TREE CUBE / by Kenneth Tan


A redundant courtyard garden in the centre of one of Sabah Tshung Tshin Secondary School’s brick-clad building was avoided due to insufficient shading and the presence of mosquitoes. It is on this site that the Tree Cube was conceived. The three section structure contains student and teacher lounges, a waiting area, staff rooms, boardrooms and a performance amphitheatre.


The Tree Cube is, in part, a monument to the trees that were removed from the site to construct the building. In light of this, the Tree Cube is dressed in diagonally oriented aluminium bars painted black, silver and gold. These resemble the branches of tree and cast branch-like shadows on the floor into the building as well as filter day light.

A void between the existing building and the Tree Cube drives natural ventilation on the ground floor, reducing the need for mechanical cooling. Furthermore, the middle section is cut out, leaving a vent for passive airflow. This middle Courtyard is where the Amphitheatre is found. Inlaid with black marble, this is where students have presentations and discussions.


The ground floor is fitted with concrete S-shaped benches to encourage interaction. Surfaces for books and bags are accommodated by custom-made metal mesh tables. Bricks and pebble ground renders an earthy and cool atmosphere to the space, much like the environment under the shade of a tree.

Furnishing the edges of the students waiting area are planter boxes with foliage in them alongside pebble-faced concrete seats and metal mesh side tables. A trellis covers the opening above to allow diffused light, ventilation and rain to cool the area.


At the end of the waiting area, a Trophies Wall hides a fun surprise.

A Social Hub, splashed in bright colors and quirky wall cartoons caters to meeting, counselling and presentation rooms. A modern pantry completes this section as the ultimate teacher/parent/student meeting area.


The first floor houses staff rooms with air-conditioning. However, lounge and pantry areas conserve energy by using open windows, and bookshelves as heat buffers. The second floor comprises the executive and administrative offices, and two meeting rooms.





Before construction could begin, a group of trees had to be removed. In memory of these fallen , inspiration was drawn from the values of a tree. “十年树木,百年树人”means “It takes ten years to grow trees but a hundred years to bring up a generation of able men.” A tree is not just a plant. It provides shelter from the elements, it creates shade and shadows for coolness, and for many, the canopy of a tree facilitates socializing and study. The tree, therefore and more so, is a facilitator of learning and expander of talent.



The name "Tree Cube" became a design homonym. “Tree Cube” sounds almost exactly like "Three Cube". The structure is literally drawn up of three "cubes", each with it's own function. The middle structure contains a large square void that passively drives air flow throughout the building.


Spatial planning used 3 cubes which resulted from a central cube being sandwiched between two working space cubes. The middle cube circulates air throughout the building

A tree trunk cut-out in the centre of the middle cube produced a small courtyard. This also created a concentric space which became the centre of activity for this design

A series of screens are added at the courtyard and onto the frontal facade of the building. The screens cast a tree-like shadow into the space and also act as a sun shading device for the offices space


Creating Spaces For Interaction

A pleasant space for social and educational gatherings improve a school's general health and well-being. The Tree Cube building contains several places that makes interaction convenient and easy to pursue. A space for every possible discourse has been thought of, whether it be for private counselling sessions, teaching classes, parent-teacher meetings, group discussions or just hanging out.



Appearance & Finish

This building is given a stylish and modern finish with it's bold black, gold and silver swipes on aluminium bars. This brazen style is subdued by earthy internal colors of brick and yellow earth.

With it's assembly of glass and aluminium, the Tree Cube pays homage to it's surrounding by reflecting the school's outdoor environment. Diagonal aluminium bars display the elementary arrangement of branches of a tree.




Earthy, ground-cover colours of brick and pebbles drape the floor and seats of the Social Hall.


Aluminium Bars


Aluminium bars are arranged into diagonal louvers that replicate the branches of a tree and diffuse light into the building. These bars create branch shadows on walls and floors.


Glass and Steels


Glass and steel bars frame the exterior and make for a modern finish to corridors and social areas.



The diffusing and flowy choice of material continues in the metal wiremesh sidetables used at side benches.


Drain Cells


Drain cells are used for lamp shades. At night, all these mesh shades light up and create leaf-like shadows on the floor and walls.


Pine Wood


The pleasent and light appearance of pine wood rendered it suitable cladding for bookshelves and for movable sliding doors and swivel walls.


Sustainable Energy Passive Design


As you walk into the Social Hall of the Treecube, the one noticeable difference from the outside is the temperature drop. The air is cool, almost chilled, and there is no air-conditioning or fan on. During the day, there is also no need for electrical lights. This management of energy reduces utility costs and provides a comfortable environment. This pleasant condition is made possible by several intentional designs. The separation between the old and new building acts as an air passageway allowing hot air to escape. A large opening in the centre of the building drives airflow, and allows more light in. To enhance this heat vacuum, the walls on the central opening are painted black, pulling warmth faster and more effectively. The relatively narrow entrances from the old building's structure also guides breeze into the inner space.


Passive Air Flow & Natural Lighting Design


The void in the central courtyard draws hot air out of the building while allowing cool air to enter. Mechanical cooling on the ground floor and first floor balcony is not needed. At the same time sunlight streams in to illuminate spaces and tickle the aluminium shades into making fun shadows on the floor.


Sustainable Energy Design


White walls protectively insulate the structure from heat exerted from the existing building's aircon compressors. Staircases are lit during the day by vertical spaces connected to a skylight, saving electric energy and providing natural lighting.