Singapore Archifest special edition - Architecture: Saving Our World
Chong Keng Hua
Social Architecture Theory and Practice
Published by SUTD Architecture and Sustainable Design All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission. All contents are strictly meant for educational purposes only. Social Architecture: Theory and Practice Chong Keng Hua, PhD Associate Professor Architecture and Sustainable Design Yohei Kato Ph.D. Student (SUTD) M.S. in Community Development (UC Davis)
In collaboration with
Singapore University of Technology and Design Architecture and Sustainable Design Social Urban Research Groupe (SURGe) 8 Somapah Road, Singapore 487372 asd.sutd.edu.sg/surge
Introduction about the course Social Architecture — Theory and Practice aims to equip the students with theoretical/historical knowledge of ‘Social Architecture’ as well as practical skills for practicing it. Students are exposed to key concepts, methods and goals developed in social architecture, an umbrella term that includes community architecture and planning, community design, social design, democratic design, community development, etc. which share a common approach of environmental design that encourages social behaviors leading towards public interests and common good, such as liveability, safety, and sustainability. Social architecture and public spaces play an essential role in the our society: as areas to foster social interactions, places for cultural practices, and spaces to interact with nature. The role of responsible architects, planners, and urban designers is to design such environments that benefit humanity and ecology. As the world is currently coping with the most serious health crisis of the century, such responsible design becomes all the more crucial now and in the future. While it is not easy to find works reflecting on this promise in mainstream architecture, there is no lack of ‘creative activism’ within the profession across the world: from disaster relief to vernacular revival and climate resilience, and from tactical urbanism to advocacy in community and social equality. In Singapore, architects, planners and designers have also been advocating for heritage, biodiversity, sustainability, food resilience, and participatory design. These social architects envisage new direction in architecture, take action to bring about change, and use design as a means to encourage others to join them. Resonating with the theme of SINGAPORE ARCHIFEST 2020—“Architecture Saving OUR World”, students explored the potential roles of social architecture and public spaces in addressing issues of climate change, public health, social equity and cultural continuity. These case studies are documented in two formats: a publication and a website with interactive map. This project, we hope, is only the beginning in bringing together such social architecture movement, to bring forth the spirit of creative activism amidst the dynamically changing world, and to show how architecture can make a difference. CHONG Keng Hua & Yohei KATO, September 2020 6
Case Study Atlas
A geographical catalogue
Anna Heringer Architecture
METI Handmade School Interview with Anna Heringer 0.2
DnA_Design and Architecture
Brown Sugar Factory Interview with Xu Tiantian 0.3
Case Study Name Interview with Vo Trong Nghia 0.4
powerHYDE Interview with Prasoon Kumar 0.5
Nepal Rebuilt House Interview with Hsieh Ying-Chun 0.6
Naidi Community Hall Interview with Joshua Peasley, Harrison Marshall 0.7
100 Microlibraries Interview with Florian Heinzelmann, Daliana Suryawinata 0.8
IX Architects Books and Cubes Interview with Chu Yang Keng
Cultural Block Östersund Interview with Stefan Sjöberg 1.0
MASS Design Group
Ruhehe Primary School Interview with Kelly Alvarez Doran 1.1
People's Architecture Office
Leping Social Entrepreneur Foundation, Courtyard House Plugin Interview with James Shen 1.2
WTA Architecture and Design Studio
The Book Stop Project Interview with William Ti Jr. 1.3
St. Joseph’s Nursing Home Interview with Michael Leong 1.4
Ground Up Initiative
Kampung Kampus Interview with Cai Bingyu, Xiao Yun, Xiao Hui 1.5
One Bite Studio
Project House Interview with Sarah Mui 1.6
Participate in Design
Hack Our Play Interview with Larry Yeung 1.7
Hajimari Art Center Interview with Noriko Deno, Hwana Hong, Hirano Sayaka 1.8
Case study atlas a geographical catalogue
0.1 METI Handmade School Bangladesh, Rudrapur
Studio Anna Heringer
DnA_Design & Architecture
0.9 Cultural Block Östersund
1.0 Ruhehe Primary School
0.3 Farming Kindergarten Dongnai, Vietnam VTN Architects
0.4 powerHYDE India, Kocnhur billionBricks
1.1 Leping Social Entrepre- 1.2 Book Stop Project neur Foundation HQ
MASS Design Group
People’s Architecture Office
WTA Architecture & Design Studio
1.7 Hajimari Art Center Japan, Inawashiro Studio L
Scan me for the website. 9
0.2 Brown Sugar Factory
0.5 Nepal Rebuilt House Nepal, Dhading Atelier-3
1.3 St Josephs’ Nursing Home Singapore SAA Architects
0.6 Naidi Community Hall Fiji, Vanua Levu CAUKIN studio
0.7 100 Microlibraries Indonesia, Bandung SHAU rotterdambandung
1.4 Kampung Kampus
1.5 Project House
Hong Kong, Sham Shui Po
Ground Up Initiative
One Bite Studio
0.8 “More Than Just A Library” Cambodia, Siam Reap IX Architects
1.6 St. James Church Kindergarten Singapore Participate In Design
1.5 0.3 0.8
1.4 1.3 1.0
0.1 Studio Anna Heringer About Studio Anna Heringer: Studio Anna Heringer is headed by Anna Heringer herself, a German Architect who strongly advocates for the use of mud and bamboo as sustainable materials for construction. Although these materials are considered ‘low-class’ in the building industry, Anna believes that they are not inferior in their properties and pioneered the utilisation of these resources in communitydriven architectural projects in Bangladesh. Anna defines that ‘sustainability’ is about “the quality of life and the celebration of nature’s vast resources”, and always pushes for community involvement in her projects to bring people together and generate collective ownership while honouring the abundant natural resources that the Earth has provided for us. Website: http://www.anna-heringer.com/ All photos are courtesy of Anna Heringer Architecture
by Matthew Tan, Eunice Lim 11
Case Study: METI Handmade School Location: Rudrapur, Dinajpur district, Bangladesh Date Designed: 2005 Date Completed: 2006 Size: 325 sqm Client: Modern Education and Training Institute Donor: Partnerschaft Shanti
Abstract The METI Handmade School is commissioned by a non-government organization called the Modern Education and Training Institute, and is an educational institution built for preparing children to be ready for creative trade-based industries. In Bangladesh, where the project is based, the local knowledge on building materials such as mud and bamboo was limited even though it is part of the local architecture tradition. Many projects only have an average lifespan of a decade. Anna made use of this opportunity to introduce experts in the architecture industry, from Germany and Austria, to educate the local tradesmen and community on an improved traditional building method using these local materials. The use of native materials also facilitated the implementation of a participatory design process, as the materials were readily available and everyone in the community could participate and literally get their hands dirty in the construction process. From conceptualisation to construction, Heringer ensured that opportunities abounded for people to be democratically involved in the realisation of the building. Her intention was to build collective ownership of the community’s built environment, and set the precedent for future design projects to be similarly community-based. The METI Handmade school ultimately sets an example for the world to re-think the way in which we approach the built environment, and whether our current approach is truly sustainable for the future. The simple change of utilising local materials and labour could perhaps potentially benefit the world in the long run.
Cultural and Historical Context
Genesis of Project
This METI Handmade School built in Rudrapur is a primary school built for a non-government organisation called the Modern Education and Training Institute, and is a learning institution built for training children to be ready for creative trade-based industries. For context, Rudrapur is located in the district of Dinajpur, and is one of the more impoverished villages in Bangladesh. At the time of building in 2005, there seemed to be a rising trend of urbanisation and a growing exodus of creative talent and manpower resources to the more cosmopolitan city areas of the country. Furthermore, the local architecture tradition of using earth and bamboo, though environmentally friendly, was not proving the most successful: due to the lack of proper foundations and damp-proof coursing, many of these buildings were easily ruined and only had an average lifespan of a decade.
Heringer saw this as an opportunity for architecture to create radical community change that was both immediate and long-lasting. Realising the potential of the materiality of bamboo and mud, she gathered architects and tradesmen from Germany and Austria to think of an improved version of this traditional building method, with stronger concrete foundations and damp-proof coursing both being introduced. The introduction of external expertise was an important step in the entire architectural process, as it ensured that there would not be the problem of instability and lack of structural integrity.
Anna Heringerâ€™s project was not meant to just tackle the brain drain from these already-small and limited rural villages, but introduce a greater architectural quality and soundness to the building infrastructure of Rudrapur.
Heringer also actively engaged the community -- skilled workers and ordinary folks alike -- in the building process by educating them on the typical architectural representations of the floor plan, the section and the elevation. By involving them directly from the start, Heringer was able to move the project in the direction of socially-oriented design, and provide a new dimension to the project in which the villagers started to have a greater sense of pride in this METI Handmade School. 12
As an educational institution focused on handson learning and craftsmanship training, the METI Handmade School adopts an alternative approach to lessons. While we often think of classes to be conducted by a teacher in front of a group of students, the school aims to challenge this educational philosophy, and propose a more active and participatory form of learning. This new philosophy would allow for a greater freedom in the classroom, with the various skills, passions and learning abilities of the students all being accounted for. The design of the school thus takes upon this underlying notion of an alternative to the common educational philosophy. Throughout the compound are spaces of different forms, sizes and natures, with each space catering to different learning and teaching styles. Earth is used to built the ground floor, with mud being the main material used to construct the walls and partitions. There 13
are a total of three classrooms, and toward the back of each classroom is an opening to a system of molded â€œcavespacesâ€?. These cavespaces have an organic form about them, with their interiors providing areas for students to retreat into either for contemplative thought or focused work. On the upper floor are bamboo walls that allow for the interplay of light and shadows to take place. The space maintains a feeling of lightness and vastness, and views extend out to the surrounding trees as well as the village pond. Colourful saris line the walls, further facilitating the overall vibrancy of the space.
Impact on Community Throughout the project, Heringer organised skills upgrading and training sessions for local tradesmen, thus ensuring that human labour was kept to a local and community level. These tradesmen were involved
in everything from brick-laying to bamboo-lashing, and even used their own water buffalo to assist them in their labour from time to time. In total, around 25 tradesmen contributed heavily to the construction of the building, with this project creating and boosting employment opportunities for the villagers as well. Because of the usage of bamboo and mud, even schoolchildren in the area could render their help whenever necessary. In an interview with Azure Magazine, Heringer mentioned that she would “have the children come every afternoon after they were finished with their classes”, with a team of Austrian childcare teachers supervising them and ensuring that they could manage the simple and doable tasks. Others were also taught how to use machinery such as the drilling machine so they could increase their participation in their project, with the hands-on process being one that everyone from the youngest to the oldest could participate in. In this interview, Heringer concluded that “the most wonderful moment was seeing the children standing in front of the school at the end and everyone marvelling that we had just built it out of dirt and with our own hands”. This was precisely the power of democratic and participatory building: it created a sense of ownership and pride in the community for their built environment, and increased their sense of belonging and integration. Because everyone had a part to play, everyone became a key stakeholder. The community’s sense of ownership hence enhanced the love and diligence they carried for their immediate built environment, with this community involvement hence ensuring the future sustainability and care of the METI Handmade School as well.
Discussions and Lessons As this project shows, community design processes are valuable because of the sense of ownership and pride they help to build. Furthermore, community-based developments can become catalysts for future projects, and eventually create a wide urban landscape that is entirely citizen-owned and cared for. In a context like Singapore, it can be difficult to see how this concept of social architecture can be applied in the long run. Being a cosmopolitan city, many of our building projects seem to be corporately conceived and even outsourced to international firms and mega-conglomerates.
In light of this, it is all the more important that projects begin to take on a more socially-oriented initiative, with residents having a substantial stake in the design process. One could argue that it would be more feasible for such an approach to be first introduced to smaller placemaking processes (rather than bigger architectural ones), but the principle of community involvement must remain regardless. Besides, just as how Heringer involved industry experts from Austria throughout the duration of the project, such initiatives must be grounded in expertise and experience, with the community being guided (not controlled) by people of relevance. Such a partnership can ultimately then create a conducive and productive environment for democratic design.
Anna Heringer Principal of Studio Anna Heringer
For Anna Heringer architecture is a tool to improve lives. As an architect and honorary professor of the UNESCO Chair of Earthen Architecture, Building Cultures, and Sustainable Development she is focusing on the use of natural building materials. She has been actively involved in development cooperation in Bangladesh since 1997. Her diploma work, the METI School in Rudrapur got realized in 2005 and won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2007. Over the years, Studio Anna Heringer has realized further projects in Asia, Africa, and Europe. Anna is lecturing worldwide at conferences, including TED and has been visiting professor at various universities such as Harvard, ETH Zurich and TU Munich. She received numerous honors: the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, the AR Emerging Architecture Award, the Loeb Fellowship at Harvardâ€™s GSD and a RIBA International Fellowship. Her work was widely published and exhibited in the MoMA New York, the V&A Museum in London and at the Venice Biennale among other places.
This interview with Anna Heringer aims to gain an expert insight on humane design approach in rural contexts, one that is vastly different from the our context (Singapore), to learn some valuable lessons from the projects that she has successfully implemented in the communities there. Although many of her successful projects are widely covered by the media, we are interested to fully understand her experience, from the first day she stepped into Bangladesh to what she feels about design today. In this interview, we highlight the challenges she has faced, including the steps she has taken to garner the support of the community. We also gather insights on the process of working with local communities, and on how education and production can be done locally. Thoughts on the future for social architecture are also explored, as we talk about the possibility for an intersection between technological advancement and local, indigenous design. The interview makes reference to the Laufen Manifesto, as we look into Annaâ€™s thoughts on how exactly future architects can be trained and educated in order to effectively drive tangible change.
Selected Interview Questions Q:
Many of your projects have been developed based on the Laufen Manifesto, which advocates for a more humane design culture in the face of the widespread non-formal urbanism taking place across the globe. Based on your real-world experience, why has there been a greater need for such a humane design approach?
The climate and health is on our side; and also the need of doing good, meaningful buildings. To make good-looking architecture is a basic thing for architects. There are so many goodlooking architecture all around. But to have not just good-looking, but also humane and sustainable architecture is something we really long for. We also need identity, and that comes with the process, not just the outcome. I think the focus on process is increasing. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, at least people’s consumption is more careful. For the fair textile project in our office, it was difficult to sell before the crisis; now with the crisis I have a feeling that people are willing to buy something that is not just good-looking but they know they are also doing good somewhere else. There is now certainly a greater need for humane design. When everything is so fast we don’t have time to reflect, we just go with the flow. Now that the flow is interrupted, it also gives us a chance to think over, how we want to continue and where we want to focus on.
In a field dominated by contemporary trends, how did you get others to come onboard this vision of architecture? Is this a problem you still face today?
Yes it’s really challenging. The biggest challenge is always the fear. The image of vulnerability of natural material is something that is so dominant, and it has always been emphasized by the lobbyists in the past decade – “mud is weak”, “wood is week”, “bamboo is weak”. There is a lot of superstition that we are trying to erase, and that requires the biggest energy, effort and time for every project, as we try to raise the trust of the clients to believe in us.
There are also not so many facts and figures. Normally when a material is invented, you have an industry behind that is paying for all these tests, and once you have the numbers, it’s easy for architects to use it. With mud, of course it is not a standardized material, because nature is not standardized. You have the diversity, that is also the nice thing. But there is no industry behind. Ideally every city needs to have a manufacturing plot, and the material properties would be different at every place, which is kind of difficult. In Germany, we have to do a lot of test for material, which will cost a lot of money. In Switzerland, you don’t have to do that. In Austria, it depends on the mayor. For example, when you go to the mud house you can hear good acoustic, but you can’t prove it because you don’t have the money to invest in testing. Even for fire-proofing, what happen when mud is met with fire? The worst case is that mud will just turn into bricks! So it’s very difficult sometimes for the project when it is highly regulated which raises the cost unnecessarily. But it’s still possible, you just need to have enormous energy to push constantly for it to happen.
Urbanisation is increasing, and it is projected that 68% of the world’s population will be situated in cities come 2050. How do you see your philosophy of humane design working with local material could apply in denser urban context?
Well, natural material is everywhere. Normally you don’t dig and find cement under your feet. Labour force is also there. You can’t go extremely high with mud, you can go multi-storey, but the question is how high can you go such that it is still a humane, liveable city. If you go too high, you lose the contact with the street. For me, Paris is the ideal height – tree height, six storeys. It is also very dense. Is it better for us to focus on only mega cities? Or should we not also look at the regional sub-centre where we can decrease the height a little bit, and really concentrate on a humane scale and liveable spaces.
In city we need to use different technology. Of course, you won’t have the water buffalo doing the concrete mixing. But you can have prefabrication. You can have the machine taking over the hard work, and then have people to mount the blocks together, that is absolutely possible.
Movement everywhere started with a few people. In Europe some buildings was built completely with wood, but no one would do this 30 years ago. Now even high rise timber building is possible. Things are changing. In the beginning people would think that it is a crazy idea, but it is not crazy if you know that the most widely used material on this planet is earth. About 3 billion people living in earth houses. It is just not our focus. It is also not a problem of scaling up as it is already in such high number, but it is how we connect it with our needs, aspirations, our current society. We can only make it approved one building at a time. We need a lot of young architects to join this effort. I see a lot of interest in earthen architecture wherever I teach, whether in Harvard or Zurich. I also see that it is because the element connects with something deeply embedded in us, every culture has a special relationship with mother earth. It is not just a building material.
The denser the city you live in, the more you need material that you want to touch. In all the projects we have done, people are constantly trying to touch the wall. I think it would be so nice in the city where we could feel physically attracted to natural material, material that we feel in harmony with. You can have concrete framing, but then filled with mud, and you would have a much better climate during the monsoon season.
As the world is getting more digitised by the day, how would you see the intersection between technological advancement and local, indigenous design? I think there is always this fascination for the new invention. In the field of architecture and engineering the focus was very much on new exciting material. But I think there is such an incredible wisdom in the indigenous methods, logics, to build with what you can find on the site, what is given by nature for free, and how to make the best out of it. And to relink our contemporary architecture with this kind of ancient materials and building methods, to me, is totally fascinating! For me, they are not contradictory, as we can build in very modern way, in very modern language, with very old material. It is our core capacity as designers to use material; it is just a matter of creativity. We are not trying to promote a really old fashion lifestyle. I am also having a mud house at the back, where you can have a very comfortable space. Mud is a humidifier – when it is humid the mud just soaks up all the humidity, and when it is dry the mud releases it, it creates a perfect balance of humidity. It is super high-tech in a way, if you have a wall that is naturally balancing humidity, without using any electricity! They are natural materials but they can have high-tech performances in the most effective way.
What word of advice would you tell young, aspiring architects who would like to venture into social architecture?
You always do best when you do things that you believe in. You shouldn’t follow the stream of money, but should follow their calling. Everybody has a special talent, and if you follow that, life will support you. It makes no sense that you have special talents, and then life shutting the door. Maybe in beginning it is difficult to do it 100%. For me, I would do one-third on the “heart job”, the one that you believe in. One-third doing the “bread job”, you can do anything that pay your bill as long as it is ethical. For the other third, try to simplify your life, cut down your consumption, raise your creativity. The more you design your life, your creative life, the happier you are. Life is not just about consuming, it is about being, about creating, about living.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 DESIGN MUST BE DEMOCRATIC
0.4 INNOVATE CONSTANTLY
Contemporary architecture is often dominated by commercial interests and concerns regarding productivity or efficiency. Consequently, community interests can be marginalised or even overlooked, and the sense of ownership for the built environment decreases a result. It is essential that design processes become more democratic in nature, and begin to consider the genuine and contextual demands of communities before decisions are made. Architecture must exist to make the built environment more liveable, and design that does not involve communities cannot possibly serve them well.
Yes, even in the keeping of tradition and the pursuit of preservation, it is possible to keep innovating! At its core, democratic design incorporates equal involvement from all stakeholders, and designers can constantly think of new ways in which to better involve the communities that their designs will impact. Whether it is creating incentives for them to contribute or building a conducive environment for participatory discussion, architects must take the lead in the innovation of community-based design, and ensure that no one feels left out or unrepresented when decisions are deliberated and made.
0.2 DEMOCRACY MUST BE BOTTOM-UP Understanding the needs of a community cannot be done from a solely top-down approach, where city planners and policymakers attempt to examine a community from their vantage points. While subject matter expertise is important, the community must be involved in decision-making as well. Furthermore, involvement must go beyond superficial consultation or placation, and needs to take place in an environment where the community can have an equal voice as those in power. Only then can there be productive discussion and development of good humane-centred design.
0.3 NOT JUST IN THE NAME OF TECH
0.5 EDUCATION IS THE BEDROCK Many community-based projects involve training locals and upgrading their skills in a productive manner, ensuring that they are able to contribute to these projects effectively. Education is certainly the bedrock of sustained change, precisely because it empowers people and helps them turn their ideas into reality. To take it a step further, universities and other educational institutions must consider a greater inclusion of democratic design thinking in their curricula. By shaping their perspective on the real power of participatory design, tangible and long-term waves in the architecture scene can be made!
“Technology” is one of today’s biggest buzzwords and many industries are making strides in state-of-theart technologies. Architecture is no exception: there has been the advent of smart software and building processes around the world. It is critical, however, that we do not forget the possibilities the natural world already presents us with. Organic materials like mud and bamboo, as well as traditional ones, can often provide solutions that even the latest machinery cannot. We must not miss these opportunities all for the sake of “progress” if we become less humane in the process. 18 18
0.2 DnA Design and Architecture About DnA Design and Architecture: DnA_Design and Architecture is an interdisciplinary practice engaged in public buildings, architectural planning, landscape design, and cultural institutions. The studio aims to address contemporary living environments in both physical and social at various scales. DnA_Design and Architecture has done many successful projects, including Brown Sugar Factory, Wang Jing Memorial Hall and Toufu Factory. DnA believes context, program, and their potential relationship, will cultivate architecture into a multidimensional expression and generate new experiment for users. Their approach starts with research and discussion on context, program, and their interaction as the fundamental elements, or the “DNA” that defines design and architecture, to adapt, engage, and contribute to our society of multiplicity and complexity. The studio was invited to attend architectural events such as 2008 UCCA-AAC Beijing Forum and the Aedes Architecture Forum. Brown Sugar factory was nominated for ArchDaily Building of the Year 2019 Industrial architecture. The founder, Xu Tiantian has received WA Chinese Architecture Awards for 2006 and 2008, 2008 Young Architects Award from the Architectural League of New York, Design Vanguard feature by Architectural Record, and 2019 Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture. Website: http://www.designandarchitecture. net/ All photos are courtesy of DnA_Design and Architecture
by Han Jing, Li Jiayi 19
Case Study: Brown Sugar Factory-Rustic Makeover In Community Design Project Name: Brown Sugar Factory Location: China Date Designed: 2015.06 - 2015.12 Date Completed: 2016.10 Size: 1230 sqm Client: Government of Zhangxi Village, Songyang County Lead Architect: Xu Tiantian Managed By: Government of Zhangxi Village, Songyang County
Abstract The Brown Sugar Factory is one of the most successful rural revitalization project examples in China. The factory is owned and actively managed by the government of Xing village. It was designed and developed by architect Xu Tiantian and her team Dna_Design and Architecture in 2016. Covering an area of 1230 sqm, the factory is divided into three functional zones: main production zone, experiential zone, and working zone. The production zone operates 24 hours a day for sugar production between October and December. During off production periods, the factory becomes a community centre where villagers can hold various activities. Brown Sugar Factory has greatly improved the economy in Xing Village by evolving the traditional brown sugar making process into an industrialized process. Additionally, it promotes cultural tourism in the village. As a community space, Brown Sugar Factory created a village community cohesion – a new ‘rural selfconfidence’ among villagers.
Cultural and Historical Context For a long time, the scope of rural revitalization in China has been neglected. This can potentially give rise to socioeconomic challenges when people are unhappy with their standard of living, and consequently affect community quality of life in rural areas. Villagers in Xing Village rely on the cultivation of sugarcane and brown sugar production as their main source of income. However, management of the traditional private workshop was disordered, resulting in poor sanitary conditions and highlighted fire hazards in the village.
Genesis of Project The government cooperated with DnA_Design and Architecture to develop strategies to improve rural living conditions and establish Songyang as a model of rural renaissance. DnA founder Xu Tiantian believes smallscale architecture functions as “acupunctures” that can save China’s rural villages. Even if the architectural “hardware” no longer has the traditional style, the rich vitality on the humanistic “software” can continue to inject vitality into the village. This is the main strategy used: as a transitional extension between the village and
agriculture fields, the factory enables villagers to enjoy idyllic scenery while engaging in production activities and becomes a place for villagers to rest after fieldwork. The factory is located at a distance from the village to avoid fire hazards and pollutions.It is designed to integrate private workshops and improve production conditions. The factory is divided into three functional zones: main production zone, experiential zone, and working zone. The building height and structure varies based on the programmatic requirements.Taking cultural concerns of the village community, all materials used to construct the factory are adopted from local common materials, such as light steel, red bricks, and bamboo. Along the Songyin river, including Brown Sugar Factory, DnA has developed nine projects that radically improved community life for residents, creating opportunities for cultural, social, and economic development.
Design DnA used a participatory approach to develop the initial concept design for the Brown Sugar Factory. In order to have a better understanding of villagers’ needs, 20
Xu was actively involved in work experiences in the workshop and the daily lives of the villagers, during which there were dialogues of how the factory should be designed, from the villagers’ perspective. During the design process, while investigating the heritage, culture, and building techniques, the design team saw architecutre as a translator of history and heritage of the village. They convinced villagers to use local materials to address their unique traditions, or it would be a waste if it were to be replaced by a modern design. The factory is designed to be transparent and acts as a ‘stage’, while the production process is like a ‘live performance’. In the experiential zone, tourists can enjoy the ‘performance’ and get an idea of the traditional brown sugar making process and experience the village culture. Different elements in the transparent factory are connected with each other by a circular corridor. This provides opportunities for visitors 21
to watch live brown sugar production on ‘stage’. The brown sugar production process has been hand drawn on the glazed wall acting as a stage curtain, further emphasizing the idea of ‘stage’ and ‘performance’. However, the production zone will only be activated between October and December, the factory will then become a community center, where villagers can hold various activities, such as movie screenings, meetings, exhibitions, watch puppet shows and even square dancing. In the past, ancestral temples served the role of a public space, since amenities like community centres rarely existed in traditional Chinese villages. However, with people adapting to the modern lifestyle, there is a growing demand for such public space in villages.
Impact on Community Brown Sugar Factory greatly improved the production conditions: the traditional family workshop under poor conditions evolved into an industrialized process. 50 villagers returned and 12 young people joined the production union in the last 3 years. The factory increased its sugar price by four times last year. Additionally, it promotes cultural tourism in the village – now a strong source of income for the villagers. The total tourist number per year increased from less than 200 in 2016 to 15,000 in 2019. Brown Sugar Factory has also redefined rural institutions as public space. The production space offers an indoor gathering space during off production time. It helps to project a good image and foster a sense of community within the village. Moreover, the factory shapes the village social community in a sustainable way. It changed the perception of one rural institution, to something public, open, and accessible to all. By creating a village community cohesion, it forms a new ‘rural self-confidence’ among villagers. Besides, it integrates local crafts and heritage, brings forth a new value judgement about architecture and rural areas. Villagers become confident of exhibiting their unique traditional skills and are proud of their works and culture. This project has successfully restored local identity and heritage. It is a successful model for other rural revitalization projects in rural China.
Discussions and Lessons Despite the success of the project, the factory cannot be used as a public space during the production period from October to December. The villagers’ needs for having a social space could not be fulfilled at all times. As a community space, the factory located on the edge of the village may not be ideal, as it is not equally accessible for all villagers. While The success of the Brown sugar factory has attracted many tourists and investors, it might also lead to potential loss of the original cultural identity of the village if tourism marketing or other external influence
Main Production Zone Experiential Zone Working Zone
Main Production Zone Experiential Zone Working Zone
are poorly managed. Brown Sugar factory has set up a successful example on preserving local cultural heritage. The continuous management of the place would have to be highly conscious, so that the village would not transform into a homogeneous and placeless enclave, and that the history of the existing community would not turn into a marketable cliché.
Xu Tiantian Founding principal of DnA Design and Architecture
Xu Tiantian is the founding principal of DnA_Design and Architecture. She has received numerous awards such as the WA China Architecture Award in 2006 and 2008, the Architectural League New York’s Young Architects Award in 2008, the Design Vanguard Award in 2009 by Architecture Record and the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architect in 2019. She has built a number of projects, such as Songzhuang Art Center and Ordos Art Museum. In the past years she has been engaged extensively in the rural revitalising process in Songyang County, China. Her groundbreaking “architectural acupuncture” is a holistic approach to the social and economic revitalization of rural China and has been selected by UN Habitat as the case study of Inspiring Practice on Urban-Rural Linkages. Xu Tiantian received her masters in architecture and urban design from Harvard Graduate School of Design, and her baccalaureate in architecture from Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Songyang is a county in China with over 400 villages at different stages of development. Over the years, it remained as traditional agricultural rural regions. Despite known as the “last hidden land of original China”, most villages are experiencing economic decline as young people move out to cities. Since 2012, Xu Tiantian has spent years surveying villages. For the past 6 years, DnA_Design and Architecture has been collaborating with the local government to develop an architectural strategy as a healing treatment to revitalize the rural region. Xu believes that architecture as acupunctures can be used to re-activate the village’s identity and remedy the whole organism of a village. Most of the rural buildings she designed have a community space function, brown sugar factory is one of the examples.
Selected Interview Questions Q:
In 2013, everyone is talking about the development of urbanization, rural seems to be a forgotten land in China. What makes you pay attention to rural development?
In 2013, a rural tourism development plan was initiated by Songyang County government. We were first invited for a hotel project in tea plantation at the end of 2013. We were totally impressed by the landscape and cultural heritage in such an agricultural county.
The ‘architectural acupuncture’ concept has saved China’ s village. Architects are like a doctor here. How do you determine the illness of the village? When you are giving treatments, how do you prevent rural architecture from being urbanized?
So we proposed the ‘Architectural Acupuncture’ as a systematic and sustainable rural strategy in Songyang County to regain its ‘rural selfconfidence’. With a minimal intervention approach, multi-functional public programs are introduced to different villages and rural regions tailoring to the complexity of respective cultural heritage and context. Applied with vernacular material and construction technique, architectural acupuncture integrates nature back to the villages that restores their rural identity, as well as stimulates the local economic development. Like acupuncture in Chinese medicine, releases the trapped energy at various meridian points on the body to restore the overall health of the person. Likewise, Architectural Acupuncture is an approach aimed at motivating and inspiring the villages and communities to initiate their own self-regeneration for further development. Moreover, the concept of Architectural Acupuncture aims to activate the dormant resources and generate circulation among the villages in Songyang in establishing a network with the nearby regions and beyond.
From a practical perspective, there are many constraints when developing a project in the countryside. For example, low construction technology and low budget. How do you overcome these difficulties during the design process? Please share your experience with us.
Despite the scenic landscape, there were also critical issues. Like many rural regions in China, here most rural communities in Songyang were in economic decline, and losing faith in the village’s future. Young people move to the cities for employment, and the villages become ‘hollow’ with a low population of elders. During the first year, we were constantly consulted for village projects. So the first year we took over a dozen pro-bono small scale projects in the rural villages in Songyang, including Pingtian Village Center, bamboo theater, teahouse in damushan tea plantation, etc. All these projects have become learning processes for us to understand local construction materials and techniques, as well as an exchange of ideas that renewed the local’s conceptions on construction.
Most of the rural buildings that you designed, like brown sugar factory, have a community space function. Public building in villages is a new territory, what prompted you to explore this new territory? Please tell us about the role and significance of public buildings in the countryside.
Normally in Chinese village, the system is ‘Collective Community’ (Ji-ti). It’s not like city or township that has a public sector. It’s also not private but collective. Most of the Chinese villages started with one large family, even though some might have different last names but they are all relatives belong to one clan. They are like one large family living there for generations. They will have their ancestor hall (Ci-tang) for the families with the same last name. In Songyang there are 4 major last names, so they have 4 ancestor halls. Ancestor hall is the first building they would build when the first families arrived. 24
And this hall becomes the only community space in the village, to accommodate events or special occasions like funerals, weddings, or Chinese New Year celebration ceremonies. Most of the time the ancestor hall is open and vacant, except for first day and middle of the month when the villager will have parades. So that’s the historical background of public space in Chinese village.
Due to COVID-19, many industries have been influenced in a negative way. How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will change your work in the future?
We are a small office, everyone has been working from home for a few months, but we were able to get back to office in April. Definitely we have less travel now, even domestic travel. But we have a lot more online communication with projects in remote areas. We could monitor the construction process online. We have a chat group for each project to check in every day. Internet platform could be very effective for architects, but still, it requires a lot of on-site communication with the communities in the rural context. For rural projects, a lot of work is actually pre-design, because we take architecture as a strategy, as a process, as a medium to achieve social impact or rural revitalization. It takes a lot of time, energy and effort before we set up the programme, before the design process. A lot of research and investigation (is needed) to understand the contexts and what the community needs. And it’s not by reading material or books; we need a lot of face to face communication. We’re continuing our projects from previous years, but we couldn’t start new projects as we couldn’t done in-depth research on-site. So yes, it will definitely affect us in the long term. On the other hand, the rural is less impacted by the pandemic than the city. It’s actually better if you could relocate to the rural area. But I think the issue here is travelling, especially internationally. All of our projects are in China, so in this respect we are still able to continue.
What career advice would you give to architecture students?
Architecture is not only a career but also a perspective – it’s our perspective to better understand the world and our society. To gain the perspective would be a more important task for architecture students.
In (Architectural) Acupuncture we introduce new layer of public space in the village, according to the heritage of each village. It could be the ancestor memorial space, say if you have a famous historical figure, like Wang Jing Memorial Hall, as an addition to the ancestor hall. It could also be a cultural place, like the Hakka Indenture Museum that addresses the Hakka indenture history. This village has the largest collection of Hakka indenture in China. It could also be landscape element, like the bamboo theatre, as the village has beautiful bamboo mountain and forest around it, which is a natural, scenic resource. Or if you take Shimen Bridge, the renovation of an abandoned bridge. It’s an infrastructure but it’s also an important part of history of these two villages, which used to be one village 200 years ago and was eventually separated into two by the river. The bridge becomes a symbol of reunion. It’s really case by case, and it requires lots of study and diagnosis, to see what would be the key cultural heritage element of this village. We then follow a minimal intervention approach – to take the minimal but effective strategy. So we don’t refurbish the whole village as a make-over, but introduce key programme as minimal touch, with multiple usage both as a public space and as a productive infrastructure for the village.
Brown Sugar Factory is a very successful project, do you think this can be replicated in similar contexts?
It’s not just about introducing (the same) public space, but it’s about how to understand the need of public space and weave it into the village identity. (For example) it’s not just to introduce library in each village, or a museum in each village. It’s really case by case.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 IMPORTANCE OF RURAL ARCHITECTURE Rural architecture is more than construction, it combines with multiply elements such as the economy, social and culture, thus it has a more complexity. The countryside has profound cultural accumulation, but it is often neglected in the process of economic development. Architecture in rural areas should help villagers to regain a sense of honour for their cultural heritage and to rebuild their village identity. For architects, one of their duty is to excavate the characteristics of each project site and establish project functions and designs according to different contexts. Buildings should reflect local culture. Historical and traditional craft formats and living needs of each village should be analyzed through in-depth research.
0.2 GOOD ARCHITECTURE CAN BE “SILENT” Good architecture does not necessarily be iconic. The internal unique temperament of the building cannot be expressed by exterior facade decorations. Space, form, and connection to local context are more important. Architecture is all about people, a successful architecture should be people-oriented, serving the real needs of the community and reflect social contexts, rather than being impressive.
0.3 UNIQUENESS OF PUBLIC SPACE IN RURAL AREA A successful rural public space should restore local identity and stimulate future growth in the local context. Compared with the city, functions of traditional rural public space is very simple, many villages only use ancestral halls for public activities. The needs and usage of public spaces in rural areas are different from the cities. The city needs various public spaces with clear functions, whereas the countryside requires a multi-functional space to accommodate different
activities. Social architecture and public space in rural areas can be a way to restore village identity and stimulate subsequent development.
0.4 APPLICATION OF LOCAL MATERIAL The material of the project should be carefully selected, but it should not be a constrain for project development. Proper applications of local materials are important in certain contexts, especially in rural areas. In contrast to the cities, the countryside retains a large number of traditional constructions aimed at the regional culture and materials. The use of local materials allows the building to be completed in a lower budget, more importantly, it is a form of inheritance for craftmanship and local culture. It gives local residents a sense of familiarity and attachment to the building. The craftsman’s construction experience based on material properties is a continuation of the design on the construction scale.
0.5 PARTICIPATORY DESIGN APPROACH IN RURAL ARCHITECTURE The participatory design approach is important when designing a public space in rural areas. The difficulties encountered for rural projects are different from urban projects. Instead of problems related to the architecture profession, problems encountered are how to adapt to local concepts and communicate with villagers efficiently. Despite in-depth research and investigation into the villages, architects also spent time in the villages to live, work, and talk to the villages to have a better understanding of the local culture and needs. By collecting opinions from the villages, it allows the local community to voice out their needs and opinions at different design stages. As a result, the building is able to bring positive impacts to the society.
0.3 VTN Architects About VTN Architects VTN Architects is a well-known architectural firm in Vietnam, with two branches, located in Hanoi and Ho Chi Mihn city. The firm mainly focuses on cultural, residential, and commercial projects for both local and international clients. Vo Trong Nghia, an architectural graduate from University of Tokyo, founded VTN Architects in 2006. The main design philosophy behind his firm is to create an architecture that is a fusion between vernacular and contemporary design, while simultaneously integrating a sustainable and green system. This can be achieved through research, exploration, and experimentation of natural and local materials and the benefits of the existing site. VTN Architects has worked on various projects that have won awards of different categories, both locally and internationally. Recently in 2019, Bamboo Stalactite Pavilion, Breathing House, and Nocenco Cafe projects won the Green Good. While Diamond Island Community Hall, Naman Retreat Babylon, Farming Kindergarten projects won the International Architecture Award in 2015. Website: https://www.vtnarchitects.net/ All photos are courtesy of VTN architects
by Arisa Teriyapirom 27
Case Study: Farming Kindergarten Project Name: Farming Kindergarten Location: Dongnai, Vietnam Date Designed: 2012 Date Completed: 2013 Size: 3800 sqm Client: Pou Chen Vietnam Contractor: Wind and Water House JSC Green Building Consultant: Melissa Merryweather Cfd Analysis: Environment Simulation Inc. Photographer: Hiroyuki Oki and Gremsy
Abstract As Vietnam is rapidly becoming more urbanized, the country is facing several issues, including traffic congestion, air pollution, drought, flood, and salinization that resulted in a decrease in food supplies, as well as a lack of vibrant green spaces for the public and the children to utilze. Therefore, Farming Kindergarten is a project that aims to and successfully, tackle the mentioned issues. As the site is located beside a shoe factory, the main drive behind the programs of this project is to provide the 500 children of the factory workers with food, and a fun, vibrant place where they are free to play, gain exposure to Vietnamâ€™s agricultural scene in order to reconnect with nature. Thus, the design incorporates several sustainable and environmentally friendly system, including green roof for gardening, introducing internal courtyards, creating a form that maximizes natural ventilation, but minimizes heat and solar gain, and recycling waste water from the factory.
Cultural and Historical Context
Genesis of Project
As the project is designed for a lower income community, the budget is very limited. Therefore, it is important to design strategically and cut down the cost wherever is possible, without compromising the design.
The main driving force behind this project, as mentioned earlier, is to create a design that aims to tackle the ongoing environmental and non-environmental issues that Vietnam is facing. By doing this, VTN Architects hope to be able to give back to the community of Vietnam and provide the country with hope for a sustainable future.
For this project, VTN Architects utelized a combination of various local materials, such as bricks and tiles and low - tech construction methods. Not only does this help reduce the overall construction cost, but it also helps to minimize the environmental impact.
Design At first glance, the continuous curve and undulating form of the Farming Kindergarten creates a striking look that makes it stand out from the rest, however, the form simultaneously blends in and integrates well with the entire site. Furthermore, the flow of the form is generated by a single continuous stroke that intersects itself to form three loops, whereby courtyards are added in to create a nice, safe, vibrant outdoor playground for the children to run around in. Traditional classroom and learning spaces are placed inside, underneath the roof. The design also integrates various environmental and energy saving strategies:
1. Green Roof: Not only does this provide insulation for the programs below, but it also provides the children with an opportunity to cultivate sustainable habits by allowing them to help learn, grow, and maintain the crops on the rooftop. 2. Green Facade on Louvers: For shading and solar water heating. 3. Recycling of Waste Water: Waste water from the shoe factory is used to water the lush greenery and to flush toilet. 4. Cross Ventilation and Natural Lighting: Due to its narrow, ribbon-like form, the window openings are added on two sides, allowing sunlight to enter and natural ventilation to occur. As a result, the Farming Kindergarten is completely air-con free and environmentally friendly.
Due to its success in creating a green design that helps the local, low income community, and brings hope to the future of a sustainable Vietnam, the Farming Kindergarten as won several awards, Green Good Design 2015 and Building of the Year 2014.
Impact on Community The Farming Kindergarten has many positive impacts on the community, both socially, environmentally, and economically. In terms of the social context, this project has provided the 500 young children of low income factory workers with a safe place where food is provided, and the children can learn, develop sustainable habits, better understand Vietnamâ€™s current situation and its agricultural scene, play, and reconnect with nature. This will help relief the stress from their parents during the day, as they know their children is close by and are receiving proper care that helps to enrich their mental, physical, and socia well-being. In addition, the environmental and energy saving strategies implemented into the design have resulted to a positive impact on the environment. The design saved up to 25% of energy and 40% of fresh water. Lastly, due to the use of local materials and low - tech construction methods, VTN Architects was able to successfully reduce the cost to 500 USD per square meter, which is relatively cheap within the Vietnamese market. This proves to show that it is possible to create an aesthetically pleasing, sustainable, and functional design with a limited budget.
Vo Trong Nghia Founder of VTN Architects
Vo Trong Nghia studied architecture at the University of Tokyo before returning to Vietnam to establish VTN Architects (Vo Trong Nghia Architects) in 2006. Through a series of the award winning projects, Nghia has developed sustainable architectural design by integrating inexpensive, local materials and traditional skills with contemporary aesthetics and modern methodologies. Nghia has received numerous international prizes and honors including but not limited to; World Architecture Festival Award, ARCASIA gold metal award, WAN 21 for 21 Award and, AR House award and the FuturArc Green leadership Award. In 2012, he was selected as the Architect of the year in Vietnam. He also was selected as one of 2014 Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum. Besides running his architectural practice, Nghia has continued to be involved in architecture at a grass roots level by teaching at the Nagoya Institute of Technology in 2011. Nghia is a registered architect in Vietnam.
The main objective of this interview is to understand how local materials can be integrated into a contemporary design, what are the benefits or challenges faced when using these materials, and if these forms of sustainable designs really do leave a positive impact on Vietnam, or successfully tackle the issues that they aim to solve. In addition, we hope that this interview will give us a better insight to the thought and design process of VTN Architects.
Selected Interview Questions Q:
What are the benefits in using local materials? What is your philosophy about Green Architecture as an architectural approach?
Our architectural approach champions building structures that minimise the harmful effects on the environment and human health, by choosing eco-friendly building materials and construction practices that help safeguard our natural resources. To me, Green Architecture also means to live harmoniously with nature. I think we tend to create buildings that isolate us from nature, but when we stay in this environment for too long, it becomes uncomfortable. Through this approach, I want to create buildings that allow us to live inside nature, instead of apart from it. When I was growing up in my hometown in Vietnam, we were living in a village without electricity until I was 21 years old. When you are in the heat, and the temperature is around 40 degrees Celsius, the shade from trees, water, and ventilation are essential. That is the reason why I love trees and nature, and I always incorporate these elements in my designs.
Many of your projects aim to tackle issues that Vietnam is facing, such as lack of greenery, overheating, pollution, and flooding, to what extent do you think these issues can be solved through architecture and design? We design every building from small house, school, university or resort, and we design all of them as city parks. If all architects could do that, our city will surely be greener.
One of our prototypical houses, consisting of five concrete boxes, each housing a different program, were designed as “pots” to plant trees on their tops. These “pots” also function as storm-water basins for detention and retention, thereby helping to reduce the risk of flooding in the city when the concept is applied to more houses in the future.
What do you think is the future of architecture or how might architecture be different, now that we are going through a pandemic? And how woul you take your firm and projects forward in the future?
The best way to go is to make the most use of natural energy. This can be done by using good ventilation to replace air conditioning, as I do in my home and office space, as well as recycling water or using solar panels to maximise the utility of what nature offers. A major part of green urban living is also incorporating green practices into our daily lives. For instance, we grow vegetables and plants in our office, and our staff can enjoy these organic vegetables every day. We also support all our staff to stay in accommodations within walking distance from our office space, allowing them to minimise their carbon footprints as they can walk to work, instead of taking the bus or a motorcycle. I believe that if everyone adopted such practices, it would go a long way in promoting sustainability, environmental and even human health.
As part of our House for Trees project, we worked to incorporate green spaces into the city. Cities in Vietnam have diverged far away from their origins as rampant tropical forests, with only 0.25% of the entire city being covered by greenery – our project is an effort to change that. 32
Do you think architecture is a fulfilling career and what advice can you give to a budding architect?
If possible, maintain the 5 precepts: To refrain from taking life, ie. killing any living creature. To refrain from stealing. to refrain from misuse of the senses or sexual misconduct. to refrain from lying or gossiping to refrain from drugs or alcohol. These are important for our mentality, really good for this life and also many next lives. Do as much internship as possible, and in many architecture firms. Learn what software they are using, how to make models, how to deal with deadlines, join many competitions, etc. Good to learn as much as possible when you are young.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the case study and interview 0.1 ECONOMICALLY SUSTAINABLE DESIGN The Farming Kindergarten has successfully integrated sustainable design elements without bursting their limited budget. A lot of people tend to have the misconception that sustainable design is only achievable if clients are willing to pay. However, this project has shown that there are many other ways that an environmentally friendly architecture can be achieved. For example, the project recycles water from the factory to water the greenery, green facade on louvers for shading and heating of water, and green roof.
0.2 IMPORTANCE OF THE COMMUNITY This project has shown that every single community is just as important, despite their background and income level. By providing a safe space for children of factory workers to learn and play, it makes us realize that all children are the future of the country, and that we should put in the effort to teach and nurture them so that they can grow up and have skills to make the necessary changes. It is nice to see that children of the lower income family are not neglected and are given the opprtunity to learn about their culture, the history, and the agricultural scene of Vietnam.
0.3 GREEN BUILDINGS CAN CONTRIBUTE TO SUSTAINABLE CITY If we see every building, no matter how small, as a park, collectively all the buildings can increase the green coverage of the city. Especially in cities where development is mostly driven by private sector, it is important to make every building counts.
0.4 GREEN ARCHITECTURE IS ALSO ABOUT GREEN LIVING Green architecture not only can provide better living environment but also promote heathier and more sustainable urban living and green practices. By creating more opportunities for growing plants and vegetables, inhabitants will tend to work out more and eat more healthily. Likewise if we design city that is based on walking instead of driving or using other vehicular transport, and provide more housing opportunities for people to live near their work places or schools, we can promote a healthier and greener lifestyle for the whole population.
0.4 billionBricks About billionBricks Housing is a basic necessity and a human right, the first step of empowerment towards emerging out of poverty. Co-founders of billionBricks Prasoon Kumar and Anurag Srivastava envision “a world where no one is homeless, and where everyone has access to opportunities for economic and social upliftment” (Rebel, 10 Restorative Innovation Initiatives from Singapore You Should Know 2018). billionBricks is a design and innovation studio with the sole purpose of providing high-quality solutions to end homelessness, to tackle the lack of inadequate housing to the less developed areas. Consisting of a dedicated team of architects, designers, engineers and urban planners committed to using design and technology as its tools to innovate shelter and infrastructure solutions, their solutions are innovative, scalable and sustainable. Their approach empowers communities to replicate their solutions on their own. This approach reduces dependencies on support, creates ownership and pride, and unlocks untapped potential for change. As such, in this case study, we will focus on billion Bricks’ Konchur sustainable model village project that takes place in Kocnhur Karnataka, India. Website: https://www.billionbricks.org/ All photos are courtesy of billionBricks
by Natalie Tsang, Mary Agnes Angel 35
Case Study: powerHYDE Project Name: powerHYDE Location: Rural India Date Designed: 2019 Date Completed: In Progress Size: 3.4 Ha Design Team: bB Studio: billionBricks + Architecture BRIO + fUSE Studio Program: Solar Power Community of 170 Homes
Abstract powerHYDE is an affordable and self-sustainable housing solution for India’s rural homeless population. The project designed around three primary considerations, namely the considerable demand for housing, the need for sustainable use and production of energy, and a self-financing strategy that grants independence and self-sustenance to residents. With the use of modern design and technology, it is thus the world’s first carbon-negative housing for the homeless and upon successful completion, aims to be scaled and customised to solve homelessness in other contexts.
Cultural and Historical Context India is home to one of the poorest people in the world. Over 70% of India’s rural population left out of the country’s financial institutional system do not receive government subsidies and housing loans, and thus many are left homeless. In response to India’s alarming homeless rate, in 2016, India’s Government aimed to build 40 million rural dwellings to support its homeless population for five years. In order to achieve this goal, there would need to be at least 20,000 new homes constructed daily. However, with this institutional barrier, the most miserable people will not have access to these dwellings. Furthermore, India is the world’s third-largest producer and consumer of power, but poor distribution has been one of the biggest challenges. It is believed that around
400 million people in India do not have access to stable electricity, accounting for about one-third of India’s population. Having no access to reliable electricity has detrimental impacts on health, education and livelihood. Non-access to electricity also has a disproportionately negative impact on women. Through the years, the Government of India has been providing electricity to more and more villagers. However, many people are still left out. Though most villages in India have some electrical connection, connecting remote households in rural areas can be expensive. Many also forgo access to electricity as they are not able to afford the monthly bills that come with it. With a need, billionBricks developed an emergency housing concept that puts the homeless in control of their living space as a solution.
Genesis of Project According to billionBricks, “very often new ideas and technologies are started with the upper crest of market segment and gradually over time, with scale and value
engineering, watered-down cheaper, lower quality versions reach the bottom of the pyramid”. Therefore, they reversed this thinking process to design a radical high-quality housing concept for the poor with ‘extreme scalability, affordability and sustainability’ as primary parameters with equal importance. powerHYDE rides primarily on the idea that housing in rural areas established on the basis that they do not harm the environment and do not add unnecessary strain on the infrastructure resources and utilities. Hence, powerHYDE project is the world’s first-ever carbonnegative, self-financed and self-sustainable housing solution for the 200 million homeless people in India. The powerHYDE framework incorporates design, technology and trading that aims to address the issues of lack of sustainable housing, accessibility to energy and global climate changes. powerHYDE henceforth seeks to empower individuals and hopefully have a significant positive ripple effect that potentially tackles the issues as mentioned above.
Design Sustainability The houses built using a combination of 30% prefabricated and 70% local construction methods using local materials which accelerates the building process, reduces cost but still improves the quality of construction. Firstly, powerHYDEâ€™s roof made of a custom-designed solarHYDE sandwich panels that supply power, ventilation, insulation and waterproofing. With more houses built, so makes the energy demand. These solar panels ensure that it does not put a strain on the governmentâ€™s facilities and leave a negative environmental footprint. This system allows the village to be self-sufficient in terms of energy by producing their electricity and even using excess to power other activities. It is carbon negative, producing four times the amount of energy it consumes. On top of this, the roof can collect rainwater, and aids in sewage and recycling treatment. Next, the modular system design of the house lets the user customise to their preferences and needs from the large floor plans down to the small touches around the house. PowerHYDE is also expandable to allow for future growth and changing needs. The system designed to be applicable for both urban and rural applications. 37
Overall, the framework of powerHYDE is universal, but the infill is flexible. It can be customisable to the multitude of variations in climate, social context and geographies. Self-financing A cluster of 170 powerHYDE homes forms a mini power plant, generating 1 megawatt of the energy, selling the additional energy produced to power other communal facilities. The income generated by the villagers through this is enough to pay the mortgage of the house in 11 years, while for the remaining 11 years of the solar panelsâ€™ lifespan, the money earned serves as additional income for the villagers. powerHYDE also collects rainwater, cleans its waste and grows its food. Homes are managed and controlled via mobile devices. Modularity powerHYDE homes are modular units that can be expanded vertically or horizontally and developed through a few phases. Each rectangular modular unit is 25sqm in size, consisting of a sleeping place, kitchen and living area, toilets, a platform for possible expansion and productive gardens. The first stage includes site planning, installing services and solar power. The second stage consists of the addition of toilets, infill walls, flooring and windows. The last stage would be potential
expansions, either horizontal, vertical or both, for growing families in the future.
Impact on Community powerHYDE is an innovative model that addresses the massive demand for housing, villagers’ lack or low levels of income, as well as the pressure to use sustainable methods so that the community can be selfsustainable and reduce reliance on the government or other organisations. With the current government’s traditional construction practice in India, construction of houses takes 12 months. With powerHYDE sustainable practices, communities can construct these houses in just two months and are easily replicable and scalable to suit other sites’ contexts, speeding up the provision of highquality housing for the homeless. These practices would make India’s target of building 40 million homes over five years more attainable. Not only that, but the quality of the housing also remains high. With its ability to be expanded to meet space demands of a growing family, especially in a country with rapid population growth. It ensures that families live in a conducive and safe environment in the long run, and not somewhere overcrowded.
access to due to their ineligibility for the government’s financial schemes. It enables them to be self-sufficient. This reduced reliance on the government creates a place which the residents have control over. Hence, at the same time, develop a sense of ownership and pride for the homeless who often attribute their plight to unemployment, low wages and inaccessibility to housing services.
Discussions and Lessons Homelessness is a very complex issue with various factors involved. It is a systemic problem that requires unique solutions, as seen from India’s case study where housing and financial aid from the government only reaches a group of people and never the poorest. powerHYDE’s response tackles this issue by especially empowering this low-income population and building something that allows them to be self-reliant. It may not be feasible to build houses exactly like powerHYDE in other countries due to availability of space and different regulations. However, adapted models or typologies from powerHYDE that aim to provide a means for people to make a living and empower them, could be a beneficial and more sustainable approach.
It does not only provide housing for the homeless but also facilities for education, health, jobs and recreation. Because of the mini-power plant, it is also able to manage the community’s water, waste and food production demands. This intervention helps in lifting the homeless from poverty in the long run by providing them with livelihood, which they initially do not have 38
Prasoon Kumar Co-Founder of billionBricks
Prasoon is a Presidentâ€™s Design Awardee, TEDx speaker and social justice campaigner working towards solving the global housing crisis. Prasoon began his career as an architect working in design firms across India, USA, Hong Kong and Singapore. In 2013, he left his corporate job and co-founded BillionBricks. BillionBricks originally began as a non-profit and has provided shelters, schools and homes to 5,365 people across 9 countries; rendered relief support to another 10,000. Its first innovation called weatherHYDE, is an award-winning, emergency shelter designed to save the lives of the homeless in extreme weather conditions. Winner of Singularity Universityâ€™s Global Grand Challenge and named Urban Land Instituteâ€™s 40 under 40, Prasoon graduated summa cum laude from Arizona State University with a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning and an Outstanding Graduate Award in 2005.
Honoured to be able to talk to Prasoon Kumar, co-founder of billionBricks which has been widely recognised globally and won awards on their objective of designs that tackle homelessness. The objective of this interview is to have a more in-depth view about how billionBricks, which provides services to the homeless mostly in developing countries, operates. We discuss their design vision and understand their approach towards local contexts and social architecture. This interview also discusses how the company copes during the Covid-19 pandemic and how it has changed the way they run their projects.
Selected Interview Questions Q: A:
What do you look out for when initiating and planning projects and how do you choose your target audience? As long as the project is for the very poor and homeless communities, we do not have other criteria. If we can cater to the right community, have a reliable partner, the time and someone that is able to afford and fund the project, generally we are able to do it.
Do you face any challenges and external constraints such as conflicts with the community and regulations?
Generally, I would think that there are no issues on the community side. Most of the work we do is in rural areas, so there are not much regulatory constraints, as compared to urban areas.
billionBricks have just changed their model from being an NGO to a for-profit company. May I ask why this decision and what are your plans for the future base on this new model?
Homelessness is a problem in both developing and developed countries. Although less prevalent in developed countries, do you intend on taking up projects in such countries as well in the future? Or in your opinion, should the developing countries be prioritized first?
Most of our weatherHYDE tents are deployed in America. We are not biased in which country; whether or not it is in a developed or developing country. It is just that the need for developed countries is less compared to less-developed countries. We live in Singapore, and there are not too many developed countries around, so we tend to work in developing countries, as close proximity helps. We can raise money for the neighbouring countries. Non-profit tend to help developing countries more than developed countries because of reasons like where we have an opportunity to work and not from the point of whether we choose to work for a developing or developed countries If you are talking about powerHYDE, we also do [deploy] them in developed countries. We have them in the Philippines, and are looking for opportunities in Australia and the United States.
I came up with the idea of powerHYDE two years ago. The project can be financially viable without grants and funding from donations. I successfully found someone who would be our investor if this project could bring in revenue. So, if we can find someone who says that powerHYDE is a strong idea, that we can go and build it for the poor people, it does not matter whether it is a for-profit or non-profit, as long as I am able to achieve the objectives.
How has COVID-19 pandemic affected your work and how will it change your work in the future?
We were in transition from non-profit to for-profit before the pandemic, so we have no active projects going on right now. It has impacted us as we do not work in Singapore, and we need to travel and work in communities that are generally quite far off or in rural areas whereby connection may not be good. Working online was initially a little hard for us to communicate and to develop new projects in the Philippines. So we had to delay our plans. However, we are now seeing that people there are adapting to working remotely. We have been presenting to government officials and many mayors online as well. While it is more difficult for us to visit the sites and analyse them, the construction had not been affected. From a business standpoint, we see how we can leverage the best possible situation. We do think that travel is going to be restricted for quite some time, which used to be crucial for us. So we are hiring people at senior-level from the Philippines. It would also probably take about a year to raise fund, and by that time hopefully the pandemic will start to subside. Or by that time the world will come to terms that is ok for you not to travel, but you still must find ways to work. In that case local organisations may become even stronger. The may be some glitches, but it will be fine in general, as the need for housing is always there. In the future there might even be a possibility that people would want to move back to the rural areas as they are safer than the cities. Cities will also need to look after denser areas like slumps, and to relocate the residents. This is where we could come in and help.
What advice would you give architects intending to take on social architecture projects?
I would advise architects to do the right thing. And do what you speak about. In conferences and schools, you always talk about social architecture and doing things for the community, but nobody actually does it eventually. We talk about sustainability, but we still build a glass building in Dubai, and we reverse the story around saying â€œoh this glass is very efficient and it is a very sustainable buildingâ€?. So, I think we should be true to ourselves whether we really care about the environment, whether we really care about the community, or whether we care about ourselves. We should not speak [about] something which is not [what we plan to do]. [Another] issue is that we often listen and just accept, and we do not question them. It is important to question everything you hear when somebody tells you, especially teachers. You should also question the things that I say. I am sure in a social architecture class you have been taught about community participation in the design and that you should involve the community. Why do we need to involve the community in design? I live in a house in Singapore, and I was never involved in the design, and I like my house. I do not see the need for people to be involved in it to like it. This could be right as well. We need to really question, and understand why certain thing is needed or not needed. I think that is an important part of learning.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 BE CRITICAL OF INFORMATION
0.3 ASK 'WHY'
As architects and problem solvers, we need to learn to be critical of information we consume and knowledge we gain in order to identify real problems and provide practical solutions. There is no one correct approach to architecture and design but it is important to note that each approach has their own pros and cons and may not always work for every context.
It is important to keep asking why. Why do we do this? Why is it done this way? Asking questions is essential instead of just accepting and following the norms. It is being taught that preserving culture is important and hence using local mateirals in developing countries such as bamboo is good. However, we have never asked why is it important in doing so and whether or not the locals want their culture to be preserved. For a country to develop, there is a need to change living conditions and the way of life. Hence, there is a need to reconsider if keeping certain parts of culture is essential and why we do things in a certain way.
0.2 ON WORKING FOR THE POOR COMMUNITY We may not realise, but sometimes there is a disparity in the way we design for the rich and for the poor and underprivileged. Today, most design for the homeless is centered around “parasitic,” tactical interventions that merely enhance the condition of being homeless. These shelters are often made of temporary materials, and often have architectural qualities below the minimum requirements. Oftentimes, we treat the underprivileged as beneficiaries rather than a client, projecting our assumptions of their needs onto our projects instead of actually understanding and finding out what they really want and need. We see them as charity work, we feel good about helping them but we don’t realise that what we design may not always be what they desire or need the most. We design with the simplest and most affordable materials with good intentions when designing for poor communities, but sometimes we overlook the fact that these materials may not be the safest. Prasoon Kumar urges us to question why there has to be different standards when designing for the poor, why they can’t enjoy the same quality and safety standards of housing as the rest of us. Through innovation, design and technology we have the power to change these trends.
0.4 LEARNING FROM FAILURES We should not be afraid of failure and follow what we believe in instead of just chasing success. Prasoon Kumar left his job to follow what he believed in and he co-founded billionBricks. Although he faced many difficulties getting fundings, he did not give up with his goal and strived on. He did not give in to the pressure of following the norms of “building poorly for the poor” and instead continue to innovate to create better homes for the poor. So far, he has been doing well.
0.5 Atelier-3 About Hsieh Ying Chun Atelier-3 & Design For People Co. has been a leading force in developing and promoting sustainable lightweight steel houses in rural & ethnic areas since 1999. The goal of the team is to improve the infrastructure and living environment of the rural area, leading to sustainable development as well as an ecological society. The architect and his team believe that architecture is not just about technical issues. The economic, social, cultural, and environmental factors need to be taken into consideration as well. 70% of humans are living in rural areas. In response to this housing phenomenon, Hsieh is committed to researching and developing an open structure system that can make use of local materials, reduce costs, and adopt appropriate technologies. As such, the villagers can participate in a building process that fulfills environmental protection, energy-saving, and carbon reduction. The reconstruction process guarantees the right to live and work for the disadvantaged groups and allows the buildings to reflect the cultural diversity of different regions and ethnic groups. Website: https://www.atelier3-ras.com/ All photos are courtesy of Atelier-3
by Edison, Sandra Chan 43
Case Study: Nepal Rebuilt House Project Name: Nepal Rebuilt House Location: Nepal Date Designed: 2015 Date Completed: 2016 Size: 60.48 sqm Client: Future Village Foundation & IDEA Foundation
Abstract Nepal Rebuilt House is a 60m2 double storey house design by the Atelier-3 team that only required simple building techniques to construct. The project rebuild the village by working together with the locals and making use of the existing construction methods and materials on site. The process helped to form community working towards one common goal and allow the victims to heal from the disaster trauma.
Genesis of Project Nepal earthquake of 2015, also called Gorkha earthquake, was a severe earthquake that struck close to the city of Kathmandu in central Nepal on April 25, 2015. More than 500,000 households were affected and more than 600,000 structures in Kathmandu and other nearby regions were either damaged or destroyed. Dhading is one of the heavily affected areas because of the 7.8 earthquake. Going through more than a decade of civil war and armed fight, the stagnation of domestic economic development has resulted in a lack of reconstruction funds after the earthquake, mainly relying on external assistance, in addition to the reformation of politics that has decreased the administrative efficiency, the assistance from various countries and NGOs couldnâ€™t be delivered in time to the disaster zone.
The team was contacted by Nepal Future Village Foundation and IDEA Foundation in October 2015. The project aims to rebuild the village by working together with the locals and making use of the existing construction methods and materials on site. Taking into consideration of the local common architectural style, spatial usage requirement, and construction materials, the team has developed a simple, seismically safe, and yet easy to handle lightweight steel system.
Design The design of the house first started by providing necessary living space for the locals, taking into account the possibility of future growth, then provide them with the flexibility of adding space according to their needs 44
in the future. Clear partition of space in order to create modular frameworks that are easy to construct and stabilize. Making use of the materials found on-site, such as wood twigs, and with the traditional woven method to produce the flooring of the building.
Development From the construction manual given out to the locals, the team has developed a simple building system that is easy to understand even for a non-architectural trained local. After assembling the modular steel frames, the villagers could easily lift the framework through lever principle. Putting up braces and columns at the side before removing the temporary fixings. Reinforce the structure by setting up the beams and braces on the second floor and rooftop. Lastly, construct the stairs and lay out the flooring.
User and Program Simple building design, easy building techniques, concise communication method has largely reduced the knowledge required by the builders, as such, villagers are now then able to form their own team and rebuild their homes. The villagers themselves have no jobs and cannot afford to pay any form of consumer behaviour, coupled with the export of manpower resource to overseas countries, the rural area is facing the problem of lacking the workforce as well. Therefore, with the provided lightweight steel structure and local materials, the limited manpower resource is able to be utilized and turn consumption (buy a house) to production (build a house). The team took about a month to demonstrate and teach the locals how to build walls, floorings, and roofing. Hsieh thinks that it is best to spend most of the budget building a solid and flexible framework that could then be filled by each of the homeowners and turn it into their home.
Impact on Community
Hsieh claims that the process of rebuilding is a process of healing as well. Making the locals come together and form a community that works towards one goal, rebuilding their homes, could then help them to forget their loss while creating things together. The project empowers the users by making use of what they already have (local materials and building techniques) and giving them knowledge (teach them how to build a house) to utilize what was originally their limitation (manpower). In this case, the users are given the opportunity to create ownership and acquire new knowledge at the same time. The victims are often being seen as those who need help, what they are lacking is what the public would be focusing on giving, changing the perspective, instead of giving what they need, provide them with tools that they can use to acquire what they need would be a more sustainable way of helping them.
Discussions and Lessons Applying back in Singapore context, the public housing void deck can be potentially converted into a flourishing community space. A very good example is the open concept kitchen at Marine Terrace repurposed void deck. Adopting the same production behavior approach, architects and designers in Singapore can reach out to residents for ideas, gathering their feedback and understanding their needs and assets. As such, architects and designers can anticipate possible future changes and provide flexible public infrastructure that facilitate such behaviors.
Similarly, the corridor space outside residential units are often used for planting activities that caused problems to the neighbourhood such as dengue breeding. Learning from Hsiehâ€™s co-building approach, by providing a framework that anticipate these kinds of changes, designers can help the residents to appropriate yet avoid unnecessary problems faced in future.
Hsieh Ying Chun Architect of Atelier-3
Hsieh devotes himself to post-disaster reconstruction for more than 20 years. He considers architecture and town-planning a collective endeavor and participatory effort. His projects often originate from the need to provide a prompt response to sudden and unexpected environmental or climatic emergencies, focusing on principles such as biocompatibility, sustainability and selfsufficiency. Hsieh was awarded the Curry Stone Design Prize in 2011, the Golden Prize of the Shenzhen Affordable Housing Design Competition (China) and the 16th National Awards for Arts (Taiwan) in 2012. He was shortlisted for UN-HABITAT’s Best Practice award in 2004, and represented Taiwan at the Venice Biennale International Architecture and International Art Exhibitions in 2006 and 2009 respectively. He also took part in Liverpool Biennale 2012.
Cities are growing at an unprecedented rate and the dwelling issue has become one of the rising concerns in our daily life. While the methodology proposed by Hsieh, building houses together (协力造屋）is targeting on the dwelling issues in the rural area, the interview seeks to discuss about the possibilities for this to be carried out in the urban context, such that the people can better adapt to the changing nature of the society instead of the natural environment. In this interview, Hsieh discussed about housing problems, consumer and production behavior construction models in urban and rural context, his team’s communication approach and lastly, how their system can be adopted in COVID-19 pandemic world.
Selected Interview Questions Q:
In most of your projects be it post-disaster or not, what is the role of the government or local community in this architecture process you described? How are their roles differ in both scenarios?
Most people do not understand and have no time to understand our work in the disaster area. Because our approach is non-mainstream, we need considerable experience and foundation to be able to execute it. The government or the general public cannot understand it; even people in the field of architecture may not be able to understand or agree with it. They may have conceptual ideas, but it will be challenging to execute. First of all, the building we emphasize is production behavior which is participatory, rather than consumer behavior. Especially in post-disaster reconstruction, the idea of allowing residents to participate is beyond the general mainstream idea. We didn’t know until we entered the disaster area that 70% of housing has nothing to do with what we call the construction profession. Most of the houses of mankind are built by residents, but there is no such thing in our knowledge and education system. The existing construction industry is not aiming at the 70% of people. That field is blank. These 70% of human settlements, regardless of post-disaster or non-disaster, their problems are the same. Yet the problems of housing in the disaster area must be solved within a short time, which makes it more compressed.
When you begin a new project in the village especially in a foreign country, how do you build trust with the locals especially when it is postdisaster project?
To “communicate” about architecture is in general very difficult. It contains many complex values, such as aesthetics, habits, emotions, social interactions, communities, etc. So it is very difficult whether it is in the tribe or overseas. For example, Christopher Alexander tried to solve this problem in “Pattern Language”, and Kojin
Karatani’s “Architecture as Metaphor”, many of which talk about language, expression, and metaphorーAnd the behavior of these buildings actually has various meanings behind it. For example, when we first came to this Thao tribal community (Ida Thao; reconstruction for 921 earthquake in 1999), how did we communicate with the residents? Basically, there was no communication. On the surface, user participation did not happen because they could not understand our drawing and our language. Here, “language” does not mean the literal language but the combination of professional language and cultural language. Because we were strangers, it was not easy for them to express themselves. So, no matter where the project is, do not communicate. The only effective communication is through “behavior” and “action”. Hence, we tried to build a room for our workstation at the gate of the tribal community initially. The residents of the tribe would come over when it was built and give comments, such as how the bamboo should be cut and unknowingly, they participated in the process. The configuration of the Thao family house is arranged according to the division of labor by the clans. Some are responsible for hunting rituals, some are responsible for sowing, etc. The festivals are held in turn by different families. In the past, everyone held these ceremonies on the threshing ground, but now the open area (more associated to a dense town, not in a tribal setting) in front of the house is configured as a ceremony space. But for these rituals and other life habits, most of the tribe would not share the details to outsiders. Therefore, in the process of building houses, we kept demolishing and reconstructing to achieve the current state. What is the metaphor of architecture? It is actually a specific value behind the architecture given by the designer rather than naturally generated. A building has to include this value, even in its spirit, symbol, form, etc. It is created by the architect (Making), but in the end it may be hidden inside the architecture and may not 48
be seen, because the process of generation (Becoming) is very complicated, and the generated outcome may not be the main part. Thus, the so-called communication is not the communication that most people imagine, and that communication is the most difficult.
How did you overcome constraints or conflicts involving the locals in the building process? We know that conflicts always arise inevitably just like one happened in your rebuilt project after the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake (杨柳村). The “guerrilla building” method (游击造屋) was adopted too, unpredictably, the villagers ended up having conflicts due to differences in the use of materials and construction methods, resulting in the inability to collect all the material costs paid in advance by the team. How do you resolve the conflict at that point in time or what do you think could be done better to prevent this kind of event to happen?
In fact, we have never had any way to reduce or avoid conflicts. As mentioned earlier, architectural behavior is extremely complicated. The situation in the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Yangliu Village is not uncommon even in the next few projects. Until now, our only practice is to collect payment before delivering.
You described the city construction model as consumer behaviour and the rural area’s construction model as production. I wonder if the rural area’s construction model can be applied in the cities. On what form do you think will it take if it is to implement this in city area and does it limit by the scale of the project?
Of course, we have proposed ways to carry out such behavior at high-density living in an urban environment. The concept of “Supports & Infill” has been put forward by various people, from Bauhaus to John Habraken’s “Open Building”. This concept was explicitly put forward in our projects such as Youth Housing in Shenzhen and Hualien, Taiwan. The main structure of buildings
should be like bridges and roads – they are public facilities. Once the man-made threedimensional platform is created, the space inside should be left to the residents and citizens to fill in themselves. Is housing in the city a consumer behavior or a production behavior? In cities, the interior decoration of houses is constantly being demolished and rebuilt, while the illegal roofs are all built by people themselves. These are all production activities. Then why did we not consider these changes when we designed the houses in the city? The predecessors in the history of architecture have taught us that the supporting body and the filling content must be separated, and the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing can be assembled and disassembled, but we have not made enough preparations for this. How can production behavior not be in the city? It definitely can be. The concept of a people’s city is that the government or developers lead the construction and maintenance of the main public infrastructure, while the space rights within the framework are sold to the citizens, allowing them to adjust themselves. This concept is closely related to the communication between the communities and the interaction among the residents in the city, similar to the countryside, where every household owns a courtyard, such that building a house is definitely not a simple individual behavior - it has something to do with the neighbors.
Most of your projects focused on the rural village and that your architecture can be seen as resistance to some of the government policy such as the Bunong village (布农族村落) where some of the villagers resist in moving from their village. What is your view on urban villages (slums) such as those in developing countries where people living in these “illegal” squatters faced the fear of being eviction every day and yet they have already been living in this place for years or some decade? How can architecture be used as a form of resistance and validate their existence in the area?
Building a house together is a form of ‘Empowerment’. In the reconstruction for the Thao community, building a house together reconciles the residents and forms a united force to negotiate with the government. A long period of compromise and communication finally led to a consensus. In the tribe, the socalled democracy is compromise. The value of democracy is not that “the minority obeys the majority” but that “the majority respects the minority”, that is, compromise. From African tribes to Taiwan aboriginal chambers, British parliaments, etc.... Meetings are all held in extremely small spaces. With everyone crowded in an unbearable small space with limited mobility, when minority resists, majority will tend to reach a consensus quickly through compromise. Hence, compromise is the core value of democracy. Most of the problems in all slums are about the land. For example, in Haiti, most of the land ownership is controlled by six families, so there is no way to rebuild after the earthquake. In this state, there are several reasons to adopt our method. First, our structure can be easily disassembled and can be regarded as not permanent. Under this situation, it will not cause a significant threat to the landowner, and it will be easier to accept. Second, for slum residents, building houses as a production behavior is completely acceptable because originally, they have been building the houses and assembling
it by themselves and they can do it even more smoothly and take into account the structural safety. All slums are production behaviors, which aligns with our system perfectly. There are very complicated interpersonal relationships in the slums, which cannot be solved by any current technologies or means. All collaborations must be resolved by the locals themselves, and no one can intervene. In this kind of community, the subjectivity of each resident is very strong. In fact, it is the same in the tribe, we cannot intervene directly and we must observe their words and actions from the sidelines.
What is your biggest take away in your works with the locals?
The biggest gain is that it is fortunate to be able to re-understand the so-called “tribal civilization” in modern days. Tribes are likely to be an introduction to a new civilization in the future.
Most of the architecture practice nowadays is done via the internet due to COVID. How can architects remain connected to the people they served given the trend now? How COVID-19 pandemic affect your work now and in future?
The online communication mentioned here is only about the exchange of information and communication. The real immediate impact of the COVID-19 is the flow of material and that of people. There is no problem with the flow of materials, but there will be problems with the flow of people, and yet this is the most suitable place and time for our system. When people cannot move, local materials and manpower must be used to build a house. This is the original intent of our system. It can simplify the structure and does not require special skills, and it can be completed in a closed community. The logistics is only steel structure, its transportation cost is low, and the cost of building the house is relatively low, while the remaining materials can be locally acquired. Therefore, under this trend, our system can be more connected with the public. 50
What career advice will you give to the younger architect who is pursuing in the field of humanitarian and social architecture?
We are concerned about the problem of 70% of human settlements, which is a huge area that most professionals have not been able to touch on in the past. Therefore, no matter how many professionals or non-professionals, if you want to dive into this field, there is always work, hence, don’t worry about any work problems. As long as you are open-minded, you can always see things that need to be done.
What is the title of a book you recently read? What is your favourite book? What readings would you recommend to architecture students?
One of my most recent books is “Architecture as Metaphor” by Kojin Karatani. One of my favorite books is the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tzu. Highly recommended to architecture students. The ideal society described in the penultimate chapter of the Tao Te Ching is similar to “visible region from eyesight” in Plato’s Utopia. The best state of an ideal society is the state of bliss of “ruling by doing nothing”, without much “doing” by the rulers. For modern countries, the smaller the better, just like Singapore!
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 CONSUMER VS PRODUCTION BEHAVIOR Hsieh’s buildings in the rural countryside and reconstruction projects emphasize production behavior rather than consumer behavior. The production behavior architecture process focuses on design that simplified the structure and does not require special skills to be completed. Utilizing local manpower and resources, the cost of building the house is kept low.In a post-disaster reconstruction project, this behavior becomes a process of healing for the victims as well. Community residents come together and work towards one goal, rebuilding their homes, helped them to forget their losses while creating things together
0.2 ARCHITECTURE HOUSING SYSTEM In the building system created by Hsieh, system come before human, a tool (steel structure) is created for the users (villagers) to make use of to acquire what they need (space). From this, we learned that a more sustainable way of empowering people would be imparting one with tools and knowledge. As such, the later (villagers) can be independent when the former (architect) is no longer around. Which is what Hsieh advocate, “architects should help by doing nothing” (无为而治）.
0.3 ACTION SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS When Hsieh begins a new project especially in a foreign country, his approach of communication with the local community residents is not through verbal means. He claimed that the only effective communication is through “behavior” and “action”. Only through “action”, much deeper and useful information can be retrieved and learnt from the residents, their local practises and traditions that cannot easily convey by them to “outsiders” through verbal means.
0.4 PRODUCTION BEHAVIOR IN CITY Despite most of Hsieh’s works focus on rural villages, the production behavior construction model described by him can be implemented in city too. In fact, it has been practised all these times in the urban context. For instance, the interior decoration of houses that is constantly being demolished and rebuilt or illegal roofs or additions and alterations (A&A) works, these are all production activities. Very often, designers do not consider these changes when they designed the spaces in the city. Thus, it is important that designers could understand this production behavior and anticipate changes to better serve the needs of the target users.
0.5 ARCHITECTURE IN NEW NORMAL COVID-19 has brought upon a tremendous impact to the world including the built environment industry. Hsieh see that the real immediate impact of it is the flow the people. When people cannot move, local materials and manpower have to be utilised to build a house. In their system, the simplified structure can be completed in a closed community without requiring special skills, and the only logistics needed is steel structure which can be acquired locally with low transportation cost. Thus, keeping the cost of building house relatively low, Hsieh’s system can adopted for the built environment industry to adapt in prolong COVID-19 situation.
0.6 CAUKIN Studio About CAUKIN studio: CAUKIN Studio approaches architecture as a tool of empowerment that every individual and community should have equal access to. The organisationâ€™s take on social architecture seeks to create better quality spaces for marginalised communities by minimising the economic barriers involved in the undertaking of such projects. Designs are conceived around United Nationâ€™s sustainable development goals such as quality education, climate action and responsible consumption, and like the Naidi community hall, holds significant cultural value for the communities involved. Ultimately, CAUKIN studio is a for-profit organisation, but it successfully proves that pursuing architectural projects that champion social causes need not necessarily be mutually exclusive with the economic goals of a private design firm. Website: https://www.caukinstudio.com/ All photos are courtesy of CAUKIN Studio
by Ryan Teo, Ng Wen Qi 53
Case Study: Naidi Community Hall Project Name: Naidi Community Hall Location: Vanua Levu, Fiji Date Designed: 2018 Date Completed: 2018 (completed in 8 weeks) Size: 130 sqm Client: Naqaqa Giving Foundation, the Naidi community Donor: Naqaqa Giving Foundation - The Jazmin Fund
Abstract In the Naidi village of Vanua Levu, a community hall that previously served a total of 400 people from 75 households in the community have been deemed unsafe for use for 7 years. CAUKIN Studio, a design firm focused on providing accessible architecture to communities such as Naidi village stepped in to design for a community hall that can both satisfy the functional needs and ensure cultural continuity for the population. Constructed over the course of 8 weeks using locally sourced timber in collaboration with structural designer Centrespace Deign and funded by The Jazmin Fund, the hall was a replicable model of a cyclone resistant community space that can be rebuilt throughout other local communities in Fiji.
Cultural and Historical Context The community hall is valued in Fijian culture as an integral space that upholds the key functions and traditions of the village. As such, a missing community hall means a lack of an event space for meetings, celebrations and funerals - activities essential to cultural bonding and belonging for the Naidi villagers.
Genesis of Project In order to realise the project, CAUKIN studio partnered with The Jazmin Fund, a charitable arm of the Naqaqa Giving Foundation to fund its construction. The designers first began with an on-site collaborative dialogue with the local Naidi residents, who have expressed the need for the community hall to provide a space for singing, handmade crafting, and Meke (a traditional Fijian dance) performances. This participatory design process directly influenced the form of the community hall, which took on the form of a theatre stage in lieu with the communityâ€™s common passion for the performing arts. The structure features steps which led out from the interior space (stage) to the centre of
the village, as well as high ceiling heights with windows that allow natural light to accentuate the performance space within. The unique counter weighted doors on the front faĂ§ade are also kept mostly open to create an open stage and an inviting space for the Naidi residents. The aesthetic form of the project exudes the cultural character of the community, and further enhances the identity of the Naidi village by its ability to accommodate various arts-based functions that are unique to its societal context.
Design The new community hall aims to fill the void left by the old community hall and more, by picking up where the previous community hall has failed by accounting for the natural elements that have destroyed its predecessor. Elevated floorboards and extensive cross bracing were structural design decisions made with the goal of creating a cyclone resistant, flood proof community hall that will remain functional in the long run and provide shelter when cyclones hit the island. 54
Use of sustainable, local materials for construction
Community hall serving as a community classroom
The Naidi community hall primarily uses locally sourced timber in its structural framing, wall cladding and roof sheeting, which blends seamlessly with the natural landscape of the island. The villagers have also adorned the interiors with locally produced handicraft and tapestries, providing an additional cultural touch and shared ownership to the communal space. The simple yet effective design of the community hall has enabled it to be functionally adaptable to the needs of the Naidi community. Since its completion, Naidi community hall has become a cultural epicentre for the village, serving as the venue for a myriad of rich cultural activities such as dance performances, womenâ€™s club meetings, and weddings. 55
Providing a conducive activity space for the naidi womenas club
open sourced construction drawings made available for replication or rebuilding in the long run
Impact on Community CAUKIN studio is known for projects that offer meaningful solutions to social, environmental and economic issues. The studio also aligns its aspirations for each project with UN sustainable development goals, which are clearly expressed in the Naidi community hall: i. Responsible Consumption and Production: The use of locally sourced materials for the construction of the community hall translates into a smaller carbon footprint as transportation fuels are omitted from the building process. Additionally, it allows for the replication of the community hall throughout Fijiâ€™s communities where similar materials can be readily found on site.
ii. Gender Equality: By making use of the community hall as a place to engage women to make and sell handicraft or to attend activities organised by Naidi’s women club, the space has helped highlight the value of women’s roles in the Naidi village. iii. Quality Education: The community hall doubles up as an education venue that extends learning opportunities to the children in the community. iv. Sustainable Cities & Communities: By prioritising a cyclone resistant, durable structure, the longevity of the Naidi community hall is ensured, enabling the architecture to become an enduring cultural icon for the Naidi villagers.
Discussions and Lessons The Naidi community hall has been met with largely positive responses by the public and online community: it targets a real and pertinent issue that the targeted community (in this case the Naidi villagers) might not have the resources to solve, and executed the project in a culturally sensitive and constructive manner. Beyond the completion of the Naidi community hall, CAUKIN studio has also conducted a one year postproject review with the Naidi community, which showed that the community hall is still being used actively to host events and social activities. The construction details of the community hall has been made publicly available for villages across Fiji, which allows them to replicate the typhoon-resistant design in their own community as well. The effort in ensuring the long term sustainability of their project is one that other social architecture projects might overlook, and is one that shows the studio’s genuine motivations in its strive towards architecture for a greater cause.
Looking back at Singapore, the social vibrancy that the Naidi community hall has brought to the village is one that is reminiscent of Singapore’s past kampung days, and it is also a spirit that our public spaces today seek to reinvent and recreate. There is also an element of using public spaces to promote social equity within the Naidi community, where the community hall becomes a common space for all regardless of gender or social status. There is much to be learnt about the way design was approached in this project: a specific need was identified, members of the community were rallied in the realisation of the project (from its conceptualisation to the building process), which ultimately gave a greater sense of ownership and appreciation for the new community hall. There is a potential for public spaces to similarly promote social equity and re inject vibrancy into our communities in Singapore. Particularly in the current context where discussions on marginalised communities or overlooked pockets of society are commonplace on social media platforms, perhaps public spaces can serve as a starting point for these difficult but necessary conversations to be organically held in real life through participatory design of a common public space.
There was a comment made on how such projects were “experiments on poor countries”, which in our opinion was unfounded, especially since the project provided a much needed cultural and social gathering place which directly benefited the Naidi community. The design was to the point, there were no unnecessary interventions made with vested interests, and the ground-up design process meaningfully engaged residents from the ideation to construction phases of the project. 56
Joshua Peasley Co-founder and Director
Harrison Marshall Co-founder and Director
Democratic education, quality design, accessible for all. “Every human being should have the opportunity and tools to shape the spaces they inhabit. We should all benefit from the quality of life that is achieved through informed design. Construction has to reduce its environmental impact on our planet.” A design studio first founded by a group of architectural students, with a focus on architecture projects with a social cause. The firm believes in giving ownership of design to the community, and to grant access to better designed spaces to all. Since 2015, CAUKIN studio has worked on more than 25 design and construction projects globally, with a majority of these done with an emphasis on empowering the community and using architecture as a solution for pertinent social issues.
The main objective of the interview was to get a better understanding of CAUKIN studio’s design philosophy, their various experiences as well as extracting possible key learning points from the design process framework they have established and implemented in the many social architecture projects the firm has undertaken over the years. Moreover, we were also interested in hearing from them if they had any advice for the next generation of architects, especially if those who are interested in pursuing a similarly less conventional route in their careers. CAUKIN studio was selected due to their extensive experience and specialisation in projects aimed at providing accessible design to marginalised communities, as well as their studio’s focus on using participatory design as a main component in their design approach.
Selected Interview questions Q:
We would like to start off by asking the both of you a little about how your studio came about – we understand that the both of you were still architecture students when the studio was founded, which seems to be rather unconventional as we typically see the idea of starting a practice to be mainly reserved only for a more mature stage of our careers. Having said that, what were some of your experiences in the early years of the practice? It was definitely not the most conventional way of starting a practice – I think when we started out, we did not have the intention of it turning into our full-time job. It started off with one-off projects, and the ambition to start a practice came from an urge to gain experience but in a way that wasn’t just sitting behind a desk throughout our summer and doing an internship in the more traditional way. The idea came to contact charities or NGOs all over the world and see if there are any opportunities to get in contact with them and put our architecture education in good use. Back at the time we obviously had very limited experiences, qualifications, or portfolio works, so it was definitely very naïve of us to have this ambition but luckily we came across a charity that put their trust in us and from there we began this project as a group of friends and architecture students. It went quite successfully, and I think the most we learnt from that project was the value we could add to the project because of what we can learn from working with the community, and the local skill and knowledge that the community has. We found that there was a really great knowledge and experience for everybody involved, and this is something that we wanted to offer other students. We also knew that it was something we really enjoyed and wanted to keep doing and progress into more projects, to make bigger and better things. From there, we decided to start running more projects each summer, and to find a way in which we can do them in a more sustainable way, that wouldn’t force us to spend most of our time fundraising or doing a lot of logistical work. It evolved quite a lot from the first project which was quite informal to a
more organised approach where we have 6 key stakeholders that allow us to run these projects now in a more successful manner. The first of which is a local NGO partner. We would partner with a charity within the host country and they would be responsible for identifying the needs of the community, building up that sort of trust and network within the local country, organising local logistics, also funding raising for materials and equipment. The second stakeholder is the local community itself, who are involved right from the very beginning, from the brief making process and the design process, making sure that they have the sense of ownership over the building, inputting all their knowledge and skills into making sure that the building is actually what they want and need. We then got the sponsors and owners who are kind of an extension of our network and the NGO’s network, and the other people are involved either in person or financial, such as helping with the costs of materials, or it could be people providing their services such as engineers or environmental design specialists. Then there’s the international design participants, of the design workshops and the construction workshops, and the architecture teams all over the world. They bring their own knowledge and experience from their education, and in return they gain on-site skills and seeing that process from laying their foundation to a built project. There’s also the local skill workers – we work with the NGOs to identify who in the community would be best based to act as site project managers, people who already have the experience and competency, and their job would be to both educate us, the students and younger members of the community, to make sure that everybody is competent with the skill level and employability (to participate in the project). Finally there’s us, who act as facilitators, and our role in the project then really becomes the overseeing of the stakeholders, the design process, the construction process, making sure everybody is involved, that the community is heard, the NGO is heard.. and to put all of those pieces together. 58
Yeah I think as Harrison has said it was quite an unconventional way to start a practice, and as he has also mentioned that it wasn’t exactly that intentional. I think that because we were young and fairly inexperienced and naïve, that it meant that we did not let some of the risks get in the way or even considered what they were - so that naivety kind of helped us break the mold and get started
The studio has a mission statement “democratic education, quality design, accessible for all”, which reflects the broad focus that you guys have with regard to the community-focused, bottom up approach towards design. How did the firm arrive at this common goal and vision, and how has this been carried out in your past projects?
It was something that has definitely evolved over time and we’ve always had this idea as our ethos, but it has changed and morphed as the years have gone on. This version of it is fairly recent, but right from the very beginning of the first project, being a charitable project and working with an NGO... we straightaway realised how much architecture and design and engineering could help enhance the sort of spaces that people live in, in communities where people do not necessarily has the access to these skills or these resources. We knew that we wanted to tie that common theme throughout all of our projects and make sure that we maintain that kind of identity with all the communities that we are working with, and I think the three points – education, design and access, kept recurring and coming up in conversations, becoming a core part of our projects. The first theme is education, and for us to really scale the amount of impact we have, there needs to be a knock-on effect more than just the physical building itself. Through education we are able to do that, and we can use our projects as a vehicle to run these workshops to upskill people, such that beyond the individual project we can continue to have a knock-on effect for whatever future building
that is constructed in that area, which increases the mobility of the community and increases the sustainable income. That goes on to causing further impacts on children who are studying at the schools and hopefully inspire some of the younger generation to take on careers in engineering or architecture – so the possibilities are endless as we hope. In terms of the quality design statement, I think that’s a reflection of how we try to add value to a project, rather than simply building the typical standard facility that they would otherwise do themselves. It’s really about challenging how we can use our network, people and resources to add as much value as possible, so it may be looking at engineering to make our structures stronger against natural disasters, or working with environmental design specialists to use passive design methods to improve lighting in a classroom. So that is where the quality design statement is coming from and reflected on what we are interested in over here. Finally, the access to all statement is a reflection of how we want to make sure that quality design should not be something that is just for 1% of the people. I think a lot of architects and students fall into the trap of working for big practices that are designing these luxury homes that cost millions of pounds for a very small percentage of people around the world. This wealth of knowledge and experience that (architects) have; only a small percentage of people are can really experience it. That’s why we talk about broadening that reach and make sure that people are gaining access to this kind of knowledge and experience.
It is essentially to give as many people as possible the tools to shape the spaces around them through educating them and designing the structure, and yeah, that is kind of our mantra. It’s something that has always been done through our projects but we’ve never really put it into words until more recently, and the lockdown has given us more opportunity to do that, to think more critically about what we want and how we want to present ourselves, and how words can be used to do that.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 THE VALUE OF TREATING SOCIAL ARCHITECTURE PROJECTS AS AN UNENDING ENDEAVOR The project does not end when the building is built – there is value in conducting post project reviews, and in understanding ways in which the community has managed to adapt to the spaces that architecture has created. CAUKIN studio is an example of how architecture can be made to serve communities much better when the sole focus on design and concept (that most practices adopt) is shifted to a focus on ensuring sustainability and achieving long term social impact. Conducting post project evaluations are not only important in evaluating successes and potential oversights, but also in illuminating new ways of approaching design and new opportunities for architecture to bridge the gap between a community and its needs.
0.2 TURNING ADVERSITY INTO OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH Despite the tangible effects that a global pandemic has had on the progress of existing built projects, it is also an opportunity for architects to rethink and reevaluate their approach to design & architecture. In CAUKIN’s studio’s case, the studio has taken the downtime to reframe and express the firm’s design methodology and to identify clear aspirations that each of their projects moving forward should emulate. It has also given the team an additional layer of consideration in moving forward with their future projects in highly densified urban areas where social and public spaces will now be all the more valued in a post-pandemic world. As opposed to viewing Covid-19 as a roadblock, turning the challenge into a motivation to design better and future proof communities is an important lesson for all designers to takeaway.
0.3 IMPORTANCE OF ESTABLISHING A NETWORK OF STAKEHOLDERS As designers who are intervening from a third person perspective when it comes to undertaking community based, social architecture projects, CAUKIN studio’s experiences have shown us that establishing a strong network of stakeholders who are closely invested in the cause and resolving the issues faced by the community becomes critical. A framework of stakeholders, each capable of offering their unique insights and value add to the design process can greatly help in bridging the gap between a design idea and what a community actually needs and wants.
0.4 STRIKING THE BALANCE BETWEEN ORGANIC AND STRUCTURED The design framework of CAUKIN studio is motivated initially strongly by the structure provided from the design workshops they execute with the local inhabitants of the site, allowing them to gain valuable insights into the true needs and requirements of the user groups who would eventually inhabit the site. There is however still portions left intentionally undesigned to the day of construction to allow for design decisions to be made on site organically, which will allow for an easier transitional handover of ownership to the community.
0.5 WORDS OF INSPIRATION FOR THE NEXT GENERATION There is no better time to pursue your ambitions or ideas than at the start of your careers, as it is at this point where you would have an abundance of energy and passion, assisting you in overcoming the main fear plaguing taking this step - the intial lack of experience. Finding like-minded people with similar mindsets and ambitions would greatly help to share the workload as well as keeping everyone accountable to achieving a shared common goal. 60 60
0.7 SHAU About SHAU: SHAU (Rotterdam-Bandung) was established in 2009 by married partners, Florian Heinzelmann and Deliana Suryawinata, as two independent offices in Rotterdam and Munich and serves as common platform. Since 2012, SHAU has been running its office in Indonesia; first in Jakarta and currently in Bandung. SHAU works on multiple scales and typologies with a cultural-environmental agenda. Their work includes public spaces, vertical housing, visionary masterplans and microlibraries. Among other awards, SHAU received INDE.Awards 2018 ‘Influencer’ category, Small Firm of the Year in Sustainable Architecture from the American Architecture Prize 2017, Silver Prize from Lafarge-Holcim Award Asia-Pacific 2017 and was shortlisted for Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2019. Website: http://shau.nl/ All photos are courtesy of SHAU and taken by Sanrok Studio, Dudi Sugandi and Sonny Sandjaya.
Case Study: 100 Microlibraries Project Name: Bima Microlibrary Location: Taman Bima, Cicendo, Bandung, Indonesia Date Designed: 2015 Date Completed: 2016 Cost: 55,000 SGD Size: 160 sqm Architects: SHAU (Florian Heinzelmann, Daliana Suryawinata, Yogi Ferdinand with Rizki Supratman, Roland Tejo Prayitno, Aditya Kusuma, Octavia Tunggal, Timmy Haryanto, Telesilla Bristogianni, Margaret Jo, Angga Rosiawan, Aistyara Charmita) Client: Dompet Dhuafa, City of Bandung Sponsors: Dompet Dhuafa (Pocket for the Poor), Urbane Community, Indonesian Diaspora Foundation (IDF)
Abstract 100 Microlibraries by SHAU architects is the front runner of contextual placemaking efforts in Indonesia, with the mission of increasing access to education and literacy through architecture. The project has since produced 7 different microlibraries and many more are being planned to be built. Among all the microlibraries not all libraries managed to meet the mission and vision that SHAU Indonesia has. One defining factor that seems apparent is the collaborator profiles, especially the funders. The project also opt for a top down approach on the design while bottom up approach for the programming which makes the project an interesting social architecture project.
Cultural and Historical Context Since 2012, the SHAU founders started a project called the 100 Microlibraries, the project has a mission to make learning attractive and accessible through architectural design. The place is designed to be a social node which instills the idea that books are the window to the world.
by Hendriko Teguh, Wang Qiaorou 61
The idea’s first physical amalgamation was the Bima Microlibrary which garnered multiple awards and
nominations from Architizer A+ to World Architecture Community Award, the project highlights many pointers that many indonesian architects have been missing. The ideas like sustainability, alternative material, and a purpose built social public space is not common in Indonesia, and SHAU with their Microlibrary is challenging this notion. In August 2012 SHAU architects launched the vision of 100 Microlibraries with the mission to extend Indonesian children literacy through reading books. The genesis of the project took a warp speed process where the first 2 Microlibraries was completed in less than 4 years of its establishment. The power of an abstract exciting idea and collaboration is apparent in the project. The project not only garnered the interest of the community but also governments, non profits, and donors.
Genesis of Project With the idea being launched in mid 2012, after the first prototype was launched in 2013, Dompet Dhuafa, a non profit, started their support of the project. In 2013-
2014 site search was conducted and the then Mayor of Bandung, a fellow architect, Ridwan Kamil welcomed the idea and set aside a land plot to be the very first Microlibrary. The first project is called the located in Taman Bima hence the name Microlibrary Bima. With the support of the government Microlibrary Bima gained traction from the public and donors which ensured the continuation of the project.
Design Microlibrary Bima as the very first library is designed to be a landmark project that represents the possibility of Microlibraries that will be built in the future. The design of the Microlibrary touches upon the 4 key elements of the design which are the community, materiality, construction and sustainability. The project with the focus of the local community of the Taman Bima. An urban sprawl at the northwestern side of Bandung city. The location of the park is directly across the local Bima Kindergarten which is one of the main group of people that the Microlibrary would eventually serve. Serving both the urban residents and 62
students the building is designed to have 2 floors of functions, where the lower floor is a totally open space, creating a conducive space, open space for functions and gatherings while the top floor houses a collection of 700 books which comprises 40% of student textbooks and the other 60% includes topics like religion, politics, economics, and other common topics. The materiality of Microlibrary Bima is unique as the building uses old ice-cream tubes for both decoration and facade strategy, reimagining the potentials of building construction materials. The facade also doubles as a sustainability strategy, not only from the fact it is using an upcycled material, it is also designed to facilitate natural ventilation and daylighting. The materiality of it enables sunlight to be diffused through the translucent ice cream tubs while cut holes on the tubs enables for natural ventilation. The project construction is made as a floating box with I-beams and concrete slabs for floor and roof lifting the 63
whole mass up while keeping the elegant look. The size of the Microlibrary enabled the library to have a total open space beside the 4 corners where the columns are. The project stands as an important example of a Microlibrary typology that addresses severe constraints while also acts as an inspiration for the community and designers alike.
Impact on Community The microlibrary is catered to children and young people. Before the microlibrary was built, the square was already a gathering point for people from the kampung and neighbourhood. There was also a football court with moveable goal posts present. The same space remained even after the microlibrary was built for the children. After the microlibrary was built, people
who are gathering there started getting curious and enter the library. Eventually, they grab a book and start reading. Nida, a frequent visitor of the Taman Bima Microlibrary mentioned in the “Taman Bima Microlibrary by TheAgaKhanAward” video that she goes to the microlibrary 2 or 3 times a week. “It is a better way to spend my spare time. I feel comfortable to be here because the environment is so cosy and there are so many books that I can read.” From the same video, it shows that a neighbourhood school nearby also uses the microlibrary once a week as an extension of their school’s curriculum as they do not have their own library in their school. The sheltered open space below the microlibrary serves as a space for resting and informal gatherings for both young and old. People also gather there for the wifi. Many more Microlibraries projects are being planned online. Fom the currently built fibonacci Microlibrary to helicoid Microlibrary. The project has also expanded from the city of Bandung to Bojonegoro and Semarang. This proves that SHAU is not only trying to help the Bandung population but also other parts of Indonesia, in hopes of creating a ripple effect to commmunities.
Discussions and Lessons Microlibraries such as Bima, Hanging Gardens and Warak Kayu have seen sucess thus far due to the carefully thought out design along with the huge support from funding partners and the publicity campaigns. With renowned companies such as Exxonmobil, IDF and Manila Water backing the project, the maintenance and continuation of services at the microlibraries are ensured. However, there are some other microlibraries with lesser funding and publicity that are neglected. Other well designed projects like the Selasar Microlibrary were unable to gain meaningful public traction at the time of writing of this report. Many of these projects also do not have sponsors currently. This further proves the importance of funding partners.
that is usually coupled with toilet in Indonesia may have resulted in less positive perception. SHAU also mentioned in the Kompasiana article that the project is tied with severe constraints such as funding and the perceived needs of the project. A more collaborative process is something SHAU is still striving to achieve in Indonesia. The 100 Microlibraries project is definitely a great idea where SHAU acts as the forerunner of social architecture and placemaking. They show the world that small spaces have the potential to have a large impact on the community. Massive gesture is not always required. Through understanding the needs and context of a place, these Microlibraries could drive the community towards a better future. In Singapore, social architecture is often associated with big gestures, such as Our Tampines Hub, Kampung Admiralty, and Bedok Heartbeat. These buildings provide public spaces in a more centralised manner and at a larger scale. The 100 Microlibraries approach of reimagining public spaces can inspire us to create smaller yet impactful, environmentally friendly spaces. Large public spaces that also serves limited geographical localities are often costly and require airconditioning. Perhaps if I were to have Microlibraries in Singapore, many students would not be seen studying in Starbucks or McDonalds.
The Microlibrary Lansia is another project that is subjected to criticism due to its less open design compared to other microlibraries. The floating box seems more enclosed than a open and outward looking public place, which might be the reason for its limited traction and usage. In addition, the infilled musholla 64
Florian Heinzelmann Founder of SHAU
Daliana Suryawinata Founder of SHAU
Florian Heinzelmann PhD, Dipl.-Ing. (FH), M. Arch., SBA His graduation project with Tobias Hofmann won an International Archiprix 2003. He worked for three years as a project architect at UNStudio, van Berkel & Bos in Amsterdam. He was project manager for the ReVolt House, the TU Delft entry for the Solar Decathlon 2012. Florian has taught master courses and worked on a PhD research at the Faculty of Built Environment at the TU Eindhoven with Prof. Dr.-Ing. Patrick Teuffel. He speaks in many conferences worldwide. Daliana Suryawinata B. Sc., M. Arch., IAI Her earlier working experience includes Andra Matin Architects and Han Awal and Partners. She has worked for Office for Metropolitan Architecture/ OMA (Rem Koolhaas) between 2005-2006, and freelanced at MVRDV and West8. Daliana has taught master courses at The Why Factory at TU Delft and the Berlage Institute. She is doing a PhD-by-design research in Urbanism with Prof. Winy Maas (MVRDV). She also founded the Liveable Cities Taskforce at the Indonesian Diaspora Network. 65
We are very fortunate to be able to reach out to SHAU and ask them questions on their design inspirations, advices and struggles. In response to our questions, SHAU shared with us their personal take on the importance of local community involvement in their projects, their approach to environmental responsibility as well as the effects of COVID-19 pandemic this year on their work.
Selected Interview questions Q:
What inspired both of you to start SHAU? Do you consider yourself as social architects, why or why not?
We have been working for other well-known companies in Germany, Indonesia, and the Netherlands before like OMA, UNStudio, MVRDV and West 8. However, it was always clear to us that this is an intermediate step before starting our own firm. It was just a question of when to do it. Do we see ourselves as social architects? Difficult question. What is a social architect? We for sure have a social and environmental agenda but we also need to operate as company and need to generate income to pay our staff and ourselves. Yes, we do work for communities, sometimes less paid but in the end the balance has to be right. We actually prefer smart solutions where every party involved is benefiting in as many ways as possible.
On Microlibraries: “Buku adalah Jendela Dunia” (The book is a window to the world) is a phrase that inspired this movement. Can you tell us more about this phrase and its effect on the Microlibrary movement? How would you describe your microlibraries design approaches?
When we designed the first Microlibrary Bima, we had the ice cream buckets for the façade in which we wanted to cut holes into for having better cross ventilation and were thinking how to arrange them. We could have done a random pattern but then we realized we can interpret them as ones and zeros, as binary code. So we went to back-then Mayor and current governor of West Java Ridwan Kamil (our patron for many libraries) and asked him what message does he want to inscribe on the façade and he said: ‘Buku adalah jendela Dunia’. Books are the windows to the world, a quote made in similar versions by many bibliophiles before. We ourselves have great interest in books and have spent countless hours reading out loud to our son and therefore think that books especially for kids should play an essential part in everyone’s lives. So yes, books indeed are windows to another world. Especially for those who might not
be that mobile and able to travel. Many authors have not been to the places they are writing about, but only travelled in their imagination, and we are not talking about science fiction or fantasy literature. In Indonesia, unfortunately, reading a book is often seen as punishment. Therefore, one of our design strategies is to design around communities and activities to lure children and parents inside. Creating ludic places in order to make them read. Changing people’s attitude towards reading and books, transforming it into something positive due to a great experience they have at Microlibraries.
SHAU has built a few microlibraries so far and there are more coming in your pipeline. Looking at the reception from the communities there are more projects that are accepted better than others, how do you think the involvement of the local community is crucial? Would SHAU revisit past Microlibrary projects and improve them?
Yes, it is crucial, and we learned that the hard way. The story of Microlibraries includes not only successes but also struggles. One is turned into a mushola (prayer room) and one got torn down by the regent of Bojonegoro to erase her predecessor’s legacy. Luckily, the positive results are outweighing the bad ones. However, we are not going to design a library anymore without knowing beforehand or during the design process who the community will be. We are not talking about the people who will visit but more like the volunteers and people who will be positioned there. Without a good community which organizes events and activities, the library will be just an empty shell and it will fail. The community is actually the most important part. You can have a library in a shed as long as you have people coming, reading, taking care, and organizing. The building itself almost does not matter. Of course, a good design helps a lot to create a special place and identity for the neighborhood. And in the case of microlibraries we are indeed using architectural design to attract users. Great design is an added value. In terms of improvement, it is a constant journey for 66
us to successively improve our designs but also communication with the communities and finding the right partners.
One of your missions stated is to create environmentally responsible designs. In what ways is environmental responsibility integrated into your projects? What are some challenges that SHAU has faced in trying to be environmentally responsible?
have to be responsible in financing ourselves. Just because we do work for communities does not mean we and our staff do not deserve a salary.
What are some books that every architect should read?
Florian: I am not so presumptuous to tell people what they should read, because everybody has their own interest. However, I found the recent book by our friend Nirmal Kishnani with the title Ecopuncture very interesting. I recently started to read Gottfried Semper’s The Four Elements of Architecture and had quite some laugh because of his snarky comments about his contemporary society. Need to finish it though. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel DeLanda is a must read. I still need to read Philosophy and Simulation. I have it on my phone but did not find time. Peter Sloterdijk’s Spheres III is a great read but one has to be critical with his more recent opinions towards refuges in Germany and gender questions.
We want to always include that aspect into our buildings. With Microlibraries it is actually quite easy to do so since we are not only responsible for the design but also often securing our own sponsors and therefore have larger degree of freedom to make end decisions. Due to the building size, we can do a lot with passive climatic strategies, plants, or material aspects. The challenges are more at bigger commercial projects especially housing with developers. Commercial projects still view green building as a buzz word, something to lure the client to buy their “product” without taking that matter really seriously, because it would be too much investment and thus not cost-efficient. In that respect, iIndonesia is also more challenging. The general public has grown more environmentally aware, but the regulations or the enforcement thereof do not support that. And developers do not have better solutions.
As Architects with many social projects, how do you ensure the sustainability of your practice, what are your tips for other architects that would like to be more involved in social architecture? We cross-finance projects at the office in a balanced way. We have commercial projects from masterplans to performing arts center. For microlibraries, the design fee is calculated in a fair way too. We all need to pay rent, tax, salaries, insurances and other costs too. It is not easy at times and here and then there is a struggle. But famous architecture practices worldwide also have similar problems. Because architecture design is less about the money and more about contributing great designs to society. But we
Daliana: “Ekistics” by Doxiadis- rare book but very interesting. Then “49 Cities” by WorkAC, which has a comparison of mostly visionary urban designs ever made. “Theories and manifestoes of contemporary architecture” edited by Charles Jencks and Karl Kropf. Good to have: “S M L XL” by OMA and “FARMAX” by MVRDV- architects should have these two classics on their book racks.
Any pieces of advices for budding architects today? Be open to everything. Accept differences in people. Do not only hang out with architects; they do not have projects. Better start something rather than ponder while overthinking it. You do not know your journey ahead and as much as you think you know what you want and you are in control, your environment and opportunities will shape you. Sure, have a stance and an opinion but again be open and flexible. The universe’s only constant is change.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 HOLISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF USERS With many different stakeholders and user groups, there are many elements that play into the design of a space. Often architects would focus on attending to the user group needs without understanding who are the operators of the space, this issue is especially important in a social architecture project where the community themselves are the volunteers and the operators. Through SHAU’s experience with the microlibraries, we see the importance of understanding the community and ensuring that there will be a group of people from the community who will be willing to maintain and take ownership of the place, before the architecture for the community is actually built.
0.2 LONG TERM COMMUNICATION Long term communication with the community as well as understanding the nature and culture of the target community is essential in determining the success of social architecture projects. We should not be naive to assume that whatever we design and build for the community will fulfil its intended purpose naturally by itself. Ensuring long term communication between stakeholders including looking for right partners and communities is significant to ensure the continuity of a project.
0.3 CROSS-FINANCING Cross-financing refers to the architects initiative to balance the projects revenue from one project to another as a whole, where the higher value projects should be able to balance those lower or even no revenue projects. This is an important lesson to ensure the sustainability of the firm while continuing the effort to promote architecture to create great designs to society. We should be pragmatic on our practice.
0.4 SOCIAL INTERVENTION We have learnt that social architecture has the power to shift cultural norms and empower the community. The degree at which social architecture alters the users’ existing usage habits affects the success rate of the project. The lesser we intrude, the more likely we see positive results. From the microlibraries project, we see that SHAU’s intention for the project was not just to serve the communities as a programmatic space. Instead, they are attempting to shift the community’s cultural perception and attitude towards reading through creating positive experiences around the activity for the target users. Through integrating libraries into a comfortable environment where its target community has always been patronising, the intervention does not change their existing habits drastically.
0.5 PROGRAMMATIC FREEDOM When a group of personas or users of the space are identifies, it often causes us to limit our scope of design to these specific users. Often architects and space operators pursue the pristine and sterile use of the space as per designed and not allow creativity and freedom of space use. The two projects SHAU’s projects, Taman Film and Alun-Alun Cicendo shows that the community ownership and creative space use actually enabled these spaces to achieve success.
0.8 IX Architects About IX Architects IX Architects Pte Ltd (IXA) is a corporatized architectural practice registered with the Board of Architects, Singapore. IXA is also listed under the panel of Consultant for Public Sector projects with the Building and Construction Authority. From their beginnings in 2004, they are now a well-established and recognized regional architectural practice. IXA excels on providing professional architectural services with personalized, quality touches. IXA’s achievement of the International Standards Organization (ISO) – ISO9001 and ISO14001 accreditation in 2011 further cement their commitment to quality services. They strive to design and deliver high standard and creative works that are responsive to client’s needs and budget. Website: https://ixa.com.sg/ All photos are courtesy of IX Architects.
Case Study: “More than a library” Project Name: Books and Cubes Location: Cambodia Date Designed: 2017 Date Completed: 2018 Size: Client: Kiriminoen School Donor: The Cambodian Community Dream Organisation (CCDO)
Abstract Books and Cubes is a learning space designed to inspire the children of rural Cambodia. Nestled quietly on a primary school campus, students can use this library in all weathers and even during electrical shortages. Despite being in a pure cube form, the library embraces the entire site and complements other school activities. Villagers had a part to play in fabricating the finishes for the library, thereby developing a sense of ownership amongst the overall community. This also celebrates the local handicraft culture. The biggest gift lies in the integration of the library into the campus. The cubes sit on a raised slab that doubles as a performance space. This activity space extends the learning space beyond the conventional classroom. During the Project Opening Day on 15 June 2018, IXA, along with fellow volunteers, visited the beneficiary school and put up an amazing musical performance on stage as part of the festivities. They have also contributed to the students’ lunch and ice cream for the day. The students of Kiriminoen School were elated to receive the gift of the library and immensely enjoyed themselves on that day.
by Nidhi Hegde 69
Cultural and Historical Context
Genesis of Project
Front View of Performance Deck and Library
Siem Reap province is located in northwest Cambodia. It is the major tourist hub in Cambodia, as it is the closest city to the world famous temples of Angkor (the Angkor temple complex is north of the city). The provincial capital is also called Siem Reap and is located in the South of the province on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, the greatest sweet water reserve in whole Southeast Asia.
Cambodia still ranks lowest in Southeast Asia for the education dimension of the World Bankâ€™s Knowledge Economy Index. There is insufficient staff in schools. In addition, over 60% of the primary and secondary school teachers received at most secondary education, which thus compromises the quality of education. A severe scarcity of schools and classrooms, particularly in the rural areas, limit the number of children who have access to education. Most Cambodian villages have a primary school, but they are not complete and do not offer a full 1-6 grade curriculum.
Initiated and crowd-funded by IX Architects Pte Ltd, Project Books and Cubes is a learning space nestled quietly on a primary school campus, in a rural village in Siem Reap. The space also doubles as a performance venue. Though small in stature, it is an incubator of big dreams for the children of rural Cambodia. The project involved both the local communities in Singapore of 5 families and the community in Siem Riep. On top of simply building a learning space, there was community acitivities organised where they had joint art and craft sessions and a community lunch. It is a pro-bono architectural project by IX Architects as part of their coporate social responsibility. They did not simply build an infrastructure but focused on community involvement and learning opportunities on both ends.
Design A pure cube form, the library sits on a raised slab that doubles as a creative performance space. The raised slab is also to allow the library to remain accessible to 70
Side View of the Elevation Design the children even in times of flood. The design intent was for the library to be low cost, low maintainence and easily replicable. The library extends the learning space beyond the conventional classroom. Every detail in the library is carefully thought through. Bookshelves of various depths are designed to accommodate books and integrated child-sized reading pods. The differences in depth also become foothold for children to scale up to the reading pod easily. The design and scale of the library was conceived in order to enable off-site fabrication. Each of the three cubes is designed to be tactile and movable, encouraging fun learning and active use of the space. Although fabricated off-site, the library is orientated to fit in harmoniously with the school playground, classrooms and surrounding greenery. 71
There are also two double pivoting rattan screen doors with 36 unique designs in between the 3 cubes when pushed together. The design was also inspired by local craft and pays homage to the community. Many hands on sessions were done to understand the context of the craft. Villagers also had a part to play in fabricating the finishes for the library. This is part of the design teamâ€™s commitment to celebrating local craft and culture, which helps develop a great sense of ownership amongst the overall community.
Impact on Community The community was elated with the library as the design was done in a way that it became a dual use space. A new typology was created to specifically fit the needs of the community and enhance it. The design allowed it to be a performative and function space. Close to 500 English books were donated which could also help to improve literacy rates. The school could now host outdoor programmes or invite other guests to speak at the venue without a space constraint. The typology is also unique as it is open concept but provides a conducive environment to read for the children and learn. This provides an enphasis on education that is sometimes lost in developing countries due to other socioeconomic factors. Potentially, the project could start a domino effect of inspiring the community to do other things. For example, since the design is replicable and easy to construct, it could inspire them to fund raise on their own to create more of these libraries and provide kids a reading space. The importance of Books and Cubes is that it provides a platform and empowers the community for change.
Discussions and Lessons There are many lessons that we can learn from this project. Firstly, it is one that is senstive to the context and transcends the idea of just a library. The design is one that is a catalyst in the community. The design is also participatory as it involves families on both ends, Singapore and Cambodia. It gives the development more meaning as compared to something commercial as there is a human and emotional aspect that goes into the design. I would think a strong learning point for Singapore is how we often have little participation even in designs that crop up in our neighbourhood. Often times, it is handled by a government authority with little input of people living in the space. More than just a library has done well as when the villagers are involved, the space starts feeling like more of their own. It transforms from an innovative exploration on infrastructure to a space that will mean something. It gives people memories for life and is a catalyst for changing mindsets towards important issues like education.
Chu Yang Keng founder of IX Architects
Ar. Chu Yang Keng is the founder of IX Architects Pte Ltd, a recognized architectural practice established since 2004. Chu graduated with a Master degree in architecture from NUS and was appointed one of the Panel of PPE Examiners with the Board of Architects, Singapore. Chu actively contributes to the fraternity and is an active member with the SIA SMAP committee member since 2009. As a registered ASEAN architect, Chu has been practicing both locally and in the region. Cambodia is a country where Chu has built a diverse portfolio in a wide range of projects over the last decade. With a strong interest in nature centric designs, Chu aspires to create environmentally conscious architecture that inspires and enhances the quality of life. Chuâ€™s accomplishment in social projects has also won his firm an Honourable Mention in the annual SIA Design Awards.
Ar. Chu Yang Keng aspires to create outstanding environmentally conscious designs that inspire and enhance the quality of life. A good architectural design has to respond well to its particular context, taking the physical, social and economic aspects into careful consideration. His design emphasis is on the intertwined relationship between the natural and built environment, where we consciously create harmonious, sustainable and functional spaces. The objective of the interview was to learn more about his passion behind social architecture and how participatory community design can really change the landscape of the community. He is an architect that goes out of his way to do pro bono projects in rural communities that require an architectural intervention. The interview was also crucial to his insights regarding the difficulties that can arise in these projects and how we as architects can tackle them in the future.
Selected Interview questions Q:
What sparked your passion for social issues and using architecture as a medium?
Corporate Social Responsibility has always been part of our company’s culture since its inception in 2004. We conducted a fundraising for an orphanage in Vietnam and visited the children as an office in the year 2008. This was followed with our involvement with our local Sun Love Home, as an event sponsor as well as helping out on food distribution on an ad-hoc basis. We are thankful for the opportunities to work on projects in Phnom Penh city for the past 10 years. The humble library project is just a small way of giving back to the people of Cambodia. I just thought as an architect I could contribute in a meaningful way that also puts my skills to the best use.
What are some social issues in Cambodia that could benefit from an architectural intervention? Can design solve some of these pressing issues developing countries face?
The majority of underprivileged people in developing countries do not have access to and any form of contact with an architect. The project we did was very much a modest but direct contribution to a small underprivileged community. Yes, good design can definitely enhance the wellbeing of the people at large and allow for resources to be put to optimal use. Essentially, we wish that our humble intervention can raise awareness and inspire more of such
What inspired your team to conceptualise the “More than just a library” project?
We are certain that education is a sustainable way for children to exit the vicious cycle of poverty. Having completed a few library projects in Singapore, we wanted to explore a library that could be fabricated off-site and transported to a remote rural place economically,
quickly and readily to be used. In addition, we strive for a library that responds to the deficiency of a rural context and remains as a sustainable facility in the long term.
An interesting point posted on the firm’s website is that 44 NGOs have been approached to sustain, operate and manage the Library in the long run. CCDO was then chosen as the primary beneficiary. We would love to know the selection process and what was performed to ensure a large extent of credibility as well as continued participation of stakeholders could be achieved?
The fact was the majority of the 44 NGOs did not respond to us, as probably it was unbelievable that an architecture firm so far away was giving away a library. I did a visit to the shortlisted organizations personally, to ensure that the chosen one was indeed in need of the proposed project. It was also necessary to make sure that the organization had the relevant support to run a programme and upkeep the library in future.
Were there difficulties trying to communicate with the local community prior to commencing the project, e.g. when interviewing children using the space? What are other challenges and constraints that cropped up/typically arise in social architecture projects and how were they combated?
The process was generally enjoyable and my regular visits to the site helped to put across the expectations of the delivery. However, even while operating on a comfortable pace we still faced a critical problem halfway through the construction phase. The builder, who had all along been very supportive of this project, got into financial difficulty. He avoided all communication despite the completion deadline drawing near and I had to make a personal visit to his place to resolve his personal problem together. Otherwise, we are thankful that our partner CCDO on the ground was very cooperative to facilitate the involvement with the 74
Could you please share more about your latest project? How it started and evolved over the course? What are some learning points to takeaway from it
We are currently working on a tertiary educational complex in Phnom Penh. This is a formal and forward-looking institutional project. Our nature-centric design approach aims to allow the user to have a close connection with the environment, and we also injected programmes that encourage social interaction
Following the success of the More than just a Library project, how do you think the lives of the community will change with the introduction of the Library? How does one ensure architectural resilience, especially when it comes to trying to impact the lives of these children in the long run? Did you observe any new social behaviours that arose from the project implementation
We involved the school community during the process and hoped that they would take pride in their library. We were heartened to learn from the videos sent by the school that the children love the completed library very much. We gathered that many children prefer our library to the playground next to it. The school volunteers have also used the space as an outdoor learning space, rather than just a place for books. Besides the school community, the project has also benefited the 25 of us from Singapore who attended the handing over ceremony. Our group comprised of my colleagues as well as 5 young Singaporean families with 11 children in total. It was an enriching experience for all of us, and definitely a good exposure for all our kids.
The design fabrication of screens really stood out. As the implementation of the traditional craft was supported and performed by the locals, were there instances where certain designs were preferred over the other, and if so, how were these designs reconciled at the end? If not, how did all the designs come together to form the cube facade?
There was a strong intent to reflect the essence of the Khmer culture and give it an inspirational feel. Our team of designers came up with a few 1:1 scale mock ups using actual rattan in our office, in order to understand the nature and limit of the material. It was an exploratory process with reference to Khmer daily household items found in the rural area. We tested numerous designs and eventually settled with 36 designs that appear rich in texture, and yet could be achieved economically.
Will IXA continue to participate in social projects internationally? Do you see a possibility in extending the same value of community work in the context of Singapore? What might the reason for the lack of community work in Singapore be attributed to? How can the community actively contribute to social schemes apart from monetary contributions?
We certainly wish to continue to pursue social projects in the region and locally where possible. There are many community initiatives around in Singapore. However, works related to our built environment are regulated tightly and we wish there could be more room and support for ground-up initiatives. I feel we are generally better off than people in the developing countries. More attention could be channeled to the needy in our neighbouring countries that do not even have the fundamentals such as having a latrine in a house. I believe that collectively we can be a stronger team if we collaborate. We just have to spread the message and get it going. I am very glad that the library project has been an encouraging one and it motivated me to lead another humanitarian project on the provision of 100 latrines in early 2020. It was a project that brought together more than 20 Singapore architects and friends, as well as more than 100 Cambodian villagers and students. We faced challenges too but I have learnt that nothing can stop us if we do it wholeheartedly and persevere on. The truth is we take away far more than what we have given.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 SENSITIVITY TO CULTURE Social architecture can be one that is sensitive to the cultural context. Functional spaces can be reminiscent of the culture through design without compromising on it’s function. Through this, it ensures that the architectural intervention is not one that is isolated and is accepted by the community. This makes the spaces useable and increases the connection the community has with it. This will instill a sense of pride as the community has a sense of involvement and accountability.
0.4 CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY The firm is intriguing because they are a firm that does commercial and residential projects. However, these social projects are done as part of their corporate social responsibility. It engages employees using architecture which is their strength to do interventions that are unique to them. Typicially corporate firms, engage in social projects that are quite generic in nature while IX architects provides a unique viewpoint.
0.2 CREATING A FRAMEWORK A learning point was the approach to the project. It is a functional space of a library but due to the nature of it’s construction, being able to be fabricated off site and being low cost it creates a framework. This framework is important because it takes into account the limitations of the community and creates a framework that can be replicated across the country. It works well for developing countries for it’s low cost, low maintainence and functional. Often times architects design ad hoc spaces that are not easily replicable defeating the purpose of tackling a social issue.
0.3 AD-HOC INTERVENTIONS
0.5 COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT A special learning point of this project is that it engages the community in Singapore as well as Cambodia. It is a two sided initiative that allows Singaporeans to learn from making this social impact. It encourages interaction of these sides and enables the developed countries to see the need of giving back to the community and those that are more in need. It encourages this dialogue and possibly is a catalyst for change at a broader scale.
When architectural interventions aim to tackle social issues- in this case education, porjects cannot be done on an ad-hoc basis of one intervention in one country. In developing countries, there is usually a strong poverty cycle which waters down the emphasis on education. Social interventions like these have to be repeated multiple times in one country/community in order to really hit home. IX architects does more than one project in a country and really focuses on a holistic development which is effective and a sustainable way of change. 76
0.9 Kjellander Sjöberg
Case Study: Cultural Block Ostersund :
About Kjellander Sj oberg Architecture: Kjellander Sjöberg is based in Stockholm, Sweden and provides architectural and urban design services in the Nordic countries. Established in 1998, it is currently a multinational medium-sized office led by partners Ola Kjellander, Stefan Sjöberg, Mi Inkinen and Lena Viterstedt. Kjellander Sjöberg believes that the built environment influences social progress, quality of life and cultural richness. Innovation and sustainability are 2 key drivers in their design. Creating work that is innovative and unexpected while maintaining synergy between resources, high quality built environments and rich social experiences are a part of their philosophy. Website: https://kjellandersjoberg.se/ All photos are courtesy of Kjellander Sjöberg.
Project Name: Cultural Block Östersund Location: Östersund, Sweden Date Designed: 2017 Date Completed: In Progress Size: 26,500 sqm Client: Östersund Municipality, Diös Programme: Culture
Abstract Kjellander Sjöberg lists a variety of projects ranging from housing developments to parks, as well as holding exhibitions. Gustav III Square was chosen as a case study due to the project recently having concluded its public hearing, and would serve to be a fresh discussion about the design processes as well as the integration of the local community in the design discourse. Bridging on the Square’s history of being a public square, the project aims to use its central location in the city and transform it into an asset to the city center by increasing mobility through it and activating the site with multiple programs. The detailed plan is developed for both the Östersund municipality as well as the real estate company Diös and each party’s interests in profitability and public use are expressed in a delicate balance in the design of the square. The design also aims to produce significant impacts to the community in terms of social, ecological and economic impacts. This project encourages the engagement of more active discourse, transparency and more participation in future developments, especially to areas with historical significance.
by Fadhilah Nordin, Shawn Low 77
Cultural and Historical Context Between Late 1800s to 1900s, Gustav III Square (known as Nytorget), known to be a public square, was used as a market, for entertainment, demonstrations and meetings. In 1928, the name of the square changed from Nytorget to Gustav III Square to commemorate the city’s founders. Since then, the square, located in central Östersund, was used as a bus terminal to provide transport services to the surrounding countryside. The site still currently functions as a bus terminal.
Genesis of Project Östersund municipality, together with the real estate company Diös, initiated a research to transform the square into a public gathering point for the city with multiple programs. The location of the square is a central location, and with high foot traffic between the bus terminal, libraries, universities and shopping district, it is an opportunity to be a great asset to the city center. However, between the bus terminal and the inconsistent street heights, the mobility within the site is greatly
limited. Hence, the detailed plan for the site is to create an efficient urban site for people to walk, cycle and ride supported by surrounding programs such as housing, offices, hotel, restaurant, and other public amenities. Several goals are established during the genesis of the project. They include: to integrate the programs (especially on the ground floor) with the surrounding city; to densify the city and offer a variety of housing typologies; and to adopt the city’s historical characteristics while building an energy-efficient construction through sustainable materials.
Design and Decision-Making The design process was multi-layered, which consisted of policies, developer’s goals, community feedback as well as the architect’s vision. The cultural and historical values in community planning were part of the master plan and hence serve as guides for decision making. The plan was also to provide green areas to purify storm water as well as the air and to reduce noise. Regarding traffic, pedestrians, cyclists and bus-users were given 78
priority over car-users. Children, the elderly and the disabled were given special consideration during the design phase. Generally, there was also an aspiration to ‘Design for all’, to inculcate a more inclusive spirit in society. This stemmed from the mentality that everyone should have the same opportunities to engage in all areas of society. This led to a public hearing between 20th April and 15th June 2020, to receive feedback from the local community about their concerns or queries. After the conclusion of the hearing, all views will be supposedly compiled and adjustments are then made to the proposal. The municipal board would then decide whether this new proposal would be sent out for reviewing. If the review is carried out, comments from the public would be submitted once more. Compilations are again carried out and the City Council would then adopt the plan. Though not exactly a ground-up approach, the process ideally gives ample opportunities 79
and time for the community to be part of the design process. With the City Council’s goal to reduce fossil carbon emissions by 100% by 2030, the project thus aims to utilise sustainable materials and methods of construction as well as having a focus on ecosystem services and ecological compensation. The final design will transform the Gustav III square from a parking space into a new urban space consisting of two residential blocks. The southern quarters will consist of a mixed-use development containing residential blocks with street-level public spaces and the northern quarters will house a hotel. Attention was paid to create a ‘human scale’ public space that is highly accessible for people to gather and socialise. Programmes range from valuable green spaces to amenities such as bike parking. The development of this area is also intended to spark further growth for the city in terms of economics as well as its overall attractiveness.
Impact on Community The impact on the community can be separated into three categories: Social, Ecological and Economical. On a social level, the project aims to be a safe space to connect people. The space has been designed to reduce hidden corners and to be well-lit to promote meetings between the cityâ€™s residents. Installations such as seats, art work and landscaping are aimed at enticing people to stay. A palette of activities are also provided to cater to many target groups to create inclusive space where all members of the community can come and interact. Ecological strategies in this area also help to filter and abosrb airborne pollutants from the traffic, and permeable surfaces help to delay stormwater runoff and hence prevents flooding during rainy seasons, providing a better infrastructure and environment for the local community. Economical impacts include an increasing number of companies relocating to this newly rejuvenated development. This would increase property value which could be a pro or a con for the local community. On the surface, this was supposed to be a positive impact by drawing in more traffic and subsequently more spending to businesses in this area.
Disccusions and Lessons Many were concerned about the arrangement or balance between public spaces and profitable spaces (e.g. library vs hotel). Since this is a joint project between the municipality and the real estate company, the distribution of the programs expresses the two interests. What is the balance or prioritization between the profitable spaces versus the public spaces, and will the interest of one tip the other? It is also unclear how much exposure the project is given to the public for them to feedback, and how much sway the public has over the project. This would be addressed in the Q&A section below. Touching on the economical impact, a deeper analysis could perhaps offer a counter-point to the genuine
intention of benefitting the community through an increased property value. This may benefit property owners, but residents renting apartments in this area could possibly not afford the rent anymore and are subsequently forced to move out, leading to the gentrification of this area. A similar parallel of intentions and results could be drawn from Londonâ€™s East End during the 2012 Olympic Stadium developments. The main takeaways here for Singapore would be to have an active discourse regarding future developments, especially to areas with historical significance. A more transparent process, which Singapore is normally known for, would have served to mediate the situation better. 80
Stefan Sjoberg Founding Partner
Stefan founded the practice with Ola Kjellander in 1998 and over two decades he has established an active and sustainable approach to the design and programming of the built environment. His work is firmly developed from an understanding and analysis of the urban fabric, culture, place, climate, use and local conditions, where his architecture always tells a story. With an engaged and creative mind-set, he believes in shaping integrated and successful projects for quality lifestyles; vibrant surroundings and new placemaking. He is driven by his passion for innovation and craftsmanship, with a pragmatic and technically coherent methodology. His design vision is to contribute to neighbourhoods and meeting places, for healthy and thriving communities. Stefan has received a range of awards and prizes for KS competition-winning designs and completed buildings. Alongside his architectural practice, Stefan is a frequent public speaker and initiates research through think tanks, work-shops and exhibitions.
This interview seeks to discuss Kjellander SjĂśbergâ€™s methodology with respect to public space design and involvement of various stakeholders. It also aims to spark discussions about realistic implementations on the ground regarding neglected communities, as well as the constraints faced. In this interview, SjĂśberg shares about the importance and struggles of involving the community to create meaningful spaces, role of architects to raise necessary questions to direct and shape projects, what constitutes a success, and connecting isolated neighborhoods in urban planning, amongst other things.
Selected Interview questions Q:
Kjellander Sjöberg has a vision to improve living conditions and environments when designing and contributing to neighborhoods and meeting places. How are the local community and local stakeholders involved in the design process?
There is a difference between the urban design and planning projects and architectural projects. We do both figure planning commissions and we work with a lot of architectural projects like residential development. In the first one, when we look at the bigger urban projects, we sometimes have to take the perspective of doing something really good and long term for the community. We certainly do enjoy doing it with the community, and the ambition is to have good dialogue and really meet different local groups and initiatives. However, that doesn’t always happen, of course. We work with different municipalities and sometimes even private companies or clients that would own a big piece of land. Our ambition is to find these local communities and work with them. There are different ways you can go about this. We can find more representative groups or people, or if you just trust that the key people that would really use the place will join. We think that it is really important to have a kind of framework, an overall framework that would make this development sustainable. And people can add to that, maybe change it a bit but somehow add to it. If there is an initial framework in place it is easy for people to add their input to it.
Referencing the recent public hearing for the Gustav III Square, held over two months, how active was the community in actually providing feedback and how useful were they?
There had been different dialogues in the city of Östersund in northern Sweden. The dialogue is about what kind of programming or what kind of brief that we would have. As an architectural company we work together with private developer Dios who will actually build the buildings. I think the municipal meeting (public hearing) is perhaps a bit late (for this project). A lot of times, the people are worried that the
public voice will change the product too much. However, I think in this case, the ambition is to build a new hotel and new residential units and commercial units, like shops and restaurants facing the streets. But it is also a really clear program with public spaces that are informal built on the code of that city, which is an informal older wood timber city with narrow alleys. I think the public hearing is really important and the public hearing that took place in this case is sort of legislated; the kind of procedure that you need to follow as a city in Sweden when you plan for a site. In some cases, it works; a lot of actors and a lot of stakeholders get to be heard automatically. That is the base of planning in Sweden, at least, or in many of the northern Scandanavian countries. Outside of that we would like to have this co-working process with municipalities or groups.
For projects like this in Sweden where you are working with municipal agencies, how much influence does the developer (e.g. Diös) have over the decisions of the design process as well as incorporation of feedback?
In Sweden, like everywhere else, architects don’t really have the power to fully decide, since there are goals like financial goals. But I think it’s how you frame what kind of question you raise, about the way we as architects or planners frame projects and raise questions that really shapes what will be done and built. I think raising a dialogue is important and I think in this case in Östersund there was a lot of discussion about how the public character of the project could be truly public, because if you privatise (in this case roughly about 70% of the project), it is a bus square right now, how should we go about designing it? By raising questions like what kind of quality space, studying and walking around to see how people move in the city, perhaps you could find a meaningful way to shape these urban spaces. In that case you might find a strong concept that allows you to satisfy the municipal’s and developer’s needs while shaping the direction of the project. 82
As an architect, you always have an aim at the start of the project on how your design contributes to the context, the city, and the community that uses it. There is a rigorous design process to achieve this aim, from understanding the programme and users to developing a design concept and assessment of details. For your projects, how do you assess the level of success of achieving these goals?
Usually a successful concept is one where you can satisfy the cities’ municipal needs and satisfy the client’s commercial needs. In the best of worlds that’s not really the conflict, because you want a space like this to be popular and used, and the retail, restaurants and hotels to be popular as well. So I think the key is coming up with arguments and strategies that are beneficial to as many parties as possible. If the scope is too narrow here in Sweden, alot of projects stop in the planning process, sometimes due to financial difficulties, but also because nobody really wants to go ahead with the planning and design. In general, of course, we never decide anything as architects, but if we are having a successful day, we can still frame the projects so it really is about the interests we like; sustainable developments and a better place for people and the planet. There’s always a struggle and work needed to get there. We as architects always try to do very sustainable projects, and it is very hard to hit all these targets but hopefully you get to steer the project’s position to a positive direction although you may not hit all your targets of sustainability, livability or inclusion etc.
In Singapore, the recent coronavirus situation has shed light on a demographic largely neglected in the process of design, for example, the migrant workers. Drawing parallels to Sweden, the country is known to have taken in a large amount of refugees over the years; one of the highest intakes in the world over the past decade. Though minor compared to the population, this steadily growing new demographic presents a new question about the integration of refugees into the discussion and design process of community spaces. What is your take on how this process would work in Sweden?
I think it is a really huge question that we could discuss for a couple of days (laughs). I would say since the refugee crisis in 2015, we received many migrants that fled from mainly Syria. This of course affected the population and the way we as the planning profession acted in Sweden, we are mostly active in Stockholm and Malmö, but they present similar challenges. In Malmö there is a huge focus on inclusion and trying to make the city, both the fabric and other aspects like the population and education more connected and integrated. The positive side in Sweden, is that the planning process has democratic pivot points that aims to provide everyone with the same proximity to care, free education, that’s including everyone whether you are a citizen or migrant. You have these benefits and opportunities. But then again in the physical reality, you have neighborhoods that are deprived, they tend to be clusters of people new to Sweden. The positive things is that we try to shape an equal society, but I don’t think we are there yet because we still have much to catch up on since 2015. I think there is a strong feeling that everybody must have a home to live in, a kind of basic need. The needs we are not achieving yet is really including everyone in the Swedish society. I think everyone is welcomed in a way, but we don’t really have the financial and political strategies to curb this problem. We feel like we need to be bottom-up when we plan, and one way would be just to let communities to use leftover space so you use it temporarily; this is something we pushed quite alot. I would say we don’t have the answer or key to how to do this in Sweden, but when we work in urban planning, it’s really about how to connect all the neighborhoods more so they are not isolated. It’s through infrastructure and devices like schools and community centres with social spaces to meet and discuss. Over here, black lives matter was a big thing. However it went well in the sense that the police force and the political level met with the demonstrators and had a dialogue. But the sad thing was that a protest was still needed even though Sweden is thought to have reached so far, but I think the positive side is that we try.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 ADVICE TO YOUNG ARCHITECTS According to Stefan architecture is difficult but a very nice profession. He has been practising and having his company for over 20 years, he still think it is fantastic occupation. He gets to interact with so many people and the society at so many levels. As an architecture student we should reflect on what we want to get out of architecture. Do we do this for other people or for beautiful graphics or great constructions, or how to push, how to build things not to harm the planet? It is good to ask ourselves these questions. Architecture is evolving, as an architect one do design iterations in a good project, and after all these iterations we might still constantly feel that we don’t know enough, or don’t have enough technical skills. Stefan encourage us to get as rich of a training or work experience as we can, and keep doing things because it is fun, and do more projects with the community. In Sweden there are these projects called summer houses: simple buildings for anyone. One can work on these small projects to train and maybe reflect on what we want. He advises that we could also head to large architecture offices and work for a while as a student, and despite sometimes feeling quite small as we can’t really affect the direction of the project or the office, but he still suggests that asking those questions and doing things with other people in teams would be great for young architects.
0.2 POSITIONING THE PROJECT A good takeaway was accepting the fact that though us as future architects may not have the final say in projects, especially with parties such as developers or governments, it is how we frame our scope of the project and design that will eventually influence how the design will develop. Even if we did not hit all our intended targets due to constraints, it is also important that we ultimately still steer the project in a positive direction.
0.3 DISCUSSIONS IN DESIGN It is also rather interesting that it is part of a standard procedure that dialogue with the community and intended users are carried out. This is something that you do not see often in Singapore, and would be a start in the right direction regarding citizen participation in designing for our city spaces. In light of the recent Founders’ Memorial shortlisted finalists and subsequent voting by the members of the public, it shows that there is a slight step towards this dialogue. Ultimately, the decision was still predominantly in the hands of the jury and it is unclear how much influence public votes had on the final selection. More still needs to be done before these discussions and opinions are normalised, and as Stefan mentioned, it would be opportune to have these dialogues earlier in the design phase.
0.4 TRY Ultimately, it is very ideal to be talking about participatory design and involving the local community extensively, including previously neglected minorities such as migrant workers or refugees. However, we have to accept that this does not always happen in real life. Sometimes this process is beyond architecture and requires complimentary policies from the government or funding from private entities. What is important, to quote Stefan who has rightly said, “The positive side is that we try”.
1.0 MASS Design Group About MASS Design Group: MASS consists of a team of over 120+ architects, landscape architects, engineers, builders, furniture designers, writers, filmmakers, and researchers representing 20 countries across the globe. They believe in expanding access to design that is purposeful, healing, and hopeful. They believe that every project has a mission and accompany their partners throughout the design process â€” from early visioning through project completion â€” to develop and implement a shared vision for how design can achieve that mission. They do this through architecture, landscape design, engineering, planning, research, film, and community engagement. Helping build a climate positive future is imperative. Their projects move beyond just issues of energy use and efficiency, to holistically design the project ecosystem, including an entire supply chain that is sustainable, resilient, and regenerative. (Information retrieved from MASS website) Website: https://massdesigngroup.org/ All photos are courtesy of MASS.
by Mavis Lee 85
Case Study: Ruhehe Primary School Project Name: Renovation of Ruhehe Primary School Location: Singapore Date Designed: 2015 Date Completed: 2018 Size: 560 sqm Client: Musanze District Ministry of Education Donor: M2 Foundation
Abstract Ruhehe Primary School is a public school renovated and reopened in 2018 that serves 1,120 students from pre-primary to grade six, with the help of 20 teachers and maintenance staff. In 1973, Ruhehe Primary School was identified by the Ministry of Education as in need of significant infrastructural investment. This project aims to prove that design interventions across a school campus can improve learner outcomes, increase satisfaction among students and teachers, and increase student retention rates. Through an extensive immersion process between stakeholders (M2 Foundation, an education-focused charitable foundation, the local District of Musanze and the African Design Centre (ADC) a design school set up by MASS Design Group), the design team utilised a community-centred design concept that sets out to renovate existing classrooms and administration buildings for Ruhehe Primary School. The new Ruhehe campus is laid out as a necklace, with the classrooms as pendants along the chain. These pendants are surrounded by a perimeter wall that protects students and reduces distraction from their studies. The school campus is adjacent to a heavily visited sector office, a position that presents both opportunities and challenges to integrating school activity with community happenings. By engaging in a series of stakeholders either partaking in education or interested in bettering education for the built environment as well as the development of the whole child, the goal of wanting the community and authorities to continue to support the scalability and replicability of the Mubuga model as a standard of school design across the country can then be achieved.
Cultural and Historical Context The project is based in a landlocked country named Rwanda in East Africa. Situated in the Musanze District, a mountainous region with volcanoes that makes up the largest part of the Volcanoes National Park. As such, locals have been equipped with crafts largely related to the unique materials found on site.
Genesis of Project In 2003, the government saw the need to improve education in Rwanda, a country in East Africa. The elimination of school fees for primary education was the first step towards this change and since then have led to increased enrolment rates. With the impending need to cater to the lack of classroom infrastructure and school facilities, MASS Design Group, in partnership with the M2 Foundation, an education-focused charitable foundation and the Musanze District Ministry of Education, first renovated and expanded Mubuga Primary School to create a sustainable and scalable model for all schooltypes in Africa. An inherent problem was observed
having gone through the design process of Mubuga, then going into designing for Ruhehe Primary School â€“ there was a lack of skilled trainers that could render support and introduce new ideas for the community. Unfortunately, many students are unable to access education in architecture, much less those living in rural communities. To respond to this need, MASS Design Group started an educational and apprenticeship arm in Africa named the African Design Center (ADC) in 2016. Students from the ADC were first tagged to the renovation project for Ruhehe Primary School. Ruhehe Primary School served not just as the first prototypical model for providing a better built environment for education, but also an intangible platform for students in their different stages of education to innovate and further their education alongside with one another.
Design The design that was evolved and built in the end followed a distinct necklace shape that could be observed on plan, with the pendants along the chain 86
classrooms. The chain itself was the distinct curved wall made from local volcanic stone that paves an entryway for the community to engage with the campus. This sloped path leads visitors directly to the central gathering plaza. The very same curved perimeter wall protects students and reduces distraction from their studies. To create comfortable learning environments, the classroom design included skylights and lightshelves to diffuse direct sunlight, operable windows to facilitate natural ventilation, and woven panels and clay roofing tiles to absorb sound. The central plaza invites community gatherings, and outer yards feature areas for play. A headmasterâ€™s office and library complete the new masterplan.
The curved stone wall idea emerged from the architects engaging directly with the community and the construction process. Upon enquiring the skill set the local artisans possessed, the ADC gained enlightenment in the use of vernacular use of volcanic stones in Rwandan stone working, cement paving mixed with volcanic stone dust as well as the use of clay and bricks in making of roof tiles found only in Musanze District. The curved stone wall also provides sound structural integrity as it had been built around a central core of steel and concrete, a feature of great importance in a region prone to seismic activity.
Impact on Community Community engagement was performed upon understanding the goals that had to be met. Firstly, the need to bridge the school and the community and secondly, to design a conducive environment for learning and play. With the finalised design being the curved stone wall, the ADC enquired about the skill sets local artisans possessed and was enlightened by the use of vernacular volcanic stones in Rwandan stone working, cement paving mixed with volcanic stone dust and usage of clay and bricks in making of roof tiles found only in Musanze District. In integrating these elements into the design scheme and prioritising local expertise, over 80% of materials used in construction were sourced within 50 km from the site, reducing the need for importing materials, reducing carbon footprint. More importantly, new changes were proven to be positively reinforced when designers work alongside with the local artisans. In the process of engagement, designers gain extensive insights on traditional crafts which was used as a training model for the construction of the new campus. Involving the artisans also inspired them with innovative ways to relook and to respond to the raw materials present that are usually considered worthless. In addition, keeping the longstanding culture of Rwandan stonework alive by proving the misconception otherwise - that local expertise was obsolete and that raw materials were useless.
MASSâ€™ design pedagogy, one may ponder about the possibilities of what an architectural firm can do if even a non-profit organisation has that much power over designing for the minorities in the community. After gaining insights on their practice, I felt that architectural firms in Singapore should be more assertive when it comes to rendering help in the community. With the need for students from various polytechnics and universities to complete internships with firms, the grounds for change has already been laid out. Following the model that MASS has introduced, architects may perhaps open up seasonal workshops to teach students ways to approach the stakeholders as well as the community. For example, ways to effectively communicate with the users of the space and how to effectively translate these ideas to the other stakeholders performing the task e.g. contractors. These provides students with just as much, if not more opportunities to come up with human-centric designs sensitive to the people, further value-adding to the design and construction learning process. In this manner, architects, planners, engineers and contractors may establish a secondary line of communication with the public, slowly bridging the entire community together.
The construction process involved over 110 labourers, a majority coming from the local community. This provided the community with opportunities for employment and learning experience as they had to undergo training. These opportunities opened up new possibilities for both genders. Amongst the 110 people involved, 35% were women who received training on carpentry, masonry and stone crushing from the ADC. Community involvement brought courage to women by inspiring them to step into a male-dominated industry, improving
Discussions and Lessons In Singapore, community-centric design is sometimes limited as getting people involved has always been a recurring problem. Upon investigating this case study, I found two things extremely useful. Firstly, architects as the main driving force for change. Upon introducing 88
Kelly Alvarez Doran Senior Principal
Kelly leads MASS’ London office, oversees MASS’s work in Europe, and spearheads their sustainability initiatives. He joined MASS in 2014 to lead their Kigali office, overseeing the growth of the practice from an office of 8 to 80 over a five year period. He has led the design and implementation of several of MASS’s projects across East Africa, notably the award-winning Munini District Hospital and Rwanda Ministry of Health’s Typical Hospital Plans; headquarters for both One Acre Fund and Andela in Kenya; and the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture. Kelly is a past recipient of the Canada Council’s Prix de Rome for Emerging Practitioners, and has held teaching positions at the University of Toronto, The Bartlett, Harvard University, and the University of Waterloo.
Kelly leads MASS’ Kigali office in the form of design and implementation of several of MASS’s projects across East Africa. In these projects, the bottom-up approach has been used as a way to approach sensitive social issues. This is coupled with the reiteration of the use of sustainable building material and construction forms the key aspect of MASS’ design philosophy. There were two main goals of the interview. Firstly, to gain insights on how designers should respond and be responsible in tackling different scales of environmental and socio-economic problems in the world. With many looking either at tackling environmental or socioenvironmental aspect, holding the power to change the way people live should prompt architects and planners to be inspired to use design to enable building sustainability and to curb with social differences. Secondly, to understand how architecture can help to reconcile these problems in different communities across the world. It is crucial to not only be able to understand the model applied to Rwanda, but to also gain insights on how such a model could potentially benefit communities with different needs and available resources to be utilised. COVID-19 has proven the need for countries to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Being resource-independent is hence crucial in achieving that.
Selected Interview questions Q:
I understand that you first joined MASS in 2014 to lead the office in Kigali and are currently based in London overseeing works across the globe. I would love to know the different challenges you faced when leading these offices and how did you overcome them given their different contexts? The approach has been consistent in terms of how we engage with people. We started our conversation in Rwanda with lessons learnt brought out to everywhere else. No great difference observed, mainly dealing with people and context with different opportunities. As designers, we figure out who the constellation of people are and what the constraints of the place are - how do you work with that? A lesson learnt from East Africa was how to work with the constraints in under-developed or less industrialised communities especially in terms of construction. Things that we often used are now difficult to be obtained and that opened my eyes about how there are things and materials we can use - why are we still not engaging them? The way I practised previously never considered where materials came from, working with assumptions instead.
MASS has also expressed keen interest in the environment. How can similar techniques be applied to modern city planning, perhaps in communities with little natural resources, to spur future developments in an environmentally conscious way?
I think the question lays out certain assumptions we have. What if we flip about the question what if we no longer are able to import anything? How did a country like Singapore build itself a century ago? Instead, the question that should be asked is, â€˜At what point have we become so reliant on importation? Was it ever autonomous?â€™ There is actually a connection, in that Rwanda is Singapore-Africa in that both are highly densely
populated, small with not a lot of resources, and it may seem to be that there exist a need to rely on importation but that is not really the case for
How has representing the firm as non-profit affected the workflow and the image of MASS? Has this more inclusive model and sustainable material culture help in sustain the architectural practice as well?
It is our responsibility to make sure that projects are sustainable. That would mean to spend a lot of time looking at socio-economic construction, the ecological impact, the emboded carbon to understand our material selection. There was a recent relevation that the first act of construction is almost as important as the energy efficiency and operational life of a building. Hence, it is of no surprise that resources like stones sourced locally as opposed to cement block with higher carbon materials are going to achieve a better typological result. This achieves the socio-economic impact and proves the success of the intent, which is to be far more sustainable. Architecture needs to be a regional practice again so if you are sourcing something when you do not know where it comes from, then you probably should not source and use it. In terms of non-profit and financial sustainability, it provides flexibility as we can raise money to support work and conduct research. For us, we have discretionary funds which supports the capitalism fund and this constitutes the biggest part of a non-profit organisation. This allows us to initiate projects and reach out to firms to get it on the ground. That is different with a for-profit firm, where firms do it for people who can afford their services and they engage in private developers in such projects. For non-profit firms, it is more about donating their services and donating it to people who really need to use them but are unable to afford them. A sign of success would be to see more nonprofits around the world. 90
Was there a reason why a bottom-up approach was undertaken by MASS?
It was mostly inspired by the first project we did, which is the Butaro Hospital. The design and built process was long, where we sat down with the doctors and community and saw what they needed. Refining was performed and we made the field guide openly accessible on our website. Process of immersion came with context, in hopes that others will engage in the same model because it has worked. Many big architectural firms follow a topdown body and capital. Although the Ruhehe Primary School project looks more ground-up, it also received a lot of fundings from outside organisation but the process of enaging with the students, teachers and parents is still largely bottom-up. If we do not engage with the end users, who are you designing for? One would simply be designing based on the assumptions or from feedback that other results have gathered and that the entire stakeholders are not properly represented, reading projects as poor or incorrect. It is hence important to engage right from the start, ensuring continuation of projects. The more care and attention you give it, the more
Is there another possibility, where profits and community engagement can both be achieved? Yes! I think there lies a misconception. We feel that all architects are non-profit, they just do not realise it. You need to be financially sustainable. Some projects gain profits while others do not. For non-profit firms, we take that and reinvest it back into the community instead of keeping them as dividends. There is a 3-step approach that firms should employ. Firstly, who is the community, what are their needs and what is the project? Secondly, where is the funding? Thirdly, how do you use the constraints and apply it to the concept and design?
Construction is expensive. Architects and designers should think about how to bring them together. If the design will cost a certain amount, raise some funds for it. Within that funding consists of your fee. If you spend time to figure out these two things, you can work out the profit at the end of the day. The only difference is that for non-profit firms, our work is mostly free, giving back to the community instead of keeping it.
In light of the current Covid-19 pandemic, how has MASSâ€™ international outreach been affected?
Rwanda did an amazing job and construction resumed about 2 months ago because of how proactive the government was in keeping the cases low. Precautions were done well, and the firm worked with contractors to put together guidelines for the workforce to practise. Immersion continued, with over 600 people being involved. This goes to show the importance of the authority in ensuring guidelines were met. In the States, most of the work is in design phase . Immersion is performed virtually on Zoom instead. Although it is a different approach of getting to know people, we are still able to
Do you have any advice for architecture students and the next generation of designers?
Yes. We are at the pivotal point in human history. Buildings account for 40% of annual consumption of energy. 10% is from construction. If we need to get to 0 in 30 years, as students, we have to think about what we can do to tackle that problem. How can I half the impact of current construction? How can I half operational footprint of existing buildings? It is a life work than spans across 30 years. There are different answers across different contexts and you have to engage with your context. What if buildings stopped right now, where would you start? These should also be addressed and taught in school.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 TREASURING CURRENT RESOURCES It really struck me how there is the need to view the world in a different light when trying to understand application of successful community engagement models across the world. Firstly, through the use of materials. Instead of looking around in the present time trying to figure out new approaches or materials, perhaps we should also question what led us up to this point from the little we had a decade ago. In the case of Singapore, labour and agriculture were key in building the nation. We have chosen to outsource, importing people and food instead. Perhaps starting from that would then bring in new possibilities for the community to engage.
0.2 VALUING NEGLECTED SKILLSETS Next, asking ‘How can similar models be applied to other communities?’ is more telling of the assumptions that had been made: success of these models is dependent on the people in need rather than the people providing it. Through this interview, I learnt how designers should always view resources as valuable. Specifically, to view the underserved as people who can contribute greatly to the community, not people who rely others for help. Looking at all that we have as a collective body, how do we reassign responsibilities based on the various skill sets we possess? It is enlightening to know that we are all eventually working towards helping each other out.
0.3 CHANGING PERSPECTIVE ON CONTRIBUTIONS Many possess this misconception that a for-profit and a non-profit firm operates differently. This interview led me to rethink its differences, coming to a realisation that perhaps terminologies do not matter as much as we think. In essence, there will be projects that generate revenue while others incur loss. The question that
should be asked is ‘What do we choose to do with the earnings?’ How we decide to spend it and the way we keep it determines our priority. If it ever was about giving back to the community, allocation of funds would be key to the approach being undertaken.
0.4 THE COMMUNITY AND THE SELF Resources exist in many forms. This interview higihlights the influence an individual has. Mr Doran spoke about how he participated in a few competitions when he first graduated, thinking back about the amount of time spent on these projects, questioning the purpose of doing so. Being in the industry for a few years now, he saw this as a wasted opportunity, where time could be directed to physically engaging with more meaningful project. However, rather than simply dismissing the idea of participating in competitions, I see competitions as an avenue for outerach as well. What designers could do would be to include existing or revised techniques and materials in their design, to challenge themselves to think beyond the problem posed and people they design for.
0.5 INDIVUDAL REACTIVITY Lastly, there exists the importance of being reactive and responsive as a student as we are essentially the people determining the next course of action. As much as it is the responsibility of firms and the government to propel change, we should also start to think of ways that can change the way we design for the future. Although arguably to do so, schools will also have to expose students to the relevant practice. The interview emphasised the need to reconcile construction and community engagement during the design phase. Perhaps institutitons may begin to introduce/emphasise the importance of material culture and how engaging the traditional craft could allow us to learn more about the potential of what we already possess instead of constantly overly valuing the novelty of a brand new solution. 92
1.1 People’s Architecture Office About People's Architecture Office Beijing-based People’s Architecture Office (PAO) / People’s Industrial Design Office (PIDO) was founded by He Zhe, James Shen and Zang Feng in 2010, and consists of a multi-disciplinary team of architects, engineers, product designers and urbanists. With the belief that design is for the masses the studio focuses on social impact through design. PAO is the first architecture practice in Asia certified as a B-Corporation and serves as a model for social entrepreneurship. Website: http://www.peoples-architecture. com/pao/en All photos are courtesy of PAO.
Case Study: Leping Social Entrepreneur Foundation Project Name: Leping Social Entrepreneur Foundation Headquarters Location: Beijing Date Completed: Dec 2017 Size: 1100 sqm Client: Leping Social Entrepreneur Foundation
Abstract The client of this project is Leping Social Entrepreneur Foundation. The headquarters consists of the Leping Foundation, a non-profit organization known for social innovation and, 4 offices of Leping Foundation’s investee companies. The 4 offices work in diverse fields – job training for migrant workers, agricultural research, preschool education, and microfinance. The foundation focuses on improving and addressing social problems that arise in China due to its fastdeveloping economy. This is especially so in rural areas whereby there are many children without proper education. Leping Foundation attempts to improve the quality of teaching by providing easy to use teaching tools and professional training to teachers. Upon which the Foundation has been actively engaging external communities in the process to achieve a collective impact and to yield the best solution in an increasingly complex and interdependent world.
by May Thinzar Lin, Wan mengcheng 93
This particular case study is more about wellness of the community. The client, Leping Foundation is a non-profit organisation that aims at bridging social inequality in Chinese society. Leping Foundation Headquarters has taken into consideration the wellness of society as a whole. The open floor plan concept of Leping Foundation Headquarters invites the community into the buildings for hosting of events targetting at the young and the elderly which resonates with Leping Foundation Headquarter’s vision.
Design The running track is an innovative way to relax during work and enhances physical and mental wellbeing which in turn boosts work productivity and provides new opportunities for social interactions. The makeshift layout of the office provides opportunities and spaces for different scales of social interaction within the limited floor area. For example, Tetris Table designed by People’s Architecture Office allows tables to be flexible in shape and size. Another example is the People’s Canopy, also designed by People’s Architecture Office. The new layout influences workers’ way of communication and work habits. Information flows more freely so there is better understanding of different areas of work and the resources that are available. There is a natural interaction between colleagues of different departments. The suspended vegetation belt improves indoor air quality. Air refreshing system is installed on top of the vegetation belt to monitor the air quality around the clock. This provides workers with clean and healthy environment. The ‘mini mountain’ is another special feature which encourages impromptu conversations among workers. The surfaces of the mountain are designed with special
angles fitted for different postures to give comfort. It connects the ground floor to the mezzanine level.
Discussions and Lessons This case study emphasizes the importance of multiple dimensions in social architecture. In such a small-scale project, there are many different public spaces aiming at addressing different functions, mapping it onto larger projects, the dimension of public space needs to be even richer to create different ways of interaction for different user groups to achieve social inclusion and social cohesion. Proliferation of public living is key to encouraging the community to bond. It is crucial that the public space should provide equal opportunity for every one within the community to socialise. In the context of Singapore, apart from creating a variety of public spaces for different activities to take place, it is also crucial to take the social aspect into consideration. With Singapore’s uniqueness in terms of its ethnic diversity work environment, ethnical needs are to be taken into consideration when considering the impacts of social architecture. The design of social architecture should not be a utilitarian process which focuses only on functionality, instead it should focus on the people to create a sense of belonging. 94
Case Study: Courtyard House Plugin Project Name: Courtyard House Plugin Location: Beijing, China Date Designed: 2013 Date Completed: 2013 Client: Dashilar Platform
Abstract The Courtyard House Plugin is an award winning prefabricated modular system designed for urban regeneration. It uses a house-within-a-house approach, the system offers an inexpensive alternative to tearing things down. It was initially designed for the Dashilar 95
Project, an initiative aimed at upgrading an important neighborhood in the historic core of Beijing.
Cultural and Historical Context The project initally started as a solution for the courtyard houses in the Dashilar neighbourhood. Dashilar is characterized by narrow alleys called Hutongs and old courtyard houses. The neighborhood has resisted change, giving it a rare charm. But the area also has limited infrastructure, no sewage lines, and buildings with little insulation. In response to the situation,Peopleâ€™s Architecture Office developed a proprietary prefabricated panel that is to be built within the coutyard houses itself.
Genesis of Project The project started in Dashilan a very dense old urban neighbourhood. Due to the location of the site, there were many restrictions on how the buildings can be built or modified. The narrow alley ways mean that big equipments like cranes and many machineries will not be able to access the site. Therefore, People Architecture Office came up with a proprietary prefabricated panel made of a polyeurathene compound that incorporates structure, insulation, wiring, plumbing, windows, doors, interior and exterior finishes into one molded part. Moreover these panels are very small with connections being built in allowing anyone to assemble and disassemble with just one simple tool. This allows the whole module to be reused and reassembled where ever it needs to be built. This construction method is also very flexible and non destructive as it allows for easy expansion or reduction of the building according to the needs of the users. Making it a very sustainable method of building.
Impact on Community These plugin houses act as an intervention to the existing community that is currently residing in Dashilan. Dashilan has a very mature community that has been around for centuries. The plugin house by upgrading the basic needs of these existing community without having the need to tare down and rebuild, is able to revitalise the community, while improving the standard of living of the people already living within it. Moreover, this project initially started with empty courtyard houses in the area. By reutilizing the space, making it livable it also attracts newer younger residents to move in, growing the community, passing down the tradition.
Discussions and Lessons The use of prefabricated modules as the base building block in Singapore is already a common place. However, the method of buildings being built in Singaopore is very highly reliant on the use of â€œglueâ€? like materials such as concrete. Using such materials is very wasteful in the long run as this will limit the reuseablility of the initial building blocks. Being able to use a material
that is reusable could be the next step in becoming a more sustainable society. Singapore is a city that is always growing where there are upgrading works happening around the island all year round. However, Singapore is a very small country, with more upgrading works there are also many more buildings that are being torn down. However, with such an intervention into the exisitng buildings that has passed their life span, we could not only preserve the history of these places but also give a new life to these buildings as well, all while being sustainable. 96
James Shen Founding Partner
James Shen is Principal at People’s Architecture Office. He received his MArch degree from the MIT and a BSc in Product Design from CSU, Long Beach. Shen was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard, a Senior Research Fellow at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and an Innovation Fellow at MIT’s China Future City Lab. He has taught at MIT and Harvard. People’s Architecture Office (PAO) is an international practice with offices based in Beijing and Boston. Founded in 2010 by James Shen, He Zhe, and Zang Feng, the firm is a multi- disciplinary studio dedicated to design innovation for a more inclusive and connected society. Domus named PAO as one of the world’s best architecture firms of 2019 and Fast Company listed PAO as one of the world’s ten most innovative architecture companies in 2018. Recognition for the studio’s work includes the Aga Khan Award (finalist), the Wold Architecture Festival Award, and the Architizer A+ Award.
The interview questions focus on the overall design strategies and philosophy of the architects and the design intention of the chosen case study. The interview will allow us to do a more in-depth study of the case chosen and to better understand the belief of the architects when addressing specific social issues in the context. It allows for a face to face conversation with experts from relevant fields to discuss and share their views on the specific design considerations. As such, different perspectives are acquired on the same design. This appeal allows the study of the project to be more holistic and well-understood.
Selected Interview questions know that People’s Architecture office’s motto Q: We is designing for the masses, what inspired you
rural locations, and in US. For a slightly different use to be built in backyard homes as a separate dwelling unit and I think a lot of these ideas can transfer. While at the same time we managed to work a specific way in that context.
and how did this notion come about?
Architecture has powerful ways in which architecture shapes society and vice versa the society shapes architecture. Architecture has a very strong role in the way that we create the community. When I started working and when I had the chance to start office with my two partners, what direction should we take for our firm. Initially, we had no projects and when started the office in Beijing, and started looking around we realised that there weren’t many offices that are thinking around people especially in China. It was a reaction to the time. We were in China, the word people is something we thought could really inspire a stronger role for architecture. The word people has lost a lot of meaning, shape the practice. Personally, born and raised in US, refugees from china. There are a lot of ways that the city has shaped my life and heritage, these special aspects, affected how I think about architecture. Trained as a product designer(furniture) PD more direct way of connecting with ppl, there is a very strong art prog in Grad school, focus on the intervention in public, and dealing with social issues. I wanted to find more meaning in this work that I really love to do.
Many projects such as the plugin house seems to be focusing on addressing particular social / urban issues in Beijing, to what extent do you think it is applicable to Chinese cities in general? What other measures are needed for a more sustainable future of living?
That project started in Beijing in the courtyard houses in a specific context. We are very serious about focusing on the particular context in that location to not treat it as something that works everywhere. The ideas we have are those that are applicable to all kinds of location. Those are things that do not conflict. In terms of implementing it needs to be specific to the location. Once we have done that we did take it to other cities, we have implemented in different context so, we have done it in urban villages, in
Many of PAO’s project tackle social issues and is aimed at promoting interactivity. Could you share with us on how these social interventions responds to the urban environment?
Our approach with the plug in is to embrace what is already there. The word intervention is appropriate because we are intervening we are not replacing and we are not renewing it entirely, we are inserting. What we intend to do is to improve what is already there not replace. We also embrace all of the challenges that comes with what is retaining what is already there, we recognise the value of that. The social relationships that they have in these older communities is precious, if we get rid of that it will take generations to built up these relationships again and the culture that comes with it. If you were to go to these location it is what you would expect when you visit China as you can sense the sense of community and the history and the lifestyle there is very unique and have character. If you go to a new development, you can often feel like its just like any other place. That is not something that architecture can create, I can create an artificial Venice but it doesn’t not come with the life of Venice. The life of Venice is unique, I don’t think architecture can do that but I can improve on Venice. That is our approach for all the plugin projects for all the locations.
Some of PAO’s projects also involve art installations like the golden bubbles and the habitation modules. These projects are like social statements. So how do you approach these?
A lot of the design approach in our plugin houses are shared with our art installation projects. We didn’t start off by calling these projects as art, we also did that work thinking that it is also architecture, sort of our brand of architecture. Our intention is similar, I will call these interventions because these projects slip into existing spaces. 98
They try to draw in and take advantage of the social capital that is already there. People participate in these projects, they are never there for you to just look at. They allow people to not only engage with our pieces and will often times allow you to engage with other people in different way. Some of the golden bubbles were suspended between different floors and they work as these kaleidoscope type tubes. The purpose was to get strangers to interact. This is the type of interaction that is unique. You create spaces that encourage people to interact, people who would not interact in another kind of situation. The plugins are similar, for example when we are building it in a vacant space, a space that could not be used typically, you are turning it into a space that people can occupy again. This new someone might be younger, allowing for interactions between generations and hopefully the tradition can continue for longer. Its an extension of the same thing. There is also certain type of temporality. I think time is very important, we do not treat architecture to be something that is permanent. I think most buildings are built are conceived that way, we think of the city as continually changing. The values, our culture our society it is constantly changing and shifting and you can see it now in the way many cities are trying to deal with COVID. That it doesn’t just end with the older generation then you build a new apartment complex or something in its place eventually. For me,it’s an extension of the same thing. There’s also a certain time. There’s also a certain aspect of temporarily.
How do you see this pandemic will shape the future of social life of social architecture? I think the term social architecture is not something that I feel has been so commonly used. There’s the Venice Biennale a few think the term social architecture is not something that I feel has been so commonly used. There’s the Venice Biennale a few years ago that the focus on this were social issues. I find in academia, I’ve taught at MIT and Harvard and, I feel like social issues that surround architecture are not dealt with in such a significant way and not in
such a direct way, but I think now with COVID, it’s impossible to talk about architecture without thinking of social implications. That’s my sense it’s a little bit early, here in the States where we’re dealing with lots of the racial issues, and imagine being an architect that doesn’t have a way of talking about race and segregation and public health. Now these are issues that we don’t normally think are related to architecture, but if we think about cities and houses, why do people live in one place and not another, you start to also see cities are divided and it’s segregated through space. Our way of dealing with COVID is through space, right? What’s the solution? We need to have a base between us, but also who are the people that I can afford to have the space and who are the people who can’t afford to have space. This is a social issue, it’s an architectural issue and you can start to understand how portions of society can be excluded from the benefits of living in different places .Today we have more opportunity to talk about that dimension of architecture than before. It’s unfortunate that we have this situation of course but I hope that we’ll be able to talk about this in a more significant way.
In the recent project PAO has done on the Leping Social Entrepreneur Headquarter, there are a lot of green spaces that are integrated within the office, what are your views on environmental sustainability and how can we design for it to be one with the architecture?
I have a pretty strong opinion about sustainability. I think a lot of times it’s used in a way that is not truly about sustainability, but more representing. We have used greenery in our projects and in different instances, the Leping foundation is one example. Although Leping foundation is more about wellness, a way of working, that’s healthy and balanced. When we talk about sustainability it’s technology dependent, I think that’s not the realm of it because we’re just adding technology. Adding solar panels and such, I think is something that we should do. But I would urge people to think about sustainability in a larger sense, in a more macro sense. Because no matter how green my building is, most of the buildings are not built that way. Looking at
Looking at vernacular architecture in the world, they’re extremely sustainable because they were built to be connected with the environment and also there was a lifestyle to work with that. Today, our lifestyles don’t work well with a sustainability city, the way that we’ve approached architecture is adaptive. That’s where we are ity, taking advantage of what’s existing instead of tearing everything Rebuilding, I think of that as being extremely sustainable. It’s how cities have developed and that’s how cities should continue to develop. You don’t have to always start from scratch. The adaptability is sustainable because when you come up with a building, you think of it as being permanent, but a few years later it’s not relevant anymore and its torn down, that’s a lot of waste. If part of our building is not relevant anymore or say it’s too small I can take out a few of the panels or add more, that way I don’t need to take down the entire building. Even if I do need to take down a
building, it’s easy. I just take it apart and I can move it. I can reuse it. A reusable architecture is also something that is not common. Sustainability should be considered in relation to wellness and social issues such as class because you usually have extremely poor people who are living in a very sustainable way or you have extremely rich, living in very expensive buildings that are supposedly sustainable, but in between you have most of the world that is built in a not sustainable, connected with a lifestyle that is not very sustainable. The US is probably the best example of unsustainable society. Singapore is a great example of a place that has very good ways of dealing with certain issues, for example, housing Like public housing, I wish we could take those lessons and expand them to large countries.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 RESPECTING THE ENVIRONMENT Certain installations done by PAO such as the plugin houses are very intriguing as these are site specific but they are adaptable to new conditions and sites depending on specific requirements. By doing so, it makes the architecture more flexible in social context and on a larger scale, optimizes the product’s functionality.
0.2 PRESERVATION OF CULTURE Many projects by PAO when designing has taken into consideration what is already available on site, embracing the site conditions and thinking of interventions that respect both the history and cultural background of the place while optimizing its functionality. The reason for retaining the cultural elements is because it takes many years to build up the cultural connections, finding smart and economical ways to conserve them are more challenging than simply tearing them down. The sense of belonging and community holds the people together and fosters a strong bond .
0.3 INVOLVEMENT OF GENERAL PUBLIC The participation and engagement of people in some social intervention projects are key to a successful social architecture. With current covid situation, it raises an important lesson for architects to think about social implications such as race and religion. Architecture as a mean to divide and segregate the public to ensure public health through space.
0.4 SUSTAINABILITY IN THE NEW NORMAL It is very interesting to hear a different and interesting viewpoint on sustainability. When we hear the word sustainability we usually almost exclusively only think of energy efficiency, adding more greens or solar panals. However, to think of sustainable buildings as something that is adapative and transforming is new, with the pandemic in light this is proving to be very true. 100 100
1.2 WTA Architecture and Design Studio About WTA Architecture and Design Studio: WTA Architecture and Design Studio is one of the Top 10 Architectural Firms in the Philippines in 2018 as cited by BCI Asia. It is a multidisciplinary group of young and idealistic architects, interior designers, urban planners and engineers based in Manila, Philippines. The office participates in a wide range of design activities with a focus in socially relevant designs geared towards beautifying Manila and building a better city. WTA focuses on finding solutions for the dichotomy of big and small projects, as well as simple and complex ideas. The firm emphasizes its strong focus on ideas and the design process where programs are broken down and evolved in the studio and projected towards the surrounding community and city. The projects that they produced are characterized by the desire to create spaces that catalyze a greater humanity. WTA has taken on community-driven projects that won them slots and awards in international architecture and design award-giving bodies. To date, the studio continues to explore the possibilities for the city of tomorrow and to develop exciting new ideas for how people live, work and enjoy in the built environment. Website: https://www.wtadesignstudio.com/ All photos are courtesy of WTA Architecture and Design Studio
by Cheska Daclag Nodado, Wesley Koh Zhi Peng 101
Case Study: The Book Stop Project Project Name: The Book Stop Project Location: Manila, Philippines Date Designed: 2016 Size: 12 sqm
Abstract The Book Stop Project refocuses on the core program of a library as a location for books and reading, a space for human interaction, and a platform for learning. Instead of a huge monolithic building with an extensive book collection, The Book Stop is a network of mobile spaces spread across the city each garnering far more foot traffic than the typical library. In a modern society where no library or bookstore can beat the collection of books that are accessible on the web, The Book Stop abstains from attempting to re-evaluate the purpose of libraries. It rather works on re-examining the physical architecture and the distribution system of libraries, accentuating casual serendipity and ease of access. The project is intended to serve three distinct functions with a social component, a research component, and a program prototype component. It determines the role that libraries play in contemporary urban societies and the shape that they may take as society grows and develops. It is created to reimagine the interactions of todayâ€™s societies with libraries and the sort of network depth and breadth would be ideal for todayâ€™s city.
Cultural and Historical Context The Book Stop Project aims to change the venerable concept of the library as a quiet place. Libraries are often perceived as institutions with an intimidating ambience. Moreover, not all people can access libraries, especially the less fortunate. Many Filipinos do not have access to libraries and if they do, most think of it as intimidating and boring.
Genesis of Project WTA wanted the library to be considered a fun place, a fun destination and for people to enjoy the act of reading. The Book Stop Project gave everyone access to libraries and ultimately to help build an active citizenry. It is a mobile pop-up library that explores how libraries need to evolve to engage with and attract contemporary users and promote reading in the next generation, as well as galvanize communities by creating community events where people can interact and share ideas with each other.
The project has embodied social architecture by making architecture or the place itself engage with people instead of the other way around. The Book stop project brings the library to the people instead of the other way around and making architecture barrier-free where there are no walls and no security. The idea of mobility and frictionless access implied a system of free and nonbinding sharing that reinforces the idea of books and knowledge as open and transparent. This further encourages the flow of people towards the Book Stop Project as everyone, regardless of age and intellect, can walk in and walk out. The most interesting part is that the project was able to build communities around the Book Stop wherever it is located.
Design The Book Stop Project is made predominantly of steel and wood. It is sturdy enough to be exposed to the elements but constructed for easy transport. The design is an open and modern structure designed as a passageway with an expanded wire mesh exterior shell 102
that wraps around the steel angle bars and flat bars that serve as the structureâ€™s frame. The base is made of thermoplastic wood with steel framing, while the roofing is covered with polycarbonate sheets. Inside, a bench is attached on one side, and book shelves and chalkboard strips on the other. The form together with the material allows a sense of solidity and openness. To implement this project, WTA has mapped out various public spaces throughout the city in Manila that has a high volume of pedestrian traffic. These specific points served as a redistribution area for old books, allowing the open and free sharing or transfer of ideas from one person to another. Itâ€™s mobility allowed it to be placed in the most underserved areas and to reach a broader slice of the population. It moved from neighbourhood to neighbourhood mapping and responding to local issues and created a platform for civic discussion and community development. This project also served as a data gathering centre for the demand for public libraries in various neighbourhoods in Manila. This further allowed planners and policy makers to determine which communities can utilize them the most and where libraries can make the most impact. 103
Impact on Community WTA wanted to launch a non-profit initiative to promote reading by open public libraries in malls and commercial areas. The Book Stop project became a hot spot for the bookworms and the plain curious people. More than a bit-sized library, it is a portal of learning where people from all walks of life can enter, pick up and read a book, and exchange ideas with each other. Book Stop Project has become a good public space whichever location it was placed as it reflects diversity and encourages people to come together effortlessly, creating the necessary conditions for permanence which invites people to be on the street. This has garnered over 10 times more foot traffic and book turnover than the typical 200sqm library. Indeed, it is a superb idea, whose striking design arouses the curiosity of passers-by and in so doing makes them aware of books as a cultural amenity. It has further encouraged the public to take part through book donations. The site has been popular to hold events such as Dio De Libro or International Book Day. People can borrow books, exchange and return a
few books and borrow more books which eventually promote reading for the younger generations.
Covid-19 Pandemic Initiative WTA Architecture and Design Studio designed a COVID-19 emergency quarantine facility to help ease hospitals from overcapacity. The Emergency Quarantine Facilities are temporary structures meant to augment and increase the capacity of hospitals. It is meant to house PUIs to keep them from spreading the infection. The idea is to be able to build enough facilities to house all PUIs and allow the virus to die out. This will also prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed and allow us to flatten the curve of the pandemics growth. William Ti, Jr. wanted the design materials to be flexible and readily available. With the growth of the virus being so fast. The main need is the speed and scalability. The structure has to be simple enough that it can be built quickly in 5 days. It has to use materials that are readily available and understood so most workers can work with it and it can be scaled up not just throughout the city but nationwide. WTA also made the designs open source so everyone can have access unto it. The temporary structures, aiming to augment the capacity of hospitals, are built with wood and enveloped in plastic, facilitating the addition of more modules. In fact, they can be replicated anywhere throughout the country.
Discussions and Lessons In Singapore, architects and planners continuously look into unique approach to urbanization. The approach of citizen involvement in the Book Stop Project is very relevant in Singapore’s context as we strive to harmonize construction projects with citizens’ needs and expectations. People tend to walk faster when passing empty or inactive areas, in contrast to the slower, quieter pace of walking in livelier, more active environments. Human-scale constructions like the Book Stop Project can have a positive effect on people’s perceptions of public spaces as they would feel that they were considered in the planning process of that space. These human scale constructions can be placed along the
MRT/LRT stations in Singapore where there is a high volume of pedestrian traffic. However, it is important to involve residents in the design and planning of urban public spaces. Public spaces have different uses and meanings in each neighbourhood and community. Resident involvement ensures that the nature and use of public space will meet the community’s distinct needs. If a space does not reflect the demands and desires of the local population, it will not be used or maintained. Hence, these human-scale constructions would definitely vary from one neighbourhood to another in Singapore. 104
William Ti Jr. Principal Architect of WTA Architecture and Design Studio
William Ti Jr. graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Masterâ€™s in Urban Design in 2012 and acquired his Bachelorâ€™s in Architecture from the University of Santo Tomas in 2002. He is the principal architect and founder of WTA Architecture and Design Studio. In the 15 years of his professional career, he has worked on projects ranging from commercial and housing developments to bridges and stadiums. As the principal architect of WTA, he has been able to lead the firm in winning various awards and gaining global recognition. He is also the founder and director of Anthology Festival, Shelter Magazine and The Book Stop Project. William is a strong advocate of social architecture that promotes a more humanist and socially relevant practice of architecture. He believes that architecture is a vital component of nation building and considers stories and toys as crucial parts in the development of Architecture.
In the modern society, public spaces play an important role. They function as incubation areas to foster social interactions, spaces for cultural practices, and places for humans to interact with nature. Such environments that benefit humanity and ecology are not easy to design. The architects, planners, and urban designers must have a certain level of advocacy and responsibility to take on and carry out such projects. To address this issue, we carry out this interview, hoping to better understand the motivation of these designers, their workflow, and their perspective. Along the way, we can also learn from their projects that they carried out in reality and learn how architecture can engage with people in a world where people are constantly bombarded with different challenges, such as accessibility issues or the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Change is the only constant. How can architecture overcome this?
Selected Interview Questions Q:
How did you become interested in social architecture and social impact? What inspired you to address social issues through architecture?
There is a couple of things. Firstly, I studied in NUS about 8 years ago. I think back then, I realized the difference between Singapore and our more capitalist and open system. Hence, one of the things that really got me thinking was how do you work and make our system work because it is so open. In a way, the public sector which is the government is a little weak and so, we felt like it has to be more of a social response by people from private sector, to be able to make some change in terms of how we can improve our public spaces or civic facilities here. I grew up in downtown Manila and that area is really a very dense space. In fact, Tondo is a basically the densest political unit in the world and I think Manila is denser than Mumbai also. One of the things that you notice there immediately is that there are always people everywhere you go and so, a lot of the things in fact happen on the streets. Therefore, this has always had an impact on me on how the streets are basically the public space. That got me to study in terms of what we can do to help this, or maybe how this can even inform our work. Questions start to appear. Why the streets? Why do we always use our streets for various public activities? These are some of the questions that spurred me to think of how we can better advocate and create public spaces in our country.
What kind of challenges your team encounter in such urban intervention projects?
I think the biggest challenge we always have is trying to convince people and get them to buy into what you are trying to do because it is something that is hard to explain and new. Anything that is new always have a certain push back against it. I think the biggest challenge is trying to convince the various stakeholders such as the local government, the local barangay officials and even the local businesses establishment whom we try to convince how
certain interventions can be positive for whatever they are interested in. That is the biggest challenge. Itâ€™s not just government regulations. You need people to buy in what you are trying to do, you ned to convince people, convince the various stakeholders. I think the public participation part is always challenging because you need them to agree to what you are trying to propose. Also, it is difficult to convince people into something that they have not experienced or seen.
What drove you and your team to conceptualize Book Stop aside from your architectural firmâ€™s jobs?
We were invited to join a competition to design a library. The library location is like a touristic area and so, they were trying to argue that you should be able to catch people that are just passing by, and act like a net to attract people to visit this library. The rationale was that, people these days do not go to libraries anymore. They do not read books. They always read things online on their laptops or mobile phone. Hence, this was one of the things we wanted to change. I still love to read books and maybe, it is not the book themselves that are deterring people from going into the library but because the libraries are not accessible. I started to think of the difference with our desktop computers and our mobile phones. We always have our mobile phones with us, simply because they are with us wherever we go. Hence, I think accessibility was one of the key things we need to focus on in terms of why like libraries do not seem to function as what we want them to be. Therefore, we started to do this project as we wanted to prove the point. It was actually an initiative and an experiment. We were just trying to get data. When we put the library here, are people going to come? Hence, we moved the Book Stop to different areas of the city. I think we have about 12 locations, just trying to get the data in terms of foot traffic, how much turnover we are going to get per location per day.
In the Book Stop Project, can you share with us your design workflow that led you to propose the idea to create a network of localized libraries?
The way I think how our studio works in terms of workflow, is whenever we get a project, whether it is a library, shopping mall or even a condo building, we try to break it down to its first principles. We try to break it down to its original idea or to its basic form. For example, our shopping mall is just a market, a market is a bazaar, a bazaar is a forum. It is basically an area where people meet, so we started to offer goods and services and that is how the market develop. We try to break it down to its first principle. For the library, we thought that what people need is a space. Hence, we need to define a space, because that is what makes it architecture. Then, you need shelves for books to store, you need shelter for people and maybe some seating. Hence, we thought that if we put this in a park, that would be a perfect setting, because you can just get the books and read them in a park. If you look at the first libraries in Greece, they were just storage spaces for books, because at the end of the day, they do not have electricity, so they read outdoors. The library was like just a storage for scrolls. That was how we kind of derived the idea of the Book Stop.
How did you make it inclusive and barrier-free? How did you capitalise on it?
Well, the Book Stop has no librarian and security. You bring a book and you can take one book back home. It pretty much works on a system of trust. The idea is that, you give and take. I think that is how it works. Since it is very open, it is almost like a communal system of security. It is like securing a space by making it more open and making it visible to everyone. The public itself is what keeping it safe. How we capitalise on it? It has pretty much led to a lot of work we are currently doing. I think the Book Stop was a very strong starting point in terms of like how we have proceeded from our architecture from that point on. It is maybe not the beginning, but it was a good inflection point in terms of how we started doing architecture in our office and how we bring all these certain lessons that we got from the Book Stop Project.
It informed our architecture from then and until now actually.
Can you further explain the idea of frictionless system whereby you seek an architecture that is completely open and non-restrictive? How does this help to bring people closer together? That was actually the main idea that we really work out from the Book Stop Project that were applicable for architecture. The main idea is that there is a lot of public space that is discriminating a big part of our population. So how does public space discriminate against people? I think for one, if you are not dressed properly, there are certain places that you could not go in. Especially here in the Philippines, a big part of the population does not have access to library. Secondly, you need to bring your public ID (identification card), which a lot of people do not have, especially those in the informal sector. Also, I think it discriminates against people who do not have time, who are too busy and do not have time to go to a library. It prohibits these people from enjoying these spaces or not being able to have access on the things we need, to have a more holistic lifestyle. We used this idea in a lot of our projects. For example, right after the Book Stop Project, we need a version of it for a Museo del Prado. If we can do it for a library, we can do it for a museum. The museum was also open. We placed it in parks and piazzas. The idea was for the art to become part of your daily life. When you are going to work or going back home, you pass by it and enjoy maybe 1 or 2 paintings. We are also building a stadium now. One of the problems in building a stadium is that they always turn into a concert venue. Especially in Philippines, we do not play football and baseball. The stadium will only be used once a year, when there is a parade or whatever. Hence, we felt that to open a stadium, we chopped off one side of the stadium and on that side, there is a park. The stadium becomes an extension of the park by allowing a free and open access to everyone. I think that idea was informed from the concept of the barrier-free design. We are also building a pedestrian bridge across the Pasig River right now. Unfortunately, Metro Manila is dissected by the Pasig River, but there
is no single pedestrian bridge across the Pasig River. The idea for this bridge is to change how we perceive bridges in our country. I think most people now perceive bridges as crossing points, but we do not really experience the bridge itself, because the bridge has not become a pedestrian place. By building a pedestrian bridge, were allowing people to explore the river itself and appreciate it more. This also allows mobility for people without cars. We also built a shopping mall at Lipa, where it is not critical for Philippines. Hence, we tried to recreate certain streetscapes inside the shopping mall. If you look at the plan of the shopping mall, it is basically a slice. We have these certain streets that lead out to pocket openings, and then bigger piazzas and parks. The is the same idea of being completely open. No doors, no gates. It is a completely open shopping mall. We are also designing a city now. We are trying to do a masterplan from the bottom up approach in developing our cities. In Philippines, the cities are divided into barangays, so we wanted to do barangay masterplans and stitch it together for it to create a whole masterplan.
Do you have any book recommendations for students and why?
I read a lot of fantasy books and a lot of comic books. I think fiction is very good for architects. It allows you to imagine and explore and see different worlds which is important for architects. If you are going to go with fantasy, I will have to start with Tolkein. But at the end of the day, I think read ‘The Sandman’. I always like ‘The Sandman’. I have always enjoyed that comic. I am a big comic collector. One of the things I have always tried to react against are books like ‘Towards a New Architecture’ by Le Corbusier. I think many of our architecture today is a reflection of his ideas and I want to rail against it. So for you to be able to react against what you do not want, you have to know about it. Hence, I think it is one of those books that people should read because when I was reading it, it kind of instilled a certain passion in me to go against it. It should be that book for you to challenge yourself on how to go against this very industrial way of looking at architecture and I always tried to fight
against this very mechanised idea of about how architecture can just be cookie cutter and can be manufactured. That is a very big book to read to inform yourself. Go read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand if you are not passionate enough! Go to the library and get a copy, every architect should read that.
Can the architecture be evolved to make them more suitable for today’s circumstance such as the COVID-19 pandemic? How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic will change your work in the future?
Architecture evolves regardless if we have this pandemic or not. I think change is a very big constant in architecture. We probably are one of the slowest arts to change simply because architecture takes so much time to build. Sometimes by the time you build something, the lifestyle might change. For example, the pandemic. Most of the buildings that are being built now or even after the pandemic were not designed before the pandemic. Good architecture is very adaptive and so it tries to withstand these things. I think one of the differences between architects and engineers and why we really need architects in our society is that engineers are probably the best at finding solutions to any problem because engineers solve problems, but architects plan and project for the future. Hence, for anything that involves a lot of change, that is where architects come in as we can project and plan.
What is your latest project that relates to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our latest project is called the EQF. It is the Emergency Quarantine Facility that we are building now in our fight against COVID-19. In fact, these facilities were also built in Singapore. I think they built 3000 beds in the Singapore Turf Club. I think it is one of the few cases where the idea actually came from the Philippines to Singapore. It is a very good way in looking at how architects can fulfil our role in society. At that time, everybody in our country was lost and did not know what to do, but even now we are still lost. (Laughter) The response here was largely 108
from us and it was something that brought together so many architects in our community. We were doing this together. The point is, why the EQFs were successful is because the plan is open source available online and that is really our idea. Social architecture extends to not just our work but also for our practice. You know a lot of offices have restrict access to files. Our office is open access. No files are restricted. My staff probably has access to more files than me so that is the way I see architecture. You must practice what you preach. We are an open book.
It is paramount to understand the value of public spaces, to not only help fight a pandemic, but ensure a better quality of life. What kind of approach do you think designers should attempt to design public spaces that is customised to suit the post COVID-19 world?
In WTA, we are trying to make these public spaces more accessible rather than more distinct. I think that public space always adopted the character of buildings, monolithic and very dominant, because one of the main reasons for classical architecture is for it to project power and that has kind of stayed with the architecture of public space for a long time. But I think we are trying to break that down and fragment this and trying to say that for public space, the character has to be about openness and not about control of power.I think our office spaces needs to be more open and not have sealed environments. That is something that is needed to be discussed. We should not seal ourselves off from everyone. I think that open spaces are still the safest at the end off the day and we need more access to these, to have more breathable spaces. One of our projects now is looking into how we can reinforce community bubbles. One of the problems with COVID-19 or any pandemic that comes along is that there is a certain spread from one community to another. This is because people congregate especially in big cities there are certain pressure points for example, shopping malls, churches and markets. Going along with social architecture ideas, we feel that we have to make these facilities locally, meaning, a certain neighbourhood or community should have access to a certain level of public amenities
that would probably lessen the distance of the journey, especially now when there is not much public transport to these big centres where everyone is meeting. We are trying to mitigate inter-community transmission of the virus.
What career advice would you give to architecture students?
Students now are living in a very interesting time. Even the pandemic might introduce a lot of change to how we do things. There is a Chinese saying, â€˜Opportunity is a crisisâ€™. This is really an opportunity because everyone is willing to try new things. If you look at architecture today, there is a certain amount of diversity in thinking which is good as that means that maybe the dominant theme of architecture is this kind of embrace of diversity. We are trying to accept the differences as people, our uniqueness as individuals. I think that it is a good thing for architecture in terms of being more willing to explore more things. This also means that students must be willing to make mistakes. To develop things, we need to be willing to experiment and explore. I always feel like there are two things for me to keep the passion of architecture alive. It is this search for discovery. There is also this romanticisation of the impossible because a lot of times you get discouraged with your work, we stumble and fall. The frustrations, the failures, all these can enrich your ideas. I used to tell my students that they can be the ones failing in class, but they might be doing the best. At least, they know what doesâ€™nt work. I think we have to embrace failure as a way to learn. That will be my advice.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 ARCHITECTS PLAN FOR THE FUTURE Architects face a constant stream of changes, regardless we are facing COVID-10 or not. The key to be a good architect is to design good architecture, that can withstand the test of time and survive unexpected events. This is because building takes time to build and we cannot predict the future. However, we can always speculate and that differentiates us from engineers. We need to be open to new ideas, and it is ok to experiment and try unconventional things. That is how futuristic ideas can be incubated. That is how we can anticipate changes and tackle them when the time come.
0.2 ARCHITECTS AS SALESMAN Being a salesman is part of the job as an architect. There is no doubt to this we look at architecture education. Students are practically pitching their projects to their professors during every studio critique, trying to sell their projects and convince the professors of their design ideas, however radical they can be. This is continued in work, where the architects need to convince their clients and the people who are inhabiting or using the spaces, about their design vision and proposals. If you offer something that is unconventional, you will face disagreements and that is the challenge.
0.4 NOT MONETARY-DRIVEN Money should not be the main drive in architecture as architecture is not the best option to generate a great income. The time you put into your profession and the money does not weigh the same. You must like what you do, in case of architecture, to sustain it. If you are monetary driven, it might be better to look at somewhere else as a career option such as the financial sector.
0.5 ARCHITECTURE NEEDS PASSION Architecture is a profession that is not for everyone. You need to have a passion or interest to research, add value and improve on your craft. However, nobody is stopping anyone from joining architecture. It is just a matter of choice and it will just be another job. To be happy in architecture, we learnt that money cannot be a priority. It is the art of discovery that drives the passion.
0.3 BARRIER-FREE PUBLIC SPACES Public space discriminates people. This can be caused by dress code issues or other barriers of entry such as ID etc. One way to tackle this is to build public spaces that are accessible and open to the public. By making the space relevant and useful to the people in the area, there will be a constant stream of people and the public space can thrive.
1.3 SAA Architects About SAA Architects: SAA is a leading full-service architecture practice headquartered in Singapore. With over 50 years of design and built expertise, they are committed to the pursuit of excellence in the design and delivery of people-oriented architecture that connects communities with their urban environments. Guided by the core values of being Urbanistic, Humanistic, and Optimistic, their practice delivers projects that connect and engage seamlessly with the built environment; creating meaningful relationships by placing people and communities at the centre of their design. Website: https://saaarchitects.com.sg/ All photos are courtesy of SAA Architects
Case Study: St. Joseph Nursing Home Project Name: St. Joseph Nursing Home Location: Singapore Date Completed: 2017 Size: 22, 022 sqm Client: Catholic Welfare Services Singapore
Abstract St. Josephâ€™s Home is a nursing home for the aged in a densely populated residential district in the West of Singapore. After the renovation of the nursing home, the amenities were greatly improved, with an increment from 139 beds to 412 beds. The revamped facilities also include an improved landscape design that encourages interactivity and improves the quality of living in the nursing home. The main stakeholders in this project are the elderly living there, Catholic Welfare Services and the architect, SAA architects. The elderly can be further divided into groups such as, the physically abled, the disabled, and the bedridden. This further grouping creates a more specific target audience, providing more concise needs and design solutions to them. St Josephâ€™s Home is also one of the first intergenerational facilities in Singapore that include facilities that are suited for both the elderly and children, where there are compulsory visits for the children in the childcare centre to visit the elderly.
Cultural and Historical Context
by Kiang Ching, Thet Naung Oo 111
St. Josephâ€™s Home was originally set up in 1978 by the Catholic Welfare Services to provide shelter and care for the elderly and is currently run by the Canossian Sisters who offered their services.
Before the refurbishment of the nursing home, the site consists of a single storey home with large open spaces around it, providing a beautiful garden setting. Many plants are grown in a quadrangle courtyard and naturally ventilated walkways allow free roaming around the site.
Genesis of Project The project brief for the refurbished St. Joseph’s Home was challenging, with a need to increase the number of beds available to around three times of the original count. This meant that the project had to be built upwards from an originally single storey building. The main driver of the project was to retain the experiential ground floor gardens of the previous home and duplicate it in the sky. In addition, due to the relative lack of experience for the elderly in nursing homes, it is important that their mental and emotional states to be cared for. Therefore, the design has to allow residents of the nursing home to roam about freely on their designated floor as if it was the ground floor. This is important in helping them maintain a sense of life
and a level of energy. In addition, before the designing of the new St. Joseph’s Nursing Home, there were workshops conducted during the design process. The workshops consisted of stakeholders such as the clients, hospital representatives and the caretakers of the elderly as some elderly may not be fit enough to attend. It is an interactive workshop that collects insight from the participants where SAA Architect’s can better incorporate the user needs before finalizing the design and getting it built.
Design St. Joseph’s Home was designed with greenery placed throughout the building, with pockets of accessible garden spaces for the physically abled and visual connections for the bedridden ones. This design aims to create a ground floor environment for the residents, where the levels are populated with vegetation to mimic a ground floor level. Residents can enjoy the created nature on their level, without having to go through the 112
hassle of travelling to the first floor. This design is very apt for a nursing home, where most elderly would have difficulty in their movement and travelling from level to level for fresh air would pose as a challenge. To further develop the idea of bringing nature into the spaces, the faรงade system varies with porosity to create a semi-outdoor landscape area for residents to linger at and enjoy the views. As the elderly may feel isolated staying at a nursing home, as opposed to being with their families, the design of the nursing home also adopted a homeliving concept where there are communal dining and recreational spaces for residents to interact and feel at home. As these areas are similar to the ones that families share, the elderly would be able to feel 113
included in this community instead of being isolated. The community building concept is important as the engagement of the residents play a major role in improving their quality of life in a nursing home. Lastly, a childcare and playground is built within the compounds of the nursing home. This aims to forge intergenerational bonds between the aged and the young. The facilities of the playground are made to be elder-friendly such as a seesaw with a ramp, and a merry-go-round that has wheel-locks for wheelchairs. This allows the elderly to interact with the children and feed off their infectious energy as they play. It also teaches invaluable lessons for the children to learn to embrace the elderly with respect, compassion and empathy. This concept of bonding the old and
the young will potentially be able to create more opportunities for social cohesion between age groups and vastly increase the quality of life for both groups of audience.
Impact on Community The refurbishment of St. Joseph’s Home exceeded the expectations of many people. The workers there for example, were very pleased with the spaces. Some of the nurses and managers would even continue to loiter around the area after their work hours. It has become a regular sight for workers to arrive early for their shifts and leave later than their expected time. These occurrences demonstrate how the well-crafted spaces bring people together such that they would rather spend time at their work place than leave the premises. In addition, having a work place that brings one joy is essential for an individual to perform well at their jobs. Having a happy work environment would allow workers to adopt the right mindset and attitude while working and taking care of the elderly. This will allow both parties to enjoy each other’s company as they interact in an enjoyable environment. Furthermore, as an intergenerational facility, it plays the role of bridging the age gap between the elderly and the children. At the same time, educating the children and imparting the right values to them from a young age are very important. This would change their outlook towards the elderly and teach them to be more patient and understanding. Through this interaction, the elderly will also be more emotionally connected to the society and foster a sense of dignity.
Discussions and Lessons St. Joseph’s Home is one of the first intergenerational facilities in Singapore and is something that the rest of Singapore could take lessons from. Designing spaces for people on both ends of the demographic can be challenging, with the consideration of the amount of space allocated and the different types of nature of the people. However placing facilities such as a childcare centre within the compounds of a nursing home can greatly influence the mindsets of children from a young
age. This is important as Singapore has an ageing population, where 1 in 4 Singaporeans would be above the age of 65 by 2030. There is a need to promote a cohesive nation, starting with the mindsets of people. Hence, planning and designing intergenerational spaces would be a starting point to do so, and St Joseph’s Home is a model for others to follow. Another tool used in this project was the participation of stakeholders to better understand the needs of the users through workshops. Although some may deem it as an inefficient way that slows the design process, the workshops can be made more effective after being held several times. This will provide more opportunities as a platform for collaborative design and getting constructive design solutions, which will be very useful. 114
Michael Leong Director
Michael is a Director at SAA and leads project teams in design and project management. After working in URA, Michael joined SAA in 2008, and has been involved in a wide spectrum of projects ranging from mixed-use developments, master plans, transportation, and commercial projects, to healthcare, residential, and institutional developments. Michael’s projects include mixed-use developments with strong transportation nodes, such as the recently completed Northpoint City. Attentive to clients’ requirements yet attuned to users’ needs, his philosophy places users’ well-being at the very heart of designs. This is exemplified in his most recent project - Woodlands Health Campus (WHC) Singapore’s largest healthcare facility that enables person-centered care and healing through nature. Michael’s experience in urban planning and in complex buildings offers versatility to his works. He adopts a systematic and thorough approach, and designs with a macro to micro perspective to ensure that buildings dialogue with their environment and improve human well-being. 115
As an architect with many community projects under his portfolio, we are curious about Michael’s approach towards designing for the users and the public in his projects. St. Joseph Nursing Home project, in which Michael is the lead designer, is one of the first few Intergenerational developments in Singapore. We had a short interview session with him to find out more about his fundamental design intent, experiences and insights gained from the initial process of designing to revisiting the project after its completion.
Selected Interview Questions Q:
You have completed a variety of projects from big commercial malls, public and private residential projects, nursing homes, MRT stations, what is your design philosophy towards your projects? And what do you think are the different impacts of these projects on the community?
SAA is involved in a large variety of projects and each project has a very specific requirement, and each client also has a very specific focus that they would like to achieve for the project. So you won’t have a one size fits all situation as every project has its own needs and challenges. What I try to always achieve is to create spaces that make people want to go back over and over again. What defines this kind of space is something that is quite universal, that is the comfort that people can find when they go to a space. Comfort is not only physical, it is also psychological. When we talk about psychological comfort, it is not found in all type of spaces. I think those spaces that people always feel attracted to, and want to return to are those with a lot of life and a lot of people that you can interact with. There’s a strong sense of community. There’s also generally a lot of nature that instinctively draws people to it. Comfort is a simple word, but not something simple to achieve. If you’re talking about public spaces, there isn’t really an owner to the space. It is something that belongs to everybody. Anybody can actually go there and use the facility if they feel like it. However, some public spaces work better than others because there is a sense of ownership in the people who use them. Ownership makes the key difference between successful public spaces and those that don’t work so well. So the question to ask is, how do you get people to get a sense of ownership to the public space? If you just put yourself in the shoes of a visitor to two different public squares, and one is more attractive and makes you feel more comfortable than the other. You will feel that you want to go back to the one that gives you more comfort,
and you will want to always ensure that this level of comfort is preserved there. Therefore, you have an ownership of that space. When you see that there is rubbish on the floor, you will feel more inclined to pick it up. When you see that something is damaged, you feel more inclined to call the manager to come in and repair it, because you are the one using it, and you want to make sure that when you come back, you always get to enjoy it. So that’s what I mean by an ownership of a public space. What we need to do is to design something that is comfortable and attractive enough so that people feel that they own the space and therefore know that space will continue to be nice and attractive for everybody to come.
What are some ways to give back to the community when you design these spaces?
I think giving back to the community is something that not all projects are able to do to the same extent. The larger the project, the greater the impact on the company and community. A lot of our projects that we do in SAA, actually fall within that category because they are genuinely quite large and they have a lot of different users. One of the things that we need to be careful about when we introduce a new project especially a large one is to make sure that it will not create a negative impact on the existing urban fabric. That sometimes happens when you have a shopping mall that comes in and actually soaks up the entire business of the entire area. The smaller businesses that have been there for a long time start to lose their customers. It is because they are cut off from the people that used to come to their shops, and nobody visits the shop anymore. Eventually they might go out of business. So, when we introduce a big development like this, one of the very important thing is to make sure that we are always able to still allow the existing businesses and existing communities to go on and continue to do what they have been doing, in fact, maybe do even better than what they had before because you are bringing in more life. It makes a very big 116
difference by the way we design them, by the way we connect to the existing developments. What is also quite important to think about is to make sure that within the project that you are doing, there are different types of spaces in which the commercial and non commercial activity can coexist. What that means is that you don’t always feel that you have to pay or you have to spend money in order to come and use this space. There are spaces where anybody can just feel very free to go to, and that’s actually very much about giving back to the community. Because when we talk about a community, it is a group of people who may not want to always spend money every time you enter into your building. They may just want to be there to perhaps find a quiet place to read a book or to be walking the dog or to meet up with friends. So we must design spaces for this kind of very casual and informal activity to take place while not attracting undesirable social behavior. That is how we can give back to the community. But again it takes a lot of thinking to find that balance.
St. Joseph Nursing Home was one of the first Intergenerational facilities in Singapore. Were there any learning points from designing the Intergenerational facilities in the Home?
St. Joseph Nursing home is run by one of the Canossian Sisters. It is a religious organization and it is very much in their ethos to care about the dignity of the elderly. So, they are very progressive in exploring ways to achieve that intent.Bringing children into their environment in what we sometimes call intergenerational care is something that is quite unheard of in Singapore because of the way nursing homes were previously set up and operated. This is not something that is commonly seen, in fact it has never been seen before. The equipments like those in the playground were specially designed for somebody sitting in a wheelchair and a child to play side by side. There was one that is a basketball hoop that
somebody on the wheelchair can throw at and there is also space for a child to do that together. Then there are things that see-saw and all that, which are done solely for the purpose of bringing different generations together. Other than that, there are also spaces where we allow activities that sometimes are quite large in nature because if you have young people coming, children coming in and you have elderly, who are a little bit less mobile, you actually need to create a lot of space for these activities to take place because of maneuvering space and all that. So that kind of spatial consideration is important. We also learnt that we have to be careful in training or educating the young people on interacting with the elderly. For instance, what the sisters do in St. Joseph Home, when they bring the young people to visit the seniors right is to tell them that you need to sanitize your hands before you go and visit uncles and aunties. That is very different from telling them that, “Okay, now that you have visited uncles and aunties, go and sanitize your hands”. It has a completely different effect. If you ask them to sanitize their hands before that, it shows that they need to be caring for the uncles and aunties and cannot spread any viruses to them, because we do not want them to get sick. But if you ask them to sanitize their hands after, that means you are telling them that there may be some diseases that the uncles and aunties might have, so you better sanitize after you have visited them. So we learn small things like that, sometimes may not be architectural in nature. But I think design is not just architecture. Design goes beyond that. As a designer, you need to think of how a space is used, how you program the space, and how you work with the users. What kind of mindsets do you want to help them to cultivate? I think all these are actually very important parts of the overall success of the space, not just the hardware itself.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 COMFORTABLE SPACES ARE GOOD SPACES When people find a space comfortable, they will find themselves wanting to go back to that space. Comfort refers to both physical and psychological ones. Some rules of thumb for a good public space are vibrant activities, presence of people and ample amount of nature.
0.2 ARCHITECTS CAN'T CONTROL EVERYTHING There are moments in projects where certain spaces not planned for activities end up being patronized by the users. From those cases, we should try to learn and understand what makes them work and apply to future project to make public spaces more effective.
0.3 2-WAY CONVERSATIONS ARE IMPORTANT When designing, it is important to talk to the users and get insights from them. Participatory workshops are examples of how we can engage the users. After which, we have to ensure that the insights are incorporated into the design before finalizing and getting built.
0.4 FIND OUT WHAT MAKES YOU TICK Never stop asking yourself, â€œWhy am I doing this?â€? As long as you continue to ask that question, you will always be able to find a new way to continue in Architecture. When you stop asking that, you get jaded and be overwhelmed by the burden of submissions and deadlines. That is when we start to give up on our passion and aspirations in Architecture.
0.5 LIVING LIFE IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY As architects, we are designing places where life occurs. So it is important for us to know how life works by living life to the fullest. Working 24/7 will not make you the best architect as life is more than just work. We cannot give what we do not have, so we have to make sure we have lives outside of work.
1.4 Ground-Up Initiative About Ground Up Initiative: About: Ground-Up Initiative (GUI) is a non-profit community, guided by the spirit of innovation, resilience and grounded leadership to demonstrate urban sustainability. Vision: Towards a 5G (Gracious, Green, Giving, Grounded and Grateful) Nation. Through this 5 points, GUI hopes to form the foundation for a 21st Century Kampung Culture that cultivates holistic solutions for a happier, liveable and sustainable future for modern society. Mission To build up their campus as a school of life and to showcase best practices in sustainable living for Singapore, and nurture a conscious community with hearts, minds and hands focused on a humane and sustainable future. Website: https://groundupinitiative.org/ All photos are courtesy of Ground-Up Initiative
Case Study: Kampung Kampus Project Name: Kampung Kampus Location: Singapore Date Designed: 2009 Date Completed: Ongoing Phase 1 (as of August 2020) Size: 26,000 sqm Client: Government Organisations, Local Community, Nee Soon Residents, Leadership and Training Groups Donor/Support: Bottle Tree Park Pte Ltd, Chong Pang CCC, Singapore Land Authority, OSG Container and Modular Pte Ltd, Leads Engineering(S) Pte Ltd, Jin Shun Engineering Pte Ltd, Satay By The Bay Pte Ltd, Builders 265 Pte Ltd, TTJ Design & Engineering Pte Ltd, Yan San Metals Pte Ltd, Bestal Roof & Fabrication Pte Ltd, JOE Green Pte Ltd, APds Architects LLP, JS Tan Consultants Pte Ltd, iCON Engineers LLP, BCM Consultants Pte Ltd, CH2M Hill Singapore Pte Ltd, Triple Eyelid, Building System and Diagnostics Pte Ltd, Building & Construction Authority, Singapore Green Building Council. (In no order of merit)
Abstract “Singaporeans needs to be more daring and creative” - one of the findings of the Remaking Singapore Committee 2002. The late Kampung Chief, Mr Tay Lai Hock was 39 years old then. He had given up his corporate job and annual six-figure salary to backpack around the world. Through his travels, it made him wonder: “How could creativity and risk-taking be nurtured when the very people who teach are risk adverse, and when the environment does not allow these attributes to flourish?”
by Adler Teo 119
With this thought in mind, he returned to Singapore in 2002, with a determination to do something about this situation. In 2008, his evolving answer to that thought took the form of Ground-Up Initiative (GUI).
Cultural and Historical Context Back in 2009, the late Kampung Chief, Mr Tay Lai Hock and a small group of early GUI members started ‘Balik Kampung’ - GUI’s flagship programme - on a small plot of land in Lim Chu Kang. After which they moved to a 100sqm of land at Bottle Tree Park that was used for Sustainable Urban Farming. This also marked the first space the Kampung community was built on.
Genesis of Project Since its inception, GUI has been bringing people from all walks of life to collaboratively cultivate the space, inspiring togetherness and instilling ownership. Balik Kampung, is GUI’s flagship programme to fulfill this purpose. After moving to Bottle Tree Park, GUI started its first project named SURF (Sustainable Urban Roof-top Farm). From there, GUI was awarded an additional 600 sqm of land by the Bottle Tree Park management after eight months of witnessing GUI’s impressive progress.
Over a span of four months GUI continued to impress the management of Bottle Tree Park, growing 500 sqm more, to a total area of 1200 sqm. From 2010 - 2014, GUI held various major events, activating mass action for good as well as programmes that are specifically designed to nurture resilient and mindful leaders, with a deep sense of responsibility to society and an acute awareness for the environment. In 2014, the community rallied together to win the support of the government and public for the usage of a stunning 26,000 sqm piece of land for GUI which was originally designated for residential and commercial use.
Design GUI has been bringing people from all walks of life to collaboratively cultivate the space, inspiring togetherness and instilling ownership. Kampung Kampus was built upon the existing kampung infrastructure that was there since GUI moved in 2009. There was little master planning to be done as they simply needed practical spaces that fits their usage. 120
The large campus site helped to accommodate and bring people together for a common good.
Impact on Community
A range of diverse social enterprises are carefully designed to cultivate a multitude of strengths for a wide spectrum of individuals and groups, forming a robust, nurturing eco-system of GUI within the Kampung Kampus â€“ which covers the fields of education, farming and craft.
Since 2008, GUI has touched more than 100,000 lives in Singapore, organised more than 550 programmes from 2014 till present, engaged with more than 500 corporate/governmental partners and engaged more than 20,000 volunteers. Through its initiation till present, it has salvaged and recycled more than 130,000kg of waste wood for newly purposed craftsworking and harvested more than 3000kg of organic vegetables.
GUI was designed to be a destination where various organisations and countries come to experience ideas and inspirations on how to rethink our assumptions on our way of life, and cultivating grace, gratitude, empathy amongst people. 121
Milestone Community Programs: Heritage Kampung - GUI held a five-month long festival, Heritage Kampung, to reconnect fellow citizens
with Singapore’s heritage and the timeless values embodied by our pioneers representing each ethnic group. Several ministers graced the festival, including Minister Shanmugam, Minister Tan Chuan Jin and Minister Grace Fu – prompting them for the first time to reconsider the usage of the land that GUI sits on. It was designed for commercial use, but the question put forth was the sustainability of educating the younger generation on the preservation of our heritage, society and land. Just One Earth (JOE) - GUI has held more than 300 sessions of JOE for more than 50 kindergartens. JOE teaches students the value of our planet and a healthy environment, while teaching practical skills of recycling, reusing, and how to grow small plants in reused bottles. H3ROES - To realise GUI’s vision, programmes are specifically designed to nurture resilient and mindful leaders, with a deep sense of responsibility to society and an acute awareness for the environment. H3ROES is an environmental leadership programme organized with Canon and NEA.
Discussions and Lessons Through the conversation with GUI, we have come to see the importance of how the land really brought people together through its role as a facilitator - creating a common purpose for the community to be bonded through hands-on activities - which embodies the spirit of the kampung culture here in Kampung Kampus. Being able to connect urban dwellers to nature through direct participation on the land is a rare and precious experience that is seen in few places and Kampung Kampus is one of them. However just like any enterprise, there will come challenges and obstacles in which GUI is currently facing an uncertain future of their land lease ending soon. This beckons the question of a possibility of shifting and the consequences of shifting. This is definitely a struggle not just for GUI but various establishments that have strong attachment to traditions and see the value of land very differently.
GUI believes strongly in the idea of how it is not about the land but the people. In which communities, especially a tight-knitted one like GUI, can be moved and its foundation can be built up again no matter where they are. “It will be a struggle but it is possible”, as quoted from the Kampung Architect, Bingyu. We can see that land and green spaces are fundamentally important physical assets but a strong philosophy as well as the power of a community is equally important 122
Cai Bingyu Kampung Architect
Xiao Yun Kampung Volunteer
Bingyu is GUI’s hardworking Kampung Architect who leads the Builders Team in the building of our Kampung Kampus. A man who is always ready to help others around him, he humbly claims to be “a very boring person” who loves football, and frequents libraries and hawker centres with his wife.
The interview topic with GUI is on Community Engagement and Urban Sustainability.
Bingyu is also a full-time architect. His role in GUI is on matters regarding building and masterplanning. He works mainly on negotiating on the lease and rental for GUI land space. In recent times, he has been focusing on the Covid situation and hoping to get rent waiver. His role also involves finding alternative spaces for GUI to move to, at the end of GUI’s land lease at bottle tree park. (as of August 2020)
We also want to find out the fundamentals towards revitalizing the kampung spirit in Singapore, given that we were once a kampung community - in contrast to our modern behind-closed doors culture.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. ” – Alvin Toffler
Xiao Hui Kampung Volunteer
The objectives of the interview is to get a better understanding of and research on the means of creating a 5G (Gracious, Green, Giving, Grounded and Grateful) society in our local heartlands.
Lastly, we look towards gaining insight in ensuring sustainable efforts and development of Singapore in the long run by learning from GUI practices.
Selected Interview Questions Q:
Could we find out more about your daily routine here in GUI? Is there a difference between your schedule on weekdays and the weekends?
On weekends, I try to do things that don’t require me to sit and be cope up in the office. For instance, going around the kampus and working on a particular hands-on project. So currently I am actually working on a flight of stairs in the backyard, and in general, I try to just spruce up the spaces within the campus along with the team. However, on weekdays, because I practice (architecture) outside, there is a lot of paperwork and coordinating for me to do. Hence there will be less hands-on stuff that I can do and less community work for me to engage in. At the start of GUI, there was less responsibility for me so I could be with people more often. However, now with more responsibility, I cannot be involved in as much community activity, hence that’s why I make sure on weekends I make myself available to go out and meet people.
Ever since you joined GUI, how has it affected or improved your life, and in what way?
I appreciate how things come together a lot more. One thing is the government (support). For instance, GUI has very limited resources, hence we have to do things very differently. In a way that is more creative, and we have to think out of the box and adapt. The situation changes frequently in a social enterprise like ours and I really appreciate what the country leaders are doing. For instance, during the Covid lockdown, operations at Orto had to close and this caused the pests like rats to come over to GUI where they ate all the produce. As such we now have a pest infestation and we had to adapt and improvise to counter against these unforeseen circumstances. It is not easy to run a nation/ company well and there are a lot of things to consider. All of these really make me appreciate things more. In GUI, at the start I thought what I’ll be doing could save the world but at the end all
I want is to be a better son, a better husband, a better father to my daughter, as well as a better person for this world.
What is the process like for the initiation of Kampung Kampus, the idea and concept?
The idea came from our late chief, Mr Tay Lai Hock, after he travelled around the world. At his peak, when he was earning a lot of money for someone who had no education, he decided to drop everything and travel to see the world. After his trip, his life view changed. So he came back and decided to start something that can translate his thoughts into action and that was in the form of GUI. Through the years, he has been very mindful of grooming the next generation of leaders. He was trying to teach us how to do things in which he will reprimand us. But the most important thing was the values that he made us understood such that when the day the leadership is passed, GUI can still carry on and achieve its objective. Unfortunately, the chief’s passing was premature, but I am glad that the team that took over was stuck with him for some time hence we understood his philosophy and knew what he was trying to achieve. However, from then on, it was no longer about his philosophy because he is no longer the person driving it, but rather it must be something that the team currently believes in. The current team tweaked it a little bit – such that the framework is still similar to the old philosophy. The core values are still present, the 5Gs of: Gracious, Green, Giving, Grounded and Grateful and ultimately we want to drive a 5G community through the things we strongly believe in.
You mentioned earlier about how GUI managed to get sponsorship from a few parties, in regard to this could we ask you about some of the challenges and opportunities that GUI faced?
We have been very grateful to the government for their support. Of course, it was not like this at the start. At the beginning, we had to approach them with our idea and explain to them, show them, get them to come over, conduct the tours and convince them that GUI is something worth supporting. From there, we managed to get subsidies for our rental, so now we pay about 10k a month for this large piece of land. But through this agreement, we help to do the government’s work through an agency that brings in new citizens. We help them to integrate with the community, so it becomes an opportunity for us to connect with the residents. Of course, politics wise, we are in the Nee Soon GRC and we want to benefit the residents in the area too. Minister Shanmugam was one of those that helped us to champion this cause. We also want to work closely with the Chong Pang community and the newly elected MPs to tap on their connections and networks to be able to serve the numbers, being able to connect with the low income individuals as well as those families which needs help, we try to reach out to them. And through them (political and community outreach) the impact here can be stretched out to maximize as many people as possible.
How was the land when it was taken over by GUI and how did GUI go about developing the assets it had?
We were very lucky, when we came over to this site, Bottle Tree Park already had farms here and there were viable farmlands just that it was not organic. We turned it into an organic farm which took us three years due to the application process as well as land surveyors coming down to check. So, I would say that our farms are okay,
not super fertile as it is not meant to be a production farm but can be better. We had the asset of the existing physical infrastructure which were the road, the land and the kampung. There wasn’t much master planning to be done as all we were doing was replace the buildings or rather spaces that fit our uses. For example, the building we are in (heartquarters), previously had no windows and no aircon, that didn’t work with our uses, so we cleared it and had a new building built. Next came the issue of raising funds where we broke the masterplan into 3 phases. Currently, we are still progressing through half of the first phase. We had the benefit of existing infrastructure but there were lessons to be learned as some things could have been done much better.
Has GUI considered shifting Kampung Kampus to an alternative location?
Definitely, this is actually a struggle for GUI. The late chief once mentioned that in Korea, the houses get passed down from generation to generation. As such there is a very strong attachment to it and people see the value of land very differently versus in Singapore. People look at land as investments rather than it being culture and family. Here in GUI, at one moment in time we are very reluctant to say that we can move anywhere. Over the years we have gradually moved towards how we can have real impact, and we have considered if we can move this to anywhere in Singapore. If this model is replicable and scalable and the impact is scalable, why don’t we try it out? It is a tough balance as we want to hold onto the land but at the same time there is so much more we can do if we move on from this location. I firmly believed that in GUI, it is not about the land but the people. We can move and the community can be built up again. It will be a struggle, but it is possible.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 HARDWARE IS IMPORTANT, BUT SO IS HEARTWARE “One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.” – Leo Tolstoy At GUI, hands on farming is part and parcel of their efforts in building up Kampung Kampus. Over the years, many pairs of hands have worked on the soil, laboured and appreciated the connections it has brought about between man and food, as well as the people caring for it. It has shaped the way we treat the environment to one of sustainability and gratitude which will allow us to have a viable long term plan for future generations.
0.2 EXPERIENCE IS THE BEST TEACHER Through the initiation of Kampung Kampus till the present day, there have been countless mistakes and lessons learned from running GUI. With the passing of the late Kampung Chief, and as the Kampung Architect, Bingyu is in charge of many decision making matters in which the responsibilities really lies on his shoulders to make well-informed decision. Ultimately, running a social enterprise is not an everyday thing and he advocates that mistakes are commonly made but the important thing is to learn from them and ensure you do not repeat them.
0.3 ONE STEP AT A TIME It is definitely not easy to run GUI especially from the beginning where the foundation was not solid and the pioneer GUI team had to pave the way one step at a time. This is especially so when it comes to the development of GUI various assets. Farming was a part of GUI from the start, it was to get people to touch the soil as the most fundamental activity. Over time as more people come, they also had the need to fix things when items are spoiled. There was then an opportunity for wood working and this was how touchwood came about, through a need of the people. At the end of the day, these are all platforms to connect people which is what GUI is about.
0.4 A KAMPUNG FOR EVERYONE GUI had ideas of shifting to a HDB void deck - then came the idea of nature placemaking by Prof Chong and Yohei from SUTD in which the concept of an arbitary number of assets like trees, land and farms could guarantee a certain amount of people to benefit from the kampung-like community that this asset has to offer. For instance, being able to transform neighbourhood parks into mini kampung spaces where people can use the green space for recreational activites, organic farming for harvesting and play spaces for family bonding. From this we can show that any pocket of space will work with this strategy hence there will not be a rigid dependency on location. 126
1.5 One Bite Design Studio About One Bite Design Studio: One Bite is a creative team of strategists, architects, designers, community outreach managers and event managers. Headquartered in Hong Kong with an office in Singapore, we have been involved in various architectural, interior design; art and popup installations; visual communication and social creative projects in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia since 2014. Placemaking is in our DNA and we strive to bridge the gaps between space, place and our society by constantly exploring the synergies among our stakeholders. Our Philosophy: We Narrate as We Create. At One Bite, a design always starts with a story, because it is stories that connect people to space, and it is within space where experience and memories unfold. So you may as well call us storytellers. We Create as We Play. Inspired by the ethos of play -- in which anything is possible, we invite others to imagine with us. Our creative solutions engender new experiences and make new connections between people and ideas.What We Create, People Enliven it. We believe people take the leading role in everything we create. We inform and to be informed by how they live, work and play, now and in future. We take great considerations into what the society’s concerns and care for, and to make great places that the society is proud of. Website: https://www.onebitedesign.com/ All photos are courtesy of One Bite Design Studio
by Michelle Chen, Lucas Ngiam 127
Case Study: Project House Project Name: Project House Location: Hong Kong Date Designed: 2017 Date Completed: Ongoing Client: Private Scale: Street-level Types of Collaborators: Social Welfare Organisations
Abstract Ground-level commercial spaces are crucial infrastructure to the city. It has always been known as a vibrant and robust compound that is filled with sensorial activities and community spirit. With economy forces driving these ground floor commercial spaces to shut down, the commercial streets started to lose their energy and their place in the city. “Project House” then steps in to bring the warmth and community spirit back to the once vacant streets. The social initiative is a match-making platform to reinstate the equilibrium between the supply and demand of ground-level commercial spaces in Hong Kong. These vacant spaces are rented to social enterprises or local start-ups for social events. The once-vacant city spaces are then successfully transformed into a community hub through pop-up and modular design strategies.
Cultural and Historical Context 46 out of 794 shops in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong are vacant for years, resulting in a 5.8% vacancy rate in the neighbourhood. The number may not seem high but once put into the context of Hong Kong, a country with severe land shortage issue, the number calls for a need to alleviate this emptiness. The emptiness is not only uncommon in Sham Shui Po but also in the tourist district, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. An interview with the local real estate agency, Midland, reveals the reasons behind these vacancies are due to the slow economic growth in Hong Kong and the stigma shop owners have against new and upcoming business. These eventually lead to the downturn of these
commercial spaces to be deserted for years. One Bite Design Studio then seized the chance to revitalise the neighbourhood through these vacant spaces and this social initiative is named “Project House”.
Genesis of Project One Bite Design Studio is a Hong Kong-based creative studio involved in social creative projects with a motto in bridging up links between space and society. They have been active in placemaking and conducting bridging workshops for the different branches of society. In this social initiative, One Bite Design Studio took up the match-making role of “Project House” by providing a platform to offer vacant commercial spaces in Hong Kong to local social organisation. The idea to form up this initiative arises from the demand for operating space from Non-profit organisations and Start-ups along with the over-supply of the vacant shops in local neighbourhoods. The match-up service in “Project House” offers them a chance to expand temporarily for future developments. This, in turn, creates a thriving business climate for the once-empty commercial streets which will benefit neighbouring shops too. The scenario
calls for the overused idioms, killing two birds with one stone.
Design Team members firstly reach out to landlords in the selected neighbourhood for availability to open-up for short-term lease and took to utilise the power of social media for further outreach. A list of potential organisations in the neighbourhoods is gathered and the match-up begins from there. To inject energy into these deserted spaces, a pop-up strategy is used. These pop-up shops will be blown up to provide essential services to visitors and emphasise the experience through simple modular design elements. The project has successfully spanned over 4 seasons in 3 different neighbourhoods from 2017 to 2019. The pilot event is held at Sham Shui Po with a focus in assisting the existing social welfare groups in the community to reach out to more audience in the neighbourhood. The leased space is upgraded through a series of movable and colourfull pallet boxes. The modules offer an interchangeable configuration to suit the needs of various pop-up events while the colours emphasis on 128
the regeneration agenda of this project. One of the organisations involved in the pop-up shop is Green price, a social-driven retail chain to redistribute expired but still consumable food. The project has enabled the company to do beta-testing of their ideas in Sham Shui Po while expanding its audience. The responses have been overwhelming with more than 1,500 patrons in less than 2 weeks. The second “Project House” pilot test is done in Wanchai district. The group decided to take a different approach after discussions with the local organisations. It is held with a focus in exposing the community to a wide range of environmentally friendly activities such as ethical shopping and recycled-craft bag workshop. Students are seen to be heavily involved in the process to reach out to the younger age groups of the 129
community. The third “Project House” in Wanchai focuses on the element of play due to the typography of neighbouring shops. With the influence of media, more collaborators and landlords are more willing to be on-board with this initiative. With more public exposure and some funds, the fourth “Project House” has expanded to include improving the infrastructure of the neighbourhood. Interventions made include inflating a set of helium balloons as a temporary shelter for passer-by and refurbishing the fixture of the nearby streets. “Project House” has successfully expanded the scale from individual private commercial space to the open streets. With the COVID-19 situation, “Project House” does not come to a halt. It has been revamped into “Food House”. The agenda of the initiative remains the same –
bringing essential service to the community. With the pandemic hit on the global economy, the group recognises the challenge of affording a simple meal for the lower-income demographic. “Food House” offers nutritious bento meals for those affected by the pandemic at more affordable pricing than most food vendors. Due to the social-distancing measures in mid of the pandemic period, this initiative has been initially powered by individual but slowly supported by the community through a local crowdfund webpage. The challenge in this social initiative is the planning of the events. Given the short period of each season of “Project House”, the designers must propose an event that will be of the greatest benefits to the local community. One Bite Design Studio recognises the importance of the local social organisation such as the NGOs, local social start-ups. These local organisations are built up from the needs of the community and the active involvers of the local community before “Project House” initiative. They are the groups who are more familiar with the community situation and will then provide accurate and valuable insights into the type of placemaking ”Project House” should focus on. The move to share planning and decision-making responsibilities with the social organisation allows each season of “Project House” to be customised to fulfil the community needs. While community groups are involved in the conversation, One Bite Design Studio remains to play the dominant decision-making role and the facilitators in “Project House”. Patrons of “Project House” are also able to provide their feedback through a message board or directly communicate with the “Project House” team on the ground.
by the idea and joined in with an open mind. A simple gesture of filling up vacant shops with community-driven enterprises has sparked a conversation between the old and new.
Impact on Community
Similar to “Project House”, these events could be taken charge by local community groups such as interest groups or local NGOs. These community groups could plan out activities that would allow their members to share the experience with the public. For example, guitar enthusiasts could share their music passion with pedestrians at the underground linkways. These interventions will require a dominant party to facilitate the liaison between the interest groups and the landowners. Similar to Hong Kong, in Singapore, building management of the particular mall or state authorities will assess the events and take necessary actions if not allowed. Regardless, the key to the success of placemaking is to start the initiative when there’s a vision and the domino effect will follow.
“Project House” has not only successfully brought about a societal change in the neighbourhood but has also connected private spaces back into the city. It brings in the potential of these private spaces and how they could be one of the driving forces to assist in a neighbourhood’s development. This is also a great chance for locals to get to know the social organisations in their community. “Project House” is also a witness to the exchange of interest between the young and old businesses. It is evidential in the testimonials of “Project House” that landlords who used to have a prejudice against young business, have grown to be fascinated
Discussions and Lessons Filling up void spaces is a good strategy to redefine the agenda of these spaces for the city. In Singapore, the retail vacancy rate has reached 8% as seen in the latest 2019 quarterly survey on the vacancy of retail space. The number applies to the central commercial district and district outside of the central area. Emptiness can be seen in strata malls, underground MRT connecting link or ground floor of Central Business District. These vacant spaces have good accessibility, rich heritage background or large patron’s population yet they are still left to contain stale air. “Project House” in Hong Kong can physically open up these ground-level vacant spaces to the public as these shops are located on ground-floor while facing the main road. This strategic location enabled for horizontal street-level interaction. Although vacant shops in Singapore are often found in enclosed multi-storey buildings or underground infrastructure, the case study of “Project House” brings attention to the great potential of vacancy and utilisation of these spaces by non-conventional clients. Though the application to Singapore will differ, the filling strategy is a good start for us to re-examine our spaces, such as capitalizing the idea of drawing crowds towards these under-utilized areas through a multitude of events while benefiting those who participate in these events.
Sarah Mui Co-founder and Design director
Upbringing in Hong Kong and London shaped Sarah into a ‘Glocalist’ who enjoys adding sense of humour and cultural twists to everything she designs. When she is not laughing with the One Bite team and her students, this winner of the Hong Kong Young Architect Award 2015 is probably doodling the next rhapsodic, city-hacking plan. She is the awardee of the Women of Excellence by the Jessica Magazine in 2017. She has received the DFA Hong Kong Young Design Talent Award, and the Certificate of Commendation by the Secretary for Home Affairs of the Hong Kong SAR Government in 2018. Recently, she has been awarded as “40 Under 40” in the Architecture category by Perspective.
Our main objective of this interview with Sarah is to understand the thinking behind “Project House” and the after-impact on the community. The interview is segmented into three parts : Learning more about the Studio, their design philosophy, common engagement process and how they decide on a project; Learning about the impact of “Project House” on the users and the neighbourhood and follow ups; Learning about the COVID-19’s impacts on the placemaking industry in Hong Kong and One Bite Design Studio.
Selected Interview Questions Q:
What led to the founding of One Bite Design Studio?
One Bite Design Studio was set up in 2015, when the two co-founders, Alan & I, wanted to explore how cross-disciplinary work could inform new urban ideas for our home city, Hong Kong.
Is there a process for One Bite Design Studio in re-making a space as mentioned in your placemaking philosophy to kickstart a placemaking project?
The process of re-making space in One Bite follows our methodology called K.N.O.T. – KNOCKING on doors to understand the stakeholders, distilling the real NEEDS, ORIGINATING new ideas, believing in TRIAL and quick prototypes. KNOCKING is always the first step to get to know the neighbourhood for new and relevant insights.
How do you and your team decide upon a potential vacant site to develop into the “Project House”? The story of “Project House” began in 2017 when a friend owned a shop being vacant for years. Our early discussion was to use the shop as a weekend market. However, when we discussed further, we realized vacant shop space is in fact a common phenomenon in the city and we should bring up a bigger experiment. It took us 4 months for discussion and 2 more months for preparation in rolling out the first “Project House”.
Which collaboration or activity do you have the fondest memory of?
The One Dollar weekend shop was one of my most memorable collaboration. It was an idea that our long-time collaborator had been
sharing. Therefore, when we have decided to open “Project House”, we believed it was the best opportunity to try their experiment. This activity aligned with our belief in enabling social experiments in the city so new insights can be tested.
While developing projects, there would usually be challenges and setbacks that could stem for various sources, such as societal or economical. How do you and your team work to address those challenges that might occur during or after a project development?
As architects, we get used to work with challenges and setbacks. We think it is crucial to have an aligned vision in each project so we know what the priorities should be when making decision.
What is the immediate change you have observed on the street after the “Project House” operation?
One immediate change we found is the neighbours enjoyed to come back. Recurring presence of neighbours reflects the positive impact of the project.
Have you and your team considered expanding the intervention of “Project House” to be incorporated with other groups or locations? What difficulties do you foresee in scaling this process up?
We have been expanding and continuing “Project House” in other 4 districts in the last 3 years. The most difficult part is to get available space. The whole project relies heavily on the availability of vacant shop spaces which cannot be controlled.
What do you think COVID-19’s impact on social architecture and placemaking in general would be in Hong Kong? Do you think it would hinder, for example: by having less participants, or do you think it would be beneficial in a sense that it would highlight the social resilience that Hong Kong has?
COVID-19 gives a hit on everyone, to face the fact that our urban design was not up-to-date and immediate actions should be taken to build a healthy city. It is a hard lesson, but we could see how designers and architects are responding well and moving fast.
How has COVID-19 affected your work?
From daily work arrangement, COVID-19 has created a lot of inconvenience. However, it also gives us opportunities to try new technology in engagement process.
How would you and your team adapt your studio’s design process or principles for past and future projects?
Our studio vision is “Interconnecting People and Making Places”, we hope we could walk along this approach to bring design and public space that is relevant and beneficial to the city users.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
Keep trying and it will never be too late.
What books would you recommend to architecture students?
The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 ACTIVITIES BEGETS ACTIVITIES The idea of matching up empty spaces with community groups that requires some sort of physical spaces is such an impactful process in terms of both economic and social context. By learning how life returns into old neighbourhoods once “Project House” was introduced, there is potential that the same could happen in environments that we want to re-enliven in Singapore. Imagine filling up unoccupied stores along places such as underground linkway or strata malls with various activities, it automatically brings about a vibrant environment through its drawing of crowds. These crowds would then slowly spend their time, and money, within the vicinity. Secondly, with a constant vibrant environment, additional influx of individuals would have reason to visit these underutilized spaces - further adding on to the vibrancy of the area. Lastly, these activities that are planned by the different groups could provide several opportunities for individuals to connect through mutual interests, thus organically creating interactions and relationships. However, we must ensure that these activities do not fall into the trap of just become another series of “shops” just for the sake of profits as there will be nothing of worth that individuals will return for.
0.2 CONNECTING DEMAND AND SUPPLY When Sarah mentioned about how the vacancy schedule of shop spaces cannot be controlled affects the possibilities of these “pop-up” communal events, we wonder if establishing a formalized union or council would help in connecting the various unused shops with the demand of the groups who would benefit from those physical spaces. In the perspective of Singapore, the council could be headed by prominent figures of the community groups and grassroot leaders of the different constituencies and establish a reliable channel to connect the demand and supply of these spaces. Furthermore, having an official council could help create a formalized procedure that would ease the barrier of entry and help this new sharing economy to flourish.
0.3 INFLUENCE OF COLOUR The social experiments conducted in “Project House” have a wide range, ranging from eco-flea markets to ID photo photography session. Each of these events organised is attractive to different demography of the community. It is evidential that after each subsequent season of “Project House”, the patrons of “Project House” grew to be more and more diverse. Perhaps it is the spread of words among the community from one season to another or the variety of event types that engage the different inhabitants in the neighbourhood. The colour utilised by One Bite Design Studio also plays the role of ambassador for the events. The colour contrast, as compared to neighbouring monotone shop houses, highlights the vibrancy of the “Project House”. Perhaps the colour play of the visual is another contributing factor to the success of “Project House”.
0.4 UNDERSTANDING YOUR AUDIENCE While browsing through the myriad of events pictures in ”Project House”, we learnt how each neighbourhood has different community situations, requirements and distinct background, yet “Project House” manages to tap upon all of these to plan and connect appropriate activites and events that engages the respective communities. This is due to the engagement that One Bite Design Studio had with the local communities and it shows how crucial it is to involve the local social organisations into the planning.
1.6 Participate in Design (P!D) About Participate in Design (P!D): Participate in Design (P!D) is a nonprofit design, planning and educational organisation that provides their expertise in participatory design to help institutions in Singapore design community-owned spaces and solutions. P!D was founded in 2013 by founders, Jan Lim and Mizah Rahman with the vision to spread the ideas of participatory design across Singapore. â€œWe believe that design should start with people.â€? P!D was founded on the firm belief that everyone has the right to influence the design and planning processes of projects that affect them. Website: http://participateindesign.org/ All photos are courtesy of Participate in Design
Case Study: Hack Our Play Project Name: Hack Our Play Location: Singapore Date Initiated: 2017 Date Completed: 2017 Size: 128 sqm Partner: St. James Church Kindergarten Presenter: Lien Foundation
Abstract A top down approach tends to be adopted in the designing of play spaces in Singapore. Children often have minimal or no influence on how these spaces, primarily used by them, are designed. The perspectives of children and adults are fundamentally different, children looks forward to play spaces as a fun environment while adults focus on ensuring it is a safe environment, often compromising the fun aspect of play spaces, overlooking the primary purpose of a play space. Hack Our Play sets out to rethink how play spaces in Singapore should be designed and built to ensure it genuinely engages with the users, remodelling a new generation of playscape in Singapore. The project provides a platform for children and other stakeholders to co-create and design a stimulating play space quickly, cheaply and efficiently utilising upcycled materials and local skills. By bringing together relevant stakeholders from different backgrounds, P!D hosts discussions and consolidates the findings to provide an organized plan to be executed by the community.
by Kady Ho, Loh Jia Yun 135
Genesis of Project Conventionally, playgrounds around Singapore are mostly an assemble of play equipment bought off a set of universal catalogue, often resulting in standardised and uncharacterised play experiences. The worry of providing young children with a rigid play environment lies in the problematic nature of having a pre-defined “right” or “wrong” in how the equipment and space should be used, and the fear that this would restrict the children’s creativity and imagination. This effect does not only affect the way children play but possibly extends to how they may perceive other issues in the future, cultivating an inflexibility in thinking that there is always only one “right” solution, when really there is always more than a singular angle to approach problems. Careful care should be taken to ensure the children’s creativity is not impeded by their built environment or activities but instead developed from the early childhood. As the Senior Principal and Academic Directior of St James’ Church Kindergarten, Dr. Jaqueline Chung, mentioned “Quality play has the ability to shape children’s development and learning, as
well as to impact their health and well-being in a positive way. Play embodies children’s expression of their desires, hopes and anxieties in the here and now.”. This inspired the initiative to involve the immediate users to be part of the design process of their own play space.
Design This initiative enables children to work with their educators and parents to reimagine how they want their play space to look, followed by actually constructing them with the prepared non-standard structures and upcycled materials while promoting the fostering of stronger bonds amongst the community in the process. The project is divided into four phases: Connect, Understand, Create and Deliver. Phase 1 involves getting connected with the various stakeholders be it direct or indirect. Direct stakeholders in this case would be the children, their parents, and their educators. These are the users who will be interacting with the play space directly on a day to day basis. Indirect stakeholders are the organisations that 136
will have the power to supply resources or enable the project in any other aspect, in this case it is St James’ Church Kindergarten and Lien Foundation. Relationships are built with time; it is good to actively stay connected with the various stakeholders to keep them updated of any plans. This will help build a strong and reliable network that feels involved in the project, a connection you can count on to realise the project fruitfully. Phase 2 will help the organisers have a deeper understanding of the varying needs and perspectives of different stakeholders, the stakeholders will be involved from the early design discussions and sharing sessions. P!D designs suitable processes and methods of communication depending on the nature of the project and the target group to allow them to effectively communicate their ideas. For “Hack Our Play”, Crayon Conversation, Pop-up Play and Prototyping sessions were adopted as the methodology to collate 137
the thoughts of the children at St James’ Church Kindergarten. Through vibrant and colourful choice of communication, casual conversations and hands on activities, direct interactions with the children, coupled with focus group talks with experts, volunteers from P!D gain deeper understanding of the children’s underlying needs, challenges and opportunities beyond the assumed ones. Phase 3 marks the beginning of the planning for the actual building of the space. P!D follows the 50-50 rule where up to 50% of the space may be built with the help of outsourced contractors, this should be for the bulkier and more complex structure to give the children to have a base to add on while also ensuring structural integrity of the larger structures to create a safe playing environment for the children. The remaining percentage of the construction will directly involve the children’s, parents’ and educators’ contributions in shaping the space they will be using.
Phase 4 will look into the continuity of the project, it is crucial in ensuring the sustainability and continual success of the co-created space.
making skill and risk assessment. By going through these processes, the members of the community have gained empowerment and additional skill sets in different aspects, and these are all the underlying benefits of practising participatory design.
Impact on Community With these four phases of interactions between the direct and indirect stakeholders, the co-created and envisioned play space was materialised for St James’ Church Kindergarten. From the very beginning in the design exploration stage, to the prototyping, to the actual materialising and eventually utilising and maintaining of the play space, the direct stakeholders were actively involved in every part of the process. This has instilled in them, especially the primary user — the children, with a greater sense of ownership over the place. They will very naturally take up subconscious roles in ensuring the place stays as a friendly play environment for themselves and their friends. This may be in forms of ensuring no litter lies around the play area, or even reporting damages they may observe to their educators as they take pride in the space and hope for the best. Children are not the sole benefiters from the project, through these interactions with their children and receiving insights from perhaps another adult, parents better understand their children, forging deeper parent-children relationship. Parents will also register the benefits and need to allow for sufficient space and freedom for their children, taking on a more passive approach in educating their children, taking care to ensure they do not enforce ideas on their children but allow them to express their thoughts more freely. Apart from the benefits derived from the materialising of the play space itself, the process that the different stakeholders went through, with the many different layers of communications between different stakeholders also helped with honing their interpersonal skills. In the construction phase, the various activities like painting, planting, assembling materials of their choice are all opportunities for children to express their creativity, which may perhaps even boost their confidence in the different areas as they learn and get better along the way. Given the autonomy to make their own decisions, children will learn to judge and think through their decisions, promoting a form of decision-
Discussions and Lessons One dimension introduced in the “Hack Our Play” project is the time aspect, where the play space is allowed to evolve and take on different shapes and configurations over time, enabled by the flexible and customizable nature of the basic components that makes up the play space. This flexibility enables the play space to be redesigned periodically to give a fresh experience each time it is revamped. It also allows for the design of the spaces to change with new batches of children joining the Kindergarten, ensuring the spaces stay relevant to the interest of each batch of children. P!D’s vision and aspirations for the “Hack Our Play” project did not end with their implementation with St James’ Church Kindergarten. To pass on their vision in the promotion of participatory design in the coming up of play spaces, they have condensed their findings and documentations of the implemented projects into a series of 3 books they labelled as the “Hack Our Play” Toolkit to allow for people to learn and adapt from their findings and projects. From the first implementation with St. James Church Kindergarten, their findings where further explored, adapted and implemented in four other projects, applied to different sites with different purposes and learning objectives at each site. While the scale of the projects and activities or methods of engagement had to be tweaked to cater to the local community and requirements, the principles behind remained the same. Hopefully, their vision of how play spaces should evolve from the conventional will be passed on and improved on, to be enjoyed by children of the generations to come.
Larry Yeung Executive Director
With a strong belief that the “community has the power to shape and influence their built environment” , Larry Yeung joined P!D in 2016 to further pursue his passion for participatory based works. He is also a graduate from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with an M.Arch in 2014. His passion for participatory design journey started in his M.Arch thesis on “co-creating spaces with the local rental housing community in mind”. Prior to joining P!D, he was an architectural associate at CPG Consultants. His work in design and project management includes the Enhancement to the UNESCO Heritage site at Singapore National Orchid Garden, Eight Riversuites and NUCLEOS @ Biopolis. In 2014, he was also the recipient of the BCA-CPG Industrial scholarship award as well as the URA Urban Design prize.
“Hack Our Play” is an inspiring project and hence we felt the need to interview P!D to better understand the effectiveness, scalability and adaptability of the processes as well as the methodologies created. Also to know the potential difficulties to look out for when engaging with the public to create a public space. Situated in Singapore, we can evaluate the extent of participatory design, before and after Covid-19, to observe the projective possibilities and identify how participatory design impacts Singaporeans.
Selected Interview Questions Q:
Could you share your latest project, and how did you and your team start connecting with the community involved?
Our latest project is the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme in Nee Soon East, whereby we were given the task to brainstorm innovative ways to co-create the neighbourhood together with the residents in Nee Soon East. This project just started a few weeks ago, and we are in the midst of reaching out to the Town Council, grassroots and advisor for the area.
What is your vision for participatory design to be used as an approach for community designs? Do you think all projects should adopt participation from the community? Are there any cases you can think of for which participatory design might not significantly value-add to a community project?
My vision is for more public projects to adopt a participatory design framework from the beginning of the project so that the design brief could be shaped more meaningfully. A lot of times we only start engaging the community at the later part of the project, and by then, we realise that a lot of assumptions were already made, and the scope which the community could influence the end outcome is extremely limited. That may in some cases cause the public project to look good as a space/ architecture, but fail to serve the community in the long run.
Our first step for any new project is to first understand the community a little more through the above mentioned stakeholders, before doing the actual ground work with the residents. We are excited to connect with the residents through various means such as the upcoming walking conversations and community workshops. If you stay near Nee Soon East, do keep a lookout for these community engagements!
Everybody’s needs are different, and opinions have been extensively collected in the first 2 phases of every project. Thoughts from every stakeholder might be vastly different or at Times even clashing. How does the organisation consolidate and converge the thoughts of the community?
There will hardly be any community engagement with all views aligned. At some point, there will likely be conflicting views. But most importantly, I would say the participatory design process is about creating this platform for the community and designers/space managers to empathise with one another, so that each of them can understand one another’s perspective. With such understanding, we can then mobilise the community to work towards a common vision of the space. At the end of the day, we are there to listen and co-design with the “local experts” (in this case the residents), and collaboration between all stakeholders and the design experts can create a meaningful change in the built outcome.
That being said, I do feel that not every project need to adopt participation from the community. Some examples are conservation projects. When it comes to deciding what architecture to preserve, it requires some degree of knowledge of conservation and architectural history to decide what needs to be preserved, and these are some things that require more of an expert point of view. So in this case, I do not see public participation as crucial in this case. However, public participation can come in at a later part to perhaps decide what programmes can go along in the conserved spaces.
For the “Hack Our Play” series, is the research and understanding phase repeated for the different sites or how did you manage to adapt the general ideas learned to the different scales, objectives and age groups? For Hack Our Play, we worked on one site, which is within a privately owned space at St James Kindergarten. We hoped to demonstrate to our partners and public agencies that such a methodology could be applied to different sites through this project. We documented 140
our research journey, and also shared with the public what methodology worked for us, and some challenges we faced, so that they will be able to adjust these methodology according to the different sites they choose to work with. The toolkit is available for free at www.hackourplay. com.
Do the public spaces created with upcycled materials tend to be temporary in nature (be it as a play environment or in terms of maintenance of these materials)? Are the spaces created with upcycled materials as appreciated, or perhaps even more appreciated than its counterpart that are associated with more permanent structures?
The concept of using upcycled materials was to create a space that will constantly evolve over time. So it was meant to be more transitionary from the beginning. From our observation and feedback from the teachers, kids enjoyed the upcycled space more because it was built by themselves and their parents, they feel a greater sense of pride towards the space. Some feedback we got was also that the upcycled space offers more elements that can be customised to their liking, therefore able to accommodate more of their imaginative play during their play time. The fact that it will constantly evolve also adds some excitement for the kids and educators as it is a space that can constant change based on different students’ and educators’ imagination.
What career advice would you give to your younger self?
I would like to tell myself, do not be afraid to try and step out of your comfort zone. Stay true to your own values.
Which books have inspired you the most and why?
Jane Jacobs “Life and death of Great American cities”. This was the first book I read In architecture school that really left an impact on me, and was also one of the reason I got very interested in the field of urban planning, community and public architecture.
During the time after the Covid-19 outbreak, was the P!D able to adapt the participatory design principles to contribute to any community in an innovative way to help cope with the situation?
We have to move a lot of our engagements online. That to us is something new, because we always have been doing physical engagements, and doing engagement online is something new for us. But how might we do engagement online but still doing it in a fun and accessible manner, that is what we are constantly trying to innovate. Also, there are communities that may not be present online, so how do we still reach out to them during such times?
How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic will change your work in the future?
I think there will need to be a hybrid of methods in the “new norm”. While online engagements were seen as “the new norm”, we felt that we should not neglect the importance of physical interaction, so that our seniors or community who have no access to computers, would not be left out of the co-creation process.
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 VIEWS WILL NOT ALWAYS BE ALIGNED As Larry said in his interview, it is common and expected for views to vary between individuals, but that itself is the very reason to encourage participatory design. The objective of the participatory design platform is to serve as a platform to take into consideration the different stakeholders’ needs and wants, providing an avenue for not just the designers of the space to understand the users but also for the users to empathise with one another, creating a common understandng such that they will be more aware and mindful of each other’s perspective.
0.2 MORE PARTICIPATION Community participation in projects from early stages would better ensure the project is geared towards the right direction. More often than not, projects are progressed initially based on a set of assumptions, however, more effort should be placed to validate these assumptions through community engagement as it sets the basis of a project and would determine the success of the project in the long run.
0.3 LIFE, SPACES, BUILDINGS
0.4 CUSTOMISABLE SPACES ‘Hack Our Play’ has showed that involving stakeholders in the design process could make them feel a greater sense of pride towards them. They would more likely treat the space with more care, or use the space more often as they take ownership of the spaces created by them. Having easily customizable spaces provides more opportunities for the stakeholders to recreate and evolve the design as time passes, ensuring it stays relevant and refreshing throughout different batches of users.
0.5 IMPORTANCE OF PHYSICAL INTERACTIONS The Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the importance on many things that we often overlook, such as the physical interactions and engagements. Marginalised groups may be disadvantaged during this crucial period as it could mean that opinions and stakeholders may be missed out. This presents the importance of having multiple avenues to reach out to them, beyond mere online interactions.
The importance of following the order of Life, Spaces followed by buildings that Jan Gehl has prescribed is crucial. If the designer decides to forgo the community that inhabits the space, the final outcome may not be as relatable to them, and in the worst case, abandoned.
1.7 studio - L About stuio-L: Studio L is a Japanese firm that focues on community design. As community designers, the firm focuses on empowering the local people to participate in problem solving in their neighbourhoods. A typical workflow of a project consists of researching on case studies, conducting interviews and workshops as well as connecting different people in the local community to be involved in the project. Studio L was founded by Ryo Yamazaki together with Takanori Daigo, Shinji Kanba and Arisa Nishigami in 2005 (previously known as Seikatsu Studio). Its early years saw the team working on projects such as the renewal of a magazine delivered from a park management organisation in Osaka and the Senri Rehabilitation Hospital Project which helped Ryo Yamazaki to recognise a new role of a community designer. Website: http://www.studio-l.org/en/ All photos are courtesy of studio-L
Case Study: Hajimari Art Center Project Name: Hajimari Art Center Location: Inawashiro, Japan Date Designed: 2013 Date Completed: 2014 Size: 235.66 sqm (building size), 1,217.14 sqm (site area) Client: Asaka Hospital Group The content of this case study is partially derived from the interview with Noriko Deno, who was involved in this project.
Abstract The Hajimari Art Center is an Art Brut Museum which was established by renovating a 120-year old sake brewery. The building belonged to the Asaka Hospital Group. The hospital usually displayed the arts of the patient in their hospitals and hence wanted to transform the building into a museum that exhibited Art Brut. The hospital approached studio L to explore how they could go about creating such a museum.
Cultural and Historical Context With the building being a 120-year old former sake brewery, there exists a long history with the site. where it withstood the trial of an earthquake and has become a familiar sight to the people of Inawashiro.
by Tan Gee Yang, Naomi Bachtiar 143
The building is firmly rooted to the town and this is something that has to be taken into account when renovating the building to house the museum. Meanwhile, the site was in the countryside where most residents are involved in agriculture. It is important to ensure that the community is open to having the museum and feel welcomed to utilise the museum as a community space. They need to feel comfortable to come freely in their Wellington boots.
Genesis of Project The 120-year-old building belongs to a hospital which specialises on mental illness and intellectual disabilites. The hospital used to have a facility in the region that supports people with such disabilities by allowing them to create art. The works used to be displayed in the hospital or in festivals, and the hospital wanted a explore how a museum that connects people through art could be created. This form of art is called Art Brut. Art Brut is a term coined by French Painter Jean Debuffet which describe art made outside the art institutions by those without formal training. By focusing on this form of art, the Hajimari Art Center becomes a place that welcomes everyone. It becomes an informal community space and the goal is to create a space where people could come not just to look at art but to chat and have tea. Art in this sense becomes a catalyst for people to gather. The curator for this museum was hired even before the
museum was built such that he can participate in the conceptualisation of the museum. This allows a clear vision for the museum to be developed.
Design Studio L started gathering information by going door-todoor, asking the local residents a few basic questions. Because the museum is located at a high street, the shop owners are potential visitors to the musuem (In Japan, there is usually a shop front and a living quarter at the back. As such, shop owners are residents as well). Some questions asked includes what they think about having a museum in the street, how they live and would like to live in the future, what problems or concerns that they have as well as the culture and how it can be incorporated in the museum. This research is important because the museum should not be an alien to the context. It is the peopleâ€™s and so should act as such. 144
Studio L made sure to include the local residents from day 1 so that the museum does not end up being exclusive. The perception of the people regarding the musuem is shaped from these interactions. Involving the people through dialogue and workshops allow the residents to build a sense of ownership. Building a rapport with the local is crucial in getting the local residents involved. 4 interns helped out in engaging the community. The interns lived in a house behind the museum. They could not cook very well and would turn to the residents for help. The residents 145
gave them their produce but they were not sure how to consume it and had to ask the residents. The next time, the residents brought cooked food for them. There was also the case of an old lady who sufferend from dementia and could not remember her way home. The interns often help guide her home. By living there, they got to know the residents very well and gradually got the residents interested in the museum project. A crucial step in the engagement of local residents is to get them to participate in workshops. These workshops allow the relationship between residents and museum to be explored.
Impact on Community The museum becomes an informal community space that connects people together and allow for community building activities to take place. With the residents being involved from early on, the relationship between the people and the museum becomes significant enough such that a separate opening ceremony was held specially for the local, in addition to the official tapecutting ceremony. Studio L prepared a barbeque and residents were invited to bring their own food. When the project was explained to the residents during the barbeque, many of them have already known and were interested in the project. After the opening of the museum, the residents remained central to the museum. Annual events and regular workshops are planned by the residents. The museum has become a community gathering place for the residents, with the residents taking active charge of the happenings in the museum. This is something that is rarely seen in other museums where visitors simply act as spectaors . The project was meaningful for the residents. For the people who worked on the project, the prcess and the resultant museum are something that stay with them. One of the interns even went back to work as a staff in the musuem.
Discussions and Lessons The Hajimari Art Center project has been successful in getting local community involvement by going deep into the community and doing it from the early stage. This is something that can be applied to Singapore especially in projects that are envisioned to play an important role in community building. A key characteristic of the community design methodology is that the community becomes empowered as their voices are heard. It is important in the context of Singapore that the form of community engagement is not simply as a formality to appease the residents, but rather for it to be a platform for change. Interactions with the residents should be viewed as the ideal opportunity to gain valuable insights relevant to the particular project. Only then could the needs and wants, of the residents explicity stated or
not, could be addressed. While local engagement is important, what is also key is to distill the information gained from this and to apply it meaningfully to the project. There may come times when conficting views arise even within the residents. In such a time, the role of a community designer would then be to negotiate these differences and find a common ground to work from. 146
Born in Tokyo, in 1978. She worked as a media producer in London from 2001. She also worked on a freelance basis, for TV programs such as “European Railways” by BS Fuji. After joining studio-L in 2011, she got involved in the operation of Ama Community Channel, a TV channel owned by the town council of Ama, Shimane, where she helped the community to produce TV programs.
Born in Shiga, in 1984. She worked in DI CLASSE, a lighting and home accessory company from 2006. She then served as an independent coordinator for several workshops and exhibitions from 2010 and managed “Nishiogishiten”. In2011, she joined studio-L.
Born in Kanagawa in 1980. Raised in Iwate. She graduated from the Department of Computer Science, Western Michigan University. After graduating, she worked as a PM and SE at an IT company for network construction work. She then joined studio-L in 2015.
The purpose of the interview is to get to know Studio L’s methodology and process of conducting community design. The focus of the interview would be centered around two of their projects, the Hajimari Art Center and the Tachikawa Children Future Center. The interview would be focused on the methodology of community design in these two projects as well as the interviewee’s personal experience when working on the projects. The interview transcipt would mainly contain excerpts regarding the Tachikawa Children Future Center as the excerpts for the Hajimari Art Center has been reflected in the case study in the preceeding pages.
Selected Interview Questions Q:
For the Tachikawa Children Future Center, I would like to ask about your personal experience working on these projects. These are the things I couldnâ€™t get from reading an article. Perhaps you could share about the on the ground experience? The local government of Tachikawa city wanted to turn the former city hall into a new public facility which is the current Tachikawa Children Future Center. The approach to the project was similar to Hajimari Art Center where interviews were conducted approximately 1 year before the opening of the center in December 2012. There was a total of 50 to 60 community groups which included people who planned events for children or manga events and parent support groups. The center was envisioned to be a place for informal gathering and a place where the residents could plan and organize events for fellow residents. Workshops were conducted with these focus groups to find out their interests as well as needs for the future building. In the workshops, the participants were asked to present how they would potentially utilize the building as well as potential activities that could be conducted there. The workshop provided insights on the types of spaces that needed to be designed as well as the potential users of the center in the future. Since the main program of the Children Future Center was a manga park, drawing became a medium for creative exploration for some of the workshops to stimulate the creativity of the participants. Currently, there are 350 different activities and programs being conducted annually at the center. It has been six years since the opening of the center, and we feel that there has been a lot of growth since its opening.
It is interesting that manga is being used as a medium for the workshops and you have also showed some pictures of the workshops. How do you get people to be interested in these workshops and participate in them? During the
workshop, are there any points of conflict and how do you deal with that?
In terms of the reasons people participate in the workshop, it is mostly for networking reasons. The workshops provide a platform and opportunity for community groups to meet other groups that have similar interests, and this could spark potential collaboration. Newer community groups could also make use of these workshops to learn from groups with more experience in planning and organizing events. One major conflict or concern was the design of the building. The design of the building was undertaken by an architect. The architects did not accept some of the comments and changes proposed by the community groups as the design of the building have been mainly frozen. The community groups hence felt that their comments were not of priority even though they participated in the workshops. We at studio-L had to make sure that people understood that participating in the workshop does not give them a priority and exclusivity even after the building is completed when it came to the use of the facilities.
What would you say is your biggest challenge in this project or was the project smooth sailing in general?
The local government wanted this project to bring together different community groups within Tachikawa for them to collaborate to organize new activities and events for the residents. These groups individually are capable of organizing events on their own and as the coordinator of the project, we had to come up with ways during the workshops to get them to connect and collaborate. I think the coordination aspect was the biggest challenge in the project.
*D: Deno San, H: Hong San
Thank you for sharing your personal experience with the projects and the stories that happened during the project. I have a non-project related question. Since all of you come from varying backgrounds with different perspectives, what advice would you give designers who are just starting out or designers who are interested in community design?
I do not have a background in architecture or landscape architecture, but I think getting the local residents involved in the design process is very important. It is important to think about how people would use the building after it is open instead of focusing on creating a lovely nice building. In my opinion, incorporating the localsâ€™ opinions as well as local culture in the design is very important. We work with architects as well. The workshops are conducted prior to the design such that they could reflect the opinions and the culture of the locals and provide insights to how people might use the building. These would be incorporated into the design by the architects.
I think workshops are also a good time for residents to think about their lives, how they would like to live in their city. It gives them the opportunity to design their lives in the future.
Workshops provide the opportunity for people to think about their lives and learn about their surroundings. People are not necessarily aware about the things happening around them. People living in Tokyo might not know about their neighbours but people living in small towns might know almost everything. This kind of information is very important for local residents so that they know where to seek help or know who to help, especially in the context of natural disasters. Workshops essentially help residents think about what they want to do in their lives, what they need and what the neighbourhood needs. It is important to design this into the workshops such that people can talk not only about the upcoming building but also share their lives. All these insights would inform a better design of the building and its landscape.
The role of studio-L sometimes is to look after the management of the built environment. There was this park that was designed and built 10 years ago but there was the shortage of park visitors. The park management approached studio-L to explore how they could increase the park usage among residents. So, It is very important to think about how the building is going to be used after its built.
*D: Deno San, H: Hong San
Insights & Takeaways Lessons learnt from the interview 0.1 LOCAL RESIDENTS AND CULTURE Getting the local residents involved in the entirety of the design process is very important as it builds a sense of attachment and ownership among the residents to the proposed building. Understanding the way of life and the culture of the residents would give valuable insights that could influence the design of the building significantly. The architecture, the spaces, and facilities within are crafted around the needs of the users. The residents would feel more comfortable using the spaces and this may result in pockets of informal interactions that cannot be achieved with a conventional design process.
0.2 DESIGN FOR POST OCCUPANCY Architecture is about creating spaces for people to use. Hence the building should be designed with the experience of the people in mind. How people would use the building should be the main driver for the design. However, some designers might be more concerned about the aesthetics of the building and neglect the users in the design process. Hence as architects and designers, it is extremely important for us to balance both the needs and wants of the occupants as well as the aesthetics of the architecture and not neglect either aspects in the process.
0.3 DESIGN OF WORKSHOPS Workshops are an integral aspect of the community design process. It provides opportunities for people to voice their opinions and serves as a platform for people to envision the future of the city together. The design of these workshops is hence important as it guides the conversation during the workshop. In addition to discussing the potential building, the workshops should also provide an avenue for people to feel comfortable speaking up about any topic to assure the participants that their opinions matter. The participants will feel more involved in this process and would be more willing to raise insights into their daily lives. Workshops enable designers to understand the many aspects of life of the users and these valuable insights would help drive the design forward to be more people centric.
0.4 PASSION FOR THE COMMUNITY As architects, it is important to be passionate about the community that we are designing for. From the interview with the members of studio-L, it is undeniable that their passion to help the community through design drives them to do their best to engage the community, understand them and design for them. Although studio-L officially stops being involved when the project is completed, some members often go back and visit the community on their own after the completion of the project. The passion for what we do and the passion for the community we are designing for will set apart a good design from a mediocre one.
Acknowledgements We would like to thank Singapore Institute of Architects and the Singapore Archifest 2020 Organising Team for the opportunity and assistance in connecting with the selected architecture firms and organisations while conducting this research. We would also like to express our deepest gratitude to all the architects and designers who have kindly agreed to be interviewed and consented the use of their photos and drawings in our publication and website. Social Architecture website: https://socialarchi.github.io/ Singapore Archifest website: https://www.archifest.sg/
Social Architecture â€“ Theory & Practice 2020 Instructor: Associate Professor CHONG Keng Hua Teaching Assistant: Yohei KATO Publication Design: Shawn LOW & NG Wen Qi Website Design: Yohei KATO, Hendriko TEGUH & Mavis LEE Xing Yun Editing: Kanchana SOKKALINGAM Student Team: Mary Agnes ANGEL Naomi Marcelle BACHTIAR Sandra CHAN Su Cheng CHEN Yu-hsuan Michelle EDISON HAN Jing Nidhi HEGDE Kady HO Wei Na KIANG Ching Wesley KOH Zhi Peng LEE Xing Yun Mavis LI Jiayi LIM Teng Yu Eunice May Thinzar LIN LOH Jia Yun LOW Hui An Shawn NG Wen Qi NGIAM Ju Jin Lucas Cheska Daclag NODADO Nur Fadhilah Binte NORDIN TAN Gee Yang TAN Yong Shin Matthew Hendriko TEGUH Adler TEO Ryan TEO Jun Yan Arisa TERIYAPIROM THET Naung Oo Natalie TSANG Yan Ting WAN Mengcheng WANG Qiaorou
Social Architecture — Theory and Practice aims to equip the students with theoretical/historical knowledge of ‘Social Architecture’ as well...
Published on Sep 30, 2020
Social Architecture — Theory and Practice aims to equip the students with theoretical/historical knowledge of ‘Social Architecture’ as well...