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Khoo Teck Puat Hospital: A Communal Space

Jeffery originally wrote this pictorial essay for the class “History and Theory of Landscape Architecture” as a student of the National University of Singapore. At the start of the class, students each shared a piece of landscape that they liked; they then reflected on this after a semester of learning. Working within a multidisciplinary consultant team, the landscape consultant of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) was Peridian Asia.

 

Seven years ago in 2015, I was a graduating student in one of Yishun’s secondary schools, preparing for the Ordinary Level examinations. My best friend and I would often find ourselves mugging on one of the many desks in KTPH. When our peers asked why we chose a hospital over the school’s library to do our work, we would find ourselves at a loss for words. Most of the time, our answer was, “There is just something about the place that makes us focus…even better than the library.”


Eventually, we managed to influence our friends to study with us in KTPH and it became our stomping ground, to study, eat, sit around and converse. During these adolescent years, I was not remotely versed in landscape theory and design, and could not wrap my head around our actions. With this essay, I wish to dig into the reasons behind the interesting influence KTPH had on my peers and I.


Figure 1: A landscape view of KTPH adjacent to Yishun Pond, the water source for the hospital’s water features and irrigation. (JUNG Asia, 2014)

Spatial Constructs

Having visited KTPH again with newly acquired knowledge and to take a fresh look at the landscape, I surmised that the influence it had as a communal space is the result of the organization’s placemaking efforts. One of the hospital’s many reasons for creating a “hospital in a garden” was to provide communal elements for the residents of Yishun to socially interact and conduct day-to-day activities. True to say, KTPH did provide many spaces for the abovementioned functions. Although there is restricted access in most of its buildings for security reasons, the gardens and corridors outside of these buildings are publicly accessible. The open, free-for-all-to-venture concept creates a welcoming effect, drawing the public to utilize the space as an everyday park.


Figure 2: Publicly accessible roof gardens outside of a public restricted operating theatre. (Jeffery Lok, 2022)

Many of KTPH’s nodes of interactions are designed in a linear form alongside the human circulation. Wooden benches are placed on wide pathways that bring people from building to building. According to Susan Herrington’s Landscape Theory in Design (2017), the linear design of the bridge and its railings as shown in Figure 3 form a circulation space with a clear linear direction coming from and going to another building.


The plants also played a huge part in defining these spaces. I am reminded of landscape architect Michel Desvigne’s analysis of spatial change over time. The palm trees beneath and the drooping Phanera kockianas from the floor above, line up linearly to the bridge. Both of these plant materials serve as a “curtain” creating a semi-enclosed space on the bridge. Over time, they will grow with increased lushness and provide more shade for the area, increasing thermal comfort for users.


Figure 3: Link bridge connecting people from KTPH Tower B to C serves as a social interaction area as well, due to the provision of the wide space and wooden benches on the side. (Jeffery Lok, 2022)

Large, open spaces are also introduced along the walkways on the perimeter of the hospital, facing the Yishun Pond. There are doubled-step seats, next to the stairs going up towards the entrance, for people to sit on whilst enjoying the view and the cool breeze from the vast pond. Large Bucida trees line up on these seats providing natural shade from the sun without building any shelters. I observed people using the space for group activities such as tai chi and yoga.


The location of the open space is optimized because it is on the public walkway crossing along KTPH’s perimeter. People can access the open area without going into the hospital itself. The pond at the front of the space adds a shade of blue in the background, an addition to shades of greens. This gives the users’ eyes and minds a different kind of visual stimulation, bringing about a possible therapeutic effect to the people experiencing the landscape.


(Left to Right) Figures 3 & 4: Open space outside of KTPH’s main entrance. (Jeffery Lok, 2022)

However, I believe that the level of experience can be enhanced if the railings which serve as a barrier to the pond were removed. The pond could then be developed into an interactive water feature where people can choose to engage closer with the water, instead of just looking at it from afar.


The Materiality of Landscapes

“Materiality is to landscape architects as words are to writers.” (Susan Herrington, 2017) A type of decking material or texture can be seen used throughout the pavement of the hospital. Architects and landscape architects often use materials on-site to communicate intent with their users. I thought I could decipher this decking material from an individual user’s point of view.


I observed the brown decks look similar to the forest mulch of natural forests. Perhaps the choice of decking was to mimic the brown tones of forest ground and enhance the naturalistic atmosphere of the environment.

(Left) Figure 5: Forest mulch in a forest trail. (Michigan Gardener, 2021) (Right) Figure 6: A passageway in the garden with commercial buildings on the right side and benches with umbrella shelters. (Jeffery Lok, 2022)

A difference in paving materials can also be observed between footpaths in the gardens and within buildings. As seen in Figure 7, the footpaths in the gardens at the entrance have rugged,uneven-cut, concrete pavers. I reckon that the uneven material here is to give users the experience of walking into a natural forest, where the ground is mostly uneven.


However, I presume that the walk into the garden is probably not for ambulant patients in the hospital as the footpath does not appear wheelchair-friendly. Perhaps another type of texture or material could be used in this case to create an environment accessible for wheelchair users of the hospital.


Figure 7: Garden at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s entrance with an eco-pond and a curved bridge for people to cross over it. (Jeffery Lok, 2022)

Sensory Meaning of Landscapes

From the sound of water flowing to the sweet-smelling nectar plants that attract butterflies, a stroll through KTPH is a multi-sensory experience. Historian and critic Marc Treib claimed that landscape architects should be more concerned with making landscapes pleasant to the senses instead of trying to invent meaning in a landscape. (Treib, 2011) The extensive planting in the courtyard garden of the basement creates an experience as if the users are walking into a forest. The trees in the basement grow beyond the height of KTPH’s first-storey. Users on level one can see and hear up close the canopies of the trees rustling in the wind, something that people might not necessarily experience outside of the building.


Figure 8: Basement courtyard gardens, large and tall trees, and a meandering footpath. (Jeffery Lok, 2022)

The hospital also utilizes cleansed water from Yishun Pond to create a naturalistic pond that flows from the entrance garden on level one to the basement’s courtyard garden, creating an artificial waterfall. Like the lush green garden surrounding the pond, it is teeming with faunas such as fish, tortoises, and frogs. Walking around the hospital, I paid attention to every detail in the garden and it truly felt amazing. If enough attention is paid, every element of the garden, no matter how minuscule, can engage one’s senses.


The feeling of being distant from the urban environment whilst still surrounded by buildings was truly surreal. As a visitor, I can only imagine the therapeutic effects these landscapes have on KTPH’s patients. Perhaps patients too feel that these landscapes are an escape or a break, from hospital beds and medical treatments.


(Left) Figure 9: Biodiversity pond on level 1 garden at KTPH's entrance. (Right) Figure 10: An artificial waterfall in the basement courtyard garden fills the two levels with the calming sound of water flow. (Jeffery Lok, 2022)

KTPH’s environment is a successful space for the community due to several factors as discussed in this essay. To conclude, spending time in KTPH just does not feel like spending time in a hospital, instead, it feels the total opposite of what one might associate with being in a hospital.


Figure 11: Extensive and intensive greening of KTPH landscapes, covering hard concrete facades and creating a naturalistic, forest setting as its garden. (Jeffery Lok, 2022)
 

Jeffery Lok Yong Quan developed his interest in landscape architecture whilst pursuing a Diploma of Landscape Design and Horticulture. Motivated by the belief that a sustainable landscape plays a huge part in creating a sustainable society, he continues his journey by exploring the benefits landscape can bring to its users, and vice versa. Passionate in the field of astrophysics, he often draws inspiration from quantum mechanics and theories.


Edited by Dr. Ervine Lin and Ruen Qing Wong

 
References

RMJM. (2014). Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. Retrieved, April 29, 2022 from https://rmjm.com/portfolio/khoo-teck-puat-hospital-singapore/.

Herrington, S. (2017). Landscape Theory in Design. Routledge.

Website Extra: Old Home and New Garden. Michigan Gardener. (2021, May 2). Retrieved April 29, 2022, from https://www.michigangardener.com/website-extra-old-home-and-new-garden/

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Alexandra Health. (2016). A healing space: Creating biodiversity at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

Marc Treib, ed. Meaning in Landscape Architecture & Gardens: Four Essays, Four Commentaries (London, Routledge, 2011).



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