Rethinking construction materials: Precast concrete and modular steel system

By Kuan Chee Yung

“You say to a brick, ‘What do you want, brick?’ And the brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’ And you say to the brick, ‘Look, I want one, too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.’ And then you say, ‘What do you think of that, brick?’ Brick says: ‘I like an arch.’”

This imagined conversation by Louis Kahn may sound like an enigma to some, but what Khan essentially wanted to express was the understanding of a material potential. Even brick that is often considered mundane, when used thoughtfully, can result in an impressive structure. A good example of this is one of Khan’s own projects—the dormitory of Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India. Architecture enthusiasts loved it and even rose in protests when the school announced a demolition plan.

I believe the reason why Kahn’s work was valued is because he appreciated construction materials and saw them beyond form and function. This understanding can extend to more profound considerations, such as thinking about the true nature of materials. In the case of Khan, compressive properties of bricks were utilised to optimise the construction methods.

Kuan Chee Yung

Kuan Chee Yung is a Green Mark manager, advisor at Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) and Board of Architects, Singapore. He has received SGBC Green Architect of the Year Award and become BCA Industry Ambassador Standing Committee for Green Mark Professional Qualification. With over 24 years of experience in the industry, Kuan has undertaken various phases of projects from design inception and development right up to contract completion. Kuan is currently Executive Vice President of CPG Signature, a subsidiary of CPG Corporation which provides multi-disciplinary built environment consultancy services and solutions. Their diverse portfolio includes township and campus master plans, public amenities and institutional buildings, industrial complexes, offices, educational and research institutions etc. The company’s key expertise lies in biophilic design, experience design and integrated digital delivery (IDD).