Singapore architect Tay Kheng Soon has radical ideas of what a city could be. During his mini-lecture at Function 8’s Changing Worlds mini lecture series, he shared with a packed Muse House audience his idea of an architect’s role in society. While many architects dream of building an iconic skyscraper in the heart of an urban environment, Tay’s dreams take a much larger scale.
In particular, Tay is interested in finding a solution for the rural-urban divide that societies have been struggling with since the Industrial Revolution. In his view, rapid urbanisation, driven by rural-dwellers that move to cities for work, result in three key injustices, namely social injustice, cultural injustice and environmental injustice. At his lecture, he explained that to solve these problems, society needs a complete restructuring in a decentralised form he terms Rubanisation.
A ruban settlement, explains Tay, is a combination of both rural and urban elements in a small space. A ruban society is in turn a vast network of such settlements, each well connected to other. In such a space, the residents of the settlement are able to be self-sustaining by agriculture and electricity, and in such a small space, the need for petroleum-fuelled vehicles is greatly reduced. Moreover, the problem of mass migration can be curbed as the imbalance of high and low value work is reduced. There is much potential to use modern technology and innovation to increase efficiency – the small scale of each settlement will keep costs of implementing new methods low.
His concept of rethinking human habitation has been gathering much interest in the region because of the low cost of setting up ruban settlements. He is now in the midst of helping local governments in Vietnam and Thailand, among other countries, set up such settlements to help the rural poor with infrastructure they can use to become self-sustainable.
To Tay, a decentralised societal and habitat structure is the key to not only addressing many of the issues that contribute to a high cost of living, including ever-increasing price of land, but also an important factor in building a community based on trust and cooperation. As a final takeaway to his audience, he challenged them to rethink the structures of society in which we live – does everyone really need to work in a central business district?