designFUTURE 2020 Webinar: The Next Norm: A Cross Typology Perspective


Coalescing the research and design thinking of Design in Print Volume 11.3, the 2020 edition of DP’s designFUTURE Conference dived deeper into the impact of COVID-19 on our perception of space across a range of typologies. Held on 28 August as a webinar, the online conference explored how our multi-disciplinary design sensibilities can be re-imagined to create a more resilient built environment to tackle the ‘next norm’.

Forming the panel were Lee Wai Fong, DPA director and head of the Residential Typology Research Group; Tan Chee Kiang, DPA director and head of the Workplace Typology Research Group; Mike Lim, director of DP Design; Loh Hai Yew, DPA director and head of the Institutional Typology Research Group; Tania Wee, DPA director and head of the Healthcare Typology Research Group; and Seah Chee Huang, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of DP Architects. The webinar was facilitated by DPA director Chan Hui Min.

In examining the Next Norm and what resilient architecture entails, the presentations and panel were categorised into sub-themes. The first, The Next Live-Work-Play, addressed how design strategies for flexibility and adaptability would be key in meeting the evolving relationship with and perception of everyday spaces across our homes, offices and favourite mall hangouts post-pandemic. Wai Fong opened this section of the webinar with an insightful exploration of how home design may respond to the changes that may follow the prevalence of tele-commuting – Work from Home: Why Home Design Matters. Backed by data, survey and design studies conducted during the Circuit Breaker and subsequent Phase One: Safe Re-Opening period, he proposed a re-imagining of the use of thresholds in home design for malleability and flexibility of space functions.

The call for flexibility is perhaps not limited to the Residential Typology. While offices are not likely to be rendered obsolete in the foreseeable future, the prevalence of tele-commuting will undoubtedly transform its form and function. Examining current perspectives, Chee Kiang shared how decentralisation and dispersion of space may allow for a more agile building environment. In his presentation, Workplace: Design Strategies in a Time of COVID-19, he also shared how the pandemic has accelerated the hub-and-spoke model of businesses where a headquarters is situated at one location while satellite venues can function in tandem to provide continuing support for current workspaces.

With society and the workforce seemingly silo-ed due to social distancing measures, Mike holds that a resilient built environment is defined by its ability to generate social capital. His presentation, Recalibrating our Relationship with Space, explored the potential of mixed-use retail-tainment to achieve this through the renewal of the kampong spirit and facilitate an age of pragmatism. He also presented on the possibility of deconstructing retail spaces into modular models, allowing for adaptability, transformability, and scalability to meet the ever-changing demands of retail spaces.

These set the ground for the second segment of the webinar, Learn, Care & Connect which addressed the importance of people-centric design within the Institutional, Healthcare and Community typologies. The segment opened with a presentation, The Paradigm Shift in Pedagogy by Hai Yew who shared about how institutional design iterations can be tailored for a more integrated learning and teaching experience in lieu of a home-based learning curriculum. He put forth that decentralised learning spaces via satellite education centres bolstered by technological innovation and new teaching methods will be at the forefront of pedagogic design.

In the context of COVID-19 and future pandemics, Tania shared insights into how DP’s design responded during the SARS outbreak. COVID-19: Preparedness through Design presents a closer look into how DPA’s healthcare designs account for flexibility with built-in redundancies where functions can change according to necessity. Along with flexible design also came opportunities to earmark open and landscape spaces in healthcare facilities that allow them to function as community spaces.

Built-in redundancies are not only applicable to the Healthcare typology. Multi-purposed with unique over-layering of spaces and functions intended for facilitating communal bonding, the design of community and sports typology must move from optimisation to redundancy so as to support physical – not social – distancing. Exploring spatial zoning strategies embedded within the current community and sports infrastructure, Chee Huang in his presentation The Resilient Dimension, examined how social agility can be sustainably augmented. He stressed the role of architects and designers to seek out resilience in the design of community settings to preserve the need to stay connected. He furthered that architecture, at its heart, is a medium that is meant to better the lives of the community and as such, needs to continually strive for designs that enhance users’ quality of life.

Each segment of the webinar was rounded up with a lively panel discussion consisting of its respective presenters and moderated by director Chan Hui Min. The webinar was attended by 1,900 participants including staff, industry partners, clients, media guests and the general public.