By Clair Hurford
It’s rare to be struck by a feeling of optimism within the older Housing Development Board (HDB) blocks in Singapore.
Said to be a source of national pride, HDBs are publicly owned and developed public housing managed by the Housing and Development Board under temporary leaseholds for 99 years only.
Synonymous with function over form, the flats are simple and utilitarian to keep costs low.
‘Kampung’ means ‘the village’ in Malay, and the word itself is loaded with nostalgia for the ‘good old kampung days’: the sense of community that was lost when the mostly dilapidated single-level wooden attap houses the majority of Singaporeans lived in were demolished for hygiene reasons in the early 1960s and replaced by HDB blocks. 82% of Singaporeans live in HDB blocks today.
In spite of the addition of modern amenities at the base of each new block of flats such as a hawker center, mini-supermarket and a medical clinic, they’re often very quiet places with little sense of the community that inhabits the building. A better standard of living hasn’t necessarily equated to a sense of belonging.
Attempts at creating ‘Kampung spirit’ are promoted with government-supported initiatives, such as the National Parks Board’s Community in Bloom program. The program seeks to promote a gardening culture in Singapore, and these gardens and urban farms are often faithfully tended to, mainly by retired seniors.
Kampung Admiralty is a specially designed retirement kampung for the elderly, built to actively encourage intergenerational bonding. It was opened in May 2018 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who described his desire to see citizens leading more ‘active and meaningful lives.’
The building’s architect, local practice WOHA, have created a new-style ‘vertical’ Kampung: a sensitively designed, one-stop integrated complex, which integrates 100 studio apartments for the elderly. It includes a two-storey medical center, an Active Ageing Hub, childcare center, community park and garden and many other features.
WOHA won the bid to design and build the first retirement village in Singapore that responded ‘to the well-being and spatial needs for graceful aging and nurturing of youth.’ It’s part of a new era of HDB design that has adopted the 2013 Biophilic Town Framework – a measure to create greener and more liveable HDB living environments.
On the day I visited, there was barely a spare seat in the 900-seat hawker center. It was vibrant and bustling with activity as people of all ages gathered to ‘makan’ together. A few levels up, young children were being led out of their pre-school to play in one of the several playgrounds within the complex. An elderly resident, supported by his walking frame and the close eye of a caregiver slowly made his way around the pathways plied with dense, lush tropical foliage.
Kampung Admiralty has been recognized with numerous awards, including National Parks Board (NParks) 2017 award for excellence in landscape architecture in Singapore, World Building Award at the 2018 World Architecture Festival and the International Federation of Landscape Architecture Outstanding Award in Social & Community Health.