made to allow studio work to be done at home primarily digitally. With the partial opening of lab facilities, we will try to include physical output during the first half of the term. Output for the final review will emphasize representation renderings, as well as, analysis diagrams, environmental modelling data, and documentation of design tools.


Jayendra Shah studied architecture at Sir J.J. College of Architecture, Mumbai and the Architectural Association, London. He joined Foster + Partners in 2006 and has since worked on a variety of projects in India, China, South East Asia, Middle East and Australia – most recently as Station design lead on City and Southwest line of Sydney Metro. Throughout his practice he has had a special focus on large scale infrastructure and mixed-use projects. He has spent considerable amount of time in South East Asia and was responsible in overseeing construction of Award-winning projects like, Arcoris Mont’ Kiara and Ilham Tower, in heart of Kuala Lumpur. Jayendra was made an Associate in 2010 and Associate Partner in 2014. He resides in Singapore with his family and currently serves on the RIBA Singapore Chapter Committee.

Kenneth Tracy is an Assistant Professor in SUTD’s ASD Pillar and co-directs the Dynamic Assemblies Lab (DAL). DAL’s research combines expertise in material science, computation, engineering and craftsmanship to investigate how performance-based design can inform the built environment. Expertise in making and design tools link Kenneth’s teaching to his research and practice. Previously Tracy taught at American University of Sharjah, Pratt Institute, Columbia University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and at Washington University. In 2005 Tracy Co-founded Associated Fabrication (AF), a digital millwork shop in Brooklyn, NY whose clients include Zaha Hadid Architects, Chanel, Vito Acconci and MoMA. In 2009 Kenneth founded Yogiaman Tracy Design (yo_cy) an experimental design firm with current projects in Indonesia and Singapore.