UTOPIAN SOLUTIONS THAT REIMAGINE A SUSTAINABLE, LIVEABLE CITY

The future belongs to the young and those who dare to dream, as this year’s graduating class of Singapore University of Technology & Design demonstrate. 

What does the city of the future look like? No long queues at the bank, or perhaps a more equal world in which the less mobile can live, work and play like everyone else? Or maybe a Central Business District that, instead of steel and concrete, is one of tall timber buildings?

It is far-fetched, but then again not quite; for their final year project, graduating students from the Singapore University of Technology & Design re-imagined an urban landscape that solves some of our most pressing issues in everyday life. These ideas tie in with Singapore Sustainable City 2030, an ambitious initiative which aims at developing innovative infrastructure for next-generation living. 

Over a period of about nine months, project teams worked with corporate actors to identify and solve a design problem. These solutions are ultimately presented at the annual Capstone Showcase.

One team proposed a multi-modal and sustainable transportation system for the Greater Southern Waterfront in 2030 in consultation with French software systems company Dassault Systèmes. The vehicles are shared, autonomous and amphibious. A flying vehicle prototype is capable of soaring mid-to-long distances, skipping the traffic congestion all together. What a dream! There are wearables made for reducing spinal injuries, futuristic air purifiers, smart rubbish collectors, solutions for stacking public bicycles neatly and ideas for road safety.

Amphibious vehicles for the Greater Southern Waterfront. Images: Courtesy of Dassault Systèmes

Another team, advised by Dutch architect Camiel Weijenberg, designed a blueprint for an 80-storey timber superstructure. 

The proposed design is for a building in the CBD but can also be applied to public housing—or Housing Development Board homes—where 80 per cent of the population reside.

Weijenberg’s prototype responds to an urgent need for eco-friendly, ‘intelligent’ architecture using sustainable building materials, following recent announcements by the Singapore government to install 5,500 HDB blocks with solar panels by 2020.

“Our research is a step further towards a greener Singapore and meeting Singapore’s ‘Sustainable City 2030 Agenda’,” Mr Weijenberg said. “The greatest breakthroughs in architecture, I believe, come about through research.”

As Asian cities expand at an unprecedented rate, overcrowding, traffic congestion and urban sprawl highlight the urgency for sustainable, dense and resilient urban development solutions.

Renewable, lightweight and natural, timber in high rise towers substantially reduces a building’s carbon footprint. The process of photosynthesis, which occurs throughout the growing life of a tree traps atmospheric carbon to release oxygen and acts as a carbon sink. In contrast, the production process of traditional structural materials such as concrete and steel releases CO2 and consumes far more fossil fuel energy. On the completion of its life-span, timber can be re-introduced into the ecological raw-material cycle.

Rendering courtesy of WEIJENBERG

A student team conceptualised an 80-storey ‘plyscraper’ in consultation with WEIJENBERG

Elswhere, the concept of tall timber buildings is taking root. Last year, PLP proposed London’s first ‘plyscraper’, standing at 80-storeys in Barbican. Elsewhere, wood is making a come-back, with proposals such as 21-storey Haut in Amsterdam and 40-storey Tratoppen in Stockholm all competing to go higher.

Even as builders put the finishing touches to 18-storey Brock Commons in Vancouver, 5 King Street in Brisbane is coming up next year to overtake the world’s tallest timber tower. Could the next generation put Singapore on the map for the next architectural marvel?

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Apart from urban problems, project teams also work with companies to solve business problems. A six-member student team designed an interactive discovery space for APP Timber’s new Wood Distribution & Training Centre in Semarang, Indonesia. The Kuala Lumpur-based wood distributor requested a space that would educate and engage visitors on sustainable harvesting practices, wood species, procurement and processing methods. Throughout the design process, the team, comprising architecture and engineering majors, also came up with an interactive mobile application for this purpose.

The project team with Malte Herrmann, APP Timber, at the Capstone Showcase

“We wanted to teach people about forestry and sustainability. The challenge was to maximise the space, create an interactive experience and cater to three different types of visitor groups: opinion builders, industry leaders and the curious person,” Malte Herrmann, Sales director of APP Timber, said.

The team explored various scenarios such as over-crowding, whether the gallery should have a guided path or should people be allowed to roam freely. To get a sense of space, they visited museums around Singapore.

“There were some things that Malte told us would be good to include, such as touch — allowing people to feel the wood, that’s what the display wall is for,” Pauline Siew, a project member, said.

While students are taught materials in class, wood is not a huge part of the syllabus.

Siew added, “We definitely learnt a lot about wood. It is more sustainable than other materials like plastic or aluminium if you source it properly from a well-managed forest.”

“It was a great process working with the students, and I’m rather impressed,” Mr Herrmann said.

The Capstone Showcase runs until August 5, 6pm at the Singapore University of Technology & Design.