26 Mar 2020 • Living
Launching a co-living space in a period of self-isolation
For the past few years, the prefix co- has been overworked across the Frame channels. Collaboration and connection are at the core of many recent spatial-design developments: co-working and co-living, for two, while the term ‘co-creation’ was the red thread running through this year’s Frame Awards event.
But what happens when you design a co-living space, just as the entire world heads into forced hibernation? Such was the case for Ministry of Design (MOD), whose Canvas House co-living project opened a month ago in the studio’s home base of Singapore. Located in a heritage shophouse, the establishment is from the developers at Figment, who gave MOD just four months to turn the interior into a series of expat rental suites for three- to twelve-month stays.
When we spoke to MOD’s design director Colin Seah and Mr Fang Low, the owner of Canvas House, Singapore was in a state of semi lockdown, with all short-term visitors barred from entering. ‘Things have been slow due to COVID-19, but we are taking all precautions – even if they come at the cost of occupancy in the short term,’ says Low. ‘Precautions include making sure potential members do not come from high-risk countries, providing hand sanitizer and masks in the house, and conducting regular disinfection sessions.’
And what about the long term? Does MOD feel the current crisis will affect the future of the genre? Are there any lessons the designers would take into account for new projects of this nature? ‘My personal view is that the COVID situation won’t affect the future of co-living, as this virus outbreak is not a common or regular occurrence,’ says Seah. ‘Designing for it may be costly and unnecessary, especially as the nature of how we react to future unforeseen outbreaks may change and evolve. The COVID situation may last longer than we would like it to, but I do believe we will return to more socialization in physical spaces once it’s over.’ In fact, Canvas House was imagined as a ‘canvas for the future’ that pays homage to its past. MOD painted the entire house white, with the exception of ‘playful peekaboo reveals’ to the original space and materials.
Working in teams with face-to-face contact is still necessary for the design work we do
MOD has offices in both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, meaning it has had to adapt and respond to the situations in each country. ‘When Malaysia announced a sudden shutdown last Wednesday, we had only one day to enable our whole Kuala Lumpur team to work effectively from home,’ says Seah. ‘Thankfully, as of six years ago we’ve been using Slack in the office, which has helped us to adapt quite seamlessly. It means our teams can work from home and stay connected with one another. Having said all this, unlike other industries, we find that working in teams with face-to-face contact is still necessary for the design work we do. It’s quite challenging to discuss spatial tweaks, design refinements and thoughts about specific material samples via photos and Slack alone. Our team is not a large one, so keeping safe with guidelines from the Ministry of Health is helpful for us to continue working in the workplace.’
Digital technologies have also given MOD a different perspective on travel. ‘Zoom has been quite effective for digital video conferencing for client and consultant meetings – so much so that it makes us wonder why we don’t use it more often. It can take two days to travel up and down to Beijing for a three-hour meeting, which is not really necessary. We could save time and reduce our carbon footprint if we limit face-to-face meetings to those that are vital: site visits, milestone presentations and so on.’
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