Monday 5 August 2013

Woodlands to get 'vertical kampung'

Multi-agency project brings together public facilities, housing under one roof
By Salma Khalik, The Sunday Times, 4 Aug 2013

Residents in Woodlands will be the first in Singapore to experience the community feel of an integrated building with public facilities such as housing, health care and hawker centres all under one roof.

Planned, built and run by multiple government agencies - a first - this vertical "urban kampung", as National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan calls it, will bring together the young and old to live, eat and play together.

At the bottom of the building will be a massive "town square" or community plaza, and at the top, 100 studio apartments for elderly singles or couples.

In between will be a medical centre with about 35 consultation rooms and options for day surgery, senior activity and childcare facilities, shops and watering holes, as well as roof-top decks that residents can turn into community gardens.

Next door is the Admiralty MRT station, plus a basement carpark for 300 cars, and bicycle racks.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Khaw said more integrated buildings will be built if this one is successful.

Work will start next year, with the building ready by 2017. It is being developed by HDB and the Ministry of Health in partnership with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, National Environment Agency, Alexandra Health System and the Early Childhood Development Agency.

Leading them are HDB's deputy chief executive officer Yap Chin Beng, and Alexandra Health chief executive officer Liak Teng Lit.

The groundbreaking concept will hinge on how well the agencies work together. Said Mr Khaw: "A traditional approach is for each agency to carve out a plot, and make plans based on its needs. We will end up with several standalone buildings - workable but not outstanding."

An integrated complex, on the other hand, maximises land use and has been shown to work in other countries, such as Japan.

It all started "quite fortuitously", he told The Sunday Times, when a piece of prime land next to the MRT station became available and was sought by various agencies for their own purposes.

Mr Khaw said he decided to try "a holistic planning approach" instead, focusing on residents' needs.

"We're breaking some new ground," he said. "It is an experiment to create a modern urban kampung within a busy city - one that can pull people together and create a sense of community."

On his blog, he said he was "struck by the level of like-mindedness among the inter-agency stakeholders".

"The design has reflected the tireless effort to develop not a disparate but an integrated development that gels together," he said.

The project created a buzz among architects, with 22 firms submitting concepts.

Home-grown award-winning firm Woha, whose projects include School of the Arts and Stadium MRT station, won with its submission depicting a large "town square" on the ground floor for community activities and for residents to mingle.

Dr Mary Anne Tsao, chairman of the Tsao Foundation which provides a host of services for the elderly, applauded the initiative. She called it "truly a city of all ages where people, young and old, across the generations can work, play, learn, grow and be cared for in an integrated manner".

Health care key to good mix at new complex
Panel keeps medical centre at integrated building as it would benefit all residents
By Salma Khalik, The Sunday Times, 4 Aug 2013

The service mix at the new integrated building to be built in Woodlands would have looked a little different if some residents had had their way.
Said the MP for Sembawang GRC (Woodlands) Ellen Lee: "Some of my grassroots leaders asked, Instead of a medical centre or senior care services, why not build cinemas, a theatre or karaoke lounges to attract youngsters?"

In the end, the steering committee stuck to its guns. The medical centre would benefit all residents of Woodlands and not just the elderly, said Mr Liak Teng Lit, head of Alexandra Health.

Within three years of the opening of the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun, 28 per cent of residents in the GRC, including children, have used its services.

A satellite centre at Admiralty means residents would not need to go all the way to hospital to see a specialist or for simple day surgery.

The multi-agency committee had consulted widely before deciding on the mix for the building. They tried hard to have a library there because residents wanted one, but the National Library already has a Sembawang branch.

Ms Lee said a few residents also asked for religious services as "most elderly persons go to church, temples or mosques regularly". Overall, she is delighted with the concept. Not only would elderly residents be self-sufficient, with a supermarket, medical centre, hawker centre, senior activities centre and shops in the building, but young working families would also benefit from the amenities.

In fact, it has the right elements for fostering a vibrant community spirit, said Housing Board chief executive Cheong Koon Hean.

Her deputy, Mr Yap Chin Beng, who co-chairs the steering committee with Mr Liak, said it "pushes the boundaries by bringing multiple agencies together to collaborate and co-create a quality living environment that best serves the community".

Another agency involved is the Ministry of Health's (MOH) Ageing Planning Office, which oversees and implements strategies in response to the needs of the greying population. In 20 years, one million people will be 65 or older.

Ms Teoh Zsin Woon, a deputy secretary at MOH, said the concept of the integrated building would enhance inter-generational bonding and promote active ageing.

"It is designed to provide a green and liveable living environment, with a range of social, health-care, commercial and other amenities in close proximity to support ageing in place."

Woodlands resident Eric Foo, 56, welcomed the idea, saying that running errands would be more convenient. "But hopefully the hawker centre and other noisy places will not be placed too close to the apartments," he said.

Associate Professor Johannes Widodo from the National University of Singapore's Department of Architecture added that such all-in-one developments were "good and necessary" for ageing populations. "This type of building has been widely used in Japan's big cities. They combine a hospice with kindergarten, wards, shops, clinics and more in one block in the middle of the city.

"The impact for the elderly and kids is very positive," he said.

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