NEA taps polytechnic students to redesign, rethink food centres of the future

Poly students here seen holding up boards showcasing some of the design ideas they have proposed for the hawker centre of the future. The NEA approached students from Singapore Poly's School of Architecture and the Built Environment to help tackle lo
Poly students here seen holding up boards showcasing some of the design ideas they have proposed for the hawker centre of the future. The NEA approached students from Singapore Poly's School of Architecture and the Built Environment to help tackle long-standing problems such as overcrowding and patrons not returning food trays.ST PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN

NEA gets poly students to redesign, rethink ways to tackle current issues

Those fond of "choping" hawker centre tables using tissue paper packets - a uniquely Singaporean habit - may in future flip up table tops and hook their umbrellas to reserve a spot instead.

Wheelchair users may get more room at tables with chairs that can be stowed away when not in use.

These are some of the ideas that Singapore Polytechnic students have come up with when tasked with designing the hawker centre of the future.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) approached students from the polytechnic's School of Architecture and the Built Environment in April for the project to tackle long-standing problems - from overcrowding to patrons not returning food trays - plaguing the hawker centre scene.

Beyond design issues, students from other polytechnics and universities were roped in by NEA to examine the social behaviour and demographic groups of patrons at hawker centres.

A total of 21 proposals from the Singapore Polytechnic students were exhibited at NEA's lobby for two weeks until yesterday.

Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told The Straits Times after he toured the exhibition that he wants to see the students' ideas come into fruition.

"We need fresh ideas for some of the problems we have been struggling with for some time... and we can take some of these ideas, build prototypes and testbed them in our hawker centres," he said.

These ideas may be implemented in the upcoming 10 new hawker centres, which will be run by social enterprises, or the 15 others that will undergo refurbishment in the next eight years.

Among them is the Bukit Panjang hawker centre - the first new one to be built since 1985 - which will have its ground-breaking ceremony on Sunday.

Environmentally friendly hawker centres are also on the cards, as disclosed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday.

Some of the promising ideas that Dr Balakrishnan highlighted include the stowaway chairs and tables as well as redesigning trays and trolleys for clearing plates.

He also said future hawker centres should maximise space and yet be barrier-free to cater to an ageing population.

To prepare for the project, the students visited Adam Road and Ghim Moh hawker centres during peak hours.

They found that seat usage is not maximised due to people placing their belongings on seats or poor seat configuration.

Hence, Singapore Poly student Nicki Koh, 19, came up with the idea of a "flippable" tabletop with hooks below it for patrons to hang bags or umbrellas.

Another problem identified by Mr Sudrano, 20, also a student from Singapore Poly, is that some hawker centres tend to be relatively deserted when stalls close after lunchtime.

To maximise space usage at hawker centres, his group suggested setting up "satellite booths" to sell finger food or other snacks.

"Space comes at a premium nowadays so we need to find ways to maximise hawker centres' operating hours so that they don't end up being known as only as 'day-time' or 'evening' hawker centres," he said.

jantai@sph.com.sg