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Monday, November 12, 2007

Design Follies

I have seen some design follies around. This one, the Esplanade in Singapore, almost became one. It was a glass dome in the tropics. When it was finished, they realised it was too hot and went to design those spikey shades, earning its nickname "The Durain", which ironically becomes an architectural marvel and charm.
A design folly to me is one that has no specific purpose, or that it uses building material and energy excessively and inefficiently. However, there is allowance given to architectural merit and character of the design, so it is not all science.
This is the City Hall MRT exit to Raffles City Shopping Centre in Singapore. For reasons known only to the designer, this short span of space is supported by an excessively heavy and deep beam.
For a single storey structure like this, the size of the beam is clearly an over-design, waste of material, space and it is unsightly.
The other exit is better. This shelter has the same span as the one at Raffles City, but uses a lot less metal.
.It uses a truss structure. Trusses are efficient structures as they are consistent with the triangulation of forces in nature. Nature does not create structural members perpendicular to each other. Therefore the most basic structure is a tetrahedran. Like this...

With five toothpicks and four pieces of candy, you get three triangles in a tetrahedran. With six toothpicks and six pieces of candy, you only get two separate triangles. So you can literally have your extra candies and eat it! See the efficiency yet?

In a truss structure, there are only axial forces that runs along each constituent member. Therefore each member has only longitudinal stress, but no bending stresses, no shear stresses or torque. It is like a woman who only needs to work in the office and not having to rush home to take care of her babies and also clean the house. Much easier isn't it?

The next folly is my regular coffee shop at Pasir Ris, in Singapore. This one has a topee roof that tapers upwards and then an opening at its apex for ventilation. The idea of such geometry is so that as the hot air rises, it is compressed as the roof tapers and therefore hastening the air to exit through the opening at the tip of the roof. Thus creating a rapid convection current and refreshing the air underneath, cooling the sheltered area below.
However, recently they renovated the place and very ignorantly built a false ceiling under the topee roof.

They even sealed the ventiation shaft. I think they wanted the false ceiling to insulate them from the sun, but I think it acts to the contrary. It now traps the hot air in between the topee roof and the false ceiling. That is using more to achieve less.

The moral of the story here is not have anything stale in life. Energy needs to be circulated. Air needs to be circulated. Money needs to be circulated (by investments). I learn from Tao that as we circulate, what goes out will come back with more vitality. But this will only happen if we get our system correct.


We need to fix the system though, as too many trees are cut now, and too much carbon dioxide are emitted from cars and industries.

The next folly is the Downtown East extension at Pasir Ris, Singapore. They have decided to cover the multi-storey carpark with this giant iron girdle. Look at the size of the girdle compared with the workmen. It has no useful purpose. I don't think it look very pretty either.

See how thick the metal pieces are in comparison with my bicycle?


They could easily grow plants on the multi-storey carpark. If they did, it will look more like this building at the Singapore Management University downtown. It looks alot gentler and kinder; and also it would let out more oxygen.

There are other follies around. I found many useless or frivolous parapet wall structures in many residential estates. Look around you. They are very common. They serve no purpose and have no architectural merit. Most of the time, they look unsightly. It also covers the earth with more concrete increasing surface run-offs during a storm, instead of the water percolating into the ground.


The purpose of this post is to raise your awareness of the design follies around us. Poorly designed buildings use more to achieve less. Ask your architect how much the building he designed weighs and he probably doesn't know. Bucky asked that and got a blank look from architects. In these days of acute climate changes and threats of ecological damages done to Planet Earth, it is important to think of ecologically sustainable dwellings.


The extra metal used at the Downtown East carpark could be better used for a bridge that will cut travel time or a telecommunications ground transmission station or a satellite dish, that will aid communications and reduce the need for excessive traveling. These deployments will serve more people and thus create more life supporting wealth.


I used to think the 'market' will take care of everything, but now I beg to differ. A perfect market place does not exist, much as and because perfect information and knowledge of the market does not exist. Otherwise, we wouldn't have spewed so much carbon dioxide in the air thus far.

So look around you. Tell me if you spot any more follies. :)

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