- DP Architects (DPA) is one of the largest architecture firms in the world. It is the company behind world-famous sites such as Esplanade Theatres by the Bay and The Dubai Mall.
- Angelene Chan, CEO of DPA, recalls the challenges the firm faced, including stop-work orders in construction sites and travel bans due to COVID-19.
- Post-pandemic, resilient cities and environmental health must go hand-in-hand. Urban spaces will also change to accommodate safe distancing and a predicted rise in self-contained urban clusters.
- This article is part of a series called Resilient Singapore, which focuses on Singapore’s resilient and sustainable growth in the post-pandemic world.
Urban planning in Singapore — one of the world's most densely populated cities — calls for a balance of design sensibility, and science. The city's skyline is dotted with projects by DP Architects (DPA), one of the largest architectural practices in Singapore and the world.
The firm behind world-famous sites such as Singapore Sports Hub, Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, and The Dubai Mall is no stranger to a challenge. But when COVID-19 came to the shores, it posed an unprecedented set of obstacles, from stop-work orders to travel bans.
One of the long-term challenges they faced was the closure of construction sites in Singapore, Angelene Chan, CEO of DPA, said. A project was identified as a COVID-19 cluster; not long after, all construction sites were given stop-work orders.
After projects gradually resumed in phase 1 of the reopening in June, new infections among the migrant-worker population and mass quarantine of at-risk workers continue to hamper construction productivity. "As a whole," Chan said, "the construction industry is still trying to find its feet."
Construction demand is expected to recover "to some extent" in 2021 according to the Singapore Building and Construction Authority (BCA). As project timelines are lengthy by nature, the industry may take longer to recover, Chan said.
"At present, we are fortunate that our projects are ongoing, albeit at a slower pace. However, the longer the pandemic goes on, the bigger and longer-lasting the implications on cash-flow and profitability of companies in the entire construction value chain. Recession means shrinking investment, which means [fewer] new projects in the next year," Chan said.
The impact of pandemic travel bans
When the country was in "lockdown," and foreign entries into Singapore was brought to a standstill, did the shortage of labor impact DPA? Perhaps in minor inconveniences – for example, a small number of their employees who commute daily between Singapore and Malaysia were not able to cross the border.
The ban on non-essential outbound travel, on the other hand, was more disruptive to their business at the early stage of the virus outbreak. The Singapore headquarters is the "design nerve" of the company's global practice, with more than half of its projects located overseas.
"This meant that we had to put on hold many scheduled critical meetings and design workshops which delayed project timelines and authority submissions deadlines," Chan said.
Even with projects brought to a halt, there was still work to be done. The company rolled out enhanced programs to raise professional competency, increase productivity performance, and build new skillsets for employees, including directors and senior management. "The pandemic has become an impetus for digital literacy," Chan said.
Another way to remain resilient is to acquire and develop serious capabilities to become experts in building typology designs. Chan reveals that the company's Typology Research Groups have been investigating the shifts in typology designs that are underway because of the pandemic. In August, they held a "designFUTURE" webinar to delve deeper into the subject, as a way to exchange ideas with others in the design and architecture landscape.
A responsible and sustainable future
A post-COVID-19 future for DPA is one that builds and designs responsibly and sustainably. "The pandemic has shown us that our individual action has a far-reaching impact on our planet. Environmental health is very much tied to human health. We cannot talk about building resilient cities and resilient urban life without mitigating climate change and its detrimental effects on all life, including human life," Chan explained.
The way people interact with public spaces has also changed. Social distancing is now the new normal, and Singapore's urban and architectural landscape cannot ignore it.
"I think we can expect to see more urban decentralization efforts to situate commercial activities and essential services closer to home," Chan predicts. She speaks about self-contained urban neighborhoods with easy access to basic needs. "Creating smaller, inclusive urban clusters will provide a sense of continuity during times of crisis like a pandemic."
Chan elaborates that Singapore's plans to be an even greener city, "a city in nature," as a means to provide a better quality of life, will become even more urgent. "We expect to see more open green spaces in neighborhoods, easily accessed from all homes," she said.
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