Building Lives Through Design

by National University of Singapore (NUS) Architecture

Projects designed and built by architecture students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) to benefit the underprivileged in Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, supervised by Associate Professor Tan Beng Kiang. Beneficiaries and stakeholders were empowered through participatory processes.

Ah Ma Drink Stall Project – A design and build reconstruction project with multi-stakeholder participation and collaboration in Pulau Ubin

Ah Ma Drink Stall is a timber reconstruction project on Pulau Ubin, an island off mainland Singapore. Conceived as a pilot project for revitalisation of Ubin, it comprised multi-stakeholders collaboration among volunteers from NUS Architecture, PH Consulting, Singapore Heritage Society, Sea Angels, Friends of Ubin Network, National Parks Board and the Ministry of National Development. It is possibly Singapore’s first public structure designed and built by student volunteers and villagers.

With the closure of granite quarries in the 1990s, Ubin’s population dwindled to a small number. The remaining villagers continue to live a kampung lifestyle and 80 year-old Madam Ong (nickname Ah Ma), sells coconuts at her stall as livelihood. However, due to ground settlement and periodic tidal flooding from the adjacent river, the 25-year-old stall was structurally unsafe.

Through participatory design and engagement, the team created a sensitive design to preserve the kampung rustic charm amidst nature. Intangible heritage is preserved through knowledge transfer of vernacular construction of interlocking timber joinery from villagers to the students.

The design invokes the look and feel of the old stall. Original spatial arrangement and pitched roof language were adopted. Some original timber planks were reused to keep traces of the past. Signboards written by Ah Ma’s late husband were restored. A raised floor deck addresses the flooding. Integrated into the stall is a heritage wall displaying the stall and its surroundings’ history, the rich biodiversity of mangroves and the reconstruction process. Project by Lam Ching Yan, Ethan Chung, Tan Beng Kiang


01 - Mdm Ong (affectionately known as Ah Ma), has been living independently on Pulau Ubin by selling coconuts and drinks at the old drink stall since 1995 (photo credit Ria Tan) 02 - Dr Tan Beng Kiang, who leads the volunteer team from NUS Department of Architecture, engages Ah Ma through models to understand her needs and preferences in designing the new drink stall 03 - Across a span of 1 month, student volunteers, together with Pulau Ubin villagers and NParks contractor, pre-fabricate and assemble the drink stall using timber construction (photo credit Ethan Chung) 04 - With the unwavering support from Pulau Ubin villagers and various partners, the reconstructed Ah Ma Drink Stall reopens to the public with a traditional Chinese ceremony (photo credit MJ Mohammad) 05 - Key design elements include 1) raised timber platform to protect against periodic intertidal flooding and double up as extra seating, 2) preservation of signboard painted by Ah Ma’s late husband and 3) reuse of original timber planks to juxtapose with the new interlocking timber members

Project Masaya 2018, Philippines

Project Masaya 2018 is a project in Arceo Village and CapitaLand-Ascott Gawad Kalinga Eco Village, Batangas, Philippines that aims to empower its stakeholders through design and construction projects via participatory design. It is a collaboration with NGO Gawad Kalinga (GK) and Capitaland-Ascott. At the heart of GK’s community transformation is restoring dignity, and giving back the poor’s capacity to dream and work towards the fulfilment of their dreams. The project scope included Identifying alternative means of livelihood, design and construction of a children’s playground and “Kids Paradise” arts and crafts workshops for children. Keeping the GK mission close to our hearts, we anchored our approach in participatory design which inspired a masterplan of potential projects, with the first one being a children’s playground and social enterprise workshops. These workshops were conducted as a means to identify available assets within the community and forming a credible basis for the potential formation of a self-sustaining economy within the village itself. Project is partially supported by YEP. Project led by Lam Ching Yan, Amber Li Cheng, Nur Farah Huda Binte Muhamad Fauzi. Members: Goh Zhi Yu, Kirk Yiling, Marcus Sim Bei Yi, Vanessa Khoo Hui En, Cai Hongyi, Chia Yu Xuan, Chua Jie Min Feranda, Gabriel Cheang Song Jing, Khor Chen Gerald, Lin Haozhen, Low Beng Wee Gavin, Jane Zhao Xin Chen, Wu Chenmu, Dong Jiahui, Maasha, Grace Ng Xin Yi, Jiang Dongyuan, Elsa Sim Rui Jia

Supervisor: Tan Beng Kiang


01 - Construction of the children’s playground in progress 02 - Children playing at the completed playground 03 - The team discussing with beneficiaries in a participatory workshop 04 - Beneficiaries voting for preferred social enterprises 05 - The beneficiaries sharing a candid moment with the students

Project Masaya 2019, Philippines

In December 2019, our team of 20, comprising students from NUS Architecture and Industrial Design, set out to Gawad Kalinga (GK) Arceo Village in Batangas, Philippines. Our main objective was to help facilitate the setting up of a social baking enterprise in the village, by helping to outfit a bakery as well as to build a store to sell the baked goods. The idea for the baking enterprise was initially raised during our Participatory Design workshops in 2018, and together with the villagers and GK, we decided to make it our vision for Project Masaya 2019. Our team was split into two: one helped with the DIY construction of furniture and shelves to outfit the bakery, whereas the other helped with the construction of the shopfront near the entrance of the village. We were kindly hosted by the village to stay in their homes for most of our 2-week trip, and we strived to work out a balance between construction work in the day and fostering bonds with our host families at night to understand more about their lives and culture. Project is partially supported by YEP. Project by Maasha (leader), Marcus Sim Bei Yi (leader), Chia Yu Xuan, Kirk Yiling, Bernie Ang, Chiew Yi Ying, Elvin Tan Kai Boon, Er Wen Xuan, Eugene Sim Jin Siang, Gracia Fei, Jessica Ann Lee Yu, Jiang Dongyuan, Jonjoe Fong, Lai Wei Song, Lee Zhi Ning, Otto Liu Seng Lee, Andy Su Yung En, Tasya Graciela, Vernice Yu Hui Qing and Yap Yee Chen

Supervisor: Tan Beng Kiang


01 - Team ‘Jollibun’ (from left: Yi Ying, Tasya, Otto, Dong Yuan, Jonjoe, Gracia, Yiling, Marcus, Bernie and Eugene) on day 11 of the store construction, with the main building structure composed of concrete and steel members welded together to form an eye-catching polygonal frame. 02 - Team ‘Bakehouse’ (from left: Tasya, Maasha, Jonjoe, Kuya Jhon, Eugene, Tito Orlando, Andy and Weisong) on day 10, where a baking expert was invited to impart his skills in baking pastries, as well as to test the functionality of the outfitted bakery. 03 - Team ‘Bakehouse’ treating the wood to be used for the bakery's cabinets at the meeting hut of the village, under the guidance of a Tito experienced in carpentry. 04 - Team ‘Bakehouse’ measuring, cutting and drilling holes into the timber pieces which would later be assembled into cabinets and shelves for the bakery. 05 - The entire Masaya 2019 team excavating the site for the store on day 3 of construction, with some help from a group of Kuyas from a neighbouring GK village who were experienced in construction.

Project IGNIS 2019, Vietnam

In 2019, the Project Ignis team collaborated with NGO, Blessed Discoveries, and Nui Tuong farm to design and construct a classroom for underprivileged children in Phone Thanh Commune, Dong Nai, Vietnam. Kids from the neighbouring villages would visit the farm daily, for lessons such as math, science and most importantly, ‘ethical farming’. This teaches them, the future generation of farmers, healthy farming practices i.e. farming without GMO as the heavy use of chemicals by Vietnamese farmers are harmful for the environment, farmers and consumers. The children also learn to be independent and responsible by helping at chores, from cooking food to joining a committee that plans events for the farm. In August, the team took part in the construction of the classroom, after months of planning and design work. Collaborating with skilled builders, the classroom is built to withstand the region's monsoon seasons and high summer temperatures. Glass panels above allow natural light in to reduce energy usage. The brick detail at the top of the wall is a successful result of experimentation with the builders, and testament to the importance of happy collaboration. Despite encountering a flood towards the end of our trip, we are incredibly grateful to Mr Poh Weiye from Blessed Discoveries and Ms Hang from Nui Tuong Farm who kept us safe and led the team of builders to the completion of the classroom. Partially funded by YEP. Project by Sim Su Zan (leader), Chua Jie Min Feranda (leader), Goh Zhi Yu, Tan Jia Xian, Goh Qian Wei, Sherry, Safiah Noorhimli, Lim Si Yu, Ernest, Jiang Dong Yuan, Chan De Quan, Ang Hui Ying and Sarah Wong Si Min

Supervisor: Tan Beng Kiang


01 - The completed classroom with overhang for rain protection and shoe removal area. 02 - Interior of classroom with natural lighting for optimal studying environment. 03 - The team and the village children working together to build a self-standing structure for planting with the knowledge learnt from school. 04 - Participating in all aspects of construction to gain experience with necessary safety precautions. 05 - The team, the village kids and the teaching assistants all played a part to make this project possible.

MINDS Sensory Garden 2019

As part of the local arm of Project Masaya 2019, we designed a sensory garden at MINDS Towner Garden School, in collaboration with Capitaland Ascott. MINDS Towner Garden School caters to intellectually disabled students ranging from ages 7 to 18, and hopes to educate and prepare them sufficiently to be able to live independently in society. The existing garden was originally planned as a sensory garden that stimulated one’s curiosity towards nature with various plant species. However, it became increasingly unused due to the lack of shade and difficulty of maintenance, with only occasional visits when there are gardening lessons to be held. We conducted participatory design sessions with some of the teachers, and also sat in on a couple of lessons with students from two ends of the age spectrum to gain a better understanding of the needs and wants of both the students and their teachers. From there, we outlined the main brief, which was to create a space to learn and relax, and also provide a calm, soothing place for students in the event of a meltdown. The garden is segmented into three zones: the first a sensorial garden for vegetable planting and stimulation of one’s sight and smell, the second a rock garden with a fountain for one to relax and unwind, and finally a picnic area where students could have their meals together with their friends during recess. Project led by Chia Yu Xuan, Kirk Yiling, Maasha and Marcus Sim Bei Yi. Supervisor: Tan Beng Kiang


01 - Participatory design process with stakeholders from MINDS. 02 - The ‘rock garden’ zone, with a central path designated with paving stones surrounded by gravel and little ‘caves’ of varying sizes for the students to both sit and play. 03 - The central path of the ‘rock garden’ zone is surrounded by gravel for the students to form patterns in and explore by touch and sound and students will help to create DIY installations that can be placed along the louvred walkway. 04 - The trickling fountain at the end of the ‘rock garden’ helps to dampen external noise, as well as to provide a relaxing and calm ambience. This portion leads directly to the main pavilion of the picnic area. 05 - The main pavilion of the picnic area provides a raised platform for students to sit and have their meals, and the wooden train is specially designed for both sitting (as individual carriages) and play, with wheels and ropes to connect them to each other.

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