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Food for thought – rethinking Singapore’s hawker centres

Student exhibition is on display at the Singapore National Design Centre
Photo: SUTD

Singapore’s traditional open-air cooked food centres — hawker centres — house many stalls that sell a variety of street food. Hawker “grub” represents quintessential Singapore, serving the best char kway teow noodles, chicken rice or laksa. However, this age-old culture is endangered because older hawkers are retiring or passing away, while at the same time foodcourts and restaurants in malls are rising in popularity.

This is why Singapore’s hawker centres presented a perfect case to be explored jointly by the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Aalto University. The design project involved ideas on the architectural transformation of hawker centres beyond just a functional space to buy and eat food, but rather an evolution of a community space grounded in social and environmental sustainability. The project featured a symposium and a student exhibition.   

“In Singapore, a hawker centre is the place where food is celebrated within communities. This makes it an interesting subject of study for us. We felt that it could be explored further to make it more relevant in the future,” explained Assistant Professor Carlos Banon from SUTD’s Architecture and Sustainable Design.

Miniature of the architectural transformation of a Singapore hawker centre
Photo: SUTD

The symposium was held on 20 November 2019. Participating in the discussions were Mr Leonard Ng (Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl), Ms Pearl Chee (WOHA Architects), Dr Aurel von Richthofen (Future Cities Laboratory, ETH Zürich), Professor Thomas Schröpfer (SUTD) with moderators Assistant Professor Carlos Banon (SUTD), Professor Pia Fricker (Aalto University) and Professor Toni Kotnik (Aalto University).  

In addition, a selection of student works from the collaborative design studio between SUTD and Aalto University probed into the future of hawker centres. The projects boldly explored the possibilities of community vegetable gardens, rainwater collection points integrated with water fountains, and elderly friendly features such as sloped walkways in place of stairs to cater to a rapidly ageing population.  

As part of a larger research collaboration between SUTD and Aalto University, this design studio aims at achieving a holistic understanding of sustainability that integrates buildings, cities and landscape into an interacting urban system. Students from both universities flew over to Helsinki and Singapore respectively to study the public spaces in both the cities and took away enriching lessons that were then applied directly to their coursework and projects.

“The students from Aalto University learnt how to bring different functions together beyond the traditional understanding of what a hawker centre means and translate that learning from the local site-specific qualities, into a context which is rather different in Finland. At the same time, SUTD students were able to learn about public space in the Nordic context and this provided them the ability to relook into how they viewed things back home. This valuable exchange pushed the students to further into a new reading of what a dense city could be,” said Professor Pia Fricker, from Aalto University’s Department of Architecture.

 

Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Aalto University joint project: ‘Rethinking the Singapore Hawker Design – Articulated Landscapes. Sustainable Space Making across Scales’

The student exhibition is on display at the Singapore National Design Centre until 28 February 2020.

Aalto and SUTD aim to be a leading and international alliance model in Technology & Design in the world by developing cooperation in education, research and entrepreneurship. Mutual expression of interests and visits from both the Aalto and SUTD Leadership since 2017 is taking the cooperation efforts forward. 

 

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