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Architecture That Nurture

by Lee Chia Hui | Universiti Putra Malaysia


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The project was initiated based on the global pandemic, COVID-19, which has profoundly affected human health, well-being, and economies, leading to the “Architecture of the Pandemic.” The allocated site, Sungai Way Free Trade Industrial Zone, is located in Petaling Jaya and is surrounded by residential areas accommodating nearly 50% of workers from the site. In Jun 2020, these residential areas were placed under lockdown as COVID-19 spread from the factories cluster in Sungai Way. As a lightweight industry area, Sungai Way consists primarily of blue- and white-collared manufacturing factory workers. Hence, it is essential to look into the vulnerable and lower-income workers, the group who are the most affected by the pandemic.

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Working in the manufacturing industry involves high workloads and working hours, causing a further disconnection between them and the outside world. A survey revealed that 68% of workers had no social activities even after reopening social sectors. The change in the employment landscape, especially in the manufacturing industry due to the pandemic, caused a reduction in job availability, marking 23% of job lost cases, 58% of which were cases recorded in Selangor. 

These factors have contributed to stress and pressure, especially among vulnerable low-income workers. The condition is exacerbated by the workers’ inability to respite from their life’s pressure. The resulting compounding mental and emotional strain may be enough to cause debilitating physical and mental breakdowns. 

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Just like nurturing a dying plant, an environment must be adjusted to enable it to breathe and carry out photosynthesis before it is ready to uptake nutrient boost. This is where nurture from the Inside-out happens. The same goes for humans who are sick of being “human-doing”—providing an environment for respite before they are willing to accept advice and seek a solution. After bringing them back to life, the environment inspires them to be immune to future challenges, preparing them to transform challenges into potential. That is where nurture from Outside-in happens. The Well-being Centre for the target worker community has recreation and well-being programs.

The ideology of nurturing from Inside-out and Outside-in is translated into the architectural language to support their WELL—a welcoming atmosphere for both local and foreign workers to co-exist peacefully, activating their curiosity in exploring and creating new possibilities and encouraging exploration to enrich the meaning of life. The values are then reflected in two design aspects: 1) spatially, it has blurred boundaries between indoors and outdoors to connect the community with nature mindfully; 2) structurally, it is an adaptable strategy to allow new mix-use possibilities from time to time.

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An abandoned industrial property is proposed to be retrofitted. Most of the existing boundary walls are to be demolished and integrated with landscaping to soften the rigid boundaries and enhance active frontage to allow more permeability. A gradual series of a platform with greeneries are intended to connect the street level to the first-floor gathering plaza. At the same time, the recreation program will become a magnet to allow spontaneous interactions among workers from different backgrounds.

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Pandemic-proof design is one of the main strategies in this design scheme. The health screening centre is planned with two waiting lounges for the exam room and blood draw cubicles. During normal or post-pandemic times, two waiting areas can be separated by a bi-fold door. During the pandemic, the health screening centre can function as a vaccination centre with one sizeable waiting lounge and one-way circulation. The event atrium served for public health activities during normal days or was adaptable as a quarantine station during the pandemic. 

Pharmacy retail planned in one-way flow circulation is integrated with self-order and self-pick-up kiosk space planning. A transition zone for Mysejahtera check-in and temperature screening before entering the pharmacy is also envisioned in the design. The outdoor dining is integrated with the Gastro Safe zone designed by Hua Hua architects. The concept is planned with a corridor for walking with face masks and a safe zone for eating without face masks. A handwashing facility is proposed close to the outdoor dining area for hygienic purposes. 

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The salutogenic design principle is another strategy in the counselling centre to promote occupants’ well-being. There are options for gardens, activity spaces with different healing elements, and various formal and informal advice settings. The first and second floors of the counselling centre are designed with varying levels of privacy and atmosphere to accommodate both individual and group counselling spaces. The Pixel façade system designed by Pixel Architects is adopted as a flexible outdoor space. This recycled wood system allows occupants the unique flexibility to reconfigure their outdoor areas with its modular structures and kit of parts.  

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