HOUSING, SUSTAINABILITY AND COMMUNITY
by Chang Jiat Hwee
“Housing in the twentieth century has been one continuing emergency.”
Charles Abrams, The Future of Housing, 1946
What Abrams noted above might not be evident in post-independent Singapore until fairly recently because of the successful public housing programme implemented here. Even though some would claim that the public housing programme in Singapore was, and still is, experiencing a ‘crisis’, this ‘crisis’ was not much more than a real estate bubble that has created affordability issues. There is almost no homelessness, nor is there any substandard housing, i.e., slums and squatters, in Singapore. The same, however, cannot be said about many Asian cities, and what Abrams noted more than six decades ago is still relevant and applicable to them, even at this early-21st century moment.
In 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population live in cities. Although in Asia, ‘only’ 42.2 percent of the population was urban in 2010, Asia already has some of the world’s most populous and densest cities. According to data from 2010, 12 of 21 world’s mega-cities—those with population of more than 10 million—were in Asia, and 7 of 10 of the most populous cities were Asian cities. Asian cities are characterised by high population densities of between 10,000 and 20,000 per square kilometre, densities that are many times those of European and especially American cities. As Asian cities continue to be resilient engines of economic growth, the region continues to rapidly urbanise and Asian cities continue to expand—both in population and size—and further densify.1
Many of the housing projects featured in this issue of FuturArc belong to the aforementioned type of Green housing project. At least two of them—Skyville@Dawson and SkyTerrace@Dawson—have been accredited by Singapore’s Green rating scheme Green Mark; both were rated Green Mark Platinum. The projects are, however, unlike most of the Green housing projects from the past that deal primarily with the technical and quantitative aspects of sustainable architecture. While many of these projects address topics such as energy and water efficiencies, recycling and waste management, and greenery, they are not just concerned with the performative aspects of sustainability. These projects are equally preoccupied with the ‘softer’ dimensions of sustainability—aesthetics and experiential aspects of sustainability. For example, WOW and d_lab, the architects of AraGreens Residences, explored how a biomimetic approach to design, particularly the use of geometry derived from rhizhomic growth system, could shape their architecture. Furthermore, although both the AraGreens Residences and the WOHA-designed Skyville@Dawson make use of prefabrication, the architects were adamant that material and constructional efficiencies do not lead to uniformity in appearance; they were keen to explore how they could create variations and visual interest with standardised parts. In other words, these projects easily invalidate Richard Ingersoll’s observation from a decade ago that “while it is difficult for me to claim whether ‘green’ code requirements lead to bad architecture, the general impression given by the examples provided in Green manuals certainly do not promise strong aesthetics.”2
If anything, these featured projects approximate the notion of “hedonistic sustainability” that Bjarke Ingels proposed. Under hedonistic sustainability, sustainability is not seen as a burden in which one has to make sacrifices to one’s way of life; sustainability is instead seen as something “that improves the quality of life and human enjoyment”.3 For example, under the notion of hedonistic sustainability, having natural ventilation is not just about passive cooling and energy saving, it is also about enjoying the “thermal delight”4 that the breeze brings. Likewise, having daylighting in the building is as much about experiencing the nuances and dynamics of daylight in the natural world as it is about energy and cost savings. The assumption here is twofold—one, “human takes pleasure in sensing variation, especially that caused by the natural forces of sun, wind and light”; two, energy load reduction strategies could be sensorially experienced by building occupants as something pleasurable5. These experiential aspects of hedonistic sustainability perfectly fit three of the featured projects in this issue that are waterfront developments—Bluepoint Condos by Paul Raff Studio; Fake Hills by MAD Architects; and Golden Dream Bay by Safdie Architects. For these projects, having natural ventilation, daylighting and integrated greenery in the architecture is definitely not just about responding to the necessities of resource scarcities; they are also about celebrating the pleasures of environmental “abundance” through strengthening the connection with outdoor spaces and the waterfront, and enhance what Moshe Safdie described as the “resort feel” of the architecture.
1 UN-HABITAT, State of Asian Cities 2010/11 (Fukuoka: UN-HABITAT, 2010).
2 Richard Ingersoll, “A Post-Apocalyptic View of Ecology and Design,” Harvard Design Magazine 18, 2003.
3 See Bjarke Ingels’ lecture “Hedonistic Sustainability” at TEDx East Conference, May 2, 2011, available on http://www.youtube.com/
watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ogXT_CI7KRU (last accessed November 2, 2012)
4 Lisa Heschong, Thermal delight in architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1979).
5 G. Z. Brown, “Delight in Sun, Wind, and Light,” Harvard Design Magazine Spring/Summer, no. 30 (2009).
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