Saturday, 19 May 2012

Urban Tree House (Recycled)

Rethinking the Man-Nature Equilibrium through Recycling Building Components

Since 2007, the FuturArc Prize has championed forward-thinking, innovative design ideas for Asia. The awards have seen numerous sustainable design proposals. The question now is, how sustainable those design may lasts and survive? Our proposal is to re-think and analyze these proposals into making them becoming still relevant even after they have passed their life-cycle period.

With the assumptions of a certain life-cycle period of a building, we are looking for the possibilities of recycling previous winner’s building components and transforming them into a new design with new programs, functions and purposes. The approach is also responding to the ubiquitous urban issues of land scarcity, travel distance, economic forces, density and facility programming. 

Towards a Zero Waste Singapore

Despite the current brouhaha over problems of carbon emission, carbon footprints, etc, the issue of sustainability is not just limited to matters of earth, water, air and the environment. This proposal asserts that the core component in ensuring sustainability of any field is the people and their attitude towards the environment. Integral to this is their day-to-day attitudes that also for the culture of the society. Hence, the cultural habits vis the cultural longevity will also impact the sustenance of the lived environment. Alongside the culture of daily life practice, this proposal sees the importance of public awareness on the practice of recycling – from household waste to the larger scale of construction waste. Our design proposal promotes the idea of reduce, reuse and recycle building components that have reached their life-span cycle, transforming them into new uses and types for a sustainable city of the future.

Supported by data and statistics obtained from various sources, we start to think of a new innovative effort on how sustainability and architectural design should be approach today, and what are the alternatives to current ideas on green design? The answer to this, as we believe, is to look at the future. Approximately within 75 years from today, most of the building structures and components will reached their lifespan period, and demolition or total repair may be required. We see this as a potential of not wasting those components, but to reuse them as the main building materials for new functions and forms. Urban Tree House is the winning proposal from the 2010 Futurarc Prize, designed by Lau Siong Weng and Surbana International Consultants. Our scheme was designed based on the idea of recycling the Urban Tree House, thus to be called Urban Tree House (Recycled). We identified building components from the previous winning design scheme and calculated the quantity of materials that can be recycled, before reassembling these components into new, reconstructed building with new mix functions, aesthetics and value. This could be the answer for a more sustainable approach in the built environment that rethinks the Man-Nature equilibrium.

Let The People Live in the City

Our proposal have identified the four major groups that should be given priority to live in the city center, which include:
1. Employees working around the area – as an effort to reduce travel distances from home to work place, people who worked within close proximity with the area should be given priority to live here. By doing so, a more time efficient and environmentally friendly lifestyle can be achieved. 
2. Students and artists – this social group would help to light up the vibrancy of the area with their active and creative lifestyle, contributing to the development of social creativity and active participation in the city.
3. Retirees – senior citizens, who would benefit from the familiar sights and close proximity to other residents, could enrich the area with their activities that are more relaxed and culturally related.
4. Higher income singles or couples without children – this group can afford the rental or sales prices of city residential units, and they contribute to other social activities in the city such as attending cultural events, socializing, music festivals, etc.

Intervention Strategies

Several design issues that are crucial to be responded were identified and research were done to tackle and approach these issues, which include:

1. Land is scarce and expensive - urban infill strategy and joint development with land owners and related stakeholders such as the local government and community groups.
2. In-situ construction will disturb surrounding neighborhood - recycle old building and construction materials utilizing pre-fabricated construction methods.
3. Issues of urban fabric, public realm and conservation - regenerate the area with infill and buildings that are within the human scale but at the same time are high density-use.
4. Site’s bearing capacity, public services and infrastructure - facility programming strategies for shared amenities, complementing the surrounding building uses and infrastructures.
5. Creating life on the street for a charming public realm - place mixed functions of retails, public facilities and amenities, park, shaded walkways and community library on the ground level.
6. Avoiding heat island effect from hardscapes - microclimate control through landscaping - trees, garden pockets, pond, roof water collector and openings oriented towards breeze flow.
7. Giving back to the public - allowing public crossing and circulation at ground level, with public infrastructures are made available and accessible.

The inter-connected organization of the residential units, where each unit were organized in the form of continuous clusters, connected with corridors and public spaces were resemblance of the spatial organization structure of the long lost urban village, used to be found in Singapore before modernism swept them away. By implementing convoluting spatial organization, density of the housing development may be increased but at the same time has successfully avoided uncontrollable sprawling growth. This method proved to reduce environmental degradation of the area, since compact urban neighborhoods were created in a self-sustaining way, thus promising economic sustainability for the whole new neighborhoods.     

The whole new master plan for the neighborhood is designed to create permeability for the site. This is again a design strategy to encourage social interaction and networking in creating a dwelling system that care about each other and towards their surrounding environment. The convoluted and interconnected housing units, infrastructural nodes, communal spaces and access points are also strategies to allow flexible mode of use in anticipating future density growth, economic status and also act as important mitigation plan during the event of disaster. These consolidated urban and housing components are hoped to provide a better living system for the users.

With the advent of technology and its accompanying ideas, building forms with strong local identity are beginning to change and disappear. This will only lead to the loss of precious cultural heritage and block the passage of significant values to future generations of Singapore. Nowadays, the development of new urban structure no longer reflects the simplicity in its design and its relationship with nature no longer dominates the tectonics of its composition. The search for a unique and strong local identity in urban form has always been a major issue in any local discourse but the problem has never been resolved. Our proposal also tries to respond to this problem by carefully putting the new recycled building in a configuration that specifically responding to its site context (existing trees are maintained) and orientation is crucial in determining the whole design alignment. Also projected in the idea is put forth a charming public realm for the community and public at large by placing public infrastructures and landscaping at the ground level as a strategy to create a good city branding as we believe that city branding is becoming a competitive tool among cities to project the various image.

Our proposal also responds to this quote, written by the Singaporean architect and urbanist, William Lim from his book Alternatives in Transition (2001);

“How Singapore rethinks its urban strategy for the twenty-first century and onwards will certainly provide some interesting and innovative lessons for other Southeast Asian cities. Once the hardware is in place, the next crucial step must be to ensure that a vibrant residential ‘heartware’ pumps life through the system”.

Citation Award for the Futurarc 2012 Prize.
Design team: Rampakasli

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