What makes a house liveable?
Where I grew up, many refuse to consider a non-landed residence a house. No land, no way. This mentality is one of the biggest reasons mass housing is a failure in our 7,107 islands (There are many others, of course: the failure of government to follow through on anything, the abundance of agricultural land that those who flock to the cities always have the option of returning to, the oppressiveness of a building code that says the minimum liveable residence is only 18 square meters…I could go on for pages).
My college thesis partners and I case-studied a housing project in the garbage slums known as Smokey Mountain, interviewing a sampling of residents to evaluate the effectivity of that housing project. Our research revealed an absence of ownership because the residents didn’t consider their medium-rise dwelling as their house. They didn’t own the land it was built on, so most of them didn’t care about the upkeep of their surroundings. It was so bad that garbage thrown from the upper levels had accumulated on the ground floor, and the ground-floor residents couldn’t open their utility windows at all.
Fast-forward to nearly a decade later, and there is a high-rise condominium boom in the metropolis, despite the global recession. The reason? Last year’s devastating flood, which destroyed so many homes and possessions, convinced a lot of people that the higher you go, the safer you’ll be. Never mind that we are located in the Pacific ring of fire, and have how-many fault lines beneath our city. But then again, our architects and engineers are well-trained in earthquake-proof designs, given that it is so much a part of our lives, so I guess that doesn’t scare these new condo-owners. I wonder how they are coping now with the current spate of daily/weekly power blackouts.
Meanwhile I work in first-world Singapore, and at least once a week catch a glimpse of the spanking new mass housing development called The Pinnacle at Duxton. Designed by ARC Studio Architecture+Urbanism, the 50-storey-high residence boasts vertical gardens and “sky bridges” or viewing decks on three levels. The rooftop deck looks out to the city and the harbor, and is open to the public.
It remains to be seen how this fully pre-cast constructed housing fares as residents are just beginning to move in (Incidentally, our thesis case study was the first pre-cast housing project in the country, and part of its failure was its residents’ common misconception that pre-cast construction is not structurally sound). This supposedly low-cost housing solution has been so glamorized that I certainly hope it proves to be liveable and enduring.