Design Strategies For An Ageing Population: Interview with Surbana Jurong
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Singapore’s population is ageing fast. This is caused by increased life expectancy coupled with decreasing birth rate. Majority of senior citizens in Singapore live in HDB flats so it is important to build homes that support and improve their quality of life. In this interview, Jennifer Chai, Deputy Director, Township Architecture, Surbana Jurong, discusses the design initiatives that can be implemented for an ageing population in Singapore.

Q: What are the parameters for designing an elderly-friendly HDB flat and neighbourhood?

A: When designing for an elderly-friendly HDB flat and neighbourhood, we try to plan blocks catered for the elderly to be near amenities such as social communal facilities, shops, eating houses, transport nodes, and elderly fitness stations located nearby. It is also beneficial to have children’s playground and preschools near the elderly facilities to promote inter-generational bonding. In general, when we design circulation routes around the precinct, there will be barrier-free accessible paths and sheltered linkways for the residents’ convenience. For the current projects on the design table, we are also incorporating way-finding features to make the environment dementia-friendly as well.

Q: How is the ageing population in Singapore going to impact the residential real estate industry?

A: There might be a demand for smaller flats as the elderly may prefer to downsize their homes for their retirement. At the other end of the spectrum, larger properties with flexible layouts and dual keys concepts may also be popular for multi-generation families. Medical and care facilities within or near the development are likely to be very desirable to elderly buyers.

I would also like to see more housing options with assisted living facilities for seniors to age in place. Such housing options would encourage seniors to live independently in the familiar neighbourhood that they have been so used to. All the friendship and community bonding built up over the years would also allow seniors to live a more purposeful and meaningful in their golden years. 

Q: Currently, what types of HDB flats cater to the needs of the elderly?

A: There are the 2-room Flexi units that cater to the needs of the elderly. Type 1 is 36 square metres while Type 2 is 45 square metres, which comes with another room that can accommodate a stay-in caregiver to assist the elderly resident.

Another flat type, 3Gen flat, which we pioneered the design in Saraca Breeze@Yishun, is catered for a multi-generation family to live under one roof. These 3Gen flats feature four bedrooms and three bathrooms and are integrated with the other flat types in all the blocks.

Q: What are some simple and functional solutions to make a HDB home elderly-friendly?

A: The newer HDB flats have main doors and bathrooms wide enough for wheelchair accessibility. In the 2-room flexi units, buyers who are wheelchair bound can choose a lower kitchen countertop. Such flats’ kitchen countertop comes with cabinet on pedestals that can be moved away for wheelchair users to have leg space while doing meal preparation.

To make a home elderly-friendly, a bench can be provided next to the entrance to allow elderly folks to rest or put down their bags. Toilets can be fitted with grab bars next to the water closet for elderly who require additional support to lift themselves safely or to sit down. Consider replacing door knobs and taps with lever handle design as elderly are prone to ailments that impair dexterity.

Q: Does it cost more to build an elderly-friendly HDB flat?

A: Elderly-friendly features such as additional grab bars is a very small fraction of the cost of the entire unit.

Q: Has SJ designed any HDB flats or residential projects for the elderly? If yes can you name us the projects and briefly describe its features?

A: We did a number of HDB projects with flats that catered for the elderly. The early era of such flats comprise of solely studio apartments in a block, usually located in mature estates.

Subsequently, studio apartments were integrated into the same blocks with other flat types to promote a stronger community across different demographics. One such project that designed by SJ is Compassvale Cape in Sengkang, a 1,400 dwelling units development completed in 2016. Here, you can find a mix of studio apartments, 3-, 4-, and 5-room all in the same development. The development comes with a centrally located large roof garden at the top deck of the multi-storey carpark for the residents to enjoy.

The most recent HDB project SJ did that had flats for the elderly is Chai Chee Green. Launched by HDB in December last year, it is a 1,234 dwelling units development comprising of 3-, 4-, and 5-room flats and 250 Community Care Apartments (CCA) which are designed to support elderly to live independently while preparing for their future care needs. Other than similar elderly-friendly design features found in the typical 2R-flexi units, there is an elderly facility on every floor. The highlight of such CCA is that the residents can subscribe to basic services such as 24-hour emergency response and dedicated programming or add on optional care and support services depending on their care needs and preference. While doing site planning, we located the CCA block nearer to existing amenities in the vicinity so that there is greater convenience for the elderly residents.