Architectural Design streamDAVID TAPIAS


Industry partnerLENDLEASE





The ongoing digitalization efforts of the corporate building industry present an innovation opportunity not only in the way buildings can be manufactured, but also and mainly in how they can be designed, inhabited and maintained, so they respond to the diverse and changing needs of people, in Australia and internationally, today and over several future generations, amidst the global environmental crisis we’re living in.


Working in partnership, Lendlease, DesignMake, the University of Sydney and Monash University conducted research under a Cooperative Research Centre Project (CRC-P) grant titled Innovation in Advanced Multi-storey Housing Manufacture. The grant run from 2016 to 2019 with a value of $4.5 million (or $7 million including in-kind contributions).

The Architectural Design stream of this research, led by David Tapias, dealt with what kind of innovative inhabitable spaces and components can be obtained by the implementation of current digital and fabrication tools in the typology of tall timber habitats.


Inhabiting: NZIB beyond zoning

This research focuses on the specific potentials that multi-storey engineered timber structures offer to address these challenges by designing a building system that includes multipurpose, adaptability to local contexts and universal demands, easy transformation in time, a flexible modularity, and empowerment of each inhabitant, as factors that achieve NZIB -Net Zero Impact Buildings. Its outcome is a new type of multi-storey timber habitats that challenge the conventions of what residential, commercial, hospitality and institutional building types have been until today. 

Multipurpose and built to outlast us

The exponential growth of urban population is a present challenge for our global society, and for developers, builders and architects in particular. In this planetary context, Australian cities tend to replicate an Asian model of high rise urban enclaves, where Market and User have replaced community and inhabitant. Within this framework, how can we achieve faster, better, cheaper and longer-lasting buildings that, while offering a viable alternative to the status quo, contribute to improving the environmental conditions of their surroundings and their whole lifecycle? It is a complex endeavour that must include an outstanding increase in the design and manufacturing process predictability, and at the same time embrace the uncertainty, risk and unforeseen events that inevitably all manmade structures must face during their lifetime. Can we do this by designing a building system that adapts to and is born from ultra-local conditions and at the same time can be easily and seamlessly transformed by its inhabitants’ daily, seasonally and longer-term changing needs and wishes?


Digital while physical

How can an indoor modular system allow an increased empowerment of the inhabitants of a building, helping them transform the space according to their needs and diverse culture and character, in an easy way that doesn’t need any skilled labor or expensive works done? How can we communicate innovative ideas to the public regarding the potential of these new habitats?In order to find evidence-based answers to these two questions, together with DMaF Lab we have built a full-scale apartment mock-up.

Initially installed at the Tin Sheds Gallery of the University of Sydney for a whole week, where several tours have been conducted, and with more than 300 visitors, the mock-up has been fully or partially exhibited in other locations such as the Charles Perkins Centre and the ADR18 conference in Sydney, and at the 2019 Victorian Architecture Awards in Melbourne.

Exposed timber offers enormous benefits to the health and well-being of humans, which people understand and feel through a direct or mediated experience. This is the start of a cultural mindset and perception change of this renewable material, that should lead to an evolution of building codes to embrace these materials’ potentials; but also to a proper understanding of the limits of wood as an organic material -what it can do and what it can’t; the different kinds of trees and their wood; the dangers of tree farming; the pros and cons of current engineered timber solutions; the challenges it presents in terms of sound insulation performance, exposure to atmospheric elements, fire and time; its extraordinary deformation properties; and the particular structural behaviour of engineered timber used as an open family of building components.

Apartment for a retired couple in Brisbane.

Home office for a young couple with an infant in Melbourne.

An indoors living system has been developed which can be totally adapted to the specific constraints of each single building, its cultural and physical context, codes and inhabitants, presenting an endless array of possible variations throughout the whole life cycle of the building, from its inception to its service life, and even easy disassembly and reinstallation elsewhere. 

Residential configuration.

Commercial configuration.

The physical production of models and mockups have allowed us to present timber’s positive haptic properties to the Australian public, and they have become a powerful communication tool to demonstrate a different way of living to people.


Search questions

As a consequence of our search as architects, we also produce understanding and knowledge made of words -written and spoken. This search revolves around twelve constant themes, questions we don’t have a definitive answer to yet. This knowledge is not just a by-product of our activity, but rather an instrumental part that develops simultaneously and is imbricated in building. Search Questions is our sisyphean effort to organize and share this knowledge while it's blossoming, fragile and unstable. By doing so, a more specific understanding, and more refined questions emerge.

1. Pequeñas Cabañas BIY

An exploration on children's innate drive and ability to build, and some huts that they can build together with grown-ups. Published by Editorial Gustavo Gili.

2. Endless beginnings

Graduation Ceremony. AAA. Aarhus, Denmark. September 2020.

Journal paper
3. OE House

ARQ 94. Universidad Católica de Chile. With Cristina Goberna and Urtzi Grau.

4. Open Process Ecosystems

Beyond Product Platforms for multi-storey habitats design and manufacturing. With Duncan Maxwell.

5. Subrural

An incipient theory of the subrural, first published in Catalan in AT magazine, edited by Nuria Casais and Ferran Grau.