Our own Senior Architect, Lynette Lim, held her wedding dinner in a supershed.

Big, bold and beautiful

31 March 2020

Designing at scale with supershed structures that blend form and function, purpose and grace.

The term ‘supershed’ may sound unfamiliar to those outside the architectural and engineering community but these structures are all around us. Great exhibition halls, imposing railway stations, and massive aircraft hangers are all examples of supersheds hiding in plain sight.

While the term only came into being in the 1980s with the resurgence of the ‘big is beautiful’ trend, architecturally, these large, long-span, single-volume structures date back to the 19th century. That was a time of industrial progress. People needed larger and larger spaces to house factories and machinery, and the timely invention of cast iron, wrought iron and steel made it possible. While function was their first and, perhaps, only priority, supershed designs have since evolved tremendously.

No longer exclusive to industrial uses, supersheds, with their typically column-free and large-span spaces, have come to be highly appreciated in different ways and forms. It depends on the individual’s adaptation of the space and scalability of the design. A supershed for a car exhibition, for example, would be many folds larger than a supershed for our feathered friends at the upcoming Singapore Mandai Bird Park. Other uses include transport infrastructure, museums and places of large congregations. With this, the structural expression of supersheds has gone well beyond the functional, marrying purpose with grace and finesse in increasingly interesting ways.

Thanks to technology and visualisation software, as well as advances in building materials and construction methods, architects are now well equipped to push the boundaries of supershed design. Today, we are able to create supersheds that transcend simple parabolic curves to take on free-form and iconic shapes. We are free to apply its design principles to create immersive user experiences, or as an innovative solution to present-day urban challenges like land scarcity and environmental sustainability.

Besides these new supersheds, the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century has also left behind many supersheds of a forgotten era. Some of these have since been re-purposed by their city governments and given a new lease of life. Notable projects include the Tate Modern Museum (converted from Bankside Powerstation), Shipyard 1862 and Battersea Power Station. 

Something closer to home is our own Senior Architect, Lynette Lim, who ditched the commonly-used hotel banquet hall for a wedding dinner set in a used furniture shop, and these “up-cycled” pieces serving as a backdrop for one of the most important milestones in her life. Lending some quirk and mirth to an occasion that could otherwise be overly formal. 

As demands for flexible, column-free spaces continue to grow, we believe that supersheds offer a big, bold, and beautiful opportunity for architects to get creative with their craft.