Jonathan Ng, Architecture Sustainable Design, Class of 2018

8 September 2018 is Graduation Day at SUTD. As we celebrate this occasion, let us hear from Jonathan Ng (Architecture and Sustainable Development, Class of 2018) as he reflects upon his SUTD experience.

While my 4-year architectural journey in SUTD was no doubt filled with many sleepless nights and crazy deadlines, it has been an extremely full and enriching learning experience that I will do it all over again if given the opportunity. These 4 years have helped me discover my passions, focus my interests and define the type of architect that I want to be in the future.

I attributed this to 3 key learning experiences that I have benefited from studying in SUTD – the dedicated ASD faculty, the immersive learning journey, and the multi-disciplinary approach to design and architecture.

My deep interests in computation design and digital fabrication was seeded in my first term of ASD. Through courses such as the Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication (ADDF) course, led by Professor Stylianos Dritsas, I realised how new digital tools and technologies can be used to not only create smarter and more data-informed designs but also to augment new expressions of space and materials. This is critical as the environment we live in becomes increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex. Through this foundation, I progressed to design and develop my own research experiments, even as an undergraduate, and in the process, developed new novel material processes with advanced industrial robotic arms.

Professor Stylianos, and many other ASD’s Professors, modelled and taught me to go above and beyond treating my assignments and projects as just meeting academic requirements, but instead, to be an active contributor of knowledge to the larger architecture community. To this end, I am grateful to Professor Stylianos’ guidance and continuous encouragement to further developing my project into a publication (in progress).

Another case in point is the “Bamboo Revisions” option studio, led by Professor Felix Raspall, which I participated in Term 7. In this studio, we explored the possibilities of using bamboo as a new sustainable material for architecture. I particularly enjoyed the highly tectonic and hands-on approach to learning. In the first 4 weeks, we physically explored the potentials of the bamboo material through various operations such as cutting, bending, slicing or joining. This empirical knowledge was accumulated in the form of a bamboo chair which we designed and fabricated ourselves.

“Bamboo Revisions” option studio: Explore the possibilities of using bamboo as a new sustainable material

The studio then flew to China and Vietnam where we immersed ourselves in the local culture and processes of bamboo growth and its uses, and visited bamboo-build projects by architect Vo Trong Nghia. The final studio proposal was an opportunity to combine my hands-on material knowledge, understanding of live-size bamboo-built architectures and its constraints, to design a bamboo cultural centre in HangZhou, which leverages on sustainable local bamboo and promotes local craft. This combination of hands-on and immersive learning experiences led by passionate and dedicated professors provided me a highly grounded, practical and engaging approach to design and architecture.

During my 4 years, I was privileged to participate in ASD’s overseas immersion programs, including the xLab Summer Programme and its overseas IAP (independent activity programme) offerings. Such overseas immersion trips gave me the opportunity to enrich my learning beyond the academics and the walls of SUTD.

As part of the 2018 IAP this year, I had the opportunity to visit Basel, Switzerland, led by Professor Erwin. As an architecture student, exposures to great architecture projects are critical to a deeper understanding of our profession and its contributions, and in Basel, it was simply a feast for the eyes and the mind. In this trip, we were privileged to see many award-winning works by Pritzker prize winners, such as architects Herzog & de Meuron, SANAA and Zaha Hadid to name a few.

Amazing architecture projects in Basel, Switzerland
A visit to the office of Herzog & de Meuron

A key highlight of the trip was the opportunity to visit the office of Herzog & de Meuron and to share a proposal, via a presentation, to Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, some of our speculative ideas of what a Basel-Singapore installation could be. I will always cherish the conversations we had, and how this opportunity broadened my perspectives of what architecture is, can and might be.

SUTD’s multi-disciplinary approach to design and architecture is in my view, its key differentiator. Working together with other pillars extends the toolkit and repertoire of an architect beyond just merely contenting with architectural and design concerns in silo, to one that begins to understand technical constraints of engineering and the salient potentials of digital technologies to create tightly integrated and innovative new solutions. All these have helped me to approach problems with a multi-disciplinary mind-set and discipline.

A clear case in point is my final year capstone project, where together with friends from ISTD and EPD, we designed Hyperbands, a 20m long interactive light ribbon that was installed and exhibited in Singapore Night Festival 2018. We used algorithms in its architectural design and digital fabrication and deployed new technologies such as machine learning and computer vision to create an installation that offered new and more engaged interaction potentials.

A 20m long interactive light ribbon exhibited at Singapore Night Festival 2018
The multi-disciplinary team behind Hyperbands, consisting of students from ASD, ISTD and EPD.

I am embarking on a new exciting experience in Harvard’s Graduate School of Design as a Master of Architecture student for the next 4 years. I am grateful to SUTD for giving me a firm foundation in my journey to become an architect that aims to make our built environment better by design.

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