Singapore – From a starring role in the Hollywood flick Crazy Rich Asians to the backdrop of the science-fiction television series Westworld, Singapore has in recent times become a city for all sorts of fantastical projections. It is easy to see why. Skyscrapers such as the Parkroyal on Pickering hotel and the Marina One mixed-use complex are wrapped in lush greenery reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. There is also the neo-futuristic domes of the Gardens by the Bay and the swooping Marina Bay Sands next door. Singapore is a playground for architects from around the world to imagine the buildings of tomorrow.
But the glitzy architecture in the city centre distracts from another reality. On the edges of Singapore, some 400,000 migrant workers live in starkly different conditions to the fancy buildings they help construct and maintain. Many workers are housed in dormitories built by profit-seeking operators that meet state requirements to the letter but are hardly liveable. The need to provide a minimum of 4.5 m2 of living space per dorm resident, offer a toilet facility for every 15 residents and meet the needs of their cost-sensitive employers equals drab industrial housing, where up to 20 workers are housed in a room packed to the ceiling with double-decker beds.
Singapore designs not just for its people, but its animals too.
With its long yellow beak topped with a prominent “helmet”, Jary looks just like any Great Pied Hornbill. This species is well known for its distinctive casque, which helps to broadcast the bird’s harsh staccato cackling that goes “Yak-yak-yak!”
Jary’s “casque”, however, does all of the above—and more. But only an eagle-eyed visitor at the Jurong Bird Park would notice the line of screws holding down what is actually a prosthetic on the hornbill’s beak. Last year, when the 22-year-old was diagnosed with cancer on his casque, the park’s veterinary team surgically cut out the affected area and installed this specially designed casque.
“Our first reaction was, ‘Wah! Why (is Jary) like that’,” recalls industrial designer Eason Chow who created Jary’s prosthetic as part of a team from the Keio-NUS CUTE (Connective Ubiquitous Technology for Embodiments) Centre, the NUS Smart Systems Institute and NUS Centre for Additive Manufacturing.
Over the last five decades, Singapore has successfully built quality high-rise public housing that now houses over 80 percent of its resident population. But increasingly, it is not just people but also animals in the city-state that can proudly claim to live in a home designed for them.
From intelligent nests for hornbills to hotels for bees, the government has been creating structures to help different species thrive in an effort to strengthen Singapore’s biodiversity. One of its newest initiatives is the nation’s largest purpose-built reef within the waters of Sisters’ Islands Marine Park, located just south of the mainland. Five 11-metre and three 6-metre tall structures have been installed on what was previously relatively flat and bare seabed. Akin to three-storey terrace houses, they hope to eventually be home to some 1,000 square metres of reef substrate and other marine life. If successful, this pilot will pave the way for future restoration efforts in Singapore. Over the years, the city-state has lost some 60 percent of its reefs because of extensive development and reclamation over the years.
The government agency JTC first conceptualised this project in 2010 to support efforts in enhancing the city-state’s marine biodiversity, particularly in the face of climate change and increasing coastal developments. While it is better known for the planning and development of Singapore’s industrial infrastructure such as the petrochemical complex, Jurong Island, this was an opportunity for JTC to lend its engineering and design expertise to scale up previous efforts to restore the city-state’s coral reefs.