Quick question: do you actually know your neighbours? We don’t mean just recognising them—we’re talking about actually knowing who they are, what they’re like, and being able to hold an extended conversation with them. Chances are, not many of us would be able to say yes.
Pictured above, clockwise from leftmost:
Tan Yunyi (Engineering Systems and Design), Gerald Wong Chian Hao (Engineering Product Development), Rachel Cheah Jiawen (Architecture and Sustainable Design), Chung Kai Hern David (Architecture and Sustainable Design), Jaryl Lim Yu-Herng (Engineering Systems and Design), Ian Chung Enzhi (Architecture and Sustainable Design), Janus Wayne Enclona Lim (Architecture and Sustainable Design)
And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with being a little more reserved in your neighbourhood. After all, we have our own friends and lives to live, and it’s nice to be able to come home to a safe, quiet space to recharge at the end of each day. However, for the elderly, social interactions might not come as easily as it does for younger folks.
For elderly who are retired and physically weaker, it’s tough for them to be out and about in search of new connections, especially if they live alone in mature estates, where majority of the residents are aged as well. In the past couple of years, we’ve also seen how circumstances such as the pandemic could and have affected the elderly’s social lives more than the rest of us.
As social circles shift online with technology, and communal spaces within newer housing estates dwindle, it’s increasingly difficult for older folks to maintain and build friendships. Over extended periods of time, social isolation and loneliness can lead to serious physical and mental health issues in the elderly, such as cardiovascular disease and dementia.
Though Town Councils and neighbourhood volunteers regularly organise activities for elderly residents, the existing architecture of HDB flats and sparse pockets of communal spaces limits the types of activities that can be carried out.
But, what if our housing estates have more flexible spaces that encourage creativity and a sense of ownership among our residents?
A home within a home
Enter Cosy Contours—a trapezium-shaped, modular structure created by a group of SUTD students for their Capstone (aka final-year) project. Fitted with simple furniture like tables, benches, and shelves that can serve multiple purposes, Cosy Contours provides elderly residents with a comfortable space to gather and bond over shared interests, effectively addressing the problem of a lack of communal gathering points in newer housing estates.
The structure may look simple, but each design detail has been thoughtfully thought out to cater to the needs of elderly residents, specifically the community at Bedok South Blocks 70 and 71, where the team conducted house visits and workshops to familiarise themselves with the residents and their needs.
For example, the team tells us that they went with a trapezium shape for their structure because of its sturdiness and novelty factor. The same trapezium shape could also host people comfortably, and allow residents to walk through and around it easily.
“Apart from exploring different shapes, we also looked into ergonomics and accessibility to make our structure elderly-friendly,” Rachel shares. “We customised all of the built-in furniture in our modules for maximum comfort—our chairs are especially comfy because they’re angled at 105 degrees. When Minister Maliki Osman visited, he sat down and didn’t want to get back up!”
But if the space is meant to be modular, why have built-in furniture?
“We meant for it to be fully integrated for a seamless look. Having the furniture flushed to the structure also makes it safer for the elderly, and allows us to maximise the space for circulation,” Rachel explains.
That said, the team tells us that they designed three different versions of their modules—one that functions as a garden with shelving, one that functions as a learning space with a table and and chairs, and one that functions as a flea market with multiple tables— allowing residents to pick and choose the modules that best meet their needs to create a space of their own.
All hands on deck
With a project this big, and the team intent on having a community showcase for the residents that they’ve bonded greatly with since embarking on their Capstone, the team collectively agreed that the on-site setup was the most memorable part of their year-long Cosy Contours journey.
From careful measurements to detailed designing, cutting out pieces of plywood (500kg worth, no less) to finally setting the structure up, the team tells us that they’re thankful that they had each other through the process, as well as the physical support of the Fab Lab staff.
“It rained every single day, from the moment we brought our materials down to the site for setup. So Wednesday through Saturday, we were toiling in the rain and mud,” Jaryl says wryly.
“Plus, constructing the modules allowed us to see for the first time if each piece would fit nicely,” Rachel elaborates. “Basically, we had to do a lot of filing, so much so that I think we’re all filing experts now.”
“It was really a character-building experience for us all,” Gerald jokes. “But spending so much time together, going through ups and downs, and caring for each other through it all was very nice. And the feeling of fulfilment at the end, when we pushed the frame up above our heads and saw our structure in all its glory, is really indescribable.”
Naturally, when asked what their biggest takeaway is from this experience, the team tells us that they’ve rediscovered the importance of teamwork. Though everyone on the team had different skillsets, personalities, and responsibilities, they took the time to bond with and understand each other throughout the process, and eventually came together very well during crunch time.
Besides bonding with each other, another special moment that the team shared was with the elderly residents of Bedok South. Having gone on multiple site recces and house visits in the early stages of their project, the residents grew fond of the team, and even lent a helping hand wherever they could, in their own ways.
For instance, Gerald tells us that when the team decided to include a mini gardening corner in their structure, the residents came down and gave them some interesting and useful insights into what plants need to thrive. Some of them even contributed their own plants to bulk up the team’s little garden for their community showcase.
“During the construction phase, many of the residents would come to ask us what we’re doing, and watch us on the side, or buy drinks for us, which was really heartwarming,” Rachel shares. “We even got invited to their houses for tea.”
Though their Capstone journey is coming to an end, the team still has plans to help engage the community. They’ll have a formal handover ceremony for their structure, where the neighbourhood council will then take full ownership of the future of the modules. The team tells us that they’re planning on highlighting areas that can be tweaked or improved upon, come up with a disassembly guide, and also propose programmes that can be held within the modules.
“Social gatherings and activities are what gives life to our structure,” Rachel says. “Perhaps the residents will get creative with the space themselves—the possibilities are endless.”
Find out more about Cosy Contours at: