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Designing for connections

By January 1, 1970April 16th, 2024No Comments

How can Network Science tools help us design and create better living spaces to foster stronger social connections? Professor Thomas Schroepfer from the Singapore University of Technology and Design explores the opportunities and challenges.

Living in high-rise and high-density environments create both opportunities and challenges for social interactions. Tell us more.

Thomas: High-rise buildings often feature mixed-use developments, combining residential units with commercial spaces, recreational facilities, and community amenities. This integration promotes convenience and encourages residents to interact with each other during their daily activities. 

Designing shared community spaces within high-rise buildings, such as rooftop gardens and communal lounges, provides opportunities for residents to socialise and engage in recreational activities. Also, leveraging technology, such as community apps can facilitate communication among residents, allowing them to share information, and organise events easily.


Public space at CapitaSpring

CapitaSpring, an integrated development in the city centre has a range of sky gardens and public spaces for workers and residents to relax in. Image: Finbarr Fallon.



A key challenge for high-rise developments is striking a balance between open community spaces and respecting residents’ privacy. Singapore is known for its cultural diversity, and this can lead to varying social preferences and expectations among residents. 

Designing spaces and programmes that cater to different cultural backgrounds can be challenging but is essential for inclusivity. Also, with many people living in high-rise buildings, managing pedestrian flow and ensuring accessibility to community spaces is crucial to encourage residents to utilise and participate in communal activities. 

You have done a study of spaces within Kampung Admiralty using Network Science tools. How can this help the design of future spaces?

Thomas: We used a variety of Network Science tools to study and visualise the spaces within Kampung Admiralty to help us better understand the movement, interactions, and how long people linger within the development, by representing the building as a network, where nodes can represent specific locations and edges can represent connections or movements between them. 


Diagrams showing how Network Science can help to design buildings and spaces to encourage interactions and connections amongst residents

Using a variety of Network Science tools, these can help planners and designers to visualise the movement, interactions, and spaces where people dwell in developments like the Kampung Admiralty. Image: SUTD. 



The study revealed the density of connections between different groups of people, such as residents, employees, and visitors, highlighting areas where community interactions are strong or weak. By integrating other data sources, such as occupancy sensors or access control systems, the use of network science allowed us to analyse more detailed user behaviour patterns within the building. 

This gives us better insight into where and how people are interacting, which informs how the spaces, services and amenities can be tweaked to better meet people’s needs.

What are some important design considerations that can help create a greater sense of community?

Thomas: The ground floors of mixed-use developments should ideally be designed to attract vibrancy with a range of retail spaces, cafes, and community centres that can encourage community interaction. Within the development, there could be a variety of well-designed communal spaces, such as shared gardens, plazas, and lounges, that create opportunities for residents to talk to one another or engage in social activities. 


The Skyville HDB flat that designed for public spaces for people to interact and gather
Shared common spaces are deliberately designed at Skyville to encourage residents to interact and gather together. Image: HDB.



Shared facilities and amenities could be considered, such as gyms, recreational areas, and function rooms, and green spaces, parks and outdoor activity areas could be incorporated. Such places provide opportunities for residents and visitors to interact and come together. Within and around the developments, people should feel safe and comfortable to walk around easily, all of which increase the chances for social interaction. 

The diversity of the live-in population is also important. A mix of different unit layouts for families, singles, and seniors could be offered. Such diversity could contribute to creating more dynamic communities as the spaces will have to cater for different ages and needs. 

For people to feel more rooted, residents could be involved in the design process, and eventually curating and managing these very spaces within or around the development. 

How do we leave room for spontaneous and more organic interactions?

Thomas: The design of the physical environment is crucial in influencing interactions, connections, and a sense of community in a building. 


The touchpoint centre that has a range of spaces and facilities to cater for residents and seniors' needs
The TOUCHpoint@ AMK 433 at the void deck space of block 433 Ang Mo Kio Avenue has flexible and adaptable spaces for communities to gather. Image: Oddinary Studio. 



Key influencing factors include spatial layout, openness, common gathering areas, and cultural considerations. Additionally, a strong sense of community can be fostered through organic and spontaneous interactions, such as community events, shared experiences, resident-led initiatives, and identifying informal gathering spots. 

Achieving a balance between physical design and organic social aspects is essential for a vibrant and connected community in socially integrated buildings.


Shaping an endearing city: “When enough is enough” – Professor Thomas Schroepfer was featured in the Singapore Pavilion for the 2023 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Based on the theme of “When is enough, enough”, the pavilion explores the more intangible qualities of designing and shaping a more endearing city, in creating connections, influencing change and providing more inclusive spaces. For more information about the Singapore Pavilion, go to https://singaporepavilion.sg/


Source: https://www.ura.gov.sg/Corporate/Resources/Ideas-and-Trends/Designing%20for%20connections

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