Houzz asked some architects and experts on what they expect to see in Singapore’s post-pandemic built environment. The article featured opinions from ASD Assistant Prof Peter Ortner.
Never before have we in our lifetime experienced such a seismic change in how humans live, work and play. Social distancing, telemedicine, video conferencing, touchless technology and food security are some of the things that are part of our daily lives now. We have already seen architecture’s response to previous pandemics so Houzz asked today’s architects, urban planners and landscaper architects what they expect to see in Singapore’s post-pandemic built environment.
Seah Chee Huang, President of Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) and Deputy CEO of DP Architects:
I feel that the Covid-19 crisis has shifted the world’s focus from that of wealth to health. It is evident that global economies can be severely disrupted when healthcare and wellness infrastructures are not equipped to protect societies and communities from such a pathogenic outbreak. Consequently the planning and design of cities, urban spaces and architecture are already being re-examined in terms of their resilience and adaptability.
Being reviewed are our supply chains, food security, healthcare infrastructure and issues such as the equitable access of public domains like parks. Similar to how businesses develop ‘continuity plans’, cities would have to re-evaluate their ‘urban life continuity plans’. These plans not only protect lives and livelihoods, they seek to minimise disruption of people’s way-of-life while responding to state’s measures.
Enhanced psychological dimensions can be further considered in the design of the flats, such as having more shared domains like sky terraces not just for greater visual connectivity, but green relief and areas of respite for adjacent households to mitigate the density we live in.
One key reminder is that strategies developed post-crisis should never be socially divisive but adaptable so that we preserve the core roles of cities and architecture as social vehicles to promote interaction, cohesion and bonding.
The current demand of long periods of telecommuting may reveal challenges for dwelling units designed to maximise open space as they might conversely lack the logistics to create private spaces for working. In cities such as Japan and Hong Kong, with typically smaller dwelling outfits and more prevalent open-plan designs, there may be a short-term demand to look at a shift from the present residential living model. I have read that in some Japanese households, for occupants to work from home, camping tents have to be deployed within living quarters to give them some privacy from their young children.
Theodore Chan, senior director at CIAP Architects:
Abort the idea of underground living; instead advance the technology of floating developments. The creation of an isolation island can double up as outdoor recreational space in non-pandemic times. Re-deploy all the old unused school buildings now in dilapidation (held by Singapore Land Authority) for worker’s dormitories. They are ideal as they contain ready classrooms and amenities that can be easily converted to dormitories, playing fields, canteens and multipurpose halls.
Air conditioning should be optional and should not be considered a primary mode of ventilation like it is now. The primary mode of ventilation should be natural cross ventilation. In this vein, courtyards, air-wells and gardens should be made mandatory in intermediate terrace houses. Both houses and apartments should be designed to have more voluminous and higher ceilings.
It’s also time to abolish the idea of household shelters, as the new enemy is no longer shrapnel but viruses. I feel it is better to have a mandatory survival store rather than a household shelter.
Peter Ortner, Assistant Professor Architecture and Sustainable Design, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD):
During the COVID-19 outbreak, we see the benefits of peripheral sub-centres or poly-centric urban organisation – here at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), we are close to medical care at Changi General Hospital, heartland shopping malls at Bedok and Tampines, and open space at East Coast Park. While under the circuit breaker period, we are self-sufficient in our districts, and this goes a long way to making our city resilient in the face of this challenge.
In contemporary HDB high-rise housing, a family of three occupies 110 square metres in a five-room flat (36 square metres per person) whereas sixty years before in the low-rise slums of Singapore’s central area, there was as little as 4.74 square metres living space per person. This almost ten-fold increase in personal living space is a fundamental reason Singapore is doing relatively well in today’s Covid-19 pandemic.
Housing design for telecommuting has become a hot topic at SUTD today as we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. In my design studio on the Future of Housing, we have many teams that are designing future living units with flexible workspaces that permit telecommuting during day-time hours and are then converted to living spaces in the evening by folding a wall or pulling a curtain. I think we are all wishing for a better home office right now!
I want a drone to deliver my groceries! Why is this not yet possible?
No one had anticipated the surge in demand for grocery deliveries that has come with social distancing and as a result, there has been a big scramble to provide this service, which is critical for the elderly and immuno-compromised. While grocery and delivery employees are doing admirable work, I think if we made the process more efficient we could better meet this and any future surge in demand.
Of course, the façades of present day HDB blocks are not easily navigable for a drone. Can you imagine the difficulty of navigating around the hanging laundry? We can design future housing to accommodate our new robot helpers, making drone delivery practical and non-invasive for residents.
At SUTD, architects and engineers are collaborating to design future buildings and urban districts that can accommodate drone delivery, air-taxis, self-driving cars and the many other automated helpers we will have in the future. In my Future of Housing design studio, many students are including drone-ports as part of their unit plans, and air-taxi landing pads that function in much the same way that car drop-off/pick-up points function today.
Once a system like drone-delivery is in place, it provides an additional layer of connectivity, making the city more resilient when it faces challenges like a pandemic. In a future scenario where our roads are over-crowded, damaged, or flooded, we will be glad to have aerial solutions for moving people and goods around.
Assistant Professor Jessica Ann Diehl, Department of Architecture, School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore:
There has been a lot of anxiety over whether we could run out of food as the fact that Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food is repeated constantly. I think as a result of what’s happening now, the government is going to ramp up funding for innovative approaches towards food security. Think about it – when it comes down to it, what do we need? We need shelter, water, clean air and food. We’ve taken care of most of it but the food part is still lagging behind and one of the things that will shift – from a consumer perspective – is where can I source for locally-grown food? How do we bring the producer and consumer closer together? It’s possible that one day, food hubs will be all over the island and you’d shop there just as you would at a grocery store or wet market.
This reaffirms to me, as a landscape architect and as an educator, that teaching my students to integrate productive landscapes into the spaces they design is important. It is not only to give people access to public spaces or beautiful spaces for social interaction but also to contribute to our food security. I am a fan of making productive landscapes as part of the city in as many ways as possible – public parks, rooftops and even street verges.