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BUILDING & ENGINEERING | Krisana Gallezo-Estaura, Singapore
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Singapore's 15 largest architecture firms 2014

Should we really go vertical for ‘ageing’ cities?

With economic progress causing intensified urbanization and, to a certain extent, population ageing, urban planners and architects in countries like Singapore are hard-pressed to deliver solutions that cater to both of these issues. Going vertical is no longer their only option and traditional solutions are being unearthed again and reconsidered.

“As cities become denser and demographics shift, the makeup of our urban fabric has to evolve to adapt to more complex social and economic demands,” Tony Ang, Aedas Global Board Director, says. Citing data from UN-Habitat, Ang says more than 400 cities in the world have a population of more than one million and this number will continue to grow. 

By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas given the rapid pace of growth at the present. “At the same time, population ageing has been pervasive and globally, the number of older persons has grown exponentially,” he explains. 

Tania Wee, director at DP Healthcare, a subsidiary of DP Architects (DPA), also notes the recent focus of policy makers and developers on the issues of ageing and urbanization. 

“City and population growth are increasing at astounding rates. In land-scarce Singapore, the simple solution seems to be going vertical,” she says.

Ang says it is crucial to create an “accessible environment” for more inclusive societies. Aedas has been leaning towards “transit-oriented developments” as they help reduce travel time of citizens. With innovative designs, a variety of programmes can be incorporated into a single development to create a “vibrant, focused and sustainable urban hub”, as in the case of The Star in one-north designed by Andrew Bromberg of Aedas.

Wee agrees, saying new solutions also involve access and connectivity to nature and facilities. “Apart from going vertical, recent trends in architecture and planning have also been about ensuring universal accessibility and designing for inclusive cities. If ageing populations can live in an environment that allows their ongoing productive engagement in society, they might be considered a valuable societal resource instead of being inevitably dependent,” she says.

Wee adds that the Singapore government had already instituted various programs to address the challenges of an ageing population, including senior activity centres and neighbourhood polyclinics. The elderly can also avail subsidized home modification services like slip-resistant flooring and grab rails.

Tan Shao Yen, Managing Director of CPG Consultants, on the other hand, posits the idea of developing smaller satellite cities and towns, in addition to megacities. Echoing Wee, he says that the Housing and Development Board has been constructing and upgrading estates that are barrier-free since the 1990s. 

“Such preparation needs to be underpinned by long range planning, social stability and sound economic development,” he says.

Who made it to SBR’s list?

DPA has once again topped Singapore Business Review’s ranking of the 15 largest architecture firms in the city based on total number of registered architects. Data compiled from individual company surveys and accessed from the Board of Architects show that DPA is ahead of its closest competitor Aedas in staffing numbers by only two local registered architects.

Aedas’ employment of registered architects however has grown faster than DPA. Aedas’ employed registered architects grew 45% to 84 after adding 26 more this year. DPA’s only grew by 13% to 86. P&T Consultants, which climbed its way up five ranks, reported the most impressive growth in staff numbers. It nearly quadrupled its pool of registered architects to 71, from only 19 last year. 

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