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Environmental Deck – Active Mobility Landmark for the Vertical Urban Design

Sounds like another fancy term? The concept of Environmental Deck is holistically known as a dedicated deck of greenery and vehicle emission free walkways spanning across the downtown or neighborhood. Typically running along the waterfront, canal or linear park, the few to up to 20 meters of wide buffer space offers dedicated pedestrian or cyclist network with public amenities to spur social cohesiveness and interaction. That is what understood from best practices in urban design. However, a recent article revealed the true potential of E DECK as more than just a linear public space connecting two ends of a city together. This is especially in the context of vertical living and multiple land usage scenarios of Singapore. This article redefined E-DECK as merely an elevated deck from the ground but hosting various important public infrastructure, similarly to the common service tunnel found in Marina District. I came across this upon writing up about the much-discussed Tengah’s Masterplan where it was revealed by David Tan, the assistant chief executive officer of the Technical & Professional Services Group, JTC Corporation.

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Conceptual Dedicated Lanes for different Mobility Typology in Tengah Masterplan

One of the many distinctive features of Tengah masterplan is the fact for being the first town center with E deck feature, where vehicle traffic will be moving beneath the elevated deck (featured picture of this blog post). But clearly, there is much more excitement when you can envision the typical artery of a city, the network of roads, can be used to consolidating both cities infrastructures while hosting an array of public space.

Why E DECK in Singapore?

I have been telling my cyclist advocate friends that the active mobility culture in Singapore is very different than that of other admired cities such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Similarly to Hong Kong, Singapore is a densely populated state island which needs efficient transportation mode in moving a massive amount of people around the island. Cycling is merely a complement to the urban design that serves the last mile, even when buses in Singapore serve the last miles very well. The concept of E DECK allows a dedicated environmental deck, emission free connectivity network across a district. Imagine an elevated linear park that connects from your HDB flat towards town center as you walk pass various public amenities, services, and shops, but wait there’s much more than just that. HDB township

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Imagine an elevated linear park that connects from your HDB flat towards town center as you walk pass various public amenities, services, and shops, but wait there’s much more than just that. HDB township is often designed with the community package of the library, town center, clinic cluster, food court, shopping mall, sports hall and community center. The concept of E DECK means a disruption to the conventional way of horizontal span urban design by taking advantage of vertical planning in a self-sustaining community. It’s no surprise as Kampung Admiralty is among the first to brand itself as a ‘modern kampung’ with amenities all under one roof. It’s aspiration lies along the usage of verticality of the complex to build the ‘Kampung’ Spirit or social cohesiveness we call it.

Much More than an Elevated Environmental Deck

The key to Urban Design, especially in the context of density in Singapore is not about going vertical all the time, but really, it’s the location of amenities and infrastructures. (I wrote more about it HERE) By having any plot of land to serve multiple usages across the day and night, you create a vibrant neighborhood that also supervises the security and commercial value of the space. The E DECK shall be not more than two stories height where the elevated green corridor shall house alfresco dining and entrance linkways to various building complexes such as HDB clusters and business office towers.

You can imagine various public space arts or landscape such as the ones in New York’s High Line giving an alternative space for the office workers during lunch, or a family bonding space during the late evening. The height of the surrounding building cluster scale shall be controlled to enable a pleasant walk with appropriate ventilation. Above it, there will be a people mover system, it can be an MRT, LRT, suspended monorail, or perhaps tram will be possible wherever appropriate. Then, there is even a possibility to pave a dedicated bicycle highway network along the E DECK that links to other existing Park Connector Networks in Singapore.

Illustration of a simplified E DECK section (Source: 2 West Masterplan"
Illustration of a simplified E DECK section (Source: 2 West Masterplan.”

On the beneath of the E DECK, various back of house facilities of the town can be housed here. Common utility tunnel will house utility services such as electrical power cables, water pipe, chilled water pipes for district cooling system, gas pipe, multimedia cables and telecommunication cables. Hub Parking also helps in Park and Ride strategy to complement private commuters who wish to take the public transport. It can also help to reduce the requirement of individual car parks for each of the buildings as well as to reduce congestion. In fact, Hub parking is a good urban design resilient strategy as we can be certain that the culture and usage of mobility devices will change in future. This gives us the flexibility to convert this hub parking into other spaces. Then, expressways or secondary roads can travel beneath the town center with transportation hubs located in the basement.

Illustration of E DECK with surrounding districts of multiple usage (Source: 2 West Masterplan)

Illustration of E DECK with surrounding districts of multiple usages (Source: 2 West Masterplan)

Estate Goods Mover System (eGMS)

However, the highlight of the E DECK, which functions as an ‘artery’ of the city, is its automated goods mover system. The space beneath the E DECK serves a good provision of space for automated systems like pneumatic waste collection and goods mover system.  Imagine an automated smart logistic system for the distribution of goods to every office towers, apartments, HDB blocks or even administrative departments. The 2 West document envisioned this technology for industrial development where there will be a Centralized Distribution Centre which is eventually linked up to the sea port. This means that any raw material can be transported and processed from the point of entry at the port without relying on highways and roads, potentially relieving traffic congestion.

This opens up a whole new conversation along the aspiration of minimizing road space and maximizing public area, despite Singapore has an impressively low developed area dedicated to roads (12%) as oppose to Malaysia (>20%). The construction of E Deck gives us a dedicated highway of amenities for the township, be it common utility system as mentioned before, or this exciting automated goods moving system. Let’s not limit this to the industrial product but imagine Mails from post office, consumer purchased goods from hypermarkets, all right to your HDB or office doorstep with the clear predictability of arrival. Actually, it’s no different than establishing self-driving cars but hey this looks much feasible and why do you need to move people when things can be transported to you instead?

 

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Illustration of automated goods mover system (source: 2 West Masterplan)

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Issues of E DECK

However, in spite the immense potential of E DECK in bringing the urban design of high-density area to another stage, security, and user friendliness are the deal breakers for urban design. By going vertical, E DECK also poses challenges in designing an urbanscape that allows users to enjoy a different perspective of their built environment from different elevation and through void decks, but, not getting them lost. When it comes to large public space such as E DECK, a line of sight is incredibly important to allow crowd control and security measures. The fear is having too many voids and dead spaces that eventually abandon some areas instead just like Punggol Treelodge as described HERE. As much as it’s an environmental deck, the design of the landscape must also allow line of sight at street level to facilitate way finding through the complex vertical structures that might not be friendly to the norms of horizontal planning.

Like mentioned, eventually, we are all for the aspiration of urban design ideas that are resilient to the innovations (or rather disruptions) around us. Things like Uber and AirBnB are redefining car and property ownership. Even, virtual augmented games like “Pokemon Go” is redefining public space with events of hundreds of people gathering in a dark park at midnight! So those are some challenges that new feature such as E DECK has to participate with.