Re-humanizing

by Yale-NUS | Prof Joshua Comaroff


The Urban Studies major at Yale-Nus College is a diverse distribution of courses, bringing together planning theory, social and geographical approaches, and the representation and design of city spaces. The students are similarly diverse in their interests—some pursue sociological and political issues, while others are passionate about sustainability, distributive justice, and architecture. Students are free to follow these approaches through elective courses and projects advised by faculty.


A common interest shared by many Urban Studies majors is a deep interest in the human life of cities—and of ways to enable greater participation in, and share of, urban spaces. The projects of Xuerui Yang and Raphael Chang and Joy Heng do precisely this, albeit in very different ways.


Xuerui’s fascination was an ethnographic one. In her Capstone (final year) project, she asked how informal networks in under-utilized void deck spaces might help older adults to remain socialized and supported. She spent months in a given site, interviewing and observing the small ways in which seniors used movable furniture, games, and social rituals to produce a vibrant social space. Her drawings, likewise, showed how the micro-positioning of everyday objects helped to both territorialize and give meaning to their physical surroundings.


Joy and Raph took a direct design approach. Working together—as they have done on several projects—they explored the potentials for spaces under MRT tracks to create flexible “front yards” for the surrounding programs. A space that would otherwise remain empty becomes a shaded, adaptable spill-over zone that both extends social organizations and enlivens the broader community with human activity.



Ageing in Place: Everyday Social Networks of Older Adults in Geylang East Singapore


The everyday social networks of older adults are a visible, yet often unnoticed, phenomenon of great social significance. Despite incremental urban policies towards promoting an age-friendly city, the Singapore state neglects the significance of self-organized social networks at informal public spaces. Responding to this mismatch between planners’ conceptions and older adults’ needs, this paper aims to understand how, and where, older adults build and sustain social networks in mature public housing estates on an everyday basis. Specifically, this research investigates small-scale social networks and activities of older adults in one void deck in the neighbourhood of Aljunied Crescent, in the Geylang East constituency in Singapore. From December 2019 to February 2020, participant observation was conducted at the chosen void deck, together with 22 semi-structured interviews with older adult regulars, community activists, and state agents. The findings show that informal public spaces provide a congenial environment for spontaneous social activities for older adults, with informal social norms that are honoured by both themselves and state agents. From an extended observation of this space, this paper argues that older adults are capable of providing for some of their own social needs through making and re-making informal public spaces. As the relationship between places and ageing population intensifies, ageing in informal public spaces presents a practical alternative notion of ageing in place, and provides important empirical insights for institutional planning of urban ageing.


Project by Xuerui Yang


Captions

01 - The photo collage of void deck under study provides an overview of both fixed furniture and self-installed design elements. 02 - "Insider view": the void deck comprises of spatially diversified zones occupied for gambling, gender-inclusive, male-dominated smoking and drinking, sleeping, worshiping, and temporary resting. 03 - Gendered spatial division of void decks aligns with broader public space spatial pattern, with male more comfortable with exposure than female. 04 - Micro-view of void deck design elements: Self-installed moveable furniture (red) allows greater flexibility for older adults than fixed furniture (black). 05 - Cleaning can be seen as a territorializing activity when moveable chairs demarcate certain boundary within the void deck.


The Vine


Current park connectors serve the singular function of creating linkages between green spaces. Unfortunately, due to its solitary purpose, the design of park connectors is ironically disconnected from the character of the parks. This has resulted in an unproductive use of space and a missed opportunity to maximize the potential of these sites.


Our proposed typology of the Vine seeks to reinterpret the role of the park connector by elevating its status. We envision the Vine to not only be a connecting link between destinations, but also as an extension of parks. This typology will incorporate defining characteristics of parks into the park connector, thereby radically transforming the commuting experience for pedestrians and cyclists. The Vine will not only be pathways to move people, but also corridors that move activities across dynamic zones.


In our project, we implemented the Vine typology to a 500m2 site in Bishan. The selected park connector connects Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to Ang Mo Kio Town Garden East, and is uniquely located under the railway tracks of the North-South Line. Site analysis was embarked on to determine the limitations of the site and the viability of implementing this typology.


Our project ultimately highlights the flexibility of the Vine typology and its ability to capture the unique aspects of local environments. The Vine transforms the way that we interpret the role of park connectors. It creates a seamless experience of travelling amidst nature, thereby capturing the aspects of neighbourhood parks that are most enjoyed by all.


Project by Heng Si Ying Joy and Raphael Hugh Chang Jia Yi


Captions

01 - By engaging in landscape intervention to extend the natural language of the parks, we created the Vine typology that seeks to build spaces for community interaction and increase accessibility. 02 - Analysis of the chosen site revealed existing challenges such as the lack of accessibility and the excess use of concrete which results in visually unappealing spaces. 03 - In order to increase program synergy along the park connector, we identified prominent community landmarks and divided the site into three zones to better respond to surrounding programming. 04 - A street section of the Vine typology that showcases how the park connector can be activated and transformed into vibrant extensions of the parks themselves. 05 - A 3D axon diagram that highlights a slice of the Vine typology along the community zone.




Find out more about Yale-NUS Urban Studies here