Architecture for celebrating salvaged materials

Academic YearY3S2
TutorCheah Kok Ming
ExhibitionsCityEx 2019


Architecture for Reuse Furniture: Tectonics of the Closed Loop Cycle is a brief that explores a “Cradle to Cradle” framework for thinking about architecture. Besides considering the retail and logistics operations of the second hand furniture business, there is also an opportunity for architects to celebrate the values of the trade and apply them in architectural design.

Part 1: The case for salvage

Second hand furniture businesses in Singapore often exist as large warehouses of a large variety of second hand furniture. While it may seem like these businesses collect anything they can get their hands on, this is not entirely true. On the contrary, they curate their collections based on potential monetary value.


If a piece of second hand furniture is too damaged or deemed to have little monetary value, they end up as “outcasts” and sent to dumpsters – never to see the inside of a second hand furniture shop, and never having a “second chance”. Such is the case at many of our second hand furniture shops – a look at the dumpsters, bin collection areas in the vicinity reveals a range of “outcasts” that were deemed to not be good enough for a second hand furniture shop.

From a Cradle to Cradle perspective, this represents a large amount of waste, considering that many of these “outcasts” can be salvaged, repaired or refitted, and put to good use once again. What if salvage became another operation for a second hand furniture business?

Proposing a new business direction

Referencing the principles of Charles Jencks and Nathan Silver’s manifesto on Adhocism, this project proposes a workshop/showroom that takes “outcasts” from the main second hand furniture business, turning them into practical, useful, improvised furniture. The architecture will have to celebrate this improvisational, utilitarian spirit that uses resources already at hand, and using existing systems in new ways.

Part 2: Site opportunities

Tabula Rasa

The given site was a second hand car mall, before its demolition prior to the project. To its North lies a Hakka cemetery; to its west a gas station; to its east, the One Commonwealth Building. Its neighbourhood mostly consists of old HDB flats.

In its adjacent plot however, was the old Commonwealth Car Mall, which, during the course of the project, was demolished.

In the vicinity, fences and gates from the old Tanglin Halt Industrial zone remain, but are also slated for demolition. 

What if we salvaged buildings and their parts?

While in real life the Car Mall was pulled down and scrapped, and the fences and gates of the Tanglin Halt Industrial zone are to be removed in an act of tabula rasa, in an academic setting they pose many opportunities for the manifesto of Adhocism. What if these buildings and leftover elements were not scrapped, but were salvaged and reused in the project?

Part 3: Designing with salvage

Adhocism – Not just random improvisation

This however, is not a random use of systems and parts. Each material is studied for its utilitarian properties, its strengths and weaknesses understood, and then applied in an appropriate way. For example, old shipping containers are useful as warehouse and workshop volumes; oil barrels may be cut in half and welded together to create a rainwater gutter; decommissioned public buses may be stripped of mechanical parts except for the air-conditioner to provide for an air-conditioned showroom space; and the list goes on. 

The Spine strategy

Along a central “spine”, Steel beams, zinc roofing, broken bricks, shipping containers, old fences, retired public buses are salvaged and put to use in creating spaces inhabited by furniture salvage workshops, artists’ residences, a cafe, and varities of showroom spaces. As the business of salvaged furniture grows, the architecture does too, appropriating more salvaged materials as it grows along its spine. 

Composing grids

At the same time, the architectural composition has not been neglected. While its front facade angles accordingly to account for the direction of views from traffic and makes an attempt to attract attention, its back facade is ordered and passive. This difference creates 3 different clashing grid systems, allowing for interesting interfaces and a wide variety of space within the growing building.