Performative Patterns of High Density


Biennale | Venice | Italy


Today, more people live in urban areas than in rural as our planet has gone through rapid urbanization in recent decades. This process of urbanization is affecting not only our condition of living, the social, the economic, the political, the cultural, but also the environmental. Traditionally, urban life has been perceived as an escape from natural conditions, the urban in opposition to nature. We are increasingly becoming aware that urban development has to be understood as a development within nature and in interaction with nature. This requires a rethinking of the design of our future cities. The urban as land-scape, as prosthetic nature.

Such perspective understands nature as a complex collection of environmental operations that the city has to support or to substitute like the filtering of water and air, the provision of ecological niches, the growing of food and many more. By viewing the city not anymore as a collection of independent objects of attraction but rather as a systemic network of relationships in modulation of microclimatic conditions, we can develop new approaches to our future challenges related to urbanisation. 

This approach aims at improved resilience of our urban environments and the activation of cities as active generators of a balanced habitat. The exhibition showcases a series of computationally driven design speculations, exploring new ways to engage with the surrounding urban and green systems and transform these concepts into an articulated land-scape as new urban typology grounded in social and environmental sustainability. The projects display solutions to a range of aspect like climate change, environmental pollution, loss of biodiversity and exhaustion of natural resources, in close cooperation with our surroundings.

Computational design thinking plays a central role in the understanding of the urban typology as an articulated land-scape. It enables an integrative systemic design approach across scales and disciplines. De-coding site-specific systems in relation to complex synergies fosters the closing of a gap between otherwise separated fields of knowledge.

The presented design speculations are driven by thinking in structures and systems, informed by the underlying flow of various data streams  and translated in a pattern of order and interactions. However, the goal is not a technological mimicry of nature and the urban as simulation of the natural surrounding but rather a creative investigation into natural patterns of interaction, into patterns of regularity as driver for design interventions. The urban space should be a created ground that expands the inherent logic and functionality of nature and challenges the traditional understanding of densification strategies enhanced by eco-system services. Landscape and natural processes are understood as a fundamental set of transitional concepts that operate on fields and boundary conditions. Reading the urban fabric as dynamic network systems with different contextual layers, allows an analysis of patterns linked with transitional and temporal elements of lands-cape systems.

This is why Singapore’s hawker centres presented a perfect case to be explored jointly by the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Aalto University. The design project involved ideas on the architectural transformation of hawker centres beyond just a functional space to buy and eat food, but rather an evolution of a community space grounded in social and environmental sustainability. The project featured a symposium and a student exhibition.

“In Singapore, a hawker centre is the place where food is celebrated within communities. This makes it an interesting subject of study for us. We felt that it could be explored further to make it more relevant in the future,” explained Assistant Professor Carlos Banon from SUTD’s Architecture and Sustainable Design.

The symposium was held on 20 November 2019. Participating in the discussions were Mr Leonard Ng (Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl), Ms Pearl Chee (WOHA Architects), Dr Aurel von Richthofen (Future Cities Laboratory, ETH Zürich), Professor Thomas Schröpfer (SUTD) with moderators Assistant Professor Carlos Banon (SUTD), Professor Pia Fricker (Aalto University) and Professor Toni Kotnik (Aalto University).

In addition, a selection of student works from the collaborative design studio between SUTD and Aalto University probed into the future of hawker centres. The projects boldly explored the possibilities of community vegetable gardens, rainwater collection points integrated with water fountains, and elderly friendly features such as sloped walkways in place of stairs to cater to a rapidly ageing population.

As part of a larger research collaboration between SUTD and Aalto University, this design studio aims at achieving a holistic understanding of sustainability that integrates buildings, cities and landscape into an interacting urban system. Students from both universities flew over to Helsinki and Singapore respectively to study the public spaces in both the cities and took away enriching lessons that were then applied directly to their coursework and projects.

“The students from Aalto University learnt how to bring different functions together beyond the traditional understanding of what a hawker centre means and translate that learning from the local site-specific qualities, into a context which is rather different in Finland. At the same time, SUTD students were able to learn about public space in the Nordic context and this provided them the ability to relook into how they viewed things back home. This valuable exchange pushed the students to further into a new reading of what a dense city could be,” said Professor Pia Fricker, from Aalto University’s Department of Architecture.

Exhibition: 22 May – 21 November 2021

Exhibition design: Pia Fricker (Aalto University, Helsinki), Toni Kotnik (Aalto University, Helsinki), Carlos Bañón (Architecture Intelligence Research Lab, Singapore)