FAP 2023 Juror Project Highlight: Nan Chyuan
February 10, 2023
FuturArc Prize 2023 juror Nan Chyuan is a Director at the dynamic cross-disciplinary design practice FARM, which won the President*s Design Award in 2010. In 2017, he was recognised as one of Singapore’s emerging architects in Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)’s 20 Under 45 exhibition. He graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and subsequently from the Architectural Association in London, and is now an Adjunct Assistant Professor at NUS. He is currently the First Vice President and Education Thrust Chair of the Singapore Institute of Architects, where he has been a council member since 2019.
Among FARM’s notable research and design prototypes are a nursing home design as part of the Centre for Ageing Research in the Environment (CARE)’s study led by NUS in collaboration with URA, and a workers’ dormitory in Singapore.
The latter project seeks to answer questions such as: How can we reconfigure migrant workers’ tight, utilitarian dormitories into liveable spaces with a sense of ownership and community? How can we let them feel that the rooms they rest in, while perhaps not home, are their spaces?
Prototype Workers’ Dormitory Room
This project arose in response to migrant workers’ needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dormitories that house the workers are often densely cramped and poorly ventilated, which are tenuous conditions that has led to rapid spreads of illness. At the height of the pandemic, such dormitories formed the largest COVID clusters in Singapore.
Thus, reconfiguring the tight and utilitarian spaces into liveable spaces was of utmost importance, along with empowering the community to foster a sense of ownership. In addition to examining the living conditions which exacerbated the pathogen’s spread, FARM also sought to gain an intimate understanding of how workers used the spaces and their daily rituals, in order to find solutions that respected the workers’ autonomy, within practical operational limits.
The first step was to conduct a site visit to an existing dormitory and observe the site and interact with the residents. The team found that many residents’ needs were not met, leading to the usage of makeshift appliances such as drying racks, and that clutter was the result of an inconvenient placement of storage space.
Next, FARM prototyped preliminary layouts that provided the key needs of residents. This included design strategies such as reconfiguring the beds to provide ample storage space underneath, and separating clean and dirty zones through changes in floor levels/finishes.
They then presented the preliminary layout in a participatory workshop with the dormitory operator and residents. The team wrote of key insights that emerged during this process: “Dialogues with both residents and operators highlighted an inherent conflict between their competing interests in a dormitory setting: the need to operate an efficient, clean and safe space for all, and the need for individuals to feel that their personhood—cultural habits, personal spaces, expressions of individuality—is respected.”
The preliminary layout was then developed into more key iterations, workshopped directly with the residents to seek deep understanding about their lived experience and aspirations.
Although the current dormitory had been constructed according to building requirements, it needed to be reviewed to account for the number of people living inside. This urgency to review existing standards was followed up by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Ministry of National Development (MND), and Ministry of Health (MOH). Authorities and stakeholders developed new guidelines for future dormitories to improve liveability and be resilient against pandemics, with the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) helming a study of dormitory architectural layouts.