Through the generosity of a sponsorship by Ramboll Group, an extraordinary opportunity was provided to the first intake class of the Masters of Tall Buildings and Vertical Urbanism (MTBVU) program at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), led by Antony Wood, PhD, CTBUH President and Professor in Practice / Director of the new MTBVU at IIT. In support of the design studio “Sustainable Vertical Urbanism: Towards 2070 – Future Timber City,” seven MTBVU students accompanied Wood and CTBUH Research Director Daniel Safarik to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur from 6 – 19 February 2023.
The studio’s objective is to design the first phase of a future megacity that will house 10 million people, connect clusters of towers with horizontal, habitable planes, and make the most of sustainable technologies and materials, especially mass timber. The best real-world examples of such connected megacities can be found in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (also the host cities of the upcoming 2023 CTBUH International Conference, 16 – 21 October 2023).
The two-week agenda for the students was packed with meetings and site visits that illustrated how large-scale city planning ideas could be translated into major works of infrastructure, laying the foundation for well-connected high-rise communities that incorporate nature in a robust, meaningful way. Students visited some of the seminal tall building projects in the two cities, as well as examples of preservation and encouragement of plant and animal life in an urban context. The students also received valuable peer review from practitioners at a workshop session at Ramboll’s Singapore office, at approximately the halfway point of the yearlong class.
Throughout the visit, the students were met with generous, inquisitive, and informative hosts. CTBUH acknowledges the great support of the many organizations and people that made this trip a success:
Ramboll Group – Studio trip sponsor
ARC Studio Architecture + Urbansim
Building Construction Authority (BRA)
Far East Hospitality
KLCC Urusharta Sdn Bhd
Housing & Development Board
Marina Bay Sands Pte Ltd
PNB Merdeka Ventures
Public Utilities Board
Singapore Tourism Board
Surbana Jurong Group
Urban Redevelopment Authority
The students get a tour of the HBA's "Hub" where there are model displays of the city and its housing.
Among the first stops was the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Centre for Livable Cities, a sizable interpretive center with a massive, detailed city model, interactive displays, and artifacts that provided an excellent orientation to how Singapore allocates land and develops infrastructure, which are both key to its reputation as one of the world’s most livable cities.
During the trip, the students also visited two other Singapore government agencies, the Housing & Development Board (HDB) and the Building Construction Authority (BCA). HDB is the organization responsible for housing 80 percent of Singapore’s citizens and has an elaborate system of allocation, mortgaging, and high standards for construction. Its “Hub” facility that the students visited includes a museum featuring interactive displays and a model. It serves as the location where citizens go to submit paperwork and sign up for apartments – a waiting room akin to an airport lounge.
The students toured the Zero-Energy Building (ZEB), a steel-timber hybrid structure, that demonstrated the BCA's approach to building sustainably.
The BCA sets codes and standards for construction in Singapore. The students visited its BCA Academy where building inspectors and code officials learn their craft, and education is offered to the A/E/C community. Its newest building, nearly finished, is the Zero-Energy Building, a steel-timber hybrid structure that demonstrates the viability of that approach, as well as numerous other sustainable principles.
Another institution, Eunoia Junior College, was made available for the students to tour on Saturday 11 February, when classes were not in session. The community college was built on a tight site near Bishan Park. To avoid infringing on public recreation areas, its program was stacked vertically, including a full-size football pitch and running track with spectator seating, some five floors above the ground on giant concrete stilts. In the undercroft of the massive structure, students could admire the unique use of the CREE concrete-timber composite panel system, deployed as floor and wall systems for the classrooms. A large central courtyard is heavily planted and provides breezes to the classrooms, which are not air-conditioned.
Left: Integrated into the mid-section of the building were landscaped areas that the students toured;
Right: Mun Summ Wong, principal of WOHA Architects, showed the students the Oasia Hotel Downtown and its common outdoor spaces that are shared with guests.
Thanks to hosts CapitaLand, the studio was able to tour CapitaSpring, a mixed-use tower with spectacular skygardens, both on its roof and at its midpoint. At the tower’s mid-section, a long spiral staircase descends through planted terraces, populated by quiet workspaces, cafes, fountains, playground, and exercise equipment. The roof garden is a terraced space that provides vegetables to the kitchen of the rooftop restaurant, and both spaces provide multidirectional views through the “peeled-away” façade enveloping the building.
Multidisciplinary design firm Surbana Jurong hosted the students at its campus in the Jurong district, a new eco-centric development, in which a soft arc of office buildings is connected by a publicly accessible series of atria.
On Friday, 10 February 2023, the students visited the WOHA office in Singapore and were personally guided by the generous hosts through the office.
A major highlight of the visit was “WOHA Day,” in which Mun Summ Wong, principal of WOHA Architects, hosted the students for an entire day of site visits and stories of trials and tribulations in realizing some of the city-state’s most iconic projects, all of which fully embody the “city in a garden” principles that have been emphasized in Singapore’s planning since its independence in 1965.
The day started at the WOHA offices, contained in four floors of a traditional shophouse, a late-19th/early-20th century typology distinctive to Singapore. There, the architects test the viability of the plantings and vertical greenery strategies for their projects, via a roof garden and a planted light shaft in the center of the building. After a tour of the offices, the students visited key projects that included Oasia Hotel Downtown, Parkroyal on Pickering, Newton Suites, Pan Pacific Orchard Hotel, Kampung Admiralty, and SkyVille @ Dawson.
Oasia Hotel Downtown is a nearly 200-meter building clad with a bright-red metal screen, on which vines, planted at its completion in 2016, have now grown nearly to the top. Several outdoor areas at height are “carved out” from the envelope of the building, providing sheltered outdoor spaces for the check-in lounge and pools. The roof is also extensively landscaped. Mainly a hotel, it also contains SOHO (small office / home office) workspaces; the common outdoor space is shared with hotel guests.
Walking through the landscaping at Kampung Admiralty in Singapore.
Parkroyal on Pickering is a full-block “landscraper” with hotel and office towers. Its extraordinary terraced structure, in the shape of an inverted rice terrace on stilts, supports four times the amount of greenery that existed on the site prior to construction. The terraces break down the scale of the block-long project and provide platforms for extensive greenery. The hotel’s pool area is a spectacular triple-height space with infinity pools and a walking track around the perimeter.
Kampung Admiralty is an HDB-developed mixed-use complex, including senior housing, medical offices and a hawker center, a traditional Singaporean non-conditioned marketplace with affordable food options. The roof terraces are so extensively landscaped that it was sometimes easy to forget one was on top of a building.
SkyVille @ Dawson is also an HDB property, housing some 960 units in multiple towers connected by sky planes. It has significant communal space at height, though mostly unprogrammed. This left tenants to devise their own uses for the spaces, including a student orchestra rehearsal – 50 floors above the ground with a commanding view – at the time of the student’s visit.
A similarly gracious host, ARC Studio Architecture + Urbanism principal Peng Beng Khoo took the students on a thorough tour of Pinnacle @ Duxton, one of the first major high-rise HDB developments to connect its multiple towers with sky planes, on the 26th and 50th floors. The planes are landscaped, with running tracks and multiple landscaped recreation areas, each keyed to a theme.
From the top of the Marina Bay Sands resort is the infinity pool that spans the sky park.
Another major highlight during the trip was the tour of Marina Bay Sands, designed by architect Moshe Safdie, and the hotel and convention center that will host the main program of the CTBUH 2023 International Conference. The three-tower design, topped by a curving “sky park,” longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, is now synonymous with Singapore in the public mind. In addition to the world-famous infinity pool in the sky park, the tour also included back-of-house areas, showcasing the vast underground operation that keeps 10,000 employees crisply uniformed and moving about efficiently, as well as managing the huge amount of waste generated by the 2,500-room hotel, casino, convention center and shopping center.
On Sunday, 12 February the IIT students arrived in Kuala Lumpur, and began touring the city, including sites such as Merdeka Square.
The journey to Kuala Lumpur entailed a healthy dose of contextual site visits, including Merdeka (Independence) Square and the Masjid Jamek (Friday Mosque), to provide a grounding in the city’s and nation’s history. This prepared the students to understand the significance of their tours of Merdeka 118, soon to become the world’s second-tallest building, and the Petronas Towers, the world’s tallest buildings from 1998 to 2004.
The Merdeka 118 team, including PNB CEO Tengku Dato' Ab Aziz Tengku Mahmud, generously spent several hours with the studio, beginning with a detailed presentation on the history of the project site, which includes two historic stadia, one of which was the site of Malaysia’s 1957 declaration of independence from Britain. The hard-hat tour took the group all the way to the 116th floor, complete with two outdoor observation decks, as well as through a typical office floor and several transfer lobbies.
Left: On Monday, 13 February 2023, the studio went to Merdeka 118 to take a tour of the almost complete building;
Right: On Tuesday, 14 February 2023, the IIT studio visited the Petronas Towers and took a tour.
The tour of Petronas Towers had several special treats, including a visit to the skybridge, the 86th-floor observation deck, and the building’s high-tech operations center. In addition to appreciating the architecture and the sophistication of the day-to-day operations, the students learned about the cultural significance of Cesar Pelli’s Islamic-star-inspired design and the importance of the towers as a national symbol.
Whenever not touring buildings, the group was able to experience the great variety of natural, technological, and cultural assets both cities have to offer. This came in the form of hawker centers, ceremonies at Hindu temples, nighttime safaris, the Gardens by the Bay light show, and more than a few sightings of monkeys, roosters, and even a few robots.
Learn more about the IIT Masters of Tall Buildings and Vertical Urbanism (M.TBVU) here.