‘The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis which is already affecting the food and agriculture sector. Prompt measures to ensure that food supply chains are kept alive, domestically and internationally, to mitigate the risk of large shocks that would have a considerable impact on everybody, especially on the poor and the most vulnerable.’
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations1
Setting the scene
AJ, a foreign student, studied in a University in the eastern part of Singapore. She got into the elevator and was taking the short commute from her hostel to the studio, when she received an emailed instruction from the University to stay and work from her hostel room. She remembered the date 3 April well.
The country had been battling the COVID-19 pandemic and was in DORSCON Orange for the past two months. She recalled on 8 February that the Prime Minister had assured that the country was not under lockdown and there was no need to panic-buy groceries, hoard food or toilet paper.
She arrived at the studio, packed her laptop from her workplace and hurried back to the hostel. Not many people wore face masks that day and not many people were talking, choosing to maintain social distance instead. She watched her classmates packing and making their way home. It would be some time before she would meet them again. The campus emptied and was strangely quiet. She felt a sense of aloneness.
The next day, the government announced that the country was in circuit-breaking mode. The pandemic was spreading, and significant tightening measures were put in place. Businesses would move to working from home and schools would move to full home-based learning. Dining out was not an option. Food and beverage outlets were permitted to do only takeaway and delivery. Wholesale markets, wet markets, supermarkets and provision shops would remain open with strict crowd control measures.
She went to the supermarket yesterday and the shelves that carried vegetables were empty. She felt a tinge of nervousness. She had enough food to last her two weeks. She felt the instinctive need to stockpile. She should be better prepared. Would she be able to purchase the vegetable on her next visit? Would the shelves be replenished? She wondered what would happen if the circuit break was prolonged by a few months.
What would happen if the global food-supply chain was slowed, strained and disrupted?
The COVID-19 pandemic has destabilized the global food supply and a food crisis is a looming possibility if governments fail to handle the challenge well.
We have witnessed during the pandemic a chained reaction to the food-supply crisis. Food is harder to grow around the world, as lockdowns, travel restrictions and quarantine measures have resulted in labour shortages in the farming industry. Planes are grounded and container ships are anchored as airports, shipping ports and borders closed. Food exporting countries has begun to cut back on the free flow of food and goods and has begun to stockpile. Consumers’ panic buying over fears of long-term food disruptions has further unbalanced the situation. Supermarkets in many countries are facing difficulties to replenish their food and goods shelves. As the global logistic supply chain faces a disruption that can last for months, food prices may start to rise. Governments are doing their upmost to manage this food supply crisis and keep social unrest at a distance (Huang, 2020)2.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of the global food-supply chain. The strategic goal to be more self-reliant and resilient in the food supply is a pressing need today.
Revisiting the food-supply chain
Until recently, the global supply chain assumes that materials and goods flow freely. Most companies will source, produce and distribute goods at the lowest-cost locations around the world. COVID-19 has challenged this assumption and have shown up the fragility of sourcing many goods from one location or from distanced locations.
In this studio, students will explore two core ideas in the design of future urban farms to mitigate food supply disruptions:
- Design with shorter supply chain
The idea of having local source of supply. By sourcing local, we can be better prepared for disruption across longer food supply chains in distanced low-cost locations.
- Design with second supply chain
The idea of providing backup capacity of food supply across two or more sources. By permutating and propagating alternative sources, we can be better prepared for disruption to the primary sources of food supply chain (Rice, 2020)3.
Students will also be exploring viable options of increasing food supply capacity by looking at the repurposing of the city’s land precincts and infrastructures as useable urban logistic farms complete with cultivation, operation and delivery functions. Such repurposing possibilities may include:
- Under-utilised historic land precincts.
- Under-utilised mega building structures.
- Under-utilised historic buildings.
- Unused underground space.
- Unused space beneath viaducts.
- Space over water canals.
- Space over bridges.
- Within obsolete CBD/HDB multi-storey and basement car parks where an efficient public transport system has minimized the need for cars.
- Within obsolete CDB high-rise offices where work- from-home has minimized the need for office space.
The urban farm will be a minimum of 4000 sqm. Students will define what an urban farm might be, how its various cultivation, operation and delivery functions can work for both humans and for robots. A suggested list of possible functions includes:
- Cultivation Function
Cultivation room with indoor farms and environmental controls for clean room, temperature control, UV lamps and stock solution tanks. The cultivation room can produce a variety of food crops. Seeding, germinating, weighing, trimming, packaging and sealing of plants are conducted in the cultivation room.
- Operation Function
Operation room with changing rooms, water & air showers and boots sterilization room. Decontamination, material storage, transfer of material & supplies, UV sterilization, packaging, cold storage are conducted in the operation room.
- Last-Mile Delivery
Drone port equipped with offices, workshop and test runway that can promise a one-hour delivery to the surrounding neighbourhoods.
- Online Retailer Office
Business office for retailer in the business-to-consumers B2C market.
- Market Spaces
Grocer stalls selling take-away food and green products with control access and social distancing.
- Public/Community Space
Recreational sports park and public open spaces.
For the first half of the semester, the site will be the existing South and North Grandstand within the approximately 176 hectares Bukit Timah Turf City.
Historically, the Singapore Turf Club (STC) had built Singapore’s first racecourse in Farrer Park, and the first race took place in 1843. In 1927, STC purchased a part of Bukit Timah Rubber Estate. STC build and shifted the racecourse to the Bukit Timah site in 1933. The existing South Grandstand building has occupied the site since 1933. World War 2 interrupted horse racing activities and races were restarted only in 1960. In 1999, STC moved its racecourse for a second time, from the Bukit Timah site off Dunearn Road to Kranji.4
The Turf City site belongs to the State and is managed by Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and is currently home to a cluster of sports operators and tenants. Access to the Turf City site is from Turf Club Road via Dunearn Road and Eng Neo Avenue and may include an elevated park connector that is linked to the Bukit Timah-Rochor green walk.
The students will investigate two aspects of the design brief which include:
- Re-purposing the existing North and South Grandstand Buildings as urban farms.
- Propagating and grafting the urban farms into a future green imaginary comprising of an exciting live-work eco hub within the masterplan for the whole Turf City site.
The existing South and North Grandstand buildings will offer the opportunity for students to re-purpose these buildings as indoor and outdoor logistic farms – a possible source of future food supply in Singapore. The logistic farms will be integrated with a drone and goods mover system to facilitate last mile delivery. In a small country with limited land, the potential to reuse existing mega structures and space to cultivate urban farms will go some way to improve future food security in SG.
For the second half of the semester, the large site with multiple histories will provide the opportunity for students to project a future green imaginary or master plan for Turf City. The large mixed-use precinct will be propagated and grafted with numerous farms that will line pathways and surround outdoor spaces. Turf City will be cultivated into self-contained communities surrounded by ‘greenbelts’ of recreational, work and agricultural spaces. Turf City will combine the best aspects of both city and countryside living.
The suggested list of future uses will include:
- Residential 60%
Approximately 105.6 hectares housing 10,560 DUs comprising of low and medium rise housing with GPR 1.4-2.1.
- Institution 5%
8.8 hectares of institutional land for a Sports and Community Club, Polyclinic & Nursing Home and Primary & Secondary Schools.
- Commercial 5%
8.8 hectares of land for commercial, retail and eco hub
- Green Reserves 15%
35.2 hectares of land for forest, sports trails, parks & agriculture
- Roads & Utilities 15%
26.4 hectares land for category 5 road
Students are required to develop a planning diagram in accordance to the suggested list of future uses.
Students are required to develop the planning diagram into a master plan for Turf City that will integrate ‘greenbelts’ of recreational, work and agricultural spaces.
Students are required to develop the logistic farms into a larger commercial, retail and eco hub.
Students are required to propagate and graft urban farms across the master plan.
- FAO. ‘Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).’ FAO, Dec13, 2019. http://www.fao.org/2019-ncov/en/
- Cary, Huang. ‘As the coronavirus disrupts food supply chains, who will feed China?’ The Straits Times, April 12, 2020. https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/3079365/coronavirus-disrupts-food-supply-chains-who-will-feed-china
- James B, Rice. ‘Prepare Your Supply Chain for Coronavirus.’ Harvard Business Review, February 27, 2020. https://hbr.org/2020/02/prepare-your-supply-chain-for-coronavirus
- BTSC. ‘History Of Bukit Timah Saddle Club.’ BTSC, 2019. http://btsc.org.sg/about-us/history/old-racetrack/