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Floating ‘Pods’ Honor Singapore’s Past, Future

By Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.

A high-concept design for self-sufficient, solar-powered floating food stalls in Singapore blends modern solutions with traditional services.


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The pods designed by SPARK Architects collect and reuse sunlight, rainwater, and cool air to provide energy for cooking, water for cleaning, and cool air for comfort. A number of pods can be linked to form clusters of a variety of shapes and sizes. Courtesy of SPARK

July 22, 2014—As an island nation and city, Singapore has traditionally had a close relationship with the water. With urbanization, however, this relationship has been left behind as high-density developments have spread and residents have become distanced from traditional village living and water-based occupations. Now a high-concept design created by Singapore-based SPARK Architects aims to change that, offering floating, solar-powered pods that not only align with the government's current sustainability efforts but also seek to offer a modern alternative to "hawker" stalls, the traditional food stalls selling fresh food to city residents. Based on the shape of orchid leaves in honor of the nation's national flower—the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid—the pods collect sunlight, rainwater, and water-cooled air and reuse them to create the energy and water necessary to cook, clean, and cool. 

"We were inspired by Singapore's historic connection to the water, its rich culinary tradition, and the idea of using technological innovation to combine the two functions in an exciting and sustainable manner," said Peter William Morris, RIBA, an associate of SPARK Architects and the project architect for the design who wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineeringonline. 

The pods are designed so that a number can be linked together to form honeycomb-shaped clusters of a variety of shapes and sizes, according to material provided by the architects. Each pod comprises an 11 m wide hexagonal concrete base unit overlaid with timber decking, which conceals the ballast tanks and solar power storage and conversion facilities. A metal and ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) canopy shaped to resemble orchid leaves shades each base.  

There are three styles of pods: a dedicated kitchen pod that holds a large central kitchen divided into three hawker stalls; a pod that contains one hawker kitchen as well as seating; and a pod that contains only tables and seating. The pods can be linked in various configurations so that people can stroll from one pod to the next and can access each cluster from natural shorelines or docks. Handrails enclose the sides of the pods but can be removed for connection purposes. 

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The design seeks to offer a modern alternative to traditional “hawker” stalls, which sell food. With its Solar Orchid design, SPARK has presented three styles of floating pods that offer a combination of seating and kitchen areas. Courtesy of SPARK

The hexagonal base is formed from hollow units built of glass-reinforced concrete. Each base is divided into three sections into which ballast can be pumped to ensure the correct buoyancy, Morris said. The canopies will be shaped to maximize sunlight and rainwater collection. 

"The lightweight canopy follows the plan form of the base with a more rounded hyperbolic, paraboloid geometry to maximize surface area and subsequent solar exposure," Morris said. "The canopy is 2 to 3 m larger than the base on all sides to provide adequate rain protection," he noted. 

The canopy is framed by hollow coated-steel tubes, one around the perimeter and three submembers that extend toward the center. "Each submember is connected to an adjustable steel column, which allows the canopy height to be adjusted," Morris said.  

The canopy frame supports three two-layer inflated ETFE cushions with an integrated solar film. The ETFE cushions are convex to maximize their exposure to the sun, while the adjustable columns allow the exact angles of the cushions to be adjusted throughout the day so that they track the sun. Each canopy within a cluster is angled to maximize its sun-gathering potential without blocking the others, according to the architects. 

The curved surfaces of each pod's canopy also create natural canals that divert rainwater toward a central funnel. The collection funnel diverts the water into the ballast tanks for storage from which it can be filtered for reuse in the stall. Gray water can also be stored, filtered, and reused on the pod for cleaning purposes, according to the architects. 

The pods also contain mechanical systems that draw in cool air from the surface of the water and recirculate it to maintain a steady flow of air between the canopy and the deck. The kitchens vents their cooking exhaust through a chimney in the center of the stall, away from seated guests. 

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Each canopy is framed by hollow coated-steel tubes, one around the perimeter and three that extend toward the center. Shaped in the manner of orchid leaves, the shades will be embedded with solar film. Courtesy of SPARK

The climate and location of Singapore make it an ideal location for the pods, according to Morris. "Singapore is sheltered from the Indian [Ocean] and South China Sea monsoons by Sumatra and peninsular Malaysia, respectively, resulting in one of the world's lowest wind profiles," Morris said. "Due to its low wind levels and stable tropical climate we would anticipate year-round function in Singapore itself." The architects envision clusters being situated in reservoirs, rivers, and boat quays around the city.

The pods could also be adapted for other uses, Morris said. "With the kitchen and deck removed, the 'orchids' could be scaled up and clustered together offshore to create a solar power station similar to recent developments in offshore floating wind farms," he noted. "The 'orchids' are essentially floating shelters that could [also] be used as classrooms, dive platforms for pleasure or marine exploration, or any other marine-based function that would benefit from shade or partial shelter."

The design of the Solar Orchid pods was created by SPARK Architects as a way to further their mission as designers to enhance life and help create livable spaces for work and play, according to Anusha Bajpai, an architect for SPARK, who wrote in response to written questions posed by Civil Engineeringonline.

"SPARK proposes Solar Orchid in the spirit of creating a bold vision unhindered by commercial and planning constraints," Bajpai said. The firm plans to speak with the relevant authorities in the hopes of realizing the project in time for Singapore's 50th birthday in 2015, she said.


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