Project Name: Kampung Kampus
Location: Singapore, Singapore
Date Designed: 2009
Date Completed: In Progress
Size: 26,000 sqm
Client: Goverment Organisations, Local Community, Nee Soon Residents, Leadership and Training Groups
ABOUT Ground Up Initiative
Ground-Up Initiative (GUI) is a non-profit community, guided by the spirit of innovation, resilience and grounded leadership to demonstrate urban sustainability.
ABOUT Kampung Kampus
Ground-Up Initiative (GUI) is a non-profit community, guided by the spirit of innovation, resilience and grounded leadership to demonstrate urban sustainability. With the power of community, GUI is building Kampung Kampus, a low-carbon footprint community campus, sited on a 2.6 hectares land plot in Yishun, Singapore. Kampung Kampus aims to be a role model in sustainable living and a School of Life; nurturing an eco-conscious community with the mind, the hands and the heart to be stewards of a more sustainable and happier future.
Interview with CAI Bingyu of Ground Up Initiative
Q1: Ever since you joined GUI, how has it affected or improved your life?
I appreciate how things come together a lot more. One thing is the government (support).
For instance, GUI has very limited resources, hence we have to do things very differently. In a way that is more creative, and we have to think out of the box and adapt. The situation changes frequently in a social enterprise like ours and I really appreciate what the country leaders are doing. For instance, during the Covid lockdown, operations at Orto had to close and this caused the pests like rats to come over to GUI where they ate all the produce. As such we now have a pest infestation and we had to adapt and improvise to counter against these unforeseen circumstances. It is not easy to run a nation/company well and there are a lot of things to consider. All of these really make me appreciate things more. In GUI, at the start I thought what I’ll be doing could save the world but at the end all I want is to be a better son, a better husband, a better father to my daughter, as well as a better person for this world.
Q2: What is the process like for the initiation of Kampung Kampus, the idea and concept?
The idea came from our late chief, Mr Tay Lai Hock, after he travelled around the world. At his peak, when he was earning a lot of money for someone who had no education, he decided to drop everything and travel to see the world. After his trip, his life view changed. So he came back and decided to start something that can translate his thoughts into action and that was in the form of GUI. Through the years, he has been very mindful of grooming the next generation of leaders. He was trying to teach us how to do things in which he will reprimand us. But the most important thing was the values that he made us understood such that when the day the leadership is passed, GUI can still carry on and achieve its objective. Unfortunately, the chief’s passing was premature, but I am glad that the team that took over was stuck with him for some time hence we understood his philosophy and knew what he was trying to achieve. However, from then on, it was no longer about his philosophy because he is no longer the person driving it, but rather it must be something that the team currently believes in. The current team tweaked it a little bit – such that the framework is still similar to the old philosophy. The core values are still present, the 5Gs of: Gracious, Green, Giving, Grounded and Grateful and ultimately we want to drive a 5G community through the things we strongly believe in.
Q3: You were mentioning earlier about how GUI managed to get sponsorship from a few parties, in regard to this could we ask you about some of the challenges and opportunities that GUI faced?
We have been very grateful to the government for their support. Of course, it was not like this at the start. At the beginning, we had to approach them with our idea and explain to them, show them, get them to come over, conduct the tours and convince them that GUI is something worth supporting. From there, we managed to get subsidies for our rental, so now we pay about 10k a month for this large piece of land. But through this agreement, we help to do the government’s work through an agency that brings in new citizens. We help them to integrate with the community, so it becomes an opportunity for us to connect with the residents. Of course, politics wise, we are in the Nee Soon GRC and we want to benefit the residents in the area too. Minister Shanmugam was one of those that helped us to champion this cause. We also want to work closely with the Chong Pang community and the newly elected MPs to tap on their connections and networks to be able to serve the numbers, being able to connect with the low income individuals as well as those families which needs help, we try to reach out to them. And through them (political and community outreach) the impact here can be stretched out to maximize as many people as possible.
Q4: How was the land when it was taken over and how did GUI go about developing the assets it had?
We were very lucky, when we came over to this site, Bottle Tree Park already had farms here and there were viable farmlands just that it was not organic. We turned it into an organic farm which took us three years due to the application process as well as land surveyors coming down to check. So, I would say that our farms are okay, not super fertile as it is not meant to be a production farm but can be better. We had the asset of the existing physical infrastructure which were the road, the land and the kampung. There wasn’t much master planning to be done as all we were doing was replace the buildings or rather spaces that fit our uses. For example, the building we are in (heartquarters), previously had no windows and no aircon, that didn’t work with our uses, so we cleared it and had a new building built. Next came the issue of raising funds where we broke the masterplan into 3 phases. Currently, we are still progressing through half of the first phase. We had the benefit of existing infrastructure but there were lessons to be learned as some things could have been done much better.
Q5: Has GUI considered shifting Kampung Kampus to an alternative location?
Definitely, this is actually a struggle for GUI. The late chief once mentioned that in Korea, the houses get passed down from generation to generation. As such there is a very strong attachment to it and people see the value of land very differently versus in Singapore. People look at land as investments rather than it being culture and family. Here in GUI, at one moment in time we are very reluctant to say that we can move anywhere. Over the years we have gradually moved towards how we can have real impact, and we have considered if we can move this to anywhere in Singapore. If this model is replicable and scalable and the impact is scalable, why don’t we try it out? It is a tough balance as we want to hold onto the land but at the same time there is so much more we can do if we move on from this location. I firmly believed that in GUI, it is not about the land but the people. We can move and the community can be built up again. It will be a struggle, but it is possible.
Q6: If we were to shift Kampung Kampus to the heartland, how would that affect the kampung authenticity as well as the kampung community that GUI has been trying to cultivate?
We were trying to see how we could move to a hdb void deck but the idea couldn’t be fulfilled. Thankfully during this period, Professor Chong and Yohei from SUTD did the research on nature placemaking and with this research it became very powerful because we could prove that with an arbitary number of assets like trees, land and farms, we can guarantee that a certain amount of people will be mentally well, families that will be positively influenced, people who will eat healthily. From this we can show that any pocket of space will work with this strategy hence there wont be a dependency on location. But of course with context in which this will be more challenging if it is placed in the middle of the Central Business District.
Q7: How did the various departments of GUI come about?
Farming was a part of GUI from the start, it was to get people to touch the soil being the most fundamental activity. Over time as more people come, we also had the need to fix things when items are spoiled. There was then an opportunity for wood working. At the end of the day, these are all platforms to connect people. That is where the nature placemaking research is important due to the idea of facilitator where activities can bring together people through a common purpose.