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Retirement Home Meets Urban Farm

SPARK’s ambitious proposal aims to tackle two pressing issues facing Singapore – that of a rapidly ageing population and a lack of natural food resources.

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BY Janice Seow

February 18th, 2015


It is predicted that adult diapers will soon outsell baby diapers in Japan, where 25 per cent of the population is over the age of 65. It’s a horrible statement to say the least, but it does the job of underscoring a serious issue confronting Japan and nations around the world – that of rapidly ageing populations.

For a small, urbanised city-state like Singapore, where 20 per cent of residents will be aged 65 years and over by 2030, the impact of an ageing population will be keenly felt on the economic, social, and infrastructural front; food security is an equally pertinent issue since 90 per cent of the nation’s food supply are imported from overseas.

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Enter Home Farm. Set in the context of Singapore, this conceptual project by award-winning architectural and design studio SPARK is a bold attempt to address both the changes to the country’s demographics, and its dependence on imported food.

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Home Farm is far removed from the traditional notions of an elderly home, which SPARK Director Stephen Pimbley says can be “pretty grim”.

“What was important for us in creating this project was to provide an environment for older people where they could have a level of self-esteem, especially if they were on their own, and didn’t have the support of a family infrastructure,” he says.

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Driving the concept is the idea of combining homes for senior citizens with an urban vegetable farm – two typically disparate realms – on a single site. The elderly who live here, and who are still physically fit and mobile, can if they choose, take on part-time work on the farm and thus gain some income and measure of independence. The farm itself is divided into three tiers: an aquaponics farm (the predominant farming type), a soil based farm, and traditional farming.

The aquaponics system was chosen as the primary agri-tech system in the project as its entire life cycle “sits seamlessly with the ethos of Home Farm”.

“The 360-degree nutrient-enriched water story is historic passive technology reinvented and transferred into the 21st century to facilitate lightweight high-volume vertical farming. In a country where land is at a premium because of massive urbanisation, aquaponic farming is perhaps the most appropriate and sustainable model,” says Pimbley.

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Importantly, Home Farm is a housing estate with various unit types; it’s designed not just for the elderly, but for all strata of society – from the young to families – thus enabling retirees to live close to, or with their children, if they so choose.

Beyond the farm, the estate features many other facilities such as a health centre, a foodcourt/hawker centre, a small shopping mall, a kindergarten, and a fresh food market where Home Farm’s produce can be sold. Also situated at the heart of the development is a flexible, multifunctional plaza that caters to community events.

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“Home Farm offers accommodation for a good cross section of society. It’s not an old person’s ghetto… it’s quite a beautiful, calm environment, [a place] that you would like to grow old in perhaps; and we want young people and families to live here as well,” says Pimbley.

“The intention is to provide a different sort of environment capturing what is best from the micro-urban ideas of HDB developments,” he continues, “The great social spaces, the streets and courtyards in the sky, and the ‘void decks’ – and to combine these with green façades that are not superficially planted for effect but have an economic and social imperative.”

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Home Farm has been designed to foster a sense of community within the estate, but it is also open on all sides to encourage engagement with the public and the surrounding neighbourhood.

And while the project is conceptually sited in Outram, next to the iconic Pearl Bank Apartments, it’s a modular design that can be reconfigured to fit different locations around Singapore.

SPARK says that Home Farm is an entirely realisable solution and hopes to see the project actualised some day. Whether or not it gets built, the concept is one that widens the discussion on retirement living. And the prospects have perhaps just gotten a little brighter.

This is SPARK’s second research project. The first was its proposal of a sustainable floating hawker centre powered by the sun called “Solar Orchid”. See our story here.

SPARK
sparkarchitects.com