Condominium Design: A Straightforward Process?

18Woodsville_Upper Serangoon Road view

Condominium Design: A Straightforward Process?
by Lim Jiahui

Images: CPG Consultants/ S P Setia

When I first took on the design of 18 Woodsville – a condominium development in Singapore, I was told by many that the process of designing residential projects is considered “straightforward” compared to other building types. A few weeks into the design process, I realized that what was meant by “straightforward” was the practice of using a standard design formula to achieve maximum saleable efficiency. In other words, the design process is an extremely precise and formulaic operation that is performed with the sole aim of inching out every square meter of saleable area – and it is this process that differentiates a condominium project from other building types.

Condominium Design and Real Estate
Condominium design is closely associated with trends in real estate development, and the design of these developments, including the unit mix, usually reflects current market demands. With Per Square Foot (PSF) prices of developments constantly increasing and reaching new heights in the property market, design consultants are often entrusted with the task of staying competitive in the real estate rat race. Designers rarely think in terms of dollars and cents, profit margins and yield returns, but by making an effort to understand and keep up with the latest market trends, we were better able to understand the client’s needs.

18 Woodsville features approximately 35% of “shoebox” units which are less than 500sqf each. While these may not be the most comfortable units to reside in, they are certainly one of the most sought-after unit types in the property market today. The incorporation of these smaller units into the development allows more units to fit within the stipulated Gross Floor Area (GFA), enabling developers to sell a larger number of units at lower overall prices, while keeping per square foot prices high. Whilst this approach may work positively for the developer, most architects would find it a challenge to design an efficient layout to serve a large number of small units.

Given the increasing demand for “shoebox” units, the question was how we could maximize the usage of a limited floor plate area while creating liveable spaces. At 18 Woodsville, we designed these units with high ceiling spaces to create a sense of spaciousness. At the same time, this provided homeowners with the option of building mid-level decks, thus freeing up floor space and encouraging high-level storage.

Maximum Efficiency  vs. Liveable Spaces
Saleable efficiency is often the key factor in a condominium design brief. While most developers depend on the saleable area to secure their bank loans, the efficiency figure is also a good indicator on how profitable a particular project would be. High saleable efficiency is often achieved by sacrificing non-saleable communal areas, but on the other hand, a certain amount of communal spaces is necessary because they can help to boost the value of the property.

In line with Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) guidelines to promote high-rise greenery in Singapore’s urban environment, sky terraces (which are not counted as GFA) can be used to create communal areas without sacrificing too much of the saleable area. At 18 Woodsville, sky terraces can be found at different levels, providing communal areas for residents to hold private functions. Besides providing useful amenity spaces for residents, these sky terraces create points of visual interest in the exterior form, moving it away from what would otherwise be a typical slab block design.


Innovation vs. Productivity
With new developments being launched almost every week,  the challenge lies in ensuring that each new project possesses unique characteristics that would differentiate it from the rest. As architects, we know that innovative ideas are necessary to push the design limit, but in a condominium project, the design development process is often compromised by a tight schedule and the need to launch the project in the shortest possible time.

To a certain extent, it is true that condomnium design is a straightforward process – by using a standard, tried-and-tested formula, maximum saleable efficiency can be achieved, developers can attain their desired profit figures and home owners will have a comfortable roof over their heads. From the business point of view, it seems like a win-win situation for all stakeholders involved. However, my question is, to what extent can innovative ideas be implemented if we continue to stick to this standard formula? How can we work within the realities of real estate demands to maintain high productivity in the industry, while redefining new living standards?♦

Also see: Celebrating Emptiness: Life and Ideas to Fill the Void

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