Food for Thought - Rethinking our Hawker Centres

05 Dec 2019

On 20 November 2019, the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Aalto University jointly organised an exhibition and symposium on ‘Rethinking the Singapore Hawker Design – Articulated Landscapes. Sustainable Space Making across Scales’ at Singapore’s National Design Centre, the nexus for all things design. Ms Anna Korpi, Counsellor for Education and Science from the Embassy of Finland in Singapore, graced the event as the guest of honour.
Over 140 people attended the panel discussion that explored the architectural transformation of Singapore’s 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. 
Participating in the discussion 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). Following the panel discussion was an engaging Q&A session with the attendees.

“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 especially with the pressure that hawker centres are currently facing from foodcourts and other restaurants found in malls,” explained Assistant Professor Carlos Banon from SUTD’s Architecture and Sustainable Design.
The event also featured an exhibition with a selection of student works from the collaborative design studio between SUTD and Aalto University that 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.
These student works are exhibited at the National Design Centre till 28 February 2020.