The showcase booths at our Open House earlier this month was a magnificent chorus of displays, demos and activities. But did you know that much of the furniture, including the welcome desk and showcase tables, were custom-designed and assembled by a team led by Assistant Professors Carlos Bañón and Felix Raspall from the ASD (Architecture and Sustainable Design) Pillar?

We caught up with them the week before the Open House. Despite their busy schedule, they were thrilled to give us the inside scoop on their vision for the Open House and to share their experience.

Left: Assistant Prof Felix Raspall. Right: Assistant Prof Carlos Bañón

Recreating the SUTD culture at the Open House

When asked about their approach, Assistant Prof Felix cheerfully quips that “The concept of the Open House is to translate SUTD life into a physical space. It has two components; the first is the exhibition, which will be sleek, and well-organised. But we also wanted to have casual spaces for interaction and conversations.”

Photo by: Assistant Prof Carlos Bañón

How the idea becomes a reality is twofold. For the exhibition space, the design and materials were purposefully chosen to be neutral to not steal attention from the exhibits. To that end, the ASD team designed the tabletops to connect seamlessly with their legs, with bespoke 3D printed nodes, giving it a cloud-like feel.

When placed together, the tables merged to form a seamless-looking surface and the exhibits from the different pillars came together to form a whole. It was an excellent expression of their vision to bring SUTD’s multidisciplinary and collaborative culture to life. The experience visitors went through was not unlike life in SUTD, fluidly weaving between different disciplines in a short span of time.

The interaction area, on the other hand, was designed to have a warmer, cosier atmosphere with carpets and lower, wooden furniture to encourage discussion, just like in the classrooms. This created an intimate environment where people could trade ideas and interact, rather than a passive one.

Enriching the learning of students on the team

Another objective of this project is to give their team the opportunity to work on a real-world project. “The students on our team have been exposed to many design challenges, from the concept phase to making something at scale,” says Assistant Prof Felix.

“They get to work with several tools such as 3D printing, robotic fabrication and parametric modelling, but more importantly, they get a chance to develop intellectual tools and soft skills such as interfacing with industry partners.”

Assistant Prof Carlos demonstrating the features and design of the 3D printed node

Adding to that, Assistant Prof Carlos also adds that it’s a fantastic opportunity for students – “Working on the Open House lets them be involved with many tasks.  I think it’s a great experience for the students to go through a real project in an educational environment where the interactions are more pedagogical but also to make something that is real. Ultimately we are trying to add to the culture of innovation and invention at SUTD.”

One of the team members doing measurements at Campus Centre for the layout of the showcase area.

Challenges they faced

Even under the guidance of experienced faculty and practitioners, the project wasn’t without challenges, for example, the scale of the project. “When you move from a prototype to production, there is a lot more refinement that needs to be done. In our case, we had to produce 73 tables for the Campus Centre, and that presented interesting challenges for us to tackle” explains Assistant Prof Carlos.

One of the challenges was optimising the amount of material used as any wastage multiples quickly. This can be seen from the table legs. Instead of using massive, blocky legs to support the weight of the Corian table top, the team found that by using three thin ones, they would save a lot of material. As a bonus, the overall profile looks lighter and slimmer.

Producing these many nodes at scale also posed an operational challenge to the team. As the school’s 3D printing facilities are spread out the campus, the team had to fabricate the nodes at various locations. Because of this, each time a 3D printer had a problem, it might not be noticed and remedied for hours, impacting the overall production schedule.

One of the nodes that came out poorly

Looking ahead after the Open House

While the Open House is a large project for the team, given how lean it is, both Assistant Profs Carlos and Felix are enjoying their time at SUTD because of the opportunities afforded to not just them, but their staff and students too.

“It’s a place for young, ambitious designers and academics like us because it’s a place where you can be experimental. It’s a young and forward-looking culture, so there’s a lot of room for exploration for something new. That is why we’ve been seeing many enthusiastic students choose SUTD,” says Assistant Prof Felix as the interview came to a close.

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