By Christa Avampato, April 2015, seedstock.com
A new paradigm for senior living is rising in famously lavish Singapore—one in which baby boomers can age in a comfortable environment that aids their mental and physical wellbeing through growing their own food.
Imagine a senior living environment based on the hanging gardens of Babylon — a place rich with lush vegetation and beauty of mythic proportions, but in a way that doesn’t place any additional strain on a city’s budget. In fact, it could be crafted as a way to grow the local economy.
That’s the vision of SPARK Architects’ Wai Wing Yun, one of the designers of SPARK’s innovative solution entitled Home Farm. Yun calls it an “integrated vertical urban farming and retirement living community.”
In this vision, seniors in the community participate in gardening and growing their own vegetables, getting exercise and socializing while generating income. In its current incarnation, the design for Home Farm has the capability to grow 35 tons of green leafy vegetables every year, and those produce could potentially generate up to $6 million dollars (USD) in sales for the for-profit venture. The vegetables would be grown through vertical aquaponic farming and rooftop soil plantings.
As SPARK’s Director Stephen Pimbley explains it, the nation has two pressing needs: a more secure and stable food supply and a healthy living situation for its aging population, one that keeps them engaged with meaningful activities.
“Singapore has a growing senior population. In just 15 years, 20 percent of Singapore’s population will be 65 or older,” says Pimbley.
Seniors want to feel valued and useful just as much as young people, according to Pimbley, and urban farming is a way for seniors to stay physically active and remain mentally stimulated through enjoyable work in a supportive community.
SPARK’s Home Farm design speaks to the growing global trend of urban farming. This trend had grown for a number of economic and security reasons.
Singapore faces food security issues driven by threats to supply and sudden spikes in prices. Designs like Home Farm would empower the residents of Singapore by providing them with the space, skills, and support to cultivate their own food supply and provide them with an income source to help fund other costs of living.
It’s also important to note what Home Farm is not.
“Home Farm is not a forced seniors’ labor camp,” says Pimbley. “Not all residents would be expected to engage with the farming activities. We are simply presenting the opportunity for part-time work, should it be desired, to assist with income support and social engagement. The intention is to provide a different sort of environment capturing what is best from the micro-urban ideas; to combine these with green facades that are not superficially planted for effect but have an economic and social imperative.”
Home Farm makes an effort to solve many complex challenges with a single, viable solution. For now, the design is just that—a vision for what could be. It will take economic investment, likely a combination of private and public sector funds, to create spaces such as Home Farm. This type of project also requires sensitivity to cultural differences across the globe and the need for an entire ecosystem of services.
To that end, SPARK also includes provisions for services such as a supermarket, schools, public libraries, event space, and a health center. With additional services and a modular design, Home Farm could become a blueprint not only for sustainable senior living, but also for sustainable living for all generations.
Yun sums up the overarching goal of Home Farm as an idea and design that “promotes social inclusion, which we believe has a strong influence on health and wellbeing.”