In the Sungei Kadut industrial estate, where Singapore’s last carpenters still sand down table tops by hand, architect and Produce co-founder Pan Yi Cheng is an outlier making building components with a suite of precision-prototyping machines.
“The end goal is to replace this with robotics,” says Pan, talking over the whirr of the CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines in his workshop. This dusty warehouse space may be a far cry from other sleek design offices downtown but Produce is one of Singapore’s most progressive design studios, experimenting with computational design and digital fabrication.
Pan is a graduate of London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA) and began his career working first under his tutor Christopher Lee (now principal of Serie Architects), then at UK practice TP Bennett followed by UNStudio in Amsterdam. When he started Produce he bought a laser cutter and a CNC milling machine.
“At the AA I was introduced to this idea of doing a lot of models, testing them out and accepting failure as part of progressing a project,” he says. “I decided to model Produce after a school environment where we could have access to facilities, easily test our assumptions and use the results to improve a model.”
Produce’s in-house prototyping process has yielded many innovative (and award-winning) material and structural systems that Pan hopes to evolve into projects at the urban scale. “We don’t categorise our projects; everything is architecture,” he says. Pan sees the city as a kit of parts. “The experiments we have been doing on a smaller scale are now becoming more and more applicable on the building scale.
We are looking at a new timber product to see if it can create a system for timber-based building. This is the future of buildings: prefabricated and pre-finished, and assembled in volumetric units like Lego pieces.”
A tailoring technique applied to plywood creates dimples in Herman Miller’s cave-like shop-in-shop.
The Hidden House
A massive extension is buried under terraced layers to preserve views and character of a plantation house.
Formica For More
A pavilion made with laminate sheets and plywood strips.
Porto’s first Design Biennale, which kicks off in mid-September in venues across the city and the neighbouring town of Matosinhos, has set out the ambitious mandate of tackling factors that fuel global discontent. And it’s the protest movement that plays a lead role in one of the Biennale’s key exhibitions, Que Força é Essa (What Strength is That), put together by Helena Sofia Silva, a researcher, writer and faculty member of the Matosinhos-based design school Escola Superior de Artes e Design.
Your exhibition looks at protest posters from various rallies around the world. Why did you choose this theme?
As a designer I appreciate the graphic elements of the signs but perhaps the most interesting aspect is the energy and vitality they exude. These are the words that people put down, the things that they want to say when facing an issue that moves them so much it leads them onto the streets. They are a record of our time.
Beyond the world of protest, how do you think designers are being influenced by the issues that face us today?
One of my favourite placards in the exhibition is from an anti-Trump protest: “So much to say, so little cardboard.” It’s funny but it also captures the uncertainty being felt across the world: the climate crisis, rise in populism, economic insecurity. In the biennale we want to look at how these issues are being thought about in design. It’s mainly a generational question. Millennial designers bear the brunt of this uncertainty so we wanted to understand their concerns, such as the climate crisis and the capitalist idea of continuous growth not being compatible, and look at how that impacts on their practice.
Copenhagen continues to excel as a city fit for cyclists. Its newest addition is the sleek Lille Langebro bridge that links the revamped harbour to Christianshavn on the Langebrogade quayside. The steel bridge, which has two bike lanes and plenty of room for ambling pedestrians, gracefully curves above the water while two sections swing open for passing boats.
As we sat in the calm surrounds of the church that Meck Architekten’s Axel Frühauf has designed in Bavaria, conversation drifted towards public places we visit just to be with ourselves and other people. Tranquil spaces where smartphones are unwelcome companions? Spaces designed with no other agenda (shopping, drinking etc) in mind? There aren’t many. But in the Bavarian countryside, rural communities come together in churches like this one purely for that purpose. Sure, there is worship at play too but for many it’s the simple ritual of humans gathering that gets them out of bed and into church every Sunday.
As we examine in our report on holy architecture (see Design: Fine lines), today’s best buildings for worship don’t appear overtly religious: holy iconography in these spaces is low-key. Really, good modern religious architecture is about creating comfortable, calm places that people want to be in.
Lauded UK designer John Pawson, who has dealt with a good few religious commissions (including a small log-built chapel in the Bavarian woods) knows this well. He says that the client for this particular project told him the building didn’t even need a cross. Pawson chose to add one, he says, because the building had a purpose and needed a focus. For him every building type has a different objective and designing for them creates different atmospheres.
With this in mind, designing for worship forms an attractive atmosphere for everyone, religious or otherwise. Society might be getting more secular but in today’s busy world, places created with this level of care, which offer a contemplative atmosphere, remain very welcome.
Melbourne, with its unruly weather, may be known as “the city of four seasons in one day” but at its new sheer-white beachside Jackalope Pavilion, rain is a constant. Louis Li, the entrepreneur behind popular design hotel Jackalope (see issue 103), has encased art collective Random International’s acclaimed installation “Rain Room” in a handsome shell. Designed by Melbourne’s March Studio, the elevated pavilion’s purpose has been left deliberately opaque, with the scaffold-clad box drawing in a curious crowd from the street below.
Designed by Mumbai-based architecture firm SRDA, the School of Dancing Arches sits in a quiet tobacco field in rural India. The building’s design offers children from remote communities an engaging school environment. Its asymmetrical arches and vaulted ceilings create a space to “feed curiosity and encourage students to think critically”, says SRDA founder Samira Rathod.
Its bricks are made of hardy regional clays that help keep the building cool. Meanwhile, natural light filters playfully between the arches, with the muted brick palette providing a stage for the sunlight to dance across the school’s corridors and classrooms.