In the face of climate change and public health issues alongside the worst pandemic this generation has faced, the hybrid event organised by the Singapore Institute of Architects features a variety of online and offline programmes and activities, and looks to examine how responsible design and new architectural ideas that benefit ecology and humanity have the power to transform our lives for the better.
In this second segment, we talk to two prominent international experts, who will be participating as speakers at Archifest, on the important approaches and concepts relating to strengthening communities and improving quality of life.
William Ti Jr., WTA Architecture and Design Studio, Philippines
What is the philosophy behind Social Architecture?
Social Architecture is architecture that helps build our communities. It seeks to build hyper local and more compact communities where public amenities are accessible and within reach by foot. Social architecture promotes social intimacy by serving to break down our monolithic institutions into more intimate and local facilities. It promotes freedom of movement by removing or minimising barriers, and making public space accessible to the most vulnerable parts of our community. It reimagines architecture working in a social scale where our structures take on an added role of serving to connect people and acting as social lubricants for our communities.
How has it improved or transformed the megacities you have applied it to?
In the Philippines, we have been able to reintroduce the idea of public libraries in a more local and accessible format where even street children are welcome. There has been a renewed interest in public libraries in our local government units after the publication and sharing of our Bookstop project.
We are currently building the first pedestrian bridge across the 11km long Pasig River, which bisects the entirety of our city. The bridge will feature spaces for local activities and programming to encourage and reintroduce personal mobility to the community. It will combine two districts with a combined population of over 35,000 and allow people to cross over for the first time without going on a car.
We are masterplanning a 406-hectare reclamation project that is centred around 26 diverse and compact communities instead of a centralised development-oriented masterplan. The new district will be housing 250,000 people with over 400,000 jobs and is set to reimagine the downtown core as a better Manila without taking away the quixotic character and social coherence of our old town.
Could you give us one example of how this has worked in one of your projects?
We have spearheaded the Covid pandemic response in our home city of Metro Manila by building more immediate and locally accessible emergency quarantine facilities to augment our community hospitals instead of centralised mega facilities that are more alienating and intimidating to those who are sick and fearful. The facilities were completed in five days by 20 people using familiar and local materials that do not require specialised training or equipment. Over a hundred of these facilities with over 3,000 beds have been built to date.
Stefan Sjöberg, Kjellander Sjöberg, Sweden
Could you explain the concept of Placemaking in the urban environment?
Placemaking is, for us, working with the notion and attitude that we’re dealing with something more than just one added piece – like a building. Our urban projects are frequently part of something bigger, a setting and a context, that it is important to acknowledge, work with, improve and establish meaningful relations to. Indeed, some projects are only about the placemaking; creating a distinguishable place that has enjoyable diversified qualities, that may be a place to call “home” or a destination.
However, this concept can of course be misused as a commonplace commercial cliché. At KS we strive to make the discussion real; to be about sustainability, about meaningful experiences, and about strategies that may improve people’s everyday life. The term placemaking may indicate a top-down approach, which is why we recently have started to use the approach of a more “transformative placemaking” – a description of a process that involves more stakeholders, local community and user groups, as well as the normal urban planning actors.
Is creating a sense of community and place a huge challenge, considering most cosmopolitan cities have buildings and spaces that seem highly indistinguishable from one another?
This is of course a challenge, in times when programmes and briefs for the built environment are increasingly driven by global funds and large-scale investor groups, with high expectations on capital return. As a vision and ethos though, we try to adopt a local perspective on our projects, with the conviction that local life and authenticity is what may really create liveable and long-term sustainable environments that people appreciate – which is generally also viable from a financial perspective.
Places in Stockholm or London – cities where we do extensive work – need to be designed and thought through from local needs of the community; to address things like employment strategies, inclusion and diversity, affordable residential provision, etc. With a spatial vision that is place-specific, and informed by local microclimate, a culture of the built environment, aspirations of society as a whole and other things that may – and should – still influence urban planning and architecture, and create healthy and rewarding differences between metropolitan areas in various parts of the world. This is something we pursue in our work, and it generally creates narratives that drive processes forward, as a successful counterforce to the generic.
How would you apply this philosophy in the context of a modern home in a high-rise Asian city like Singapore?
In large-scale development projects – high rise or simply large urban blocks – there is still a need to create a spirit of “community” and a sense of place, of belonging. This applies both to the actual building, but also to how it is woven together with the rest of the city. This may provide great opportunities and release hidden potential.
Our scope is to organise the public layering of sequences in a meaningful way. To provide diversity with many options for use that will work in the long run. For example, how can informal, un-programmed, flexible areas be introduced? Where people can meet, work, repair their furniture or simply eat together? Placemaking is really about quite basic needs; unraveling places for different uses, to allow for people to socialise, be in contact with each other. This is even more crucial in a dense environment that may otherwise be quite alienating.
Today, the focus on public health and obesity is also quite central to us. We can approach this through the layout and quality of the urban environment. As a start, we can usually quite easily improve conditions for walking and cycling, and provide more areas for recreation. Infusing spaces with the potential for more contemporary and sustainable lifestyles – for sharing economy, healthy mobility or urban farming.
The alternative would be to surrender, give up on the more complex issues of placemaking, the result of which can be seen in most cities today, with place-lessness, pollution and generic character that doesn’t truly create valuable projects for anyone.
(Main and featured image: Riverlane/William Ti)