Perched on a sloping lawn behind the circular library building of Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) at the Dover Campus, the Gridshell provides an extension for the library that is becoming too small for the university’s growing student population. By day, the curved pavilion offers students and staff a shaded open-air space to work or to meet. By night, it transforms into a venue for gatherings, evening lectures and SUTD community events.
Comprising two basic elements, a base and a canopy, the structure is designed to be dismantled and recycled after two years. The base, which hovers over the grass lawn to keep feet dry and provides a place for sitting, is made of a steel structure covered with timber decking. The Gridshell is made of 12mm marine plywood beams and 2mm galvanised rolled steel cladding tiles. There are no columns, beams or vertical walls to support the roof; the canopy works as a curved vault. All the elements of this pavilion are fabricated and assembled in Singapore, using computational technology, says Andres Sevtsuk, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Planning at SUTD, who also heads SUTD’s City Form Lab.
This project represents a collaborative effort between the university’s faculty, staff and students. Andres says: “Over 100 SUTD students and staff participated in the assembly of the Gridshell. The first-year architecture students who were involved in the initiative, got to see an architectural project from A-to-Z, right in our backyard. This was a rare experience”.
It was, in fact, a team of freshmen students who came up with the concept of an open-air catenary canopy. The SUTD library had launched a competition to invite ideas for extending its space, and the team won the competition. City Form Lab then collaborated with the students to develop the design, conduct structural tests, coordinate its fabrication and supervise the site works with an appointed contractor.
As gridshells are traditionally very expensive and labour intensive, Andres thinks that the SUTD Gridshell’s greatest functional value is that it demonstrates a new way of making grid structures cheaply and rapidly using standard, off-the-shelf materials. “We see a lot of potential for this new solution in new structures using all kinds of materials”.
Reflecting on how the project realises the President’s Design Award’s vision for design, Andres says: “The design of the structure involved a healthy dose of both structural engineering and design, and I think the project fits very well with the vision of SUTD to blend technology with design. It also demonstrates that there is enormous know-how in Singapore for design, engineering and fabrication. Everything for the project, except raw material, was available in Singapore”.