Participatory Community Design for Social Change

by SUTD O-Lab

Since 2015 SUTD Opportunity Lab (O Lab) has engaged university students from Singapore and Vietnam to work with local community in southern and northern Vietnam on community design through Participatory Action Research (PAR). The 2 projects in collaboration with CapitaLand Hope Foundation - CapitaLand Lệ Xá Hope Kindergarten Playscape and CapitaLand Tan Tay Hope Kindergarten are the culmination of the efforts by O Lab, as an interdisciplinary design thinking lab that seeks to advance design for social change.

CapitaLand Tan Tay Hope Kindergarten

The development of CapitaLand Tan Tay Hope Kindergarten was a collaborative project by CapitaLand Hope Foundation, Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), University of Architecture Ho Chi Minh City, Van Lang University, and Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology. The aim was to design and build a kindergarten in Tan Tay, Long An province of Vietnam, about two hours’ drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The opportunity allowed us to envision how early childhood education in a rural context could be like. In January 2019, the Tan Tay Kindergarten project first started out as an SUTD Independent Activity Period (IAP) for Architecture and Sustainable Design (ASD) and Engineering Product Design (EPD) students, where a preliminary site survey was carried out under the mentorship of SUTD Opportunity Lab (O-Lab). It was subsequently translated into an ASD Option Studio led by Associate Prof Chong Keng Hua, where the design of the kindergarten was co-created with the local community, continually refined and handed over to the CapitaLand Vietnam project team in May 2019. Built with sustainable local materials, the new L-shape school block with six classrooms was designed as an extension of the existing block, topped with a continuous roof form to ensure that the compound would be seamlessly integrated. Double-volume in-between spaces were incorporated for communal and environmental purposes, with the use of local ventilation blocks for western-facing sun shading. A grand staircase served as a bridge from the large courtyard at the ground level to the upper level, and facilitated the overall circulation of the kindergarten. The design was a realisation of our design concept for the pre-school environment, to encourage: Exploration, Expression and Excitement. Culminating in an international volunteer expedition in November 2019 organised by CapitaLand, the SUTD team was invited back to Tan Tay for the finishing touch - painting of wall murals, fences and creation of sustainable play equipment. In all, the project was meaningful for all of us as it serves the interests of the local beneficiaries for years to come. View the virtual tour here.

Faculty Lead Assoc. Prof. Chong Keng Hua Researchers Aerilynn Tan Tze Cheng, Yohei Kato, Ha Tshui Mum (Summer) IAP Team Afiffah Binti Ab Ghapar, Tan Hui Yin, Darren Ho Di Xiang, Chin Kee Ting, Ong Zi Chong ASD Option Studio Spring 2019 Afiffah Bte Ab Ghapar, Caleb See De Kai, Chan Li Yu, Chong Kar Wei, Fang Zixin, Loh Jia Yun, Low Si Hong, Mai Shengxian, Ong Jie Min, Rebekah Low Hui Yin, Shoon Lei Khin, Tan Hui Yin, Wong Yi Xin, Wu Kai, Zou Chuchu


01 - The topography morphs into a grand staircase that connect the ground level to the upper level, facilitating overall circulation of the kindergarten 02 - The mosaic arrangement of the local ventilation blocks create an iconic façade while shading the double-volume common area from the western sun 03 - Overall kindergarten design with continuous roof form that connects with the existing classroom block 04 - Project team with local community and teachers 05 - Addition of playscape provided by the government 06 - Back garden with vibrant murals as children to roam around the kindergarten 07 - Original design conceived by student team

CapitaLand Lệ Xá Hope Kindergarten Playscape

Child development in rural areas in developing cities today have largely been a shadow of the traditional learning pedagogy used in urban areas. This project investigates how engaging the community in the design of a child-friendly learning and playing environment could be more tailored for rural local communities, improving the quality of early childhood education, thereby encouraging more families to send their children to preschool. With the support of Vietnam's National University of Civil Engineering (NUCE), CapitaLand Hope Foundation, World Vision International and the Tien Lu District government, this project employed the Participatory Action Research (PAR) approach with the community living in Lệ Xá commune, a suburban district in Hanoi, Vietnam, to re-design and subsequently construct a kindergarten playground and courtyard. Data was collected through site mapping, social-spatial study, focus group interview, and environmental study. These were carried out on site and involved a wide range of participation from both the team and local community. The studies provided a deeper understanding on the residents’ behaviours in communal spaces, while environmental analysis provided crucial site survey of the landscape. Interaction with the residents provided information about the site that provided the team with design sensitivity throughout the design process. With the active participation of the local community, this allowed the team to gear towards a community-centric design for an inclusive learning environment in the kindergarten. The resultant design included the use of locally sourced materials and construction techniques such as recycled tyres, pvc pipes, concrete blocks, where they were re-interpreted creatively. Its construction was carried out in two phases: 1) design implementation for play areas, courtyard, landscaping, and mural drawings, 2) shelter installation. Phase 1 was carried out from April to May 2018, followed by a post-occupancy evaluation to understand the spatial usage by the children, teachers and parents. It also facilitated observations for new additions to the spaces such as new play equipment or improvements, by the local commune.

Faculty Lead Chong Keng Hua Researchers Ha Tshui Mum (Summer), Aerilynn Tan Tze Cheng, Christyasto Pambudi, Elif Esra Aydin, Chloe Gao Tongchaoran UROP Team Edison Ng, Nurul Asyiqin Binte Mohd Zahrin, Chang Chee Kin Jeremy, Abhipsa Pal, Ho Zhi Yuan, Teo Qian Yi Rilla, Sofia Foo Xin Di, Denise Nicole Lim Jeay Yee, Tran Thi Thien Tam, Nabila Larasati Pranoto, Ong Zi Chong, Vanessa Poh Yu Jun


01 - Creating a new kind of learning space which celebrates the creative and improvisational nature of children’s play 02 - Scrap materials are repurposed to provide infinite possibilities that capture the children’s imagination and exercise their 5 senses 03 - Trees were planted to provide shade from the sun, allowing the children to gather at the tyre mountain to enjoy outdoor lessons 04 - Building towards a better tomorrow; featuring the parents and villagers of Lệ Xá commune 05 - Project team from CapitaLand, NUCE and SUTD

Find out more about SUTD O-Lab here