NTU Singapore: Asia’s Largest Mass Timber Building

Embracing Sustainable Construction and Boosting Wellbeing at Nanyang Technological University.

Tue 23 May 23


Interest in Mass Engineered Timber (MET) construction is booming, it seems that every other day a new timber skyscraper is making headlines – the tallest proposed tower is the w350 tower in Japan, 70 storeys but who is counting?

In Singapore, the culmination of this rising trend can be seen in Toyo Ito & Associates’ latest project – the ‘Gaia’ building for the Nanyang Business School at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). This is the second building on the NTU campus to use mass timber, following NTU’s ‘The Wave’ sports hall in 2017.

Both buildings are the product of Toyo Ito, a Pritzker Prize recipient and respected Japanese architect known for designs that seamlessly incorporate elements of nature. The Pritzker Prize is commonly referred to as the “Nobel Prize” of architecture.

 Mr Seah Chee Kien, Project Qualified Person, Senior Managing Director, RSP Architects Planners & Engineers, Ms Jennie Chua, Pro-Chancellor, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education, Prof Ho Teck Hua, NTU President, Ms Goh Swee Chen, Chair, NTU Board of Trustees, and Mr Toyo Ito, Design Architect of Project Gaia, President, Toyo Ito & Associates, Architects, at the launch of Gaia on Wednesday.

The zero-energy building, billed Asia’s largest mass timber building, comprises two six-story curving rectangles joined at multiple points.

It consists mainly of sustainably sourced cross-laminated timber and glued laminated timber, or glulam, stiffened by a concrete core.

Introducing the ‘Gaia’ the largest wooden building in Asia

Designed by RSP Architects in collaboration with Toyo Ito & Associates Architects the building will cater to the university’s new ‘Business School’

Footage courtesy of @NTUsg

Spanning 220 meters in length, the building houses teaching spaces, a research centre, faculty offices, a basement car park, and an ancillary block. The structure utilises a modular timber frame system, allowing for the prefabrication of MET components off-site, reducing on-site construction time and manpower.

It contains a 170-seat auditorium, 12 lecture theatres, 13 seminar rooms, and classrooms. The interior is mainly exposed natural wood left exposed, with large windows and glazed skylights.

MET’s high strength-to-weight ratio makes it easier to handle than steel and concrete, and its use supports Singapore’s commitment to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, focusing on sustainable cities.

The Singapore Minister for Education, Mr. Chan Chun Sing, attended the launch of the building and said, “I am heartened that our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) are deeply committed to building and sustaining green campuses. As part of the Singapore Green Plan 2030, our IHLs play an important role in making sustainability a competitive advantage for Singapore.”

The building has successful achieved a net-zero carbon rating

According to the business school, Gaia is the eighth building project on the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) campus to receive the Green Mark Platinum for zero energy.

Compared to a normal building, Gaia produces about 2,500 fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year – equivalent to more than 7,000 roundtrip flights from Singapore to Hong Kong.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels installed on the rooftop churn out 516,000-kilowatthours (kWh) of clean energy to power the building annually – enough to power 169 three-room HDB flats annually.

Innovative Design and Responsible Sourcing

The building’s design employs Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) for slabs and Glued Laminated Timber (Glulam) for beams and columns. Sourced from sustainably managed forests, the wood used in the project was prefabricated at the mill for on-site assembly. Over 7,000m3 of CLT was used in the project, with the same amount regrown in Austrian forests in just over an hour.

The carbon offset from planting trees to replace those used in Gaia totals 5,800 tons of CO2 – the same as the carbon footprint of about 17,000 return flights between Singapore and Hong Kong.

Stora Enso, the company responsible for supplying the timber, is fully PEFC certified, ensuring the responsible management of forest resources.

Designed for Enhanced Learning and Wellbeing

The new NTU building also showcases what can be achieved with wood in design. Wood adds a warm feeling and increases biophilia, the connection to nature indoors, creating an environment supporting learning and discourse. An increasing number of studies show that using wood also has well-being benefits that can boost learning and concentration.

Biophilic design: The powerful connection between wood, wellbeing, and enhanced learning environments. (Photo credit: Toyo Ito & Associates).

NTU President Professor Ho Teck Hua said, “The building was designed to connect humans to their natural surroundings. Students and faculty benefit from the extensive open spaces for study and collaboration.

The spaces have ample natural light, creating an environment
conducive to social interaction. People will experience first-hand what it means to work, learn, and socialise in a sustainable environment.”


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