Five Lives

Five lives table is a unique furniture concept for circularity, optimized for five distinct lifecycle stages from fabrication, to use, storage, reuse, and end-of life. The five lives concept reduces waste, increases likelihood of continual reuse and is optimized for recycling when the furniture reaches the end of its lifecycles.

The five lives table system was created for SUTD’s Open House 2020, an annual event which had in the past produced a great deal of waste. Our clients emphasized the need for a final product that could act as display booth, podium, and seating while also maximizing sustainability. We delivered an event furniture product that exceeded these needs by prioritizing sustainability, re-use and recycling throughout the product’s entire lifecycle. The designs are created from pre-recycled materials, with the display modules using recycled kraft paper and the seating created from recycled PET felt

The five lives table concept comes from a very pragmatic need: simple, functional furniture for a large but temporary event. Our clients tasked us with creating value in three ways: 1) useable, robust furniture, 2) cost-effective design, 3) a sustainable design.

Our solution was to optimize the design for each phase of the life cycle, cutting down on waste of material, wasted time, wasted storage space. The result had a lower carbon-foot print than previous open houses and a substantially lower cost. Reuse of the tables for the 2021 open house and other campus events demonstrates its versatility and reusability.

We pushed for a minimal but robust aesthetic appearance that would provoke the user to consider the sustainability and reusability of the product.

The mitre joints prominently displayed at each corner of the table highlight the system of friction joints that allow for reuse without glues or fasteners. These joints also emphasize the eco-material of the tables, highlighting, for example, the brown lattice of the kraft-paper boards.

By making visible these signs of the table’s assembly and its eco-materials, we hoped to allow the design to convey the idea of design for circularity.

The five lives table concept, as part of SUTD’s 2020 Open House, allowed us to involve students in the conception and realization of sustainable design. It was a participatory process with students involved in the design, fabrication, assembly, and advocacy for the sustainable concept.


Design: Peter Ortner

Material Flow Analysis & Lifecycle Analysis: Tay Jing Zhi

Fabrication: Lee Kah Wee, Daniel Whittaker, Megan Moktar, Michelle Wijaya, Heong Kheng Boon, Grace Teo, SUTD Fab Lab Team

MARCOM: Corinna Choong, Daniel Seah, Zerlina Tay

Photography: Koh Sze Kiat (