Improving backlanes

UNDERSTANDING URBAN TRANSFORMATION AS AN INTERDISCIPLINARY PROCESS

 

Background

 

The backlane project is a synergetic research project based on studies in energy efficiency, urban connectivity, pedestrian movement, historic stock analyses and urban diversity studies. The combined expertise has led to not only being able to showcase past and current situation of backlanes as multi-layered contested urban spaces, but has further triggered the team to propose a conceptual design vision for a specific backlane section in Rochor+ and to carry out a field study on the transformative potential in Boat Quay.

 

On the urban scale the aim of the project is to enhance the quality and usability of the backlanes, as studied in Rochor+ (8.9 ha), and to transform them to frequented pedestrian routes. The proposed vision focuses on how enhancing the climatical situation and connectivity of the backlanes could also result in more visually pleasing and commercially attractive backlanes.

 

On the micro scale the project serves as a test case for how a new technology, a hydraulic heat bus network for cooling purposes could be used to not only reduce energy consumption but also to enhance the outdoor comfort in the back lanes.

 

Shophouses, a common building type in cities of the South East Asian region, are low-rise row houses with a sheltered arcade facing the main street. Their front façades in ROCHOR+ shine brightly and in full colour and are protected by the heritage board. In the 19th century shophouse rows in Singapore were built back to back with the main entrance as single access. As a solution to insanitary conditions from carrying human and other waste though the main hall backlanes were introduced since the 1920s, which provided access from the rear.

 

Today the backlanes generally utilised for support activities of the major economic activities on the main streets such as waste disposal and delivery. As soon as we step into these backlanes, we are met by hundreds of split type air-conditioners. Not only are these air-cooled condensers inherently energy inefficient but they also create a very hot and noisy environment, rendering them uncomfortable for pedestrian and other activities. Surveys in Little India and Kampong Glam have show only sporadic alternative uses  e.g. where backlane transform on varying private – public scales to attractive outdoor terraces or private gardens.

 

The heat bus

 

We suggest a novel technical solution, the HEAT BUS SYSTEM based on the LOW EXERGY design paradigm, which not only reduces energy use by 50% but also ameliorates the thermal microclimate by introducing water-cooled condensers connected to a central cooling tower. The additional infrastructure, a water-based network, is simple and cheap because the water is pumped at temperatures close to outdoor temperatures, omitting the necessity for insulation. The suggested design variation is a prototypical example of applying the HEAT BUS SYSTEM to a horizontal setting of a backlane. Combined with vertical high-rise solutions, this system may be adapted to any kind of urban typology in the tropical climate.

 

Parallel to the innovative heat bus system the team proposes certain urban design interventions e.g. creating greater connectivity through the backlanes and planting small trees for additional shading. Planting small trees for additional shade will create better thermal outdoor comfort. These shaded areas will not only protect pedestrians from the sun but also reduce the heating up of the hard concrete surfaces, such as road and walls, preventing them from reradiating that heat to pedestrians. Together the proposed initiatives will upgrade the backlane fabric and will transform the backlane into a space that will fosters PEDESTRIAN MOVEMENT, social encounters but also new economic activities in the future.

 

Reclaiming Backlanes in Boat Quay

 

The research project “Reclaiming Backlanes in Boat Quay” is a partnership between FCL and Singapore River One, a not-for-profit organisation responsible for managing and enhancing the Singapore River precinct. The study assesses the current conditions in these particular backlanes and develops potential future scenarios that entail both urban design and energy efficiency interventions.

 

On the micro scale the project serves as a test case for how the heat bus system could be used to not only reduce energy consumption but also to enhance the outdoor comfort in the backlanes in this specific area. On the urban scale the aim of the project is to enhance the overall walkable connectivity of this neighbourhood to the adjacent CBD and riverfront promenade. Furthermore transforming the quality and usability of the backlanes results in more commercially attractive and visually pleasing backlanes.

 

First outcomes of this research project have been exhibited as part of the “Re:imagining Cities – Urban Design Research in Singapore,” exhibition at the URA Centre in September/October 2014. The objective for the next phase of the project – RECLAIMING BACKLANES – is to establish the feasibility and develop design visions for specific sites in Singapore.

Rochor+ Backlane study

Array of Split type condenser units in backlane.

Array of Split type condenser units in backlane.

Front side and back side of shophouse row

Self-made solution to stop direct impact of rejected heat blown at pedestrians at head height.

Self-made solution to stop direct impact of rejected heat blown at pedestrians at head height.

Backlane as disposal space for waste, heat and noise in shophouse neighbourhood.

Backlane as disposal space for waste, heat and noise in shophouse neighbourhood.

Array of split type condenser units covering entire façades

Array of split type condenser units covering entire façades