Travelling in the United States and Europe to find ways to erect buildings that are friendly to the old, the young and the handicapped, CapitaLand's Mr Eng Tiang Wah was struck by the wide use of Braille in public areas.
Inspired, the giant developer's vice-president for product development and design introduced Braille for almost all the signs at its integrated development in Cairnhill.
Coupled with several other creative features, the widespread use of Braille won the complex - which comprises condominium Cairnhill Nine, luxury serviced residence Ascott Orchard and Al-Falah Mosque - the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) highest award for inclusive design this year.
It was the only platinum winner for this category yesterday, when the BCA announced 30 winners in various categories of creative works for developments ranging from residential blocks to polyclinics to parks. The winners will get their awards on June 13.
For Mr Eng, the eye-opening trips, organised by the BCA, had him introducing Braille at the swimming pool's toilet to tell the men's from the women's, and low steps with handrails to help wheelchair users lower themselves more easily into the water.
Barbecue pits have lower sinks for young children, and benches have recesses next to them for parking wheelchairs or prams.
Started in 2013, the universal design award is for developers and architects who adopt the philosophy of designing buildings accessible and user-friendly to everyone.
During a tour of CapitaLand's winning project yesterday, Mr Eng told reporters that he plans to have Braille signs in future developments. "The initial steep learning curve is over. It will be easy to implement when it catches on in the industry," he said.
BCA group director Teo Orh Hai encouraged developers to push the boundaries of universal design further. He stressed the importance of including features such as covered walkways or multi-generational playgrounds in the design from the start, as it will be very difficult and costly to rectify later. Universal design also enhances users' enjoyment of their environment, he said.
For instance, designers of the HDB Kallang Trivista flats in Boon Keng, which earned a GoldPlus award - the second-highest certification - increased the space between units after residents said they wanted more privacy.
Retired cashier Julie Lee, 60, who moved into her studio flat in the estate with her husband last September, is grateful for the elderly- friendly features, including lower counter tops in her kitchen and grab bars in common areas.
Pointing to the Sports Hub from her living room, she added: "I also get a million-dollar view. All these make retirement enjoyable."